Michele Laghezza: Why the customer is still king at Miele

By Justin Ware. Published at Apr 1, 2019, in Features

During his decade long tenure at Miele’s HQ in Italy, Michele Laghezza was the company’s Marketing Director, responsible for overseeing its communications and brand strategy.

Considered a pioneer in the influencer marketing space, Laghezza was a prominent fixture at Fiat Chrysler and Honda, gaining over 12 years of crucial expertise in marketing, global sales and management before moving to Miele.

Now he has travelled to the other side of the globe joining Miele ANZ as Marketing Director, where he will continue to strategically position the brand to consumers and strengthen its awareness within the region.

Laghezza recently sat down with Finfeed’s Justin Ware to discuss his approach to influencer marketing, how Miele has addressed the decline in brick and mortar stores, and more.

Justin Ware: Michele, welcome to Australia!

Michele Laghezza: Thank you. I am excited to be here.

JW: Let’s get started. First of all, congratulations on your appointment as International Marketing Director at Miele ANZ, how did it come about?

ML: Thank you Justin! It’s been quite the journey, I’ve been with Miele for over 10 years.

Like anything else, there comes a time when a new challenge is needed. When Miele came to me about heading up the marketing division in the ANZ region, my response was ‘why not’.

You only get so many chances to do something like this. Right now, at my stage of life, I felt like it was an amazing opportunity.

Obviously, it’s a huge change. My wife and daughter have moved over with me and there’s a lot to get used to quickly, but I’m ready for the challenge.

JW: How did you develop your expertise in strategic marketing?

ML: I worked at Fiat Chrysler and Honda and of those two companies, I believe Fiat Chrysler had the biggest impact on my career progression. Fiat is a highly revered automaker with a rich history spanning more than 100 years, so the lessons learned there have stayed with me.

I happened to join them when they were beginning a comprehensive review of their business at every level (production, marketing and corporate, etc.).

I’d been there all of five seconds when I was tasked with overhauling the brand and exploring potential re-branding options on one of the most important car segments at that time (which was Grande Punto) – what an opportunity that was! As a result, I became immersed across every aspect of the business and developed close working relationships with core leadership.

I was also involved in the Honda Motor Group launch in 2009, for its new Hybrid car in Italy.

More recently, being a key member of the international strategic group that evaluated Miele’s global communications was another key development opportunity

Similarly to Fiat, they wanted to perform an internal review of their brand identity and image across major markets. I was the rep from Italy/Europe, but we also had members on the panel from Australia, Canada and the UK.

JW: You’re credited as one of the first leaders/pioneers in the influencer marketing space in Italy – where did the inspiration come from for that concept?

ML: Interesting question – when someone hears the term ’influencer marketing’, the first thing they’re probably thinking about is the social media scene. Facebook and Instagram in particular have been huge drivers in this space, and companies are now regularly working with online identities to escalate products and initiatives.

I actually think influencer marketing is just a digitalised ambassador strategy, so when I refer to influencer marketing I’m thinking about something quite different.

It’s no secret by now that TV and/or radio commercials are no longer enough, and while it’s true that social media is a large part of that influencer approach, it’s also far too easy to throw a lot of cash at these online identities and then expect the results to just happen.

What’s the best way to influence people? By tapping into trends.

For me, influencer marketing is about both focusing on brand values and paying attention to trends and fads, both locally and further abroad.

During my time with Miele my focus has always been: what are the rising trends? And how can I, as a brand, contribute to a better life, according to these trends?

A good example of this was when the well-being/sustainability and healthy lifestyle craze began to work through Italy. As a brand we asked ourselves: how do we link healthy cooking (with Miele products being the glue that binds it together) to well-being?

As a result, we teamed up with Marco Bianchi, who is a well known chef/scientist in Italy.

I think we did an exceptional job of developing that concept (as seen below).

Once you find a way to create valuable, unique content for an audience and customer base that is ready to engage with it, success will follow.

JW: Now more than ever, e-commerce/online shopping is impacting brick and mortar stores – how have you adapted to that trend during your time with Miele?

ML: I’m glad you touched on this – in my opinion it’s the biggest dilemma in the retail space today.

Retail has largely transitioned from a pure sales mentality towards a more customer service experience. That’s not to say that companies don’t care about their bottom lines anymore (because obviously they do), but a large part of their focus lays squarely on the consumer.

Now, I’m beginning to see another evolution in consumer behaviour. Customers (especially the younger generation) are really seeking out high value, robust products that will last. While I can’t say for sure, I do think this behaviour is connected with increasing social awareness around ethical goods and manufacturing practices.

People want to know that the brand they’re choosing has strong values that match their own.

Some companies have probably made the mistake of pitting their physical stores against their online performance, instead of thinking outside the square a little bit.

At Miele, we’ve taken the view that our physical stores can act as vehicles for consumers who seek to evaluate the quality of our products and our identity. Even though online shopping is probably king, it doesn’t convey the above messages nearly as well.

It’s still vital that customers can get a feel for what you’re selling and why you matter and that’s what we’re striving to do.

JW: What advice would you have for businesses that are re-branding or trying to develop their voice and representation?

ML: It comes back to my earlier point: go back to the company values and use them as consistently along all the consumer touchpoints.

JW: What are your plans for the ANZ market, are there any cultural/market differences in Australia in comparison to Europe?

ML: There’s a lot of similarities, both regions are highly developed and share similar values.

But there are some unique differences in the consumer behaviour and purchasing process. In Italy for example, kitchen cabinet makers also sell the appliances in a package deal.

Making some inroads into that corner of the market in Australia could be something I will turn my attention to, but for now my first priority is to become acquainted with the team here and get established.

JW: Absolutely, well that about does us for today. Thank you Michele, all the best with the move. I’ll keep an eye out for Miele in kitchen cabinetry showrooms!

ML: Thank you ‘mate’! All the best, thank you Justin.

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