Is your brand a “Friend with Benefits” or an “Intimate Partner”?

As we evolve, you’ll find the way we talk about relationships between brands and consumers will mirror, almost to a tee, the way we talk about relationships between people.

That’s because we are emotional beings that have been making emotional decisions for hundreds of thousands of years and it’s not about to change anytime soon.

This headline will likely resonate with many people because most will have experienced both types of relationships mentioned. Each term evokes a different emotion (and will likely conjure up different images).

How your brand interacts with your audience will determine how they feel about you. Will you be a flash in the pan in their lives or will you be holding their hand in 20 years time?

Relationships with brands have changed

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The relationships we had with brands in the 80’s were all about how the end result of the brands’ solution made us feel. The brands that evoked more emotion through their solution were the ones we were more attached to.

Brand relationships were a simple give and take transaction. Emotional bonding started with the transaction and ended with the satisfaction of the solution. Although these brands made us feel good at the time, they didn’t really know who we were.

As long as we enjoyed what we were getting, we would go back for more but when something better came along, we wouldn’t hesitate to jump ship. These brands were friends with benefits. We might look back on them fondly, but they are a distant memory, and chances are, they’re not around anymore.

Family, Friends, Colleagues, Brands, Trust

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We have many relationships in our lives from our families and friends to our work colleagues and brands. Regardless of the relationship, the way we interact with them doesn’t really change.

Of course, you may be more yourself with your family and friends than you are around your work colleagues, though each of those relationships is built on “feelings”.

Relationships are built on trust, which is earned through interactions. The more you interact with someone, the more they can see who you are, based on your words and actions. If your words and actions align with who they are, trust is built, which is the foundation for that relationship to grow. The more trust, the closer they are to the centre, which is where most place their families.

Neuroscience shows that relationships between brands and people are based on that same trust. Brands that build relationships and trust are the ones that are accepted and adopted closer to the centre of true relationships (Which is where most of us hold our families).

The key to the head is through the heart

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We all think we make rational decisions based on logic, but in truth, up to 90% of our decisions are based on emotion. That’s nothing to skim over. It means that although you think you’re leading with your head, your heart is in the driver’s seat.

Few brands demonstrate this better than Coke. When it comes to taste test, Coke has lagged behind its competitors for years, yet no one comes close to matching the soft drink giant in sales. Their brand focus is placed firmly on your emotions and more specifically “Happiness”.

When you reach into the fridge for that ice-cold can, you are of the firm belief that your decision is based purely on the taste. Most people feel the same way. Yet blindfolds remove associations to emotion and this is where brand value of Coke and the emotional connection you have with it is uncovered.

Coke knows that you don’t reach into the fridge wearing a blindfold, so they invest in intimate moments and aim for your heart to influence your behaviour.

The more you put in, the more you get out

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Your relationships with people are like an emotional bank account. If you do a favour, help them out, listen to their problems, show vulnerability, share a moment; you make a deposit into that account.

The more you deposit into a relationship, the more you build trust, the more there is to withdraw when needed. Friends that are there for each other through the highs and lows over the years, deposit and withdraw from their emotional accounts with balance and build trust along the way.

For every meaningful relationship we have, we have dozens of meaningless relationships where interactions are more akin to transactions, with little to no emotion transferred in the process.

These relationships may be necessary or convenient, but without any emotional deposits, they will never grow into anything more.

Light some candles and get intimate

iconic fox brand relationship-intimate

Now that you know you need to make an emotional connection with your audience, what can you do to make the connection?

This piece by the HuffPost dives into 5 strategies for emotional branding.


Brands that take a transactional stance to their relationships and regard their solution as the only deposit required, will only ever be a necessary or convenient option They are the “Friend with Benefits” until something else comes along.

Brands that make emotional deposits into the accounts of their audience build a foundation of trust that will be reciprocated. These emotional transactions are building blocks of trust that pave the way for intimacy and ultimately brand loyalty.

These brands mean more to their customers than their “Friends with Benefits” counterparts. They are “Intimate Partners” that hold their customer’s hands throughout the years.