It’s not just about purchase. More and more, marketers are focusing on an increasingly important form of brand equity: the strength of the relationship a brand has with its consumers.

Our most recent Earned Brand study clearly demonstrated that the stronger the relationship between a consumer and a brand is, the better able a brand will be to weather marketplace disruptions as well as introduce new disruptions of its own.

This is critically important in a marketplace where multiple forces (encroaching competition, start-ups, peer influence, etc.) constantly threaten to tear established consumer-brand relationships asunder while, at the same time, consumers’ expectations of brands continue to increase.

But being an exclusive purchaser of a brand does not represent the highest form of consumer-brand relationship. In fact, we see purchase as merely the starting point. What defines a strong, committed consumer relationship?

First, emotion. Consumers feel a real affection towards the brand — not just the product, but the brand itself.

Second, there are elements of a shared identity or set of values, as consumers see the brand as a kindred spirit, an entity they can identify with or aspire to emulate.

Most of all, the relationship is built on interaction and shared activity. The brand and the consumer do things together, they talk, they socialize, and often they work shoulder to shoulder to make the world a better place.

Another key learning of this year’s Earned Brand study is that this kind of committed relationship can’t be bought. It has to be, as the study name implies, earned. In the end, the quality of your relationships with consumers will depend on how well you execute against seven behavioral imperatives:

  1. Embody a unique character: You need to stand out in order to garner attention.
  2. Build trust: Trust is the cornerstone of any strong and enduring relationship.
  3. Make a mark: You need to leave an impression in people lives to gain special status.
  4. Tell a memorable story: You need to communicate who you are and what you stand for to give consumers something to react to and embrace.
  5. Listen openly, respond selectively: Two-way communication is a defining aspect of a strong and rich relationship.
  6. Inspire sharing and invite partnership: Relationships are inured and deepened by shared action and mutual gain. That means being a source of social currency and finding ways to insinuate yourself in consumers’ social lives.
  7. Act with purpose: Doing good together to further a cause that both the brand and the consumer consider to be of vital importance is a highly effective way to build strong relationships.

The new Edelman Brand Relationship Index measures your performance against each of these seven dimensions and gives you an overall score that represents the average relationship quality that you have attained within the consumer marketplace as a whole or within any consumer segment. The higher your score, the better positioned you are to face whatever the future and your competitors may hurl your way.

Specifically, the index measures a brand’s ability to protect and grow its current market share via a customer base who will:

  • Facilitate a brand’s evolution by adopting its innovations more quickly, paying a premium price for its products, and sharing their personal data;
  • Act as a brand’s sales force multiplier by recommending it to others and advocating on its behalf;
  • Protect the brand from marketplace disruption by sticking with it in the face of newcomer alternatives, defending it against critics, and forgiving its occasional failures.

That today’s consumers are willing to do these things for brands — far beyond merely purchasing it — is a clear sign that relationship building should be the cornerstone of any brand’s marketing strategy.

David M. Bersoff, Ph.D. is a senior vice president and head of Edelman’s global thought leadership research.