Every February, millions of Americans are faced with the daunting decision of selecting just the right Valentine’s Day card for their sweethearts.

Standing in front of a massive rack of greeting cards, I struggle to choose just the right card for mine, asking myself “Do I want to be funny or romantic this year?” and “How can I select a card that makes him feel special?”

Fortunately, having been in a relationship with my Valentine for 12 years, I have a significant amount of data to work with regards to his likes and dislikes (which means no singing card again this year!). Bottom line- no Valentine wants to feel that they are on the receiving end of a generic mass marketing effort- nor do your customers.

An Audience of One

Brands today are effectively trying to select the perfect Valentine for every single customer in order to develop a connection at the individual level and it is a daunting task. How does a large organization- or even a smaller one- generate a sense of loyalty or #BRANDLOVE from their customers?

According to Jonathan Becher, chief digital officer at SAP, “Your customers must be treated as an audience of one, where every part of your company is focused on their needs, their desires, and their successes. And if their experience is supported by products and services that map to their needs and contribute significantly to their successes, why would they turn to anyone else?”

Contextual Marketing

Today with digital marketing, businesses are able to track an amazing amount of rich contextual information that marketers can leverage in real time.

According to Bernard Chung’s recent post, this innovative marketing practice is known as contextual marketing. By leveraging not only the traditional transactional histories, preferences, and social media data, but also implicit behaviors like online browsing patterns, sentiment insights from unstructured data (call center recordings, emails, and other free text forms), and real-time data such as location and session information, companies can develop a more accurate, real-time context for each customer. This will enable brands to engage customers at the right moments with the right message to move them through the customer journey.

Romancing the Customer

Tim Halloran is considered an expert in the unique and often lucrative love that exists between brands and customers. His 2014 book “Romancing the Brand: How Brands Create Strong, Intimate Relationships with Customers,” explores how customer affection for companies is similar to one human’s affection for another, and all the permutations behind that passion. As president of a consulting firm dubbed, not surprisingly, the Romance the Brand Group, Halloran advises companies on how to get customers to fall in love with them.

In a recent interview with The Customer Edge, Halloran indicated that not every business offers a customer experience that will generate love, noting that, “Some companies view customers merely as transactional units. They view them impersonally and as revenue enhancers. There are others who try to take the most special consumers and create lifelong relationships with them. The ultimate relationship is this idea of love. That doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a process.”

Halloran says that the payoffs are significant for brands that do it right. He said, “The very best companies work to create a scenario where the consumer feels like the company’s brand is the brand for [him or her]. Once customers fall in love, they also become advocates and evangelists for the brand. They’ll pay more money for quality products. They also will be less likely to cheat and shop somewhere else. Apple is clearly a great example of this. They’ve created a customer base that is so loyal to the brand they will pay a higher price—that’s just for the apple experience, the quality of the devices and their innovation.”

Customer Advocacy

How do you know for certain that your customers have fallen in love with your brand? In addition to a steady growth in sales, advocacy is a sure sign of #BRANDLOVE. And user-generated content including positive sentiment in social media posts, reviews, and storytelling are all evidence of a healthy fan base. Earlier this year, we published a series of posts with the hashtag #BRANDLOVE, in which our contributors shared their stories and explained why they swoon over certain brands, including Macy’s, Nike, Starbucks, REI, and the San Francisco Giants.

This story previously appeared on SAPVoice on Forbes.
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