Consumers Do/Don't Want Relationships With Brands

Do consumers want to have a relationship with brands?

On one hand, a research study published by the Association for Consumer Research says yes, and states:

“Consumers want to build a relationship with a certain brand when they regard the brand as beneficial or valuable to them. Thus, if consumers feel that they are getting a good value and are satisfied after initially using the brand, they want to build a relationship with it.”

On the other hand, a blog post on the Harvard Business Review site posits the opposite opinion. As to whether or not consumers want a relationship with brands,

“They don’t. Only 23% of consumers said they have a relationship with a brand. When you ask the 77% of consumers who don’t have relationships with brands to explain why, you get comments like ‘It’s just a brand, not a member of my family.'”

So who’s right? Both of them.

How can that be? It’s easy. They both define “relationship” to suit the view they choose to support.


The ACR researchers actually skirt the issue altogether, and assert that benefits+value=satisfaction=relationship.

The HBR bloggers, on the other hand, establish a condition that proves impossible to meet, that a relationship can only be akin to something we have with a family member.

This is an unfair condition. First off, our relationships with individual family members aren’t all alike. My relationship with my spouse if very different from my relationship with my children, which in turn is different from my relationships with my siblings and other further-flung family members.

And what about work colleagues? We often talk about having a “working” relationship with someone, don’t we? That’s nowhere the same as a relationship with a family member.

It’s hard to believe that only 23% of people told the HBR bloggers that they have a relationship with a brand. Really? There’s no brand you feel an affinity toward, or loyal to?

I mean, look, you really don’t want to be in the same room as me if I find out we’re out of my favorite cereal in the morning. Is that not a relationship I have with the brand?


There are two things going on here. 

The first is this annoying, never-ending quest on the part of marketing consultants and academics to “discover” the “secret” of customer “loyalty.” And to produce a list of the three (or five or seven) things you have to do to “win” that loyalty, and the ONE thing to measure. 

This is called Silverbulletitis which I define as:

A condition in which the sufferer expects easy answers and solutions to difficult problems.

As Ringo Starr once said, “It don’t come easy. You know don’t it come easy.” We shoulda listened to him.


The second thing is pretty annoying, as well: It’s marketing’s lack of established definitions. 

While the accounting world suffers from attempts to make the scientific creative, at least it has generally accepted definitions for its commonly-used terms, like assets and liabilities.

But not only can the marketing not define relationship, we can’t even produce generally accepted definitions for terms like market share and yes, even the term customer.

So, as a result, researchers and consultants go off, do research, and come to the conclusion they were predisposed to come to by simply defining terms the way they want to define them.


Whether you agree with me or not, I’m sure that won’t affect the relationship you have with this blog. Right?

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