Yesterday, I wrote about building relationships with brands and why it is increasingly important for companies and creatives.

Someone commented on the post:

Personally, I don’t see brands as “BFF”. I also don’t see people as brands.
I buy products for their ability to fulfill my needs. Why do people need to interact with brands? Branding in itself seems a bit “clingy” (and trendy).

I’m afraid I was not clear enough, so I will share two stories.


When I was at UCLA studying game theory and war strategies (political science), I had the privilege of making a friend – Lindsey. She was a simply dressed girl brimming with dedication for school.

Let’s put it this way, if it was raining hard, I’d skip class. However, Lindsey was always there…even if sick.

One day, we hung out after class at the food court. I asked her why she was so adamant about attending every discussion even though she didn’t need to; she was a smart cookie.

I didn’t come from a wealthy background. I really wanted to attend UCLA. Even with loans, I was nowhere close to having that chance. Education was the only way out of my social-economic situation. I desperately wanted it and needed it.

So, I applied for a number of scholarships with no response…until one day, Coca Cola wrote back. Through their graciousness, Coca Cola granted me a full scholarship. I cried that night. Tears of joy of course…

I will not waste this blessing.

– Lindsey

I was moved. Even though my business supported my tuition, I felt imprudent. From then on, I never skipped a single class…really.

Let’s think about this hypothetically – If you were lost in life, in a dark, hopeless corner, and a brand miraculously offered you salvation, would you take it? Additionally, would you feel a bond with it?

I need not say what brand of cola she drank (and supported).

coca cola

Let’s move on to example 2.

Red Cross

I have a friend whom I respect a lot. He is from a different generation (older). Rocky is probably in his 60’s by now. He’d always invite me for barbecues and other festivities. After filling our bellies, he would entertain us with funny and interesting stories as an immigrant from Asia.

Rocky grew up in Vietnam. After the fall of Saigon during the Vietnam War, there was a race to flee the country. Rocky and his newly wedded wife took the little savings they had and decided to hire a fish boat to send them out…to where? Who knows. They just knew that they needed to leave.

The boat conditions were terrible. Everyone was stuffed into the basement of the ship. They were given no more than a handful of rice everyday (and even had to compete with the ship rats for their food). Starvation, near drowning, exhaustion, infestation, pirates, Communists, etc…they figured they’d never find salvation.

One after another, people around them never woke from their sleeps.

What seemed to be an eternity in pitch black purgatory, the fishing boat seemed to have anchored. The sound startled them from their shutting eyes. The ceiling doors opened and a powerful beam of light filled the room. They shunned it at first.

A foreign language called out to them, “Are you okay? Can you stand up? We’re here to help.” As he was lifted up, though feebly, he held tightly to his wife’s hand.

Rocky estimated it being about two weeks later, he woke up in a makeshift hospital tent with an IV in his arm. Apparently, he was nursed back to health. Another refugee told him that he was safe and in Malaysia (a country friendly to the U.S.A.).

He didn’t understand English at the time, but a flag was hung on the opposing wall. And forever will he remember it.

red cross

They helped him with citizenship into the U.S.A. and finding a sponsorship family. Having retired now from a successful business, he now hosts parties and tells us how beautiful America is.

And whenever Red Cross is in need, I can almost bet that he’s the first one in line to give back.

Beyond Money

I understand that businesses’ mission is to make money. However, it’s not impossible to build powerful relationships along the way.

  • Even if Lindsey prefers the taste of Pepsi, I’m sure that her loyalty will stay true.
  • Rocky does not need to donate. And if he wanted to, there are so many places in need.
  • And I bet that any recipient in need of sneakers will forever be grateful for Toms Shoes.

With love,

Lawrence Chan

P.S. Remember that relationships could easily be negative. And forever will one hate and advocate against using your brand. Read Lauren’s post comment (first one below)

Food for thought.