Brand love is a powerful force that drives customer loyalty and advocacy. It goes beyond customer satisfaction, creating an emotional connection that keeps customers coming back for more. When you cultivate brand love, it will become your company’s most powerful competitive advantage and can future-proof it against unfavorable market conditions.
Dr. Aaron Ahuvia, a renowned expert in consumer psychology, has conducted extensive research on cultivating brand love. I had the pleasure of chatting with him on my podcast recently. In this blog post, I’ll summarize some of his key findings that he shared with me and explore actionable strategies you can take to foster brand love.
What Is Brand Love?
Before we dive into Dr. Ahuvia’s insights, we should first define brand love. In our conversation, he explained that the term ‘brand love’ can be applied to products, services, tourist destinations, or anything you’re trying to sell.
Brand love is characterized by the emotional bond that consumers form with a brand. Customers feel a strong connection that transcends mere product features or functional benefits. Brand love often leads to an elevated level of trust and loyalty, as well as positive word-of-mouth.
Dr. Ahuvia said that brand love is very similar to interpersonal love, but with a few key differences. Generally speaking, interpersonal love is more altruistic than brand love. When it comes to brand love, consumers are more judgmental. He explains, “They’re more, ‘what is this thing going to do for me?’ and a little bit less ‘what am I going to do for that?’”
However, he notes that plenty of people do feel altruistic about their favorite brands, and cited examples of customers defending their favorite multimillion-dollar brands, like Apple, on social media.
Valuing Versus Loving A Brand
As consumers, we all have various products and services that we value highly. Perhaps your vacuum is incredible at removing all of the pet hair from your carpet. But do you love it?
Dr. Aaron Ahuvia explains that we value everything that we love, but we might not love everything that we value. If your product provides instrumental utility but the overall experience of using it is not fun, pleasurable, or interesting, then your customers may never have feelings of love.
He explains, “They can value it quite highly if it’s really doing a good job for them, but they won’t have that emotional connection. They won’t love it the way they love a person, exactly. So you’ve got to get that kind of pleasure thing going.”
The 3 Components Of Brand Love
What are the steps to cultivating brand love? Dr. Ahuvia outlined the necessary components your brand must have in order to be able to create brand love.
- The product/service must actually work and be of high quality.
- As mentioned above, the experience of using the product/service must be pleasant. The more pleasurable the experience, the more likely people are to love it.
- The unconscious mind must treat the product as a person.
I know what you’re thinking: the first two components seem very straightforward, but what do you mean by treating a product as a person?
Through his research, Dr. Ahuvia has concluded that our brains decide if something is a person or an object two different times.
First, we decide consciously and acknowledge that something is either a product or a person. But our brain also decides on a subconscious level. Most of the time, these two decisions are aligned; however, there are times when things get disconnected. “Your conscious mind will know it’s not a person, but your unconscious mind thinks it is a person,” he explains.
Getting the brain to think of your brand as a person is key. “In order to love anything, your unconscious mind has to treat it as if it’s a person. And this is what most brands do not understand, and they keep hammering away at the value… but just making it more instrumental, useful will not get people to love it. You have to get their subconscious mind to start thinking about it the way it thinks about people.”
3 Ways To Get Your Customers To Think Of Your Brand As A Person
Now that we understand the importance of getting the brain to treat your brand as a person, how do we achieve this? Dr. Ahuvia shares three different strategies that marketers can use:
- Anthropomorphism: You can design the product so that it resembles a person to get people to subconsciously treat it as such. Dr. Ahuvia cited teddy bears as the perfect example of this! Mascots are another clever way that brands humanize themselves.
- Connect your brand to a person: Whether that’s a public founder, celebrity ambassador, or an internal salesperson, the association of your product with a human will allow the brain to see it as a person. Of course, your customers need to have positive feelings toward the ambassador, otherwise the opposite effect can occur.
- Get the consumer to think of the brand as part of their own identity: The most powerful way to get consumers to associate the brand with a person is when that person is themselves. When companies support social causes that align with their audience, they’ll have more meaning in their customers’ lives.
Case Study: Patagonia
When asked about the companies that have successfully cultivated strong brand love, Dr. Ahuvia mentions Patagonia. The outdoor clothing and gear retailer has an army of superfans that strongly identify with the brand and its core values.
Founded in 1973 by Yvon Chouinard, the company is known for its commitment to environmental and social responsibility. In addition to supporting over 1,000 grassroots organizations and initiatives focused on conservation and climate action, Patagonia famously installed a self-imposed Earth tax. The Earth tax “provides support to environmental nonprofits working to defend our air, land, and water around the globe.”
Patagonia’s high-quality products come at no cost to the environment. The company uses organic, recycled, and ethically sourced materials in its products. It also implements innovative manufacturing techniques to reduce waste, energy consumption, and water usage.
Last year, Chouinard announced that Earth is the company’s only shareholder: “Instead of ‘going public,’ you could say we’re ‘going purpose.’ Instead of extracting value from nature and transforming it into wealth for investors, we’ll use the wealth Patagonia creates to protect the source of all wealth.”
It’s evident why so many people love Patagonia. The company practices what it preaches and connects its story to every customer’s story. Shoppers are proud to support the retailer because of its values and see it as part of their own identity.
Dr. Aaron Ahuvia’s research provides valuable insights into cultivating brand love, an essential component of long-term customer loyalty and superfandom. If you have a high quality product or service with a pleasurable experience, combined with the emotional connection of a human, you can achieve brand love with your customers.
More On Dr. Aaron Ahuvia
Dr. Ahuvia co-authored the publication that popularized the term “brand love” and is the world’s most widely published and cited academic expert on non-interpersonal love. He’s the author of The Things We Love: How Our Passions Connect Us and Make Us Who We Are.
Aaron is a professor of marketing at the University of Michigan Dearborn. He researches, teaches, and consults for governments, non-profits, and corporations across the world, including Google, L’Oreal, Samsung, Microsoft, Procter & Gamble, Ford, and many more. Listen to our full conversation on my podcast.