“Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind.” — William Shakespeare
“Love is all you need.” — The Beatles
“What is love? Baby don’t hurt me.” — Haddaway
Today we’re going to talk about love — the most splendid/confounding/infuriating of human emotions. Don’t worry; we’re not turning this blog into an advice column. We’re going to discuss a very special kind of love: the kind that exists between a brand and its consumers.
Can a person truly “love” a brand? Of course! Granted, no one is going to pick a trip to McDonalds over their child’s birthday party (at least we hope not), but certain brands can inspire feelings of loyalty, comfort, and even intimacy — emotions most would recognize as hallmarks of a loving relationship.
Think about the feelings some people have about brands like Apple, Sephora, Drybar, or SoulCycle. Each of these inspires its customers to be more than just consumers of products — they are part of a lifestyle. You could precede each brand name with the phrase “The cult of…” and you’d be accurately describing a real movement, in which members enjoy a shared sense of identity and passion for the brand. So all you need to do is to emulate one of those companies, and it’ll be love at first sight, right? If only it were that simple…
The Ritual of Brand Love
Much like building relationships in the real world, establishing brand love is a gradual process with its own rituals. Think of it like dating. First, you do some primping on your own so you can look and feel your best. This is your basic surface branding work — the look of your site, the voice of your editorial content, etc. When you catch the eye of a potential partner, their first instinct should be, “Oooh, this is a possibility.” But appearances aren’t everything. You’ve got to show them you’re more than just a pretty face.
This is where you must put your best mental and emotional foot forward. Through community-building interactions, you strike up conversations, being extra careful not to make it all about you. You find common ground. Your interactions become more flirtatious. Soon you’ve won them over. Lucky you! But remember, we’re talking about LOVE — not a one night stand. It’s not enough to get customers to pick you. They need to keep picking you (and only you) time and time again.
The Recipe For Long-Term Love
The biggest brand love success stories have been forged over years and, in some cases, decades. To create the perfect recipe for turning casual customers into true brand champions, all the ingredients must come together. Sometimes, it begins with a need (“I need to get in shape”), progresses to a realization of value (“SoulCycle looks more fun than the gym”), is fueled by the discovery of a unique experience (“The energy here keeps me coming back!”), and culminates with a sense of belonging (“I love my SoulCycle family”).
Other times, the brand delights by over-delivering for its customers (“Wow, my Amazon delivery arrived in less than 24 hours!”). Occasionally, the brand itself drives demand (“I’m always the first person in line when new Apple products launch”). In other cases, more personal feelings may play a role.
Airbnb does a great job of this; by bringing together hosts and travelers from all over the world, they tap into very human touch points like culture, belonging, friendship, exploration, comfort, and personal space. These feelings are built into every positive Airbnb exchange in some form, so an emotional experience (and an accompanying warm-and-fuzzy feeling for the brand) is almost guaranteed. They differentiate themselves from their competitors by providing a unique experience that builds authenticity and consistency — two more crucial factors in the courting of potential brand lovers.
But just as love can lift us up where we belong, it can also become a wicked game. When ClassPass recently hiked up their rates, their otherwise adoring community was outraged. “Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken!?” they seemed to say. Whether or not ClassPass recovers from this perceived betrayal all depends on how carefully they handle the backlash, and how thoroughly they make make amends to their community. After all, brand love means always having to say you’re sorry.
Just like in the real world, every single relationship is different. But there must actually be a relationship. Making deep connections earns brands the advocacy, trust, and loyalty they need to keep customers for life.
Does all this talk of emotions and connections leave you feeling a little lovesick? Fear not — in our next installment of this series, we’ll discuss the first practical step towards brand love. We won’t give the clichéd advice that every awkward teen gets: “Just be yourself!” Instead we’ll say, “Just love yourself!” — because, as you’ll soon learn, brand love begins from within.