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Updated Feb 21, 2023

Consumers Have Humanlike Relationships With Brands

Consumers show similar emotions in relationships in brands as they do with other humans.

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Written By: Julie ThompsonBusiness Strategy Insider and Senior Writer
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This guide was reviewed by a Business News Daily editor to ensure it provides comprehensive and accurate information to aid your buying decision.

Table of Contents

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  • There are two different types of consumer-brand relationships: exchange relationships and communal relationships.
  • If you want to maintain consumer brand loyalty, you must provide value to your customers.
  • Brands must understand their consumers so they can provide them value in the way they expect it.

Consumers’ relationships with brands are not all that different from relationships with people. Some you genuinely care about, while others are in your life simply because you depend on them. For marketers, understanding the difference between the two kinds of relationships is essential to making sure you know how to deal with your customers.

Marketers who realize this will be in a better position to retain customers and improve the perceptions of consumers who are unhappy with a brand’s service or product.

Editor’s note: Looking for the right CRM solution for your business? Fill out the below questionnaire to have our vendor partners contact you about your needs.

In one kind of consumer/brand relationship, people relate to the brand based primarily on economic factors. Walmart, for example, attracts customers based on price and value. In what the researchers call a “communal relationship,” consumers relate to the brand based on caring, trust, and partnership. State Farm, for example, sells itself as a “good neighbor” in all of its budget on car insurance ads.

Your branding and marketing strategies are the first steps toward communicating your business to consumers, which can help start building the relationship that cultivates consumer loyalty.

What is a brand-customer relationship?

The relationship between brand and customer is a unique one that can have positive outcomes for both parties. Customers develop relationships with brands and think of them as partners. Brands become more human to customers and obtain meaning and value.

Brand awareness

When a brand has built up trust in its customers, brand loyalty begins. If customers find a product they can believe in, then they will be loyal to brands. Companies have to try to create these relationships with customers. That is only the first step. They must then work to maintain and grow the relationship. Customers want to feel fulfilled, either because the product fills a need or because they feel loyal to it. You might have both kinds of customers, and you must find ways to appeal to each type. Offer a product that meets your consumers’ needs and ensures it’s reliable and of the highest quality.


How consumers react to experiences with the brand, both positive and negative, depends on how they like the brand in the first place, researchers said.

Pankaj Aggarwal, a marketing professor at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto Scarborough, and Richard Larrick of Duke University tested brand evaluation after an unfair transaction in 2012. The results still apply today and depended heavily on whether the consumer was in an exchanging brand or a communal one.

In one study, Aggarwal and Larrick set up a situation in which the consumer didn’t get what they paid for and wasn’t reimbursed for a mistake made by the brand. However, when customers were treated with respect and dignity after the error, those who had communal relationships with the brand responded well, possibly because it reassured consumers about the caring nature of their association with the brand.


Concern from the brand acted as a form of compensation in itself. However, this effect wasn’t found when consumers’ relationships with the brand regarding price and value.

In that case, if the consumers didn’t think they got their proverbial money’s worth, it didn’t move them to reconsider their negative evaluation of the brand.

However, things change when no problem needs addressing with the customer.

Key TakeawayKey takeaway
There are several factors that lend themselves to creating a quality relationship between brand and consumers, like the consumer's ability to identify the brand in the first place and their willingness to trust and commit to it.

What is brand relationship management?

Brand relationship management is a concept that allows businesses to remain constantly engaged with consumers. It intends to create humanlike relationships between the brand and the consumer. A brand relationship is a step away from keeping the correlation transactional only and warrants a deeper focus on the actual connection between both parties.

How to build a brand relationship

While several digital tools improve brand relationships, sometimes these software options can cause more harm than good. You can spin your wheels searching for new leads and achieve short-term gains, but it’s the connection you make with your customers that creates sustainability in the long run.

Consumers are expecting and demanding more from brands today. If they do not see the value in an item, they will not pay a premium price. There is a stronger sense of competition among the brands as consumers have more flexibility in their purchases.

As the market expands and options increase, consumers have become more unpredictable. Therefore, managing brand relationships is purely about the consumer. If a business wants to maintain the consumer-brand relationship, it must create and provide value.

1. Remember less is more.

With all of the customer data collected today, it is tempting to send out several emails noting everything the customer likes. Keep in mind that the more communication you send, the more it could seem like your brand only cares about paying the rent. Be creative. Use high-quality content that engages and interacts with your customer lending a hand to solidifying the customer and brand relationship.

Creating fewer communications that resonate with the customer’s values and behaviors helps sustain brand relationships. Partnering with an influencer that your customers see as authentic can foster brand loyalty. Position yourself as an expert in your industry and ask repeat customers for testimonials.

According to a 2020 survey, over 84% of consumers are more loyal to a brand that aligns with their values. The survey examined four demographics (Gen Z, millennials, Gen X and baby boomers) and three locations  (the U.S., the U.K. and Australia).

2. Take a breath.

As revenue targets loom in the background, it’s important to remember that brand loyalty requires more listing and less haste. Instead of making quick decisions based on daily reports, use the data to anticipate your customer’s needs and wants.

By taking a breath, you can get to know customers on an intimate level instead of hopping from surface to surface.

3. Build a community.

A company downturn can have many causes, but a sluggish economy, competitors or a digital malfunction can all blame. But if you have an established customer base, they can take their loyalty to the next level when times are less than stellar.

Whether you utilize your collected email list, repeat customers or superfans, current customers are the key to sustaining a business through rough times. A strong community can be a brand advocate when facing stolen product ideas, bad reviews, or support for a new product launch or company cause.

4. Optimize customer service.

Without consistent customer service, it’s impossible to build brand loyalty. Do whatever it takes to take your customer service team to the next level. Consider investing in a CRM, offering support via phone, email, online chat, and social media, and having a clear return/exchange policy in place for customers that need a tweak to their order.

5. Offer incentives.

Introducing a new brand to the world takes time and effort. Since large corporations have an even bigger marketing budget, it can be difficult for small businesses to get a piece of the pie.

Incentives like free shipping, a trial product, and points-based rewards program can provide exponential value to the customer and routine shopping visits to increase revenue.

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Written By: Julie ThompsonBusiness Strategy Insider and Senior Writer
Julie Thompson has spent nearly 20 years helping businesses with their marketing, sales and other operations. This has included developing brand standards, creating unique ways to market new products, leading media outreach and spearheading email campaigns. Her hands-on experience further includes Salesforce administration, database management, lead generation and more. In recent years, Thompson has focused on sharing her expertise with small business owners through easy-to-read guides on topics ranging from SaaS technology to finance trends to HR matters, alongside marketing and branding advice. She has also contributed to Kiva, an organization that helps fund small businesses in struggling countries.
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