Today's brands strive to authentically drive relevance and advocacy, build enduring connections, and remain relevant. It's crucial to keep tabs on what people are saying about your business and zero in on the areas where they have the most enthusiasm. Before rushing to execute a groundbreaking concept, Brands must now consider how customers will respond to it in practice and how it will affect them in the short and long term.

In this episode of Building Brand Advocacy, Paul is joined by Stephan Lukac, Marketing Director at INDOCHINO.

They cover:

  • What INDOCHINO is about
  • The evolution of the idea of branding
  • Nuances with leveraging paid media and owned media for branding
  • The role of influencers in brand advocacy
  • Getting customer attention through a partnership
  • Leveraging trends for brand advocacy
  • How new brands can quantify their brand impact
  • Paying attention to customer reviews
  • Challenges and approaches to building brands

If you’re interested in how brands can leverage marketing, personalization, and customer feedback to build customer advocacy, tune in to this episode of Building Brand Advocacy.

Building Brand Advocacy 015: Stephan Lukac, Marketing Director at INDOCHINO

Paul Archer: Hello, and welcome to Building Brand Advocacy. My name is Paul Archer. I'm incredibly excited today to be joined by Stephan Lukac. Stephan, how are you doing?

Stephan Lukac: I'm doing great this morning. Thanks.

Paul: Stephan, you are Director of Marketing at INDOCHINO. Now, a lot of people will know about the brand but for those who don't, do you want to give us a bit of a summary?

Stephan: Of course. A made-to-measure suit company. I joined it about a year and a half ago, almost two years now. What was just attractive about the company is this great synergy between technology and artistry, so to speak. That notion of creating a suit, but doing so in a fashion that just felt really sophisticated. Again, the notion is you go into one of our showrooms, our style guide can there guide you through the product selection. Are you looking for this type of product? This type of product? These are the styles, and then they have an iPad right next to them, and they're entering in your preferences, what you're looking for, and the customizations. Tons of customizations that are available from the buttons that you use, to the way that the buttons work, and so forth.

That ability to customize and personalize your clothes through technology, I thought was fascinating. Again, the moment that we have it within the app, that's instantly sent to our factory at the end of the day. The factory that will then laser cut everything, tailor and then two to three weeks later, you get out the box from a shipping company with your suit in it. Again, it needs to be probably ironed, pressed, and if there're any type of details that need to be taken care of, we're more than happy to take care of those to ensure for that optimal thing.

Paul: That's remarkable that that can happen. Whereabouts of the factories?

Stephan: The factories are based out of China. We have one there and most of our logistics will go primarily out of Cincinnati, where that's our main type of distribution hub but we're also building capabilities here within Canada. With COVID, and so forth, every retailer had their challenges during the COVID type of period. I think we're definitely over that hump and that we don't advertise it too much. We're seeing two to three weeks as the typical type of delivery time. It's the exceptions, unfortunately.

We've got one or two that take four to six weeks. We really want to ensure an optimal experience for everybody. We say four to six, but great when you're surprised and all of a sudden your suit arrives two weeks later, and you're like, "Wow, this is cool. A custom-made suit in two weeks at my doorstep. That's amazing."

Paul: That is going to take your breath away and delivering that happiness at that moment it's surprising, it's a lot, right?

Stephan: Yes. One thing that I absolutely love are unboxing type of videos. We work with some influencers in the past, and just the unboxing, either around wedding time, or just a particular type of event, the excitement about opening it up and seeing that, looking at the personalization such as the monogram, and you're like, "Oh, my God, this is amazing." That is really, really exciting to see that happen.

Paul: Well, I'm keen definitely to jump into a little bit about that, and how you're getting the word out there. Beforehand I want to learn a little bit about you, and actually how you came to be there. You have an interesting academic background. How does someone who studies anthropology get into becoming a marketing director? I would love to know the journey.

Stephan: In the words of my father, "What the f are you going to do with an anthropology degree?" Was his exact wording. At the time, it was like there isn't a path forward for an anthropology but at the time I saw you know what, anthropology is about studying culture, and brands, are modern-day culture. Who and what you are as a person is defined by the clothes that you wear, the car that you drive, the places that you frequent, that is your personal type of brand, and what you try to project.

Modern brand building has many of the philosophies, tenants around anthropological type of study. We take ethnographies, for example, is a clear type of study created within the anthropology type of domain and you translate that to modern-day advertising marketing, that's what focus groups are. It's understanding the nuances of the purchase process, the consideration process, learning about that, and a lot of the theory and so forth is rooted in anthropology.

While at the time I didn't see the connection as I'm progressing through my career from the studying and then finding an internship, doing the advertising type of realm, I started to see those connections. I moved from advertising from Boston to Mexico, I spent two years down there, then up to Montreal to do my MBA. All along, I saw really good connections between the theory that I got from anthropology and the practice of creating ads and creating that story, specifically around the brand.

Paul: Amazing. Given your almost academic approach, so how have you seen the idea and the concept of a brand and brand itself evolve over the past 10 to 15 years been particularly interested in the social world that we live in compared to the one that was a little bit more centralized previously?

Stephan: I think what's fascinating is that brand building and media are really interlocked. It's always that fascinating component. When you're in a campaign, the creative team is like, "Well, where's the media going to be?" The immediate team is like, "Well, what's the concept here?" Is it the cart? Is it the horse? What goes first? I think you need to come up with that larger type of vision, and then create that space for each of those two type of entities. What's the media space that you want to resound in? What's the creative space that you want?

Media in the large part will inform and provide those nuances to the creative team. The number of insights again, driven by data, and all information that says, "Hey, this type of creative works better than that type of creative." Again, how has brand changed? I think, how has our media usage changed over the years? I was fortunate that at the very, very start at Arnold Worldwide began in the department around interactive marketing. That was the first foray into developing banners.

I remember doing Volkswagen banners way back in 2001, 2002 when IAB standards weren't totally established and there were crazy sizes going back and forth and that was really the first foray into developing banners and developing that type of experience. Since then Facebook came into the picture, Instagram came into picture, TikTok is there, our TV viewing experience has totally changed. As a result, the brand and the way that you talk about the brand has changed and evolved again, as a result of our media usage times.

Paul: Definitely this switch that's gone from the well, the bots media, to the owned media, your own platform, your fan group, fan pages, remember them, and the Facebook groups to more of that earned channels that you're now working through and multiple different people, fans, customers, influences advocates. Do you think that it's become harder for brands or easier for brands to exist and to grow in this new landscape?

Stephan: I think now there are just more balls in the air that you have to juggle. In the past, it was quite singular. It was like, "Let's put money towards TV, and then throw a little bit in print and so forth." Now, there's so many places to focus between your paid media, earned media, and owned media. It does, at the start seem insurmountable. Where do I begin? What's the most effective? Where do you put your time and energy. Our approach is a little bit of everything.

It's control the message where you can within the paid domain, continue to grow and evolve your earned type of media, and owned media, especially in the landscape of signal loss in the paid space means that your owned media is incredibly, incredibly valuable so how do you continue to build that and grow that? It's really a balance of all of those at the same time. I would not prioritize one over the other. I think that the paid element has critical elements but so too, you need to put that attention in your earned type of efforts.

Are you creating a space that will allow and enable your advocates, your influencers to easily learn about your products and talk about your products? Is that as streamlined as possible?

Paul: I love that. When you were growing INDOCHINO, was there one thing that really stood out above the others?

Stephan: For us, we've had really great success within the influencer/brand advocate space around sports. They're between our partnerships that we've done over the years, from New York Yankees to Red Sox, to football stars, basketball stars, across the board, we found a really, really good niche within the sports type of domain. We will continue to explore that. Really because I think that one nuance or insight that we found is that when somebody-- Let's take Trevor Lawrence. Trevor Lawrence recently went from small football to larger football leagues, and it's that moment when you're being drafted.

It's that moment when you're going from local college to the big leagues, well, that particular moment, you're looking for a symbol, you're looking for something that shows that confidence, and that, "Hey, now you're in the big leagues." What better way to do that than to put on a suit to have something customized and personalized? We've worked really hard to capture that moment and amplify that through much of our partnership and advocacy type of efforts.

I think on again, that pivotal moment in your life when you're moving from one stage to another, how can we be part of that to ensure that you have that confidence you have that look, that feel that says, "Hey, this person is different. This person is now changed and they're looking great in the process."

Paul: How do you get in front of these guys? Presumably, you have some paid partnerships, but you can't just gift someone to bespoke suit. [laughs] You've got to get the sizes and all those things. How do you get people's attention to get some of maybe not the paid partnerships? Of course, those are great but quite expensive, the gifting area between. Is that even possible in your industry?

Stephan: Yes. I think it's our partnership team led by Ali, do a fantastic job with that. He has tons of contacts within the industry to such a degree that we get occasional sports stars that will reach out to us and say, "Hey, I'm looking for a suit. Can you guys hook me up?" And so forth. We've gotten to the point where the brand is well-recognized. It's spoken about within the circles. That, hey, when they're looking for a suit for an event, big events or weddings, I'm getting married, can you help us out here? In instances like that, we're more than happy to help out.

The other instance is again, around draft. It is a great type of opportunity and to ensure that we're front and center, top of mind of the athletes to consider us.

Paul: Has the change in rules around college football, college thoughts generally, and sponsorship allowed a lot of opportunity for you?

Stephan: To a degree. The moment that it goes into the paid type of domain, all-- Recently, prices and so forth have just been astronomical. I think what we're looking for is something that can meet the regulations and at the same time works from the player's perspective. Really, I'd call it that art and science. The art is understanding the contacts, understanding what works. The science is a heavy type of attribution. For each one of our purchases, we'll have a coupon associated with that.

That's what allows us to one, track it and two, ensure that it's at a free cost, reduced cost, whatever the agreement is. Then if we look at these in aggregate, you get a really good sense of what's the trends that we see, what worked and what didn't work, and then where we can try to apply a media value to that. There were 20 million impressions as a result of this. There were 10 million impressions as a result of that. Again, impressions is a finicky metric, but at least it gives us a metric, and then combining that with the sales data, all of a sudden you can start to develop trends and see that, "Hey, hockey?" I'm just making this up.

Hokey maybe isn't working as well for us, but NBA looks awesome, and let's continue. It's not the case but just an example where we can delineate and understand, hey, what channels, sports, approaches are working and which ones aren't.

Paul: That's fantastic. I think that's one of the areas that most people are really interested. What other brands are doing is actually, how do we get the ROI in this? How do you calculate it? One of the ways that I've been fascinated to see quite a lot of brands doing recently is valuing the-- Not the reach, but the actual engagements. The number of likes or comments or whichever platform it is and then using the same proxy for how much they spend on a cost per click to say, "Well, that would've cost us 20 grand if we spent it with Meta." Then this is actually not a bad transaction.

When you start wrapping that data around things, you get different areas because you can get the revenue tracking couponing, but also you can get the earned media value that you would've had to pay for to just increase that brand awareness as well.

Stephan: Well, that's it exactly. I think with much of digital marketing it's tons of metrics and so it's combing through those to really identify which are the ones of value. Where do we want to focus on and how can we use that as a way to differentiate ourselves and identify what works and what doesn't?

Paul: In INDOCHINO one of the topics I'm fascinated by is how brands build communities with their customers. Does that mean something that has played into you? You have a hundred thousand or more Instagram followers and some incredibly passionate customers out there. How does that word of mouth between customers work in your world and is that something you're able to track? Is it something you can invest in like you can with the larger advocates?

Stephan: A little bit of both. The business model is very much towards paid media. That's easy to measure, but I think inherent in much of the team and the organization is what I call the ineffable. Those things that you can't measure as well. There is that focus on that understanding that, hey, that is going to drive top-of-funnel awareness, it is going to drive those brand advocates that will continue to come back. The measurability of that is challenging to a degree so we'd look at those metrics that we can control from your likes, engagements, and so forth, reported on each of the channels.

Coupons are a great way to do that. Then the other element that we use is, how did you hear about us? Meaning that, that as you're going through the conversion funnel, whether it's on the appointments, that's our legion, or actually purchasing a suit, we ask the question, how did you hear about us? All of those together and part of our attribution efforts bring all of those together to really help us see those particular type of nuances and understand, this works better than another."

Another area that we've had really good emphasis on and has worked quite well is reviews. Too many times reviews are overlooked, but it's a big focus for us to tie those reviews back to each one of the showrooms and to the individual that is being reviewed. How can we correct? If it's a negative review, great. How do we learn from that and make sure that it's better next time? For those reviews that we did a great job, great. What can we do to amplify those? What can we do to really showcase those as much as possible?

At least for now, we're keeping those within the platform, whether it's Facebook, whether it's Google but the opportunity there is to continue to amplify and grow those a little bit further.

Paul: So not similar to reviews. How does user-generated content play into it because buying a suit off the internet that's bespoke, I'm sure there's a lot of trust that you need to build up. You mentioned the unboxing with some of the celebrities, but how does that tie into, and generally, how do you manage to cross that trust barrier of getting someone to commit to getting a suit made somewhere on the other side of the world? It must be a really interesting challenge for you.

Stephan: I think it's a combination of all of these. The customer journey is not just, "Oh, I need a suit. Let me go to Google, I'll search for a suit and find it." There's everything that happens before. What we want to ensure is that from the moment of that initial type of discovery or need, then exploration, that we're there on top of mind. I think just as we discussed it, it's where do you place your emphasis? Is it paid media? Is it earned media? Is it owned media? It's everything because that's where the customer journey happens.

Again, let's trace, weddings is a great example of that. I have a wedding. It's three months away, what do I do? Well, we'll ensure that throughout many of the places where people might be our media, our messaging, our videos are there on top of mind. We might be heavily present on Instagram when it comes to wedding, that type of material so they learn about us, all of a sudden they start to look at the reviews in one of their local type of locations they see, oh, seems like they have this great type of expertise around weddings.

Next, they might be served up one of our ads or one of our partnerships that we have with wedding influencers again on Instagram or Facebook. They learn a little bit more about that. Great, now I know about the brand, let me do a branded search. Go through that process all the way to the onboarding and post-process, and post-purchase with our customers. Every single one of those touchpoints, we try to then take it back to that core element of how do we personalize and how do we create that unique experience for our customers.

Paul: Love that. That is the whole game, isn't it? It's not just one channel, it's the entire journey that the customers go on and then get them to tell other customers and start that journey again.

Stephan: Yes.

Paul: Now we've talked about a lot of great things here. What would you have changed? Do you have any regrets or any learnings that you learned really hard that you would do differently if you had your time again?

Stephan: I think one challenge in brand building, and especially at retail, is the inherent challenge of short-term versus longer-term brand building. Short term is both myself and much of the team are accountable to driving the business. Every single day we look at yesterday's revenue. This morning I'm just refreshing our dashboard, refreshing our dashboard, how did we do? If we did well, awesome, let's continue doing that. If we didn't, great, what do we do to push that revenue?

Last year there was a big focus on promotional type of nature. X percentage off, get this off. It's very much of lowest-cost type of approach. While that works shorter term, you say X percentage off and all of a sudden everybody's really interested, you see your conversion rate go up, and high-five the team. This is awesome. The challenge is that that slowly nips away at your brand-building type of efforts. We did a lot of that last year, I'd say partly as a result of Covid. We were very much in that mode, that approach of we need to rebuild the business and we need to rebuild the business, I don't want to say at any cost, but that was priority number one.

What that did is that it enabled us this year to then really focus on building the brand and focus on profitability. We've downplayed that promotional nature, pushed the brand much more, and saw 360 come spring of having beautiful brand elements. From our photo shoot for Spring, that was front and center. Many of our emails and much of what we talk about is very much educational to show people about the fashion side of INDOCHINO, provide that advice, create that expertise around suiting. We've seen that build-up all this year and now we're at a really, really good place where that brand building, that education, that I'd call it fashion first type of approach is definitely present, and we find a balance with that from a promotional type of nature.

That balance is always tricky for retailers and it is a constant challenge of you need to bring in revenue right now, versus we need to build the brand. Last year I think it was veering a little bit too much towards the promo side and this year is the correction and we're definitely much more in the direction that we're looking for.

Paul: That's brilliant but you can bring it back as well. I think it's one of those things that quite a few brands that I know as soon as COVID hit was that we're not going to hit our quarter, we'll have to do a massive sale. It's like, whoa people just aren't buying, just not buying anything regardless of what the price is. I guess with yours I presume probably it was quite challenging with the fact that people weren't going to work and they weren't getting married things like that.

My favorite step or then quote for another Vancouver, right? I'm not sure that's what the name is of Chip Wilson and Lululemon says, "Every dollar you discount takes $10 off your market count because of the brand buildings side of things." I do believe that there is something that we as marketers the more we can empower marketers to build brands. We're going to miss those goals but discounting is not the answer. What is the answer is such a powerful effect when it comes to what you were saying about the actual brand and the power of it as it goes from there.

Tell me what's next for you guys. It sounds like it's been a great year, where are you hanging?

Stephan: One area that we're really, really excited about is women's wear. The whole notion that we're doing made-to-measure suits for men, finished this summer and now we're opening up the opportunity to do custom suits for women as well. We're starting in select type of locations, ensuring that the process, the logistics of it are working and we're creating amazing suits that work equally well for women as they do for men, and the plan is to start to slowly roll that out. I'd think mostly next year and gain greater traction on that front.

The markets that we are running those in are super excited. The fact that women can now go get custom-made suits for their particular type of either body types or customizations is something that isn't that easy to find in most markets. That's one element that we're really, really excited. Again, it's a whole new market that's opened up for us, and opportunities for growth that are absolutely phenomenal, but we want to approach it slowly, carefully, and develop learnings from that to then be able to scale that successfully starting next year.

Paul: Fantastic. A couple of rapid-fire questions for you. They're rapid questions so you can be as long as you want with your answer. What marketing-related advice would you give your 21-year-old self?

Stephan: I'd say, don't be afraid to fail. I think I was too conservative back in the past. This whole notion of making a mistake, make those mistakes. Try different things. Test, learn. It's only through failure that you're really going to make a difference, and improve the brand, improve the experience. Failure in brands is tricky because it's so easy to fall, and it's so easy to make a big type of mistake, and so it's finding those careful calculated places where you can try make potential type of errors, learn from those and scale that before it becomes too big.

Again a woman's wear is a great example of that. We're looking to make those potential type of errors, learn from that, and make it better for next time.

Paul: Brilliant. What counter intuitivist have you learned along the way? By which I mean those things that your gut thinks it should be this, but it actually turned out to be that.

Stephan: I think there're so many of those.


Just fascinating how what you think is going to work for customers or so forth just doesn't resonate or vice versa. Everywhere from, hey let's call this our end of the summer sale, and have this the same type of offer, that end of the season sale did nothing. It's the same offer but the name just didn't resonate, but you call it something like flash sale or happy hour which our customers are familiar with, that resonated much more. Feels very counterintuitive, you think it's offer-led and no, it really is a combination.

It's the name of that campaign plus the offer the two of them combined seemed to resonate much better than others. Another learning or hypothesis that we had around outerwear, is that outerwear is region specific. We did a lot of regional type of tests for outerwear. Rain outerwear, versus warmer type of outerwear, and coincided each one of those towards geographies, and saw that there wasn't a strong correlation between those two. You would think that the New York and Chicago areas a warmer type of outerwear is more effective and no, we didn't see much difference or uptake from those versus others.

Great, let's provide all of those options to our customers. Let them pick and choose and give them the most amount of options available there.

Paul: Fantastic. Now finally, who in the world of brand building would you most like to take out for lunch or dinner and a few drinks? You can choose.

Stephan: One person probably not a big name but Jordan Sequeria. I worked with him in the past when I was at TD and he did a lot of work for brand building. Now, he heads up with much of the IKEA work here in Canada. Their recent type of work Bring Home to Life, I thought was absolutely beautiful. I'll share a link afterwards. It's the whole notion around how much the story of your life is created around the furniture and how you build your home around that.

It's a beautiful TV spot around the immigrant type of experience. I'm an immigrant in Canada, even though I don't look it, don't seem it, and I've been here for a while. That immigrant experience still resonates with me, and to see that, and to build your life, and that building around furniture, I think is something that one resonates a lot with many people, and IKEA was able to capture that so well and the particular insights around that resonate really, really well. I'd love to sit down with Jordan and it's like, "Hey what is the research that you did that developed the insights that then inform that particular type of brand positioning and that TV spot?"

It's those connections that I think I'd love to connect, tease out more of, how did you do the research that then developed those insights that then manifested itself in that particular type of spot? I'd love to learn. I'd love to tease out and understand because I think for all brand builders that is the magic. Finding out that insight that then serves as that brand platform, that then can you can see it in each one of the brand elements, whether it's a print ad that this area out of home ad that you see as you drive by, or a TV commercial that you see on CTV or just the TikTok that you fly past. If all of those are connected and have a real strong underlying insight that drives them, I'm fascinated by that and understanding the how.

Understanding how did you get there. The stories around that are usually fascinating. 9 times out of 10 at least what I've found based on this, "Hey I didn't realize this but our research all of a sudden pulled out this insight that was unique, that we wrap the concept around and all of a sudden becomes much stronger as a result of that."

Paul: Amazing. They're such a great brand, aren't they? In so many ways such a great business and I'd love to meet him too. We have to get him on the show. You have to connect us so I can ask all those questions.

Stephan: Happy to pass his link and contact info. He is a really, really remarkable individual. Where they are right now, I think makes really good sense for the Canadian type of market, for where and how they want to continue moving that brand. What's interesting about IKEA is that they've created a platform that is very much country-specific, and fascinating how within that country-specific it can be amplified within that country, and if that insight is strong enough to make it international, then it can easily move to different types of locations.

It's a notion of localize it, but if that localization is relevant to other type of countries, then it's something, an asset that has legs and can be extended elsewhere.

Paul: Brilliant. Stephan thank you so much for your time. This has been a great conversation. I've loved it. I've learned a lot and it's been an absolute pleasure having you on. Thanks a lot.

Stephan: That's great. Paul, thank you very much for the opportunity and I encourage all our listeners, please feel free to visit We'd love to help you suit up for your next opportunity.

Paul: Brilliant. I'll definitely get to do that. Thanks a lot.

We can't wait to meet you.