“I Like You, But We Don’t Have a Relationship!” As in Dating, Strong Customer Relationships Require Shared Values


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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 “rational” relationship.

Great marketers that successfully romance customers clearly communicate their brand philosophy and higher purpose. Great examples include Grasshopper.com, 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 (at) keepingithuman (dot) com

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Kathy Klotz-Guest
For 20 years, Kathy has created successful products, marketing stories, and messaging for companies such as SGI, Gartner, Excite, Autodesk, and MediaMetrix. Kathy turns marketing "messages" into powerful human stories that get results. Her improvisation background helps marketing teams achieve better business outcomes. She is a founding fellow for the Society for New Communications Research, where she recently completed research on video storytelling. Kathy has an MLA from Stanford University, an MBA from UC Berkeley, and an MA in multimedia apps design.


  1. The “Shared Values” in your article heading attracted me to your essay. It was an interesting read, yet too bad you stop short in elaborating what shared values really are. To many sales professionals, shared values equal to the functions and features of their products. “Dear Mr. Customer, I am so glad to have the opportunity to share with you the price/capacity benefits of our solution that can bring tremendous value to your organization…”

    Could you please expand on how we can identify the “shared values” with the customer?


    Peter K S Wong

  2. Hi Peter,
    That sounds like another article. Only so much you can cover in 1.5 pages – your suggestion may inform my next post.

    That is a good point – a lot of sales people think values mean benefits. That’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about identifying the values of the company and leading with those. So, for example, if you care about people and you care about the environment, lead with those. It’s not about the ‘value prop’ of the product. It’s bigger than the product – it’s the values that forge what a company really believes in. Values = fundamental beliefs, not “value proposition.” The values of an organization don’t change, value propositions may change because products change.

    The point is to lead with what the company believes, and by doing that, you attract people who share those core beliefs.

    I’ll put that on my next article list!

  3. Hi Kathy,

    Thanks for the feedback. Great point you raised that sharing values is not the same as value proposition. “Value selling” has been a funky term for some time in the sales community, yet majority of the books and articles on that topic are focusing on how to apply that concept in closing deals, thereby equating it to value proposition. It is fine as long as it is put in such context, but hardly useful when trying to apply that in long term relationship building. The client is likely to only remember the value the transaction has brought to address one particular incident of their personal concern, yet may not relate to how the provider can integrate its corporate value to their organisation continuously afterward.

    Appreciate very much your sharing of thoughts and look forward to your future writings on this and other customer experience subjects.

    Thanks and regards,

  4. Great post. But in a dating situation, I’d think that at one level, both parties looking to start a relationship are looking for some of the same things. I’m not sure that the agendas of businesses and sellers are sufficiently overlapping that values can be truly shared, or used to establish a relationships, particularly because of the profit motive. I dunno. Thoughts?

  5. Good point. In dating, personal elements of emotions, passions, and feelings are involved, so at least momentarily the partners believe they are sharing something in common. In business, the parties are trying to align their different agendas. Yet at the rational level, the individual potential lovers might still think like the vendor/buyer: what’s in it for me?

  6. Hi Robert-
    Well, that is certainly one way to view it. I never assume that two people or two organizations for that matter are necessarily wanting a relationship. They may just be looking to see if business is a fit. There is the profit motive, that’s for sure. I don’t think that’s necessarily mutually exclusive of an alignment of values. Although, it is true that profit motive is a strong pull. However, there are times companies don’t move forward in a longer-term relationship because they don’t value the same things: for example, the customer may feel that the vendor gives poor service. That’s a classic misalignment.

    Great question. Thanks for posting. What do you think?

  7. Good points, all. Although even in business – we’re human beings and we don’t always make rational decisions. The assumption that somehow in a b2b context we’re rational decision-makers is misleading. A great read on this exact topic is, Dan Ariely’s “Predictably Irrational.” For example, I may want to do business with you because of an alignment of financial interests. However, if I feel or sense that my personal risk is too high and that if you fail, I will look bad, then perceptions of personal risk can trump rational decisions based simply on a “what’s good for the company” basis. An alignment of values based on trust still plays out even between businesses. I have to feel and trust (and that may not be a rational decision) that you as the vendor won’t make me regret my decision. So trust still factors in, I believe.

    I love the discussion. Thank you for that!

  8. Hi Kathy,

    I run over an excellent example that illustrates what "shared value” is (baacode.icebreaker.com).

    Comparing to many other clothing manufacturers who claim that are environmental friendly, Icebreaker went one step forward proving that they really are. Every product they made has, as they call it, baacode. This code allows consumers to track product they bought from merino sheep farm to the store, so consumers can be ensured that Icebreaker brand have the same belief as they do and stands for: environment, animal welfare and the welfare of the people who works for Icebreaker.

    I guess this is exactly what you meant when you wrote: "It’s not about the ‘value prop’ of the product. It’s bigger than the product – it’s the values that forge what a company really believes in.”

    Thanks for wonderful article.

  9. Thanks, Mogi, for a great example. I hadn’t heard of it. That is what I’m talking about.

    A commitment to community, to environmental concerns, to people, to customer service, to charitable causes, to abating poverty, for example – all of these are about something bigger than just selling products. That’s really important when it comes to connecting to customers.

    I’ve already discussed Toms Shoes in this article. They don’t make the best shoes in the world (I think they know this!), and yet their whole philosophy is about more than shoes. Every time you buy a pair, you are essentially paying for two. You get a pair and one pair then goes to a child in need in a third-world country. Do I buy Toms Shoes for the shoes? No. Do I buy them because I believe in their values? Yes. I am a loyal customer because of it.

    In the b2b space, for example, NetApp offers cloud based services. But it’s not about the cloud. It’s about empowering people to work anytime, anywhere. It’s empowering today’s often mobile worker. The commitment is to empowering employees to work the way they need to work.

    The point is to start with a company’s genuine beliefs (not making them up just to pander). Then, by making that philosophy clear in everything it does, a company will attract people who are loyal to more than just a product. Products will change; competitors come and go. A credible (and that’s key – credible!) mission and philosophy dedicated to something bigger than your products and the company is longer-lasting.

    Thank you for the example!


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