3 Brand Friendship Lessons From Aristotle

by Steve Bocska
Steve is the CEO and founder of PUG Interactive Inc., a company specializing in maximizing lifetime customer value through relationship orchestration. With over 20 years of experience in the gaming industry, Steve focuses on applying loyalty, engagement, and gamification to enhance user experiences in non-game contexts.

Brands that prioritize fostering a “friendship first” perspective recognize that transactions are just a fraction of the value they can offer. By placing a premium on understanding, empathy, and shared values, they create an environment where customers feel genuinely cared for, their desires understood, and their needs met with unwavering dedication. Today’s technologies can help humanize interactions in ways that were previously difficult for large businesses. Just as the bonds of genuine friendship enhance personal well-being, a brand’s commitment to authentic care elevates the customer experience, leading to lasting loyalty and enthusiastic advocacy. Customers who sense that a brand has their best interests at heart become vocal advocates, drawing others into the fold and forming a community of like-minded individuals. 

Back in 380 BC, Aristotle set out to create a taxonomy for categorizing his friend circle. Although his exact motivations are not known (invite list for a Superbowl party, perhaps?), his system provides a valuable potential framework for understanding how brands and customers relate and transforming the relationship into one concerned less about quick transactions and more about building strong emotional connections that lead to loyalty, happy word-of-mouth, and lasting personal connection.

Let’s take a closer look at how each of Aristotle’s three categories of friendship can be used in the world of business to build strong customer loyalty, lasting relationships, and meaningful, emotionally resonant bonds that lead to better customer loyalty, advocacy, and sustainable success.

Friendships of Utility

Also known as Friendships of Advantage, these relationships are formed for practical reasons and are the easiest to map to the world of business and brand-customer interactions. These relationships are characterized by a mutual exchange of material benefits, convenience, or shared interests, where each party seeks to gain something from the other. In the context of brand-customer relationships, friendships of advantage can also be observed when consumers choose a particular brand due to its specific features or cost savings. Take smartphones, for instance. A consumer may choose a brand like Samsung or Apple due to specific features—say, an advanced camera or a user-friendly interface. Here, the brand provides tangible benefits—high-quality photography and ease of use—while the consumer provides revenue and, potentially, loyalty. 

While effective in serving immediate needs, friendships of advantage lack the emotional richness that characterizes deeper relationships. Friendships of advantage serve as a pragmatic way to fulfill specific needs and often lack the emotional depth and longevity of other types of relationships and in brand-customer interactions, these relationships can lead to transactional engagements where customers primarily seek the utility a brand provides. Thus, while transactional relationships might fulfill short-term objectives, they don’t usually lead to long-term loyalty. To foster deeper and more lasting connections, brands can strive to progress towards friendships rooted in shared values and mutual understanding.

Friendships of Pleasure

Unlike friendships of virtue or advantage, Friendships of Pleasure are built around shared enjoyment and delightful experiences. In the world of consumer relationships, this translates into connections forged by brands that deliver enjoyable experiences to their customers. Though these relationships might not run as deep as others, they offer a different kind of value, based on the principle of mutual delight.

While friendships of pleasure can attract customers and keep them engaged, these relationships are also susceptible to change. In the same way that a group of gaming friends might disband if the game loses its appeal, customers may abandon a brand that fails to maintain the enjoyable experience they seek. Brands that specialize in creating such delightful experiences often invest heavily in marketing efforts that add pleasure—be it through engaging social media campaigns, entertaining ads, or memorable in-store experiences. 

Friendships of pleasure serve a specific but important role in the landscape of brand-customer relationships. They focus on mutual enjoyment and can attract a certain customer base that values such experiences. However, for these relationships to evolve into lasting connections, brands need to look beyond mere pleasure and find ways to deepen the emotional engagement they share with their customers.

Friendships of Virtue

Aristotle’s Friendships of Virtue, otherwise known as Complete Friendships, are rooted not in fleeting convenience or immediate gratification but in mutual admiration, respect, and a shared commitment to virtuous living. They are a recognition of the other’s character and goodness and are characterized by a deep trust, mutual understanding, and a profound concern for the other’s well-being. Such friendships are steadfast and resilient, standing firm against the vagaries of time and fortune.

The blueprint for a complete friendship brand-customer connection lies in mutual respect, shared values, and genuine concern for the other’s well-being. In the business landscape, this translates to brands upholding ethical standards, actively engaging with and valuing customer feedback, and making a genuine commitment to delivering value beyond mere transactions. A brand’s long-term success often depends on its ability to resonate with its customers on these deeper levels.

Brands that are successful in establishing these Aristotelian friendships with their customers enjoy a loyalty that is both deep and enduring. Unlike transactional relationships that can be easily disrupted by a cheaper or more convenient alternative, friendships of virtue are rooted in mutual respect, shared values, and a genuine concern for the other’s well-being. Prioritizing these qualities allows them to cultivate a relationship that, like Aristotle’s highest form of friendship, is built on mutual admiration, respect, and a shared dedication to virtuous living. As brands navigate the complexities of the modern marketplace, Aristotle’s ancient wisdom offers a roadmap to forging meaningful and lasting connections. By focusing on shared values, trust, and genuine concern for customers’ well-being, brands can cultivate friendships of virtue that endure and thrive in the face of ever-changing consumer landscapes.