Yes, You can Buy Love.

How brands build not just customer loyalty, but relationships.


Valentine’s Day is very special to us here at 214. In keeping with the holiday, we decided to talk about a subject near and dear to our hearts: brand love. As with all forms of love, there are many definitions — everyone seems to have an opinion on brand love. Similarly, nearly everyone has both given and received it.

To us, brand love is that unique connection a person feels to a brand. It’s what companies dream of inspiring. Since we eat, drink, and sleep brands, I decided to sit down with some of my colleagues to talk about the ones they love and why.

Here’s what they had to say:

How would you describe your relationship with a brand you love?

[Talking about fitness brand Aaptiv] Mutually beneficial. I participate in the Ambassador program, so I get early access to new updates and perks in exchange for feedback and member referrals.

What are some common traits of brands that get a lot of love?

Authenticity (eek, buzzword), wit, friendliness, authority/knowledge, approachability.

What do you think makes people love brands?

I think people love brands when they can see themselves in it.

An alignment with their values and purpose. You connect with the brand and go, ‘oh, these are my people.’ It resonates with who you know yourself to be (even if it’s aspirational) and it’s the recognition of that truth that drives you to connect. Done right, the brand will grow with you as you do.

Brands play several roles in people’s lives. They make us look and feel better, and often represent who we are or want to be. Whether relational or aspirational, brands are core participants in our lives today.

For you brands out there dreaming of love, here are 3 tips:

1. Know your yourself and know what you stand for.

In brand speak, that means “know your brand purpose.” In normal people speak, that means know why you exist. Once you know your purpose, your brand values become clear, and they are one of the most important assets your company will ever have. This may seem obvious by now, but your brand purpose is invaluable in many ways. Here’s why:

  • Knowing your brand purpose allows you to stand for something bigger. We know standing for something is critical to consumers today. People expect more from brands than just quality and reliability, they want to know that their values align. Your brand purpose will allow you to identify the higher order values intrinsic to your company — not just values that seem “like a good idea.” People quickly see through brands claiming social causes that are not believably connected to the brand. Don’t be that brand.
  • People want to see themselves in your brand. As we saw in my colleagues’ answers, people like to see a piece of who they are (or aspire to be) in brands they buy. With religion and governments experiencing an all time low for trust and affiliation, it’s no surprise that now more than ever, people look to brands as vehicles of association and identity. Stand for something, have a purpose, and your brand advocates will come.

2. Know your audience.

Building on the idea that people want to see a piece of themselves in brands, people also seek a form of relationship with brands they love. Now, this is not a new revelation, but like all relationships today, it’s complicated and expectations are high! People want a real connection, to feel that their needs are not only being met, but exceeded. The catch is that different people want different things — surprise! Some want to feel like they’re in an exclusive relationship, or for a brand to exist only to fulfill their every need. Others want to feel like partners in building the brand. To build the right relationship with your audience, your brand needs to look beyond the demographic info, or “industrial view” of consumer relationships. Don’t restrict yourself to annual income and education level — instead, think about about consumers as individuals. How does she/he walk, talk, and aspire to be? Once you know who that person is you’ll learn how to connect with them, what relationship they want, and be able to develop it.

3. Tell a story!

“People say they want information, but we don’t experience the world through information we experience it through story.” — Brian Collins

People today don’t buy products or benefits; they buy stories. Stories activate our universal emotions, like belonging, comfort, nostalgia. The types of stories brands tell vary. Some tap into archetypes and eternal truths like Apple or Nike, while others focus on their supply chain origin or distribution like TOMS. Figure out your story, one that only you can tell, and tell it! If you don’t know or don’t have a strong story, then fall back on your purpose — it forms your core for a reason.

Now in honor of Valentine’s Day, go get some love — brand or otherwise!

Avery , Jill, et al. “Unlock the Mysteries of Your Customer Relationships.” Harvard Business Review , no. July-August, 2014.
Collins, Brian. Interview by Debbie Millman. Brand Thinking and Other Noble Pursuits. 2013: (80).
Butler, Kate. Email Interview. February 13, 2018.
Cohen, Trace. Email Interview. February 13, 2018.
Lamb, Lindsey. Personal Interview. February 13, 2018.
Asia Mernissi