Brand loyalty and the psychology of love

article by Kristy Gulsvig reposted from How Brands Are Built

As branding professionals, we want more than our customers’ money—we want their loyalty. We want them to fall in love with our brand. Ideally, we’ll create such a strong relationship with customers that they’ll stick with us—with our brand, I mean—in good times and in bad, in sickness and in…you know the drill.

What’s love got to do with it?

Love is based on emotions. It’s a deep affection, typically rooted in shared values or experiences.

Love is irrational. When we love someone unconditionally, we’re willing to forgive trespasses and look past flaws because there’s something deeper that drives our connection. Love isn’t transactional or ephemeral. It’s a genuine, long-term commitment.

Love is a battlefield. (And so is branding.)

Brand loyalty is about more than “feeling the love.” Loyalty can translate into tangible business benefits like repeat purchases, increased market share, and long-term revenue growth.

But just like unconditional love, brand loyalty can cause customers to accept or overlook what otherwise might be considered flaws—premium pricing, PR blunders, or product failures. These weaknesses are much easier for supporters to accept when there’s a psychological connection between them and the brand.

Making them fall in love (with your brand)

There is a science to creating emotional connections between brands and customers. It’s rooted in psychology.

If you want to forge a connection with your target audience, use messaging that shows you understand what matters to them. The deeper the needs and desires you speak to, the more loyalty you can create.

Watch out, here comes the science: In 1943, Abraham Maslow famously described a hierarchy of needs to help explain the psychology of motivation. At the base of the pyramid are Basic Needs: physiological requirements like food, warmth, and physical safety. The second tier contains Psychological Needs like friendship, belonging, and social esteem. At the top of the pyramid is Self-Actualization—the drive to reach one’s full potential.

All brands fulfill needs somewhere within this hierarchy. The brands that only address our most basic needs have less of an opportunity to command true brand loyalty.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs & Brand Loyalty

Self Actualization: Achieving your full potential
Brand Affinity: True Loyalty stemming from shared values & aspiration

Psychological Needs: Love, belonging, friendship, esteem
Favouritism: Preference based on emotional connection

Basic Needs: Food, water, shelter
Indifference: Transaction based on interchangeable attributes

How it works

Brands that only meet needs toward the bottom of the hierarchy are more likely to form transactional relationships with customers. Basic needs are the easiest to meet; if a new brand comes along that can meet those same needs more effectively, the connection is lost. The customer moves on to something new. From a marketing perspective, basic needs might involve price, product specs, or other facts and figures that check boxes but don’t elicit emotional responses.

If a brand can meet a psychological need, like making buyers feel more likable or like they’re part of a shared community, it can create a much stronger emotional connection. Suddenly, the relationship with the brand becomes a statement about self.

At the top of the pyramid sits self-actualization. Brands that are able to connect with an audience’s ability to become the best version of themselves can create an unbreakable bond. My favorite example of the ultimate self-actualization brand is Patagonia, the outdoor apparel and gear company. Patagonia has built a fiercely loyal customer base by publicizing and living up to its idealistic vision to “save our home planet.” The brand has tapped into a shared value that outdoor enthusiasts can truly rally around, and the company continually supports those values through corporate action.

So how do you get there?

In reality, not all brands will help customers reach self-actualization. But the further up the pyramid a brand can help its customers go, the stronger the potential for brand loyalty.

So, ask yourself the deep questions: What needs and desires does my brand help my target audience fulfill? If your answers are all functional—if the brand fails to address any psychological or emotional drivers, you may have some work to do.

Kristy Gulsvig is the Brand Strategy Director at Gigasavvy. A brand strategy and market research specialist, Kristy uses a process-driven approach that combines data and creativity to help companies define their brand story and unique value proposition.