What’s in a High Fidelity Relationship? 3 Key Ingredients For Strong Consumer Relationships



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We all know and feel the power of relationships. But why are they so valuable to us? And what makes them so important? Explore this universal pull with three dynamic takeaways integral to passionate and durable relationships from Monica Belmaña, Director of Behavioral Science. 

Our lives are built around relationships: we are constantly building, cultivating, and dissolving connections. We have business relationships, intimate relationships, relationships with our friends and family, with organizations, and even with our local barista. We nurture these relationships by spending time together, sharing the things we have in common, and supporting each other through our best and worst moments. These experiences allow us to grow closer, or sometimes push us apart.

Because humans—and relationships—are at the core of our work at Material, we have an expert understanding of why and how relationships are created and sustained. What’s more, we’ve translated this understanding into a diagnostic tool, Material Fidelity™, which enables brands to assess and improve the quality of their relationships with customers.

“A relationship is like building a house; build it well, or it will collapse.”

Why are relationships so compelling?

Relationship science integrates many concepts and frameworks from psychology, sociology, and biology. This interdisciplinary approach is the most accurate way to capture the complex interactions that comprise relationships, including biological drivers, life circumstances, and social attitudes. An analysis of established research, accompanied by contributions from our field experts, reveals three core relationship truths that form the pillars of Material Fidelity™:

1. Relationships are Useful because they provide what we cannot give ourselves.

Our hunter-gatherer ancestors relied on relationships for safety, sustenance, and self-preservation. This primal instinct remains prevalent in the 21st century, especially during infancy and childhood; but as we grow older and more self-sufficient, we seek support that goes beyond physical safety. We need friends to cheer us up, fill in knowledge gaps on our trivia team, and assure us that our worldview is valid when shaken by personal or global tragedies.

When the roles are reversed and our friends are the ones in need, we make sure to show up for them, too. This mutual prioritization and support creates a sense of connection and demonstrates that belonging has the power to impact our behaviors and emotional state. To leverage this human desire for connection, brands must be more attuned to the specifics of their relationships with customers.

People spend time, energy, and resources with brands that fulfill an unmet need, whether that’s car insurance or a craving for ice cream. Relationships fail when one or both sides stop putting in the work that fulfills those needs. If your customers feel your offerings are no longer Useful, they will search for a more Useful brand.

2. Relationships are Proven because they are reliable, which earns continued engagement. 

Relationships are collaborative. Each have their ups and downs, but a healthy relationship shouldn’t be overly difficult to maintain. If you’re unsure that your partner is going to show up for you when you’ve had a bad day, then it’s less likely the relationship will last. Knowing that your partner understands your needs and will support you makes you feel more secure in the strength and longevity of the relationship.

A brand partner must create this same sense of security with their customers. Users don’t want to guess if your offering will be accessible or work right for them, time and time again. If they believe their user experience is compromised or flawed, they will find another brand. Meanwhile a reliable user experience will build trust over time. Anticipating customer needs through efficient innovation also helps people feel they are being heard and catered to as their needs and desires evolve. Brands that provide a consistent, superior performance will be rewarded with customer loyalty.

“No relationship is ever a waste of your time. If it didn’t bring you what you want, it taught you what you don’t want.”

3. Relationships are Personal because they align with our identity.

Our identities are formed by who and what we include in our lives, and healthy relationships are fundamental to that identity. Quality relationships help us live quality lives. The right relationship, even the perception of it, can drastically change the trajectory of someone’s life. When we observe someone in a relationship with another person, associating in a certain place, or interacting with a particular object, our perceptions and assumptions of that person can sometimes override the reality of the situation. For example, when someone is wearing Patagonia, we might assume they care about the environment when, in reality, they may have simply borrowed someone’s jacket. This perception is also what may drive someone passionate about sustainability to choose Patagonia over another brand. Our choices are often based on the information we collect (good or bad, right or wrong), so perception cannot be understated when it comes to brand relationships.

Whether consciously or subconsciously, to some degree customers want to see themselves in your brand. Those who don’t feel your brand represents them won’t stick around. To maximize Personal connections, be curious and research what customers love so much about you and how they talk about you online. Use those learnings to make strategic decisions that better align your brand with your customers’ Personal values. This iterative process will excite your fans and attract more advocates.

Tap into your customers’ true needs

At the root of this research, and this article, is the prevailing human need to belong, contribute, feel safe, and be seen. Material Fidelity™ translates these truths into metrics that reveal the state of brand-consumer relationships so brands can strengthen their connections with their customers. These three pillars—Useful, Proven, and Personal—overlap and support each other over the lifetime of a brand-consumer relationship, which is why they are the building blocks of Material Fidelity™.

If your brand is only able to fulfill the lower end of each of these metrics, you will create shallow, transactional connections that are fragile and easily replaced by the competition. Growing across these pillars through thoughtful, iterative testing and implementation brings about strong, fulfilling, and truly transformational relationships that last so your business can thrive.

This level of human-centered thinking guides our research, our client engagements, and our company. In the next article, we’ll discuss how to leverage this understanding of relationships when connecting with your customer.