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Today is the 14th of February, St. Valentine’s Day, the day on which many around the world celebrate their love for one another (and all us single people drink a lot of gin to compensate!)

St. Valentine himself was a Roman priest who lived around the 3rd century. Apparently, he annoyed the emperor by secretly marrying Christian couples so that the husbands wouldn’t have to go to war. As soldiers were sparse at the time, this understandably angered said emperor, and he had Valentine sent for execution. While imprisoned, legend has it that he cured the jailer’s daughter of her blindness, which was jolly nice of him. On the day of his execution he left the daughter a note that read “Your Valentine” … and so 1800 years later we all send cards to each other celebrating a man who had his head chopped off for underground marital ceremonies. How sweet.

Although this man had nothing to do with Ireland, his bones and a vial of his blood ended up on display in a Dublin church, where they remain today. In front of his relics is a book into which people write their hopes and prayers for love. Mostly, I imagine the entries are “How do I find a guy who doesn’t leave his underwear and wet towel on the floor?”

All you need is love. But a little chocolate every now and then doesn’t hurt.
Charles Schulz

So today, for the day that is in it, I think we could all learn a little from love. Everyday our brands and businesses expect customers to love us, to buy from us, to be ‘brand loyal’ to us. But have you ever stopped to ask yourself what you have done to deserve such loyalty? How have you fostered this relationship or how you could do better? Perhaps it is time we looked at our businesses as a relationship to better understand the customer experience and ourselves. So, let’s look at 5 areas of Love and Relationships for inspiration!


It doesn’t have to be love at first sight, but ultimately to make it past the first date there understandably has to be some attraction. But getting past that first date is a minefield.


Tinder and on-line dating has most of the world swiping left and right looking for that special someone. Everyone understandably makes their profile look as best  they can. Attracting someone in the first place is a rather key part in finding love. It is a cluttered market out there, everyone selling themselves, and so it is too for brands.

I think you should think about your brand as a Tinder profile. Are you really selling yourself as well as you can? Or are you like Mark, Brandon and Brosquito below?

Some brands think it is enough to produce their product or service and then do some ‘marketing’. It is not. You have to do a whole lot of tail-feather shaking today to get noticed. It is a cluttered omni-channel world out there. Your brand or business doesn’t have a chance unless you get your attraction ‘game on’


Ask for any relationship advice and you will be told it is all about supporting each other. Committing to the relationship is key if you want it to last. And while we all accept this as true for our personal relationships, we seem to struggle to bring this to life with our customers.

Support and commitment are two-way streets. The customer gives you their business, their money, their interest in who your business is and what you do. And what do you give them? Most B2C relationships today remain wholly transactional. One way streets where the customer feels used. A transactional relationship is the equivalent to the one-night stand, the ‘walk of shame’ home is a familiar road for many customers.

Brands really need to up their post-purchase conversations beyond ‘please rate my product’ on Amazon. Today in a digital world, it is easy for any business to interact with a customer post-sale. To be there for them when they are needed. You need to show a level of support and commitment to your customers if you want their loyalty, and commitment requires investment outside of ‘buy more of what I’m selling’


In any loving relationship, there are always peaks and troughs, those initial months of excitement and intimacy fade. In personal relationships, these phases are called ‘landing’ and ‘burying’, that is you realise your partner does have flaws and the everyday takes over and you become lost in the hamster wheel of life. Soon disillusionment can follow and from there the future becomes less certain.

The relationship you have with your customer is no different. You are a fool if you think that what originally attracted them to you in the first place will keep them forever. Just ask Nokia. There will always be new competition and industry disruption. You have to prepare for the disillusionment.

If your brand has supported and been committed to your customer, you may survive initial disillusionments. But no one survives repeated disappointment. Identifying pain points in the customer journey (read my previous blog post here on that topic) is critical. Immediately dealing with any customer dissatisfaction and disappointment is key. Welcome negative customer feedback, embrace it, encourage it. It is how you will grow as a brand and a business. Learn to listen to your customer in a genuine way, not through pointless tracking surveys.

Disappointment is just part of life. The difference with great brands is that they are ready for it


So how do we even avoid this disillusionment? Well, open any relationship advice column and they will tell you to ‘spice up your relationship’ to keep things exciting and interesting. Now before you go off and buy the entire office PVC body suits and leather whips, what I am really talking about here is ‘Surprise & Delight’.

In our personal relationships, we show our love and affection by doing little things for our partner. When we surprise them, we show them we care. We show them that we think about them, that we took the time and effort to organise something for them. And so it should also be with brands.

This goes back to the support and commitment point above. If you want to develop a relationship with your customers, like an actual relationship, that is not going to happen with simple consecutive transactions. You have to step outside of that and deliver beyond customer expectations. You have to surprise and delight them on occasion. Do something for them that they don’t expect. Make them smile. Make them laugh. Show them you care.

This video from TELUS (a Canadian telecoms company) really sets the bar high on customer surprise and delight


And so, we arrive at the ultimate aim of any relationship. To attain a level of bliss where there is true partnership and co-creation. If you can make it from the initial attraction through the disillusionment, supporting and surprising your customer, this is the reward.

In marketing terms, we term this an empowered customer, someone who feels a tribal sense of belonging to your brand and business. At this point your relationship is so deep that they will sell your product for you. In today’s peer-to-peer economy it should be the aim of every business and brand. Think Harley Davidson or Apple.

You must co-create and partner with your customers. It is no longer us-and-them, it is about bring the customer in to the heart of the business. To build your business around them, around their needs, around their desires. This is true love and it is only achieved where a brand makes a continued effort to foster this sense of partnership with their customer.

Men are from Earth. Women are from Earth. Deal with it!
George Carlin

So, what have we learned? Well Love is complicated, but we all knew that already. It takes effort and investment to build strong personal relationships, and brand relationships with your customers are no different. You cannot expect brand loyalty if you don’t show the support and commitment to your customers back. You cannot expect them to talk about you with their peers unless you give them some surprise and delight stories to share. You will only get back what you give.

But love is hard, and you will still have to get past that first date…




Ken Hughes is one of the worlds leading Shopper and Consumer Behaviouralists, blending his vast expertise in consumer psychology, social & digital anthropology, behavioural economics and neuromarketing to answer the question to which he has dedicated most of his career: Why do shoppers buy and how can we make them buy more? Click here to read more

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A blog to  inspire and delight

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A blog to  inspire and delight