Building Brand Relationships: Drop the “Us vs. Them”

I have the greatest friends in the world.  We listen to each other, laugh together, cry together, and help each other out any way we can.  The foundation of this friendship is simple – we are always on each other’s side.  There is no competition among us – we genuinely want the best for each other.  No one is trying to “win”.  I hurt when they hurt, I smile when they smile, I feel enormous joy and pride when they succeed, and I’ll tell anyone who will listen how fantastic they are.

I think most brands want this same kind of relationship with their consumers.  They want their market to go out and tell people how great they are.  They want their consumers to defend them against attacks.  So why doesn’t this happen?

It’s the us vs. them mentality that so many brands have developed.  The “we know what they need better than they do” thought process that’s led to a widespread mistrust of brands and advertising by consumers.  And we all know, you can’t have friendship without trust.

It Doesn’t Have To Be This Way

It’s not a contest – you are on your consumer’s side (and if you’re not, you’ve got way bigger problems).  The reverse is also true – consumers want to be on your side.  They want products and services to make their lives better and easier.  So stop.  Stop thinking of them as targets, or markets, or even consumers.  Start thinking of them as people.  Even better, start thinking of them as your friends. 

Once you have that mindset, it gets simpler.  Now it’s about friendship.  That’s something you know how to do.  Now you can start looking at your product lineup and your marketing with an empathetic eye, and ask these questions:

  • Are you doing the right thing for your friends? 
  • Are you treating your friends the way you want to be treated? 
  • Are you listening to your friends (really listening, not that fake head nodding kind)? 
  • Are you giving your friends a safe place to share their fears, concerns and questions?
  • Are you soothing those fears, addressing those concerns, and answering those questions in the way your friends need you to?
  • Are you talking with your friends about more than just yourself?
  • Are you willing to help out your friends, without needing or wanting anything in return?
  • Are you working every day to maintain and strengthen your friendship?

When you adopt this mindset, the rest gets easier.  It becomes almost intuitive what kind of products and services you need to develop, and how to sell them.  The best part?  You already know how to do this.  You are already a giver and receiver of friendship.  You’ve had great friends, you’ve had crappy friends, and you know the difference. 

This does NOT mean that your friends are always right – no one ever is.  This doesn’t mean that you scrap good ideas because some of your friends don’t agree.  Like other friendships, sometimes the best thing you can do is stand your ground.  Just be sure that when you choose this path, you deliver the message in a way that your friends can understand.

I can’t think of a better example of a brand really embracing this idea than Zappos.  Tony Hsieh, CEO of, has this philosophy when it comes to doing business: “We want to build a personal emotional connection with our customers, to create happiness so our customers tell their friends and family. Each phone call is a branding opportunity.”  It’s this point of view that has kept at the forefront – both in marketing circles, and in their own market. 

It’s time to end the battle.  No one wins if you keep fighting.