Have you ever fallen in love with a brand? You know--like the way you have that Starbucks skinny soy vanilla latte, extra shot, extra hot sitting at your side every afternoon? Or the way you feel about the Nike Air Max sneakers that have taken you over the finish line in three different cities? You have a relationship with these brands. So much so that they may spark certain emotions or qualities: your Starbucks beverage helps you to feel relaxed and creative; the Nikes make you feel confident and determined.

Research reveals that the connections we make with brands can be as deep and emotional as the relationships we have with other people.  With some brands, we have wild, short-term flings. With others, we "fall in love" and enter a mutually beneficial relationship.

In "Romancing the Brand: How Brands Create Strong, intimate Relationships with Consumers," branding expert Tim Halloran argues that today's effective marketer must foster a deep, committed, and emotionally connected relationship with their consumer base. They must keep the sparks alive in a long-term relationship rather than focus solely on the short-term, single purchase.

It's important to make your customers feel special and to create a bond, just as you would in a romantic relationship. Halloran offers these examples of brands who are the gold medalists of break time in this year's winter Olympics. Their ads certainly romance the consumers.

P&G: Pick Them Back Up--Continuing to tug on our emotional heartstrings by emphasizing the influence of "mom" in all of our lives, the spot clearly romances mom by letting her know how important her role is in her children's lives. The tagline makes this celebration complete: "P&G: the Proud Sponsor of Moms. It is this type of "thank you" that enables P&G to build a strong relationship with its consumer.

Citibank: Every Step of the Way--Citibank will let their consumer base help decide where a $500,000 contribution will go among a number of options in helping future athletes "reach their full potential through sports program that inspire." This is an example of a brand empowering consumers, by giving them a voice in the ways that CitiBank will support Olympic hopefuls. Citibank is saying that "we trust you" and want to be partners with you. In any relationship, trust is a cornerstone. In this case, Citibank is building its faith on its consumer base.

So how can you help your audience fall in love with your brand? Halloran offers his secrets to romancing the brand with this roadmap showing how brands and consumers interact and evolve over their life span.

Know Yourself

The relationship starts with the brand. If you don't know who you are as a brand, how do you know what consumer will make a good relationship partner? You may have many great things to say about your brand, but to create a bond you must discover that one thing that you can own in the heart and mind of your consumer. Dig deep, as this special something may come from the most unlikely places.

Know Your Type

Every brand has an ideal consumer--someone who feels that that brand was made for her. The trick for marketers is to identify that ideal consumer, their functional, emotional, and social needs, and perfect the match between those needs and what your brand offers. Talking to, listening to, and engaging with your ideal consumer will be essential in determining a compelling emotional space in which your brand can differentiate itself.

Meet Memorably

The first few meetings between brand and consumer dictate whether the relationship has potential or whether it remains in the mere acquaintance phase.  Remember, consumers who fall in love with your brand become your evangelists and will influence the purchasing decision of others. Seek these influencers out, get their opinions, consistently make them feel special, and work to establish intimacy.

Make It Mutual

Just as there's a higher success rate in couples who are introduced to one another by a mutual connection, consumers will feel more connected to a brand through the advocacy and recommendation of others. Give them something to talk about and your strongest consumers will become influencers, and ultimately brand evangelists who can help us spread the word.

Deepen the Connection

Fostering a deeper bond with the consumer so that they perceive the brand as "a brand made for me" is essential in gaining a consumer commitment to your brand. Invite loyal customers in with special offers and promotions. Let them know they are important to you.

Keep Love Alive

As the brand and consumer relationships mature, it is essential to rejuvenate it through unexpectedness, innovation, and news. Leverage technology creatively, do a brand makeover, add new products or new twists to the old ones.

Making Up

Just like personal relationships, brands and consumers go through crises. How this is managed will determine whether a relationship is strengthened or devalued. Once you identify a problem in your relationship create an action plan that includes being upfront with your fans. Sometimes what may be seen as an unfortunate incident in a relationship can be used as a restart with consumers offering a much-needed jolt, reconnecting the brand and consumer more closely.

Breaking Up

Relationships end. You either recalibrate and start engaging with a new consumer group or you fail forward, eliminate the brand, and use the learnings to develop consumer relationships with different products.