Have you read the New York Times article that tests psychologist Arthur Aron’s proposition that anyone can fall in love by posing / answering 36 questions? The cynic in me is not surprised. Based on decades of RomCom research and my own skewed and completely biased experience, love is not the hard part of any relationship and can be manufactured (or at least simulated) fairly easily. All it takes is good timing, some epically romantic words and a moment of vulnerability… or you can skip all that with one grand gesture (stop a flight, propose in Portuguese, climb a fire escape, pre-plan post-mortem love letters … you get the idea). The hard part is what happens after baby leaves the corner and nails the lift – the relationship part. Whether we’re talking about a single girl or a brand, love is not enough… and maybe it’s not required at all.
This is controversial (and somewhat depressing), I understand, and I anticipate the argument that, for love to be Love, it mandates give and take, trust, reliability, sincerity, respect… all of those delightful things that we all know make (or should make) a relationship. I disagree, and here's where I bust out the trusty dictionary.com to put us at the same starting line from which to argue my point (don't worry, no clichéed 'recipe for love' will follow – this is not a RomCom, and I'm hardly any sort of chef in that particular kitchen). love – small l – is an 'intense feeling of deep affection.' End sentence. The problem is that love is a feeling – one emotion of many – and it comes with all kinds of personal and individual expectations that have nothing to do with that particular feeling. Therefore, on its own, love is not enough.
Now I am not saying falling in love isn't amazing – it's butterflies and rainbows and unicorns and turns your world on its axis and all that – you will get no argument to the contrary from me. There is no high like a love high. But if love were all we needed, we'd be riding on a white horse into the sunset feeling giddy and lucky and fulfilled and the whole world would be walking around with stupid smiles on their faces and every brand owner would be Bill Gates. But it doesn't work that way, because we're more complicated than a lost slipper and a nasty stepmom and it takes work. What matters is what's left when life interjects and the high fades and deep affection sits there staring at you with blank eyes. Whether a human-to-human or a consumer-to-brand relationship, there are many more very important emotions that matter in the long run. Let's take Aeroplan for instance.
Admittedly, I'm really good at spending money – like REALLY good. I have quality (read: expensive) taste, I'm a good gift giver, I love great food, and I'm prone to running, which means I'm a bit of a travel junkie. So when I first got my Aeroplan card, I was in love. I got excited when my statement came in, and was proud at the miles racking up. I bookmarked the site and calculated the miles I needed to go somewhere more interesting than here, and the time it would take to get there (inevitably not that long). I switched to Aeroplan partners, changing my route to work so I'd pass Esso instead of Petro, paying a little more for Air Canada even though my TV never works, favoring Fairmont and W. It was love at first spend… until I realized I was giving far more than I was getting. I was being taken for granted.
If love isn’t enough, what is? What more do we need?
Every time I wanted to go somewhere, it was too late – I would have had to book months in advance (not my style – they, of all people, should know that about me), and leave on a Tuesday. Taxes on flights redeemed are often close to – or more than – purchasing directly through an airline. Bags aren't included. And THEN they went and switched my bank without asking me. This was clearly a one-sided relationship, and I started to realize my options. Aventura has no blackouts and no seat restrictions. Avion wraps presents and takes you away from Christmas mall hell in style. Scene gives instant, in-person discounts on gummies and fake nacho cheese and offers free movies with no extra taxes or waiting periods. Aeroplan played a tricky game that I have fallen for more than once. They were full of promises and hope for the future, and I loved them, and maybe they loved me, but they didn't prove it – the relationship was entirely one-way and left me unfulfilled. I felt taken advantage of, and they just weren't there when I needed them. My trust had been misplaced. Our love ultimately proved not enough to sustain us.
If I asked you what drives and maintains your loyalty to a brand, what would you say? What causes you to change your behavior in favor of one brand over another, time and time again? I think of this like a warped Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, starting with a foundation of function, a core of emotion (where love would nestle nicely), and the targeted whipped cream and cherry on top that would be loyalty:
Certainly a need for the product/service itself is important for you to even consider it (thirst, have to put your money somewhere, shoe fetish), a certain level of attraction/satisfaction in the product itself (looks nice, fits well, looks good with your skinnies), falls within your price range (there’s room on your credit card) and perhaps it’s an easy and relevant location (close to your home, on your way to work / near other locations you frequent, online).
Functional attributes are easily replicable, and therefore replaceable, and no one wants to be replaceable. Functional needs may drive consideration, but they don’t drive loyalty – it’s the emotional drivers that keep us coming back and telling our friends to do the same. It’s the easy-to-say but hard-to-prove qualities that take us from product satisfaction to love to a full blown, successful, two-way relationship with a brand.
Conversely, the more our emotional drivers are satisfied, the more loyal we are to a brand, the more we will forgive, and the more we will preach its favors to others (advocacy). In fact, the highest level of loyalty is more akin to religion than love – we feel a part of a group or community with like-minded beliefs/values, and we become brand zealots. Take, for instance, the “religion” of Apple – I couldn’t tell you what the new watch does, but I would bet money there will be a line-up of people dying to spend $500 on it and soliciting their friends to do the same.
I don't fall often, but when I do, I fall hard, and I fall fast. I love till there's nothing left; until my bones break and my heart divides in two and all that remains is Adele and alcohol and sarcasm and the knowledge that love is always worth it, but it's never enough. As many times as I’ve loved, I’ve walked away from it, and so will your customers.
If Reebok had settled on love, they might sell some lifting shoes, but they wouldn’t be helping thousands of CrossFitters to reach their fitness goals, supporting a community in-person, through product and online with #MyOpenGoal, proving they’re a true partner in fitness training.
Purina’s Tidy Cats brand, a brand that really can’t rely on functional satisfaction or love for their product (given pet owners aren’t eating the food themselves), leveraged the insane cuteness of kittens as an opportunity to relieve human stress in the middle of an LA park (and create some ‘awww’ moments for those of us online – even we dog people have to appreciate this one).
Ford and the Toronto Maple Leafs already had the love of thousands through their #FansGoFurther platform, offering real fans the opportunity to earn from 200 available tickets to every single Leafs home game, hosting them in the massive, specially built Ford Fan Deck. But they went further, appealing to emotional drivers with special events like #LeafsLove Singles Night, a live game experience with eligible bachelor/ettes, a special Ford kiss cam and LeafsTV spot, meet-and-greets with alumni Darryl Sittler and Carlton the bear, giveaways, post-event videos and ongoing engagement through @theFordFANatic accounts. Continued and varied special activations throughout the season combine the physical and the digital to appeal personally to Fans’ emotional drivers beyond their love for the Leafs, leaving a lasting impression for all partners beyond simple interactions.
There’s no high like a love high, but if you rely on love alone, it can leave you so much farther to fall. Use your customer’s intense feelings for your product, service, or brand as a launch pad to satisfy their broader emotional needs, building on their love to create experiences that matter, and that last, cultivating long-term mutually positive relationships.
Stay tuned for A Single Girl’s Guide to XM, Part III: Making it Last (or parting amicably). If you missed Part 1, find it here.
*Bond’s Bank Stickiness study