The objective: To observe the effect celebrities (branded people) have on the behavior and attitudes of their fans (their brand loyalists).
1) Lidia’s presence spontaneously caused me to evaluate my physical appearance:
- I was dressed in my “agency uniform” – blue blazer and dress shirt atop dark jeans. I consciously deemed my attire appropriate for the occasion.
- I was deeply satisfied when I noticed the specular highlights in my shoes.
- I was wearing French cuffs and I was conscious of a desire for Lidia to take notice of, but not comment on this fashion choice.
- When I went to the men’s room, I noticed that the left side of my collar was screwed up; I was relieved that Lidia was seated to my right.
- I was unshaven, but unconcerned as I felt this made me look more European.
2) Under normal circumstances I am between 30% – 50% propensed to engage in conversation with the person next to me. Lidia’s presence increased my propensity to 100%.
3) My conversation was singular in its purpose: to convince Lidia that I had a personal connection to her, to demonstrate to this branded person that I was brand loyal.
In the aggregate, all observed behavior was attributable to a single unmet need on the part of the test subject: validation. And that validation would come only by convincing this tribal leader that I was worthy of tribal membership.
After I introduced myself, our conversation focused almost exclusively on my tribal credentials: how my wife – who is part Italian – had introduced my son and me to “Lidia’s Italy”; the (Italian) recipes that had been passed down to my wife and her four siblings by their (Italian) mother; the photo in our kitchen of my son making his first tomato sauce (at the age of four). Clearly, this was my rite of passage and I didn’t want to screw it up.
The experience left me thinking about the idea of “earned membership” and how important this idea is to a brand. It is earned membership that makes an iPod more than an MP3 player, a Rolex (or a Swatch) more than a watch, a Mountain Hardware Absolute Zero (™) Parka more than a winter coat.
It is earned membership – or at least the perception thereof – that transforms a product into a brand.