What is love? (…baby don’t hurt me…) But really, what is showing or receiving love for a marketer? 

We won’t pretend that brand love can ever replace actual human love, although I’m sure some could argue their relationship with a brand is healthier and longer-lasting than their human counterparts (looking at you, Apple 😘 ).

But consumers can be very emotional about the brands they purchase. In our State of Community Powered Marketing study, we found that 69% of consumers believe the brands they buy reflect who they are.

This goes beyond affinity and Net Promoter Score to signaling the opportunity to form direct, emotional, and engaging consumer-brand connections that can have a powerful impact, from inspiring advocacy to increasing purchase frequency and forming lasting emotional loyalty.

So this Valentine’s Day, we’re looking at the top ways marketers can create authentic brand love with consumers, borrowing from some of the key ingredients for fostering love in any relationship. 

Key Love Ingredient #1: Validation

Validation is about feeling seen, heard, and understood and is a central element in creating a connection with humans and brands alike. For marketers, this can be achieved through personalized messaging. 

While “personalization” has been on the marketer must-have list for a while, many organizations limit personalization to surface-level data like demographics, purchase history, and/or other passively collected behavioral information. Sometimes this backfires. There is a fine line between the validating feeling of “you know me” and the creepy sensation of “how did you know that?” 

Brands should aim to elevate their personalization efforts by focusing on values, core beliefs, interests, and passions. Collecting this kind of information, also known as zero party data, equips you to be able to deliver more meaningful content, offer relevant website experiences, tailor email campaigns and target ads. And as we all know, there are few things more attractive than showing someone that you “get them” and their needs are important . 

By validating consumers in a meaningful way, they will show you love in return. In fact, 97% of consumers are motivated to be loyal and purchase more frequently when a brand listens to their opinions and feedback. 

Key Love Ingredient #2: Empathy 

At the end of the day, we all want to know we’re not alone. We won’t lie though; empathy from brands is a tough business. “We’re here for you” and “We’re all in this together” triggers involuntary eye-rolls more often than not. To have an impact, brands must go beyond messaging and truly live and breathe the “we understand” sentiment.  

A key way to show empathy is by facilitating a sense of belonging. In an increasingly divisive world, people are seeking meaningful connections. And they are increasingly turning away from social media’s synthetically picture-perfect and ad-focused environment – Gartner predicts 50% of consumers will significantly limit their use of major platforms by next year – toward the authentic and personalized experience of online communities. In fact, 40% of consumers say their involvement in online communities will increase in 2024

Starting an online brand community for like-minded people is a way to show your consumers that they’re not alone and there are other people who are like them. And building connections with others will strengthen those with your brand; 67% of consumers report feeling more connected to a brand through community than social media.

Stripes, a fast-growing holistic menopause solutions brand founded by actress Naomi Watts (also one of our clients), wanted to empower women to embrace midlife and take away the stigma and anxiety of experiencing menopause. When they launched the Hot Spot community, it became a home for women to connect with the brand and each other. Stripes supports this dialogue through an active discussion forum that allows members to share stories, tips, and recommendations for navigating their midlife journey.

Key Love Ingredient #3: Appreciation

Consumer appreciation can be shown in many different ways. It can seem complicated, but really the hardest part is remembering to do it. 

Showing appreciation to consumers does not stop at providing a quality product or service at a reasonable price. The next level is ensuring the entire brand experience is as smooth as possible AND goes above and beyond. However, 54% of U.S. consumers say customer experience at most companies needs improvement. That’s a pretty large gap. 

Going above and beyond can be anything from surprise and delight moments and offering complementary products or services, to personal notes or even involving consumers in upcoming company decisions. 

Plush stuffed animal manufacturer, Squishables, states they are a democracy and has operated “Project Open Squish” for consumers to submit and vote on designs for upcoming products. Fast-growing condiment brand, Sir Kensington’s, often includes hand-written thank you notes and provides additional resources like nutritionists to its online brand community Taste Buds (ps they’re also a client). 

By tapping into the voice of the customer, brands can understand what will engage their audience and give them all the feels. With an online community, marketers can harness discussions, polls, surveys, and focus groups to stay on top of preferences and then put those insights into action, delivering meaningful experiences, offers, and content. 

Key Love Ingredient #4: Trustworthiness 

It used to be that a brand was considered trustworthy when people could believe in how the company was run, and if it stood behind its products or services. Over time, for younger consumers in particular, it grew to include consideration for a corporation’s ethical practices and the footprint it leaves on the planet.

Today, however, many brands are no longer just manufacturers or service providers. They’re actually technology companies in disguise. Some brands openly admit this, like when Dominoes said they are a “tech company that sells pizza.” While consumers certainly care how your product is made and how you market yourself, when you become a technology company, trustworthiness grows to mean something more. 

71% of consumers say it is more important to trust the brands they buy from or use today than in the past. And being a trusted brand today includes being transparent about your data practices. 

We all know that consumers are seeking more control over their data. But control doesn’t have to equal absence – 93% of consumers are willing to share their data in exchange for unique experiences and offers. Follow-through is as important for brands as it is in any relationship so don’t risk your consumers breaking up with you by not delivering on your promises – 67% of consumers are disappointed when they share their data and a brand does do anything with it.

Another way to make your brand more trustworthy is to create a brand mission statement on data collection. Consumers want to know not just the who, what, where and how of data collection, but also the “why.” Why does your brand believe data is helpful? How does it rhyme with your brand story and your unique value proposition? Data is an undeniable part of our lives now. Take a stand on how your brand believes data plays a role. 

Key Love Ingredient #5: Authenticity 

86% of consumers say authenticity is important when deciding what brands they like and support, however, more than half (57%) of consumers think that less than half of brands create content that resonates as authentic. 

Brands knew about the importance of “authenticity” long before Merriam-Webster recognized it as the word of the year. And smart marketers realize that being “real” is not about telling the story about who you are as a brand. It’s about empowering people to tell the story of who they are and what they stand for. 

The best way to make your message authentic is to have other people say it for you. You can do this by empowering advocates to share their stories. Brand advocacy should be the cornerstone of every effort you make to “be real.” Spark advocacy from your consumers by providing useful content, thoughtful and exclusive brand experiences, and new information.

And then acknowledge and reward their efforts by showcasing their UGC, ratings & reviews, and testimonials for the world to see, on your website, community, social media, packaging and more. Because nothing is more authentic than wearing your heart on your (digital) sleeve.  

Inspired to take the plunge?

If you have questions about how the TINT community platform can build direct, emotional, and engaging consumer relationships that last, let’s talk.

Sign up for a demo today.