Brand Makeovers: Antonia Hock Of The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center On The 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize Your Brand and Image

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Be Specific and Disciplined about your Identity: Consumers want to connect with brands that have a specific identity that speaks directly to them. As a brand you cannot be generic, appeal to all, and be successful. Take a stand and have a focused, disciplined identity that appeals to the specific demographics you target. Peloton has done an exceptional job of focusing on consumers that are passionate about fitness, but crave a connected, yet private, community experience. They have built a platform that supports and engages this specific demographic, and their reward has been huge year over year growth and an enviable social media following of passionate consumers.

As part of our series about “Brand Makeovers” I had the pleasure to interview Antonia Hock.

Antonia Hock is the Global Head of The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center where she leads a dynamic advisory business focused on innovating the Customer Experience (CX) and Talent Experience (TX) for clients worldwide.

Antonia is a sought-after, author, thought leader and frequent global keynote featured speaker. She is considered a global expert on organizational transformation and building experience-based brands, creating a culture of customer-centricity, empowering employees and issues around diversity in the workforce, and innovating experiences for the future.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I came to terms early in my career that I was driven towards chaos, turn-arounds, new ideas, start-ups — anything that was a “build” vs. a stable, run-rate business that needed only incremental improvement to thrive. I also love working with big brands that have resources and an appetite for being market-makers through innovation and calculated risk. This led me to work for fast-moving progressive companies like Microsoft, HP, and Siemens where I earned a reputation as a maverick: the one you call when you have a big challenge with high stakes attached.

When I was presented with the opportunity to work for a heritage brand like The-Ritz-Carlton — but with the new twist of taking that legendary service to market by building a methodology that can be implemented in the Fortune 500 to drive business performance, I knew I had to jump. Over the past five years, I’ve grown this business from training to a global consulting firm known for excellence.

Can you share a story about the funniest marketing or branding mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

This is not a funny mistake per se, but it is poignant and indelible one that I observed early in my career. Our entire regional leadership team was meeting for a full day workshop, and there were eight of us seated around a table. Our Regional Vice President was running the meeting. Two of us were women, and at the end of the day, my fellow female colleague had said very little. She diligently took notes and listened intently all day. At the end of the meeting, our Vice President asked her to stand up and said in front of all us that she should go clean out her desk because she failed to contribute to our meeting and our future. And that very day, she was walked out of the building. She was smart, but never found the confidence to use her voice. The lesson is to always find your contribution, cultivate your brand, and make a mark. Every time, no exceptions. Everyone has great ideas and insight. Never let circumstances intimidate you, quiet your creativity, or silence your best ideas.

Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Is there a takeaway or lesson that others can learn from that?

My tipping point was not an event, but rather a realization. When I discovered that my ability to be authentic was tied to my work performance, I sought out career opportunities that allowed me to bring more of my true self to my work. When I started to do that, I saw a direct correlation to my success. Authenticity is tied to discovering what you do well, expressing your work style, and connecting to your purpose in your professional world. When you bring these into alignment for yourself, great things happen!

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center is focused on making seismic shifts in the brand identity of some of the biggest brands in the world. We start this journey by focusing on human capital. The way each of us experiences a brand is through the humans that represent that brand — either in person, online, or through channels created and administered by those humans. Recently, we worked with a large sports franchise aspiring to be a world-class sports experience brand through their 2,000 game day employees. After we implemented a new strategy with this franchise, one of their leaders pulled me aside and said that several game day employees expressed shock that they would be able to attend sessions from The Ritz-Carlton. One lady said that this was a watershed moment in her life, “As an hourly employee, I’ve never work for a company that empowers you, believes in you, and invests in you like this.” This sports franchise is now winning awards for outstanding game-day fan experiences delivered by these employees!

Everyone in our business believes that great service, exceptional experiences, and a culture of trust and empowerment will change lives and businesses. We know the multiplying effect of our work impacts millions of employees, their families, the customers that they touch, the communities where they live, and the businesses that they serve. When you operate with the mandate to change lives, create competitive advantages through service, and help build cutting-edge experience-based businesses, purpose is central to everything that you do every day.

What advice would you give to other marketers to thrive and avoid burnout?

Be disciplined about what you undertake and trust your own experiences to guide you. Surround yourself with diverse ideas and people that inspire you! It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the sensory overload in marketing today, so take the time to be inspired by brands that inspire YOU. We are surrounded every day by people who are pushing the envelope and trying fascinating new strategies. Let that inspire your next move, and be fearless.

Ok, let’s now jump to the core part of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define the difference between brand marketing (branding) and product marketing (advertising)? Can you explain?

Brand marketing is all about building your identity, what you stand for, and who you are across your enterprise. Your identity connects your brand to your consumer, and the deeper the connection, the more binding the relationship will be. Product marketing, in contrast, is focused on driving transactions for specific products or driving sales for a category of items. I fundamentally believe that consumers today buy brands, not just products. If you are not invested in having a clear brand identity that is expressed across every touch, you will not ultimately be successful. Too few companies are investing in building their brand identity, and they struggle to understand why their products aren’t “sticky”. In the luxury segment, consumers are loyal to brands, not to products.

Can you explain to our readers why it is important to invest resources and energy into building a brand, in addition to the general marketing and advertising efforts?

Consumers today want to have a meaningful connection to the brands that they endorse. This means that they are proud to be affiliated with your brand, they stand for the same things you stand for, and that there is a deep connectedness to the way that they experience your brand. General marketing and advertising are a part of this work, but to create this magic, you need to be disciplined about your brand pillars, know your consumer’s deepest desires, aspirations and goals, and then innovate carefully around how you express your identity in the market.

Let’s now talk about rebranding. What are a few reasons why a company would consider rebranding?

Companies can and should consider rebranding for a few reasons: if you have grown by acquisition, and, as a result, you have a variety of cultures, operating models, and public images, that is a good time to consider rebranding. If you your business has dramatically evolved over time, and your brand is out of sync with your primary business levers, that is a good time to consider rebranding. If your brand is struggling with relevancy to modern consumers, you have already launched efforts to address this unsuccessfully, and you have low general brand equity in the market, that is a good time to consider rebranding.

Are there downsides of rebranding? Are there companies that you would advise against doing a “Brand Makeover”? Why?

I think that any companies with a long historic legacy as well as the category of luxury heritage brands should consider a “strong evolution story” vs. an outright rebranding. That history, the urban lore associated with it in many cases, and the rich storytelling affiliated with these brands can be lost during the process of rebranding.

Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. Can you share 5 strategies that a company can do to upgrade and re-energize their brand and image”? Please tell us a story or an example for each.

  • Invest in Passionate Advocates: No matter what channel you choose, a brand without passionate advocates will fail to connect. Invest in building a great culture first where passion and commitment are cultivated and supported. That will translate directly to customer engagement. Chick-fil-a is a great example of a brand that has passionate advocates driving brand success every day. I recently had a customer tell me that she pulled up to a store in the pouring rain, and she was waiting for the storm to subside to come inside to eat. A Chick-fil-a employee noticed and came out with an umbrella to escort her into the restaurant. She could not stop smiling, raving, and posting all over social media about her experiences. In her own words, she is now a “Chick-fil-a customer for life!”! This underscores that the way a consumer experiences a brand will drive loyalty and, in turn, results.
  • Be Specific and Disciplined about your Identity: Consumers want to connect with brands that have a specific identity that speaks directly to them. As a brand you cannot be generic, appeal to all, and be successful. Take a stand and have a focused, disciplined identity that appeals to the specific demographics you target. Peloton has done an exceptional job of focusing on consumers that are passionate about fitness, but crave a connected, yet private, community experience. They have built a platform that supports and engages this specific demographic, and their reward has been huge year over year growth and an enviable social media following of passionate consumers.
  • Create Indelible Human Experiences: In a world of constant stimulation and options, the strongest brands are creating authentic connections that support meaningful memorable moments. As a consumer, if I share some important information with you, and you fail to turn it into a “moment”, you devalue your brand and you devalue consumer trust. A brand that gets this right is The Ritz-Carlton. If you share your birthday or anniversary, special moment, tiny detail of your stay, or simply give us an opportunity, we will find away to turn that into a “brand defining moment”. When I joined the brand 3 years ago, I checked into The Ritz-Carlton in Dallas from a long day of difficult meetings, a rain-soaked flight delay, and a quick turn around in morning. I was on my last few squeezes of tooth paste — just enough to get through the night and the morning. When I returned to my room late that next day, I had a full new tube of toothpaste on my sink. I did not ask for that toothpaste. It was given openly by another human who saw my need. I was “wowed” by the housekeeper’s thoughtfulness. Years later, I still love to tell that story.
  • Personalize your content & anticipate desires: The brands with a devoted following know that creating personal connections with consumers drives loyal behavior. The next step beyond this personalization is the anticipation of needs that demonstrates genuine care and connection. Brands that can show this degree of “commitment” and “relationship” create a 1-to-1 rapport that drives viral followings. Nike has invested heavily in technology that creates this type of connection to the individual consumer. As a NikeID member, when you approach many of their stores, geo-fencing picks up your presence and alerts the sales associates to pull items that match your preferences in your size to present to you in store. This behavior not only personalizes your experience, but it also anticipates your tastes, and acknowledges that, as a loyal consumer, you matter to the brand.
  • Be Honest and Authentic in your connections: Research shows that the coveted Millennial and GenZ consumers want to engage with brands that have a definitive point of view on social, business, and environmental topics. As a brand, you cannot be non-committal or neutral on important generational issues. Part of being authentic is to find a way to consistently express your brand values, so you connect with your desired consumer. Athletica is a great example of a brand that is leading with a core social statement. When you log into Athletica’s app, the first screen you see is that they are a “Proud Certified B Corp”. You do not see products, offers, or other advertising. Instead, you see this strong statement about their commitment to a social movement that balances their supply chain, employees, and environmental impact with their profit. This is another way to connect with the heart of your consumers and drive that authentic brand connection.

In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job doing a “Brand Makeover”. What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?

While this is not an official brand makeover, I think that Gucci has done a brilliant job of strongly evolving their heritage brand into a modern, cutting-edge arbiter of culture, pushing the envelope with collaborations and experimenting over the past few years with truly innovative style. Gucci has created a set of experiences across all their channels that taps into the aspirations, desires, and feelings of consumers. By pushing the envelope with their store experience, their visual merchandising, and the way they integrate technology to drive personalization, Gucci has proven that they can outperform their peers. In a luxury segment that is crowed with choices, consumers are proud to be affiliated with Gucci, and they covet the opportunity have that next experience and buy that next item. Brands that want to recreate this should seek immersive experiences that allow consumers to express their individuality in boundary breaking way.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Investing in young adults has the potential to create such change and momentum for all of us and the world we live in. I see so many teenagers and young adults struggling with tough circumstances, difficult home challenges, and social and economic adversity. The infrastructure to help make change is so limited for this group of young people. I would like to see more programs like YearUp that are exclusively focused on opportunities and support for young adults. Giving this group real life skills, career support, mentors, and hope that the future can and will be different makes a real difference to an entire generation. I would love to see more major corporations come out in support of this program, and I would love to see more people give their time, skills, and leadership in the service of our young adults.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.”- Aristotle

This quote reverberates with so many things that ground my point-of-view. First, achievement will always come with a price. Often that is criticism. Speaking out or having an opinion will come at a price. Often that is criticism. Following your own path will often come at a price. Often that is criticism. The world is full of critics, judgement, and naysayers, and we must all consider whether that will limit our choices. If we follow Aristotle’s meaning to the end point; fear of criticism will ultimately lead to a passive choice to be nothing. The faster we can all make peace with criticism as a component of our actions and choices, the faster we can move forward unfettered.

How can our readers follow you online?

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

Brand Makeovers: Antonia Hock Of The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center On The 5 Things You Should Do… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Recommended Posts