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  • Writer's pictureTingbin Tang

Triangular Theory of Love Between Customers and Products

Updated: Nov 14, 2018

Triangle is the strongest shape found in nature; for love, a consummate love got to have intimacy, passion, and commitment three components to form such a stable triangle, according to Robert Sternberg, a member of the Psychology Department at Yale University.

For the love between customers and the products/services/platform, it is the same. As a business owner, if we want to make our customers to feel that they cannot live without us, then we got to have all three components to have an everlasting love relationship with the customer.

Robert Sternberg's triangular theory of love

Intimacy/liking is a start for potential long-term relationship

The first component is intimacy. Intimacy is the feelings of closeness, which makes two individuals feel familiar, feel at ease, feel willing to be closer to each other. Intimacy alone, it generates liking; so, they will like each other. Of course, liking does not provide any promise or commitment, and it does not generate exclusiveness, but it is a good start for a potential long-term relationship.

People may like another person for many reasons, e.g. He/she looks approachable, if the person looks very arrogant and unattainable, people would not feel welcoming and hence won’t like him/her. People may like another person because he/she is not a material boy/girl; if another person care too much about materials, others may feel hard to have spiritual communication. People may like another person because he/she is well-educated; a well- knowledgeable person often makes people around him/her feels inspiring, just like immersed in spring breeze. People will like another person who is friendly with good manner; people will like a kind person; of course, people will also like a good-looking person; people may also like a person who does housework and keep things neat; or a considerate person will also receive a lot of liking…

In terms of products, our products/services should be approachable and available to customers; our prices should be competitive and reasonable; our content should be informative; our service and every touch point should be friendly and welcoming; our product quality should be reliable (both merchandises and platform); our interfaces and product images should also look clean and elegant; our product features should be functional; our system should also be considerate and smart enough. I’d like to conclude all these metrics to “value”. Value is the first component for the love between customers and the product/service/platform.

As for E-commerce platforms, some of them are providing different ways of searching and discovery, e.g. keyword search, visual image search, category indexing, browsing, voice search and so on, also carefully designed merchandise details page, with reviews about the product and the services… So many ways have been provided to be as informative as they can. Many platforms have also provided personalized home page based on understanding of users’ taste/interests/preferences, and recommendations/promotions based on users’ behavior and browsing/purchasing histories, platforms have also been doing the best the be more considerate to please the customers.

Passion is important at every stage of a long-lasting affection

Passion is a strong arousal of enthusiasm or excitement, in the dictionary, it was interpreted as “strong and barely controllable emotion”. It is so intense, that even barely controllable. If Intimacy/liking is more rational, then passion makes people much more emotional. It gives people an intense desire or enthusiasm to spend more time with another one who he/she feel passionate about; and cannot wait to meet she/him.

In a relationship, what will bring up people’s such strong desire and make people passionate about the other? There are also many situations. E.g. He/she is sexy. No matter we admit it or not, sexual attraction is a major factor to cause people have all-consuming passion for each other. According to Sigmund Freud, a famous neurologist and the founder of psychoanalysis, “the libido is part of the id and is the driving force of all behavior”. Sexual attraction does bring people with psychic energy.

Besides physical attractions, passion may also come from emotional reasons. Maybe they had unforgettable experience together, maybe because the other one has really melted his/her heart.

What are other reasons? People feel passionate about each other maybe because “he/she is always fresh to me”. Stay fresh is so important. Unfortunately, human kind are so easy to get bored. Any repetitive experience, that becomes predictable might cause mental fatigue, and people will start to loss interest, hence the passion will be gone.

In terms of product, to create and maintain the passion with customers is also very important at any time. So, our product image should also be sexy. When talking about product image, it is not just all the visual elements should be stylish, leading the fashion/life style trend; but also, the perception the product/service/platform presented to the customers.

Perception is the information that customers interpreted. For example, do not just show pictures of a lipstick; but show images of full red lips. Do not just show images of a shampoo; but naturally glowing, shiny and silky hair. Do not just show images of an expensive watch, but a successful swinging of golf club, with watches on his wrist, of course. Same principles for the platform and services. It is all about if the perception delivered to the customers is sexy or not.

The platform/service/product should also always remain fresh to the customers, always bring something new or surprisal happiness. For example, keep coming up with new promotions, campaigns, events, always caught customers’ hearts; by doing this, make itself unforgettable. The platform/service/product can also come up with flash sales, reverse bidding, charity sales, lottery sales, etc. time by time, to make customers feel enthusiastic, and make itself fun to interact with. The platform/service/product can also melt customers’ heart by really learning and understanding customers’ tastes, preference, etc.

Commitment is a start of a long-term relationship

Commitment is the decision been made to stick with one another; commitment also means promise and obligation. But commitment is not the ending of a romantic love story, but a beginning of a long-term relationship. Such relationship, still need to be managed, still need the other two components, intimacy and passion, to keep the stable triangle shape for a strong and everlasting love.

When a couple made a commitment, which means they are obligated to, tied to, and relied to each other, also means that they have the same goal to achieve and have same interests in common. A commitment is not just a pledge, but also a plan and action in the future. Action is always more important than words, a commitment will always come with actions as well.

Commitment means trust, means loyalty, means connected, means a long-term contract. For a product/platform/service, definitely they all want to have such a relationship with their customers. So, companies have done a lot to promote their membership. Membership will make customers feel that they are belonged to, will strengthen the relationship between the product and its customers. Some membership is free, some membership has a fee, some membership may even have other requirements to be able to get enrolled. Membership also means privileges and benefits to the customers. New startups who like to attract more customers may provide free membership; some business may request a fee, not just to cover the cost, but also to ensure the loyalty and investment from the customers.

Some companies may also encourage subscription/recurring orders. Subscription not just provides convenience, but enhances customer loyalty, make people rely on, and keep customer stay with the platform. Such automatically services ensure that customers will easily get refilled with products/services, and they do not have to manually repeatedly put order and make payments. This greatly enhances customer loyalty and broadens a business’ client base. From a cost perspective, the subscription model make revenue more predictable, and lower the cost of customer acquisition. It’s common knowledge that it takes much more costs to acquire a new customer than retain an existing customer. And subscription also contributes to increase customer retention rate.

Some platform may also build a community, allow customers to exchange ideas and contribute content. For example, Starbucks has an ideas channel, which encourages customers to share their ideas and interact with other customers. Xiaomi community organizes many local offline meetup events in many cities, also allow enthusiasts or visionaries customers to try their beta products and even participate in their QA and debug. Xiaomi community even serves as part of customer services, some customers may provide answers to other customers’ questions or issues. Xiaomi community contributes to the diverse of MiUI, a UI system for their operating system. Those customers designed thousands of great UI styles and interactions. Xiaomi community even helped Xiaomi company produced more than 100 languages of operating system, and all these community works were done by the volunteers from the customers, which means, the company paid nothing. Even though the contributors did not get paid, but they feel so happy to see that their efforts been recognized and been adopted, make them feel belonging to the Xiaomi family. The active community members will also become opinion leader, which will also help to promote and broadcast company’s new product/services or new features.

Value, interact and engage form the everlasting love between customers and the product

For a product, it gains intimacy with customers by providing value; it keeps customers’ passion by interact; and builds customer commitment by engaging. So here comes my triangular theory of love between customers and the product. Value, interact and engage become the three components which form the strong triangle for everlasting love.

Tingbin Tang’s triangular theory of love with product

If only value alone, it might be boring. Just like going to a local 24 hours store, it is cheap and convenient, but people just have no passion towards it at all; and people can easily shop from any other similar stores without feeling guilty.

if only engage, but no other offers, then it becomes an obligation. Honesty, every time after I sign up for a gym membership, I do not feel good. The gym is small and always crowded, and they do not care if you come or not, but only care if they sold the membership to you or not. You do not see the value and you got no interact, except membership renew seasons. But you already paid the fees, and it is un-refundable. How did that feel?

if only interact, then customers will be disturbed. How can a product/service keep interacting with customers but not offering value or secure customer with membership? Companies like Wish are doing this way. They keep doing advertisement, their promotions and discounts is every day, but their product quality are just terrible. They do not require sign up to make purchase. But after made one mistake and purchase one item from them because I was fooled by their ads, they just lost me forever as a customer. But their ads are still showing almost everywhere, what a disturb?

Only value and engage, but no interact, I call it economic love, because customers buying it but not desire about it, and they do not feel exciting about it. If only value and interact, but no engage, I call it fragile love, because customers may also swing to other products/platforms/services. If only interact and engage, but no value, then that becomes a burden.

Love between a couple need to be managed well; intimacy, passion and commitment are all indispensable!

Love between customers and product also need to be managed well; value, interact and engage work together to make both the customers and the product side happy and in-love!

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