As in successful dating, customer relationships require shared values.

Posted on July 24th 2012

As in successful dating, customer relationships require shared values.

So your customers “like” you. And, at some point, you want them to become “engaged,” and then eventually commit to a serious relationship, proclaiming their “loyalty,” rather than seeing other companies. The goal of marketing in the early stages of contact – just like in dating – is to connect with your date (“prospect”) and check for fit, not to force a relationship.  Are we compatible? Do we value the same things?

Do people really want a “relationship” with your company? It turns out that most customers aren’t looking for one. A recent Harvard study revealed that only 23% of participants actually want a relationship with a brand. If a relationship grows organically, well, then great. Some prospects just want to date, explore, and have fun first.

Some organizations operate on a belief that frequent interactions will lead to more likes, and, eventually to that holy grail of relationship. It’s the equivalent of propinquity, or a “wear them down” mentality in dating. In personal relationships that approach doesn’t work well. So why do we think frequency operates as online “relationship” currency with impersonal brands we barely know? Imagine marketers saying, “We had a good first date, and now I’m going to call her incessantly.” And, shouldn’t the bar be higher for faceless contact with organizations we just met than for face-to-face encounters?


Sure, there are always the relationships we have because they are convenient, not necessarily because they are going to last.  Yet, frequency without chemistry and meaningful connections never leads to a strong relationship or loyalty. It may just lead to a few good “dates” with your organization. That same Harvard study also showed that brand interactions, regardless of frequency, do not lead to relationships.  Shared values do.

A ‘like’ isn’t an opt-in for push marketing as Brian Solis maintains. He’s right. A ‘like’ may lead to another date; however, it’s not a buy-in to any relationship. It’s also not an invite to be bombarded with any marketing, let alone to be suffocated by jargon monoxide poisoning. Intense information marketing based on a single great date is like the guy you said hi to in the market that now thinks you’re “interested” and tells you he is looking to settle down: too much info (TMI) way too soon.  

So how do we develop that customer relationship? It comes down to trust. We build trust by being who we say we are, and leading with our values, mission, and sense of purpose. A ‘like’ gives us another chance to converse; a relationship develops when chemistry based on shared values emerges. We can’t connect with people or organizations that hide behind jargon, information overload and me-too tactics that short-change the romance and move to a ‘rational’ information-based relationship.  There is no purely “rational” relationship.


Great marketers that successfully romance customers clearly communicate their brand philosophy and higher purpose. Great examples include, Lego, Zappos, Panera, and Toms Shoes, for example. Creating a human, visceral connection is the only way to cut through noise and move towards ‘meaningful’ touches. Not all touches – as in dating – are equal. That first date is about establishing chemistry. Over time, touches should become more meaningful because each subsequent touch reveals more of who we are and what we believe. How else can strangers get to know one another?

Every marketer communicates, few really connect. So before you send out that next email, ask yourself, am I connecting with my prospect in a way that aims for the heart? Great marketing that succeeds in the long-run deepens the human connection with your audience.

Let’s face it there are some relationships you have for a while and take out for a few drinks, and then there are those you bring home to Mom.  Forget interaction frequency, engagement, even “likes.” Turns out that Mom was right - serious relationships always involve an alignment of values and hearts, not minds.  So keep frequent data-driven “touches” to yourself.

Let me know what you think!


Kathy Klotz-Guest

Kathy Klotz-Guest

CEO, Keeping it Human

Kathy Klotz-Guest, marketing and messaging strategist, and storyteller, is CEO of Keeping it Human. For 20 years she has helped companies turn marketing-speak into customer-speak so they get better results. With a background in improvisation, Kathy injects fun and humanity into brands, stories, and products. Kathy has an MA from Stanford University, an MBA from UC Berkeley, and a Masters in applications design (nerd!). She performs regularly with the ComedySportz San Jose Rec League, and has spoken all over the country on a number of marketing topics. She is a founding fellow for the Society for New Communications Research, and Marketing Chair for the Applied Improvisation Network Conference.
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Posted on July 24th 2012 at 10:41PM

You are spot on Kathy. It's never passed my common sense test that likes automatically add up to new business. If you and the customer are compatible, then like dating something nice will come from it. But no, you can't force it. So it's probably a good idea to know who you are and why you're out there in the first place. After all, you are who you are and there's no getting around that no matter many "likes" you have.

Thanks for the insight. Good stuff indeed.

Chris Carter


Kathy Klotz-Guest
Posted on July 25th 2012 at 12:17PM

Thanks, Chris. Appreciate the comment. 

You are so right. We are who we are - and if a company has a strong mission and purpose, that can help it to connect with people on a visceral level. So instead of masking the corporate identity with "data," it's time to embrace your values and lead with them!