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Brand Love for the Long Haul: Five Tips for Lasting Connections With Customers

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The exhilarating rush of new love often feels like it will last forever. But anyone in a long-term relationship knows that love's initial flames often die down, replaced by a more stable bond that needs some juicing to stay healthy for the long haul.

Brand relationships are no different. Keeping a fiery connection takes some work.

To unlock long-term love for our brands and set the stage for strong lasting connections, one simply has to look at and apply basic human relationship principles. Here are five ways you can keep the spark alive and forge a devoted, lasting connection to consumers.

1. Spend quality time together

Companies work really hard and spend a lot of time marketing brands. But you can also spend one-on-one active time with your own brand to understand and experience its core behaviors, benefits, and experiences. As a result, you'll truly feel its value and make sure it hasn't lost its way. Whether your category is technology, CPG, or retail, sit with your products, experiences, and expressions and bring an open, objective eye.

Reality show Undercover Boss puts senior management in the trenches to understand the day-to-day realities of experiences they provide, and the people who manage those experiences.

Fast food giants are known for putting management boots on the ground. Domino's CEO and franchise leaders created major waves of change after eating a lot of pizza (and commercialized the transformation) while McDonald's regularly sends corporate staffers into the field to serve.

It's never a loss; the time you spend can reveal strengths and weaknesses you never new you had.

2. Delight with novelty

Brands tend to have the same routines. Changing things up a bit and adding a little variety to your world can really spice things up: a seasonal play, a promotional "wow," an event that's out of the ordinary—what might seem like a gimmick is actually a good thing, as long as it's on brand—to make the bond even stronger.

Starbucks consistently takes the holiday season to a whole new level by creating expectations around an extended theme; everything from product offerings to design gets a merry lift.

Brillo recently went back in time and featured Warhol-inspired packaging to mark its 100th anniversary. The retro-cool design made a splash and reminded us that Brillo offers something beyond products for daily chores: post-modern art—and a connection to our own pasts.

3. Know when to over-communicate and when to listen (genuinely)

Brands believe they have an ear to ground via Facebook and Twitter, but successful engagement requires open, two-way communication. Have a robust, transparent dialogue with your consumers to showcase how good you are at listening and at being emotionally honest.

Tropicana's famous packaging redo a few years ago not only brought the power of the consumer voice front and center but also solidified the new two-way street in brand relationships.

Oreo's "Dunk in the dark" real-time response to the Super Bowl blackout, using social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook, showed that it not only listens to culture but also has finely tuned brand behavior reflexes to prove it is present in and part of, the customer's life.

On the flip side, the owners of Amy's Baking Company in Arizona missed an opportunity to use constructive criticism to their benefit—and possibly led to the demise of their own company—when they engaged in a social media war with critics of the brand on Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit.

Tuning in to your audience through modern marketing tools is more than a box to check in a media plan. It is a way to validate what consumers experience and to make a connection that much stronger.

4. Create surprise that's emotionally relevant

When is the last time your brand did something surprising that reactivated a relationship or brought consumers back into the franchise through emotional depth? An unexpected move can be disruptive, but it can also lengthen an emotional bond to become lasting.

Dove's recent beauty social experiment was a wow that hit an emotional cord and sealed the deal that Dove owns empathetic female empowerment.

Huggies has developed a sensor device called the Huggies Tweet Pee that attaches to baby's diaper to notify parents via text or Twitter that it's time for a change. It's an innovation that understands how 21st century parents relie on technology to connect them to parenting basics and creates all-too-real empathetic understanding of how busy parents are.

Let your brand surprise with product innovation or commercial ingenuity that keeps communication fresh, relevant and empathetic.

5. Embrace companion love

In brand love, there's nothing like true loyalists. They get deeply and emotionally involved with your brand, and they spread the word; and, even if passion dies, the promise of companionship remains.

Don't take loyalists for granted! Reward or harness that connection to further advance the bonds of love—and more deeply.

Maker's Mark created its famous brand ambassador program not to reward long-term companions with custom batch bourbon (which it does) but to keep positive vibes going strong.

Recently, Disney's Star Wars Weekends campaign used 3D printing so hardcore Star Wars fans can have their face on a life-size Stormtrooper figurine. It's a super-smart transfer of Star Wars loyalty to the Disney brand. These kinds of fans invest their time and energy and become deeply vested in the relationship. Focusing on those who love you deeply can grow more of those who love you deeply.

* * *

Nobody would possibly wish that their bond with consumers become fractured over time. But should your brand hit a bump in the road (as all good relationships do at some point), you can take a step back and look at it from a human perspective.

Making it work is work—but fun work. So crack open the bubbly, put on a little Marvin Gaye, and get ready to woo your consumers as if you were falling in love all over again.

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Christina Papale is VP of strategy and director of innovation at CBX, a brand agency based in New York.

LinkedIn: Christina Papale

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  • by Amanda Batista Tue Aug 6, 2013 via web

    Very interesting post, Christina. Thank you for sharing these examples. Would be interested to see how B2B marketers are doing similar things to engage.

  • by Ashton Steele Tue Aug 6, 2013 via web

    Hey Christina- Loved your article. Too many brands today are all about proving their worth but forget to acknowledge the customer's worth, creating that honest, genuine connection. I was excited to see you used Maker's Mark as an example- they are crazy good at fostering loyalty with their Ambassador program. I went through and reviewed their rewards program from a user experience w/ screenshots, you should definitely check it out. Great example of building lasting love with customers-

    Thanks again for the insights!

  • by Sarah Bauer Tue Aug 6, 2013 via web

    Great post ( and thanks for the tip off about the Maker's Mark ambassador program - - this is one very excited bourbon drinker over here!)

    We focus so much of our energies attracting prospects and driving new traffic back to our website, that it's sometimes easy to forget about those mainstay customers that could make for excellent brand advocates, if we only gave them a little extra love. Reminder to do so duly noted!

  • by Gracious Store Tue Aug 6, 2013 via web

    Interesting post! Very enlightening!

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