Why Do Customers Love Your Product? A Look Into Sternberg’s Theory of Love

Emotions of love may affect customers more significantly than you ever think.

“How do I make customers love it?” is probably one of questions we ask most often as business owners, product managers, or designers when we are thinking about creating a great product. At times, we know that we love the products we create, yet are not convinced that customers would love them. Ultimately, we expect to create a great product which can deliver to achieve our business objectives, but the “how” questions keeps coming back to haunt us and hold us back from executing our product ideas. Yes, we are stuck.


Now, let’s talk about love. What comes to our mind when we read or hear the word ‘love’? We would perhaps think about our loved ones: our spouse, family, or friends — and how we feel about them. It is known that love is hard to describe or define due to how complex it is. We reflect on love by assessing how we feel, not just towards people, but things. A group of customers may love Adidas products more than its competitors because they love the design and wearing their products makes them feel more confident. In another example, a global online marketplace app like Shopee is somehow more well-known and loved among women customers than men.

But then what makes a customer love a certain product? Robert J. Sternberg, a Professor of Human Development at Cornell University, introduced his theory about what makes a complete love (or consummate love). In his ‘Triangular Theory of Love’, he explains that love has to have a balanced composition of three components: intimacy, passion, and commitment. In this article, will go through each of the components to explore how Sternberg’s theory may help us design great products that customers love.

Intimacy — The start of a good relationship

Intimacy is a feeling of closeness and attachment which creates mutual liking and familiarity. At the beginning of an encounter with someone, we may be more willing to get to know people who look approachable and friendly compared to people who look arrogant or judging. There are traits we like in a person more than the others, such as good looks or personality. The more we like a person, the more we are willing to pursue deeper levels of intimacy with them; it is a good start of a long-term relationship.

How does it relate to a great product? A great product (or service) should also enable and maintain a level of intimacy by becoming approachable and available towards customers. For instance, a great e-commerce app tends to have clean and well-organized User Interface and to help customers navigate their app; they also embed predictive search to help customers find products more easily, or give personalized recommendations based on user behaviors. When customers get the impression that the products or services in front of them are approachable and easy to understand, it is easier to pursue deeper level of intimacy with them. The key is to make them like our products or services first.


Passion — A good way to maintain interest

Besides intimacy, love also needs passion. Passion can be associated with a strong feeling of enthusiasm or excitement towards something. Unlike intimacy, passion is more emotional and intense. We may start dating someone because of a rational interest (hence, willingness to pursue intimacy) at the beginning, but at times we may lose interest due to lack of passion or excitement in the relationship. Similarly, this also applies to creating a product that customers love. Ask yourself this question: “What would be able to keep my customers feel content and excited in using my products or services?”.


Photo by Japheth Mast on Unsplash

Many successful brands or companies are creative in exploring their ways to keep their customers passionate about their products or services through their product image. They present their product or services in a way that allows them to change customers’ perceptions and arouse customers’ senses. For instance, in Indonesia, some tech companies have been successful in transforming their functional product image into a brand with social impact to touch Indonesian customers’ hearts. Go-Jek, a full-service super-app, tries to keep their customers interested by highlighting its social impact: providing job opportunities to hundred-thousands of drivers and merchants. Not stopping there, Go-Jek also make their efforts to remain fresh to the customers through their regularly-updated product features: new promotions and events, apps gamification for exciting rewards; and also try to be thoughtful about customers / drivers through their product initiatives.


Commitment — A key to seal the deal

The final piece to the triangular love theory is commitment. A commitment is conscious decision to stick with one another, as a result of feeling content in a relationship. The level of satisfaction usually determines how much we are willing to commit to be in a relationship. In a romantic relationship, a commitment often means maintaining a promise to give and maintain loyalty to our partner.In a more general sense, commitment can also mean an attitude to work very hard for an objective we want to reach.

In creating products or services, commitment is beyond the means of communicating values. We need to come up with plans and actions to build a committed relationship with our customers. One example of commitment is through a subscription model. Spotify, a subscription-based music streaming service, does not force its customers to pay for their service; people can listen to music for free to understand the value that they propose: music as an enjoyable entertainment. But Spotify also offers a premium subscription with a monthly or annual fee as a form of commitment; they promise deliver a much better music quality, a full access to their music library, and no interruption of ads which comes with the membership. Once customers agree to subscribe to Spotify premium membership, Spotify has to deliver the values it has promised — otherwise, customers would lose their trust and it would be even harder to get the customers back.

In Indonesia, e-commerce companies like Tokopedia and Bukalapak keep the loyalty of their customers (merchants) by maintaining a support system community (e.g. Komunitas Seller Tokopedia, Komunitas Bukalapak) where people can share information, help each other whenever they face problems, and maintain good communications between the company and customers (merchants).



How the three components connect together

How do intimacy, passion, and commitment tie together? Tingbin Tang in his article mentioned that for products or services, value of product leads to intimacy, interaction leads to passion, and engagement leads to commitment. He then added that the type of love customers experience towards products or services are also determined by the synergy among the three components and their strengths relative to each other. For example, our love towards our favourite 24-hour store may be only strong in value (cheap and convenient), but lacks of commitment because we can always shop from any other store whenever we need to (no commitment). Similarly, when we shop online from an e-commerce website only when the products have discounts (value-intimacy) and big promotions (interact-passion), it does not guarantee that we would not shop from other e-commerce websites. Only when the strengths of all components are balanced, we will be able to achieve an ‘everlasting’ love from our customers. Frankly, a well-balanced effort need to be put into all three if we are aiming to do so.


Tingbin Tang’s Triangular Theory of Love with the product.

To conclude, love is such a complicated feeling, indeed. But it is not impossible to look deeper and make more sense of it to our advantage; in this case, in building a great product which customers love. After all, we need to understand why customers love certain products before figuring out how to make them love ours. What kind of love do you want to build for your products or services with the customers?

It is all for you to decide.