You’re in marketing, so your job is to draw prospective customers closer to your brand.  You want to create warm leads for sales, create top-of-mind awareness and – in your wildest dreams – make those prospects love your brand. But is that possible? Can you make them love you?

The answer – as it is in any relationship – is no. You can’t force the audience to love you. They’re going to make their own decision, and you need to realize that. You can do things to draw them closer, but, like the Genie in Aladdin, you can’t make anyone fall in love with you (even if you spend millions of dollars on TV ads).

And that’s not just me saying it. A recent study shows that when marketers push too hard, consumers shut down. This shouldn’t really come as a surprise – you’ve seen this behavior with spouses, boyfriends and girlfriends, children and friends. When we’re too controlling, people pull away. It’s perceived as bullying. Pushing too hard strains the relationship.

I think we agree that a strained relationship is not what marketing is working towards.

And yet, so many brands fail to act within these largely agreed-upon rules of relationships.

Consider the identity marketing example in the study. As reported by the New York Times, the researchers tested several messages for a biodegradable soap product. Group 1 received a message that said the soap was “a good choice for consumers.” Group 2 was told that the soap was “a good choice for green consumers.” And the Group 3 was told that the soap was “the only choice for green consumers!” According to the study, the middle choice performed the best; it appealed to environmentally-aware consumers without being overbearing. The last message – the one that ostensibly chastised consumers for not choosing the product – performed the poorest.

Because people don’t want to be told what to do. They want to make the decision themselves; it makes their ownership more authentic. Remember: The customer is now in control of the buyer’s journey.

[An aside: who sings the best version of I Can’t Make You Love Me? Bonnie Raitt, right? I think it’s Bonnie Raitt.]

The best brands are the brands that people identify as integral to their life and the way they perceive themselves. Apple. Mercedes-Benz. Google. Starbucks. When your organization achieves that level of brand affinity, you’re on your way (of course, backlash often follows, but that’s another chapter for another day). None of those brands ever demanded that you love them, follow them or use their products. They just made themselves irresistible over time so that you felt like you had to use them.

Great brands don’t bully their customers. They don’t try to coerce them into becoming customers. They provide value, both in their products and services, and through their marketing efforts. They focus on helping their customers, not hyping their products. As they help those customers, they draw them closer – until the customer feels he needs the brand.

So that’s your goal, marketers – make your brand irresistible.

But stop telling me I can’t live without you.