Did you ever consider what is taking place cognitively and emotionally when you discover a new passion? What is striking a chord that was silent just a week before? Why am I so into the bicycle I ride that I need to discover everything there is to know about it? This relationship has very quickly gone beyond a mere purchase to something more intimate. As a marketer, I suspect brands are playing a significant role in my new love but how are they connecting with me so deeply?

Until recently, I rode to work every once in a while on a seven-year-old single-speed that some guy in Brooklyn had assembled for me for a couple of hundred bucks. Now I’m a fanatic devotee of an adventure bike known as AWOL made by Specialized. I totally identify with this brand and have done hours of research to pick exactly the right fenders, rack, panniers, shoes, and pedals with which to ride through the freezing New York winter.

This relationship has very quickly gone beyond a mere purchase to something more intimate.

Over the course of this four-week dalliance, I’ve come across dozens of brands I never heard of before, and I have lovingly, obsessively found the ones that are right for me and ruled out those I wouldn’t be caught dead with. As someone in the persuasion business, I wonder whether I am making those choices and discovering the products I choose to love or whether I am a sucker and these brands long ago identified me, positioned themselves to appeal to my target group, and laid in wait until I tripped over their content marketing traps.

Giro logos on a white background.

The timing was right. I’m in my early 40s and had a kid about a year ago, so adventure and long trips away from home aren’t exactly on the daily docket. These brands are making my heart pound with nostalgia even though I didn’t know them even two months ago. In my twenties, I went for a few month-long bike rides through France, camping along the way and eating huge loaves of baguette layered with brie and raspberry jam. Today, when I sprint across the Williamsburg Bridge, it is my daily version of climbing Mont Ventoux, the toughest climb on the Tour de France. By choosing to ride an AWOL, I’m shaping a vicarious identity borrowed from two dudes who rode AWOLs from London to Istanbul in two weeks straight. Maybe I could be that tough. Maybe I could be that hardcore.

I’m ingraining these brands into my day and forming rituals such as this daily ride that are becoming a vitally important part of my life. Of course I’m going to bike today, even though it is sleeting outside with the temperature hovering below freezing.

A bike is leaning against a wall.

The product brand ecosystem can be organized into equipment for the bike and for the rider. The first group consists of (a) the bike (b) frame-mounted accessories such as lights, saddle, and racks, and (c) hauling gear such as panniers, packs, and bags.

A backpack, helmet, gloves, and other items are laid out on a wooden floor.

I’ve revisited the early days of my love affair with biking and found connections that weren’t so obvious to me at the time. In a departure from a typical corporate-driven campaign, the bike’s product designer started a Tumblr site that documents his most recent adventure. Enthralled, I watched the documentary of the ride to Istanbul and pored over the pictures to identify gear. Some time later, on a blog called The Radavist, I read about a product collaboration between the same designer and the quirky outdoor equipment maker Poler on what would become the panniers I had to have. All of these brands share a sort of outdoorsy aesthetic that I could identify with, and the stories they told connected powerfully with the nostalgic desire for adventure perpetually slumbering in me.

As a marketer with an understanding of the patterns that contribute to brand intimacy, it may not be particularly difficult for you to establish a deep and mutual bond between a person and a brand. You can certainly engineer tactics and moments that are going to make consumers fall in love and carefully build on those tender first days to integrate yourself authentically into someone’s suddenly expanding brand ecosystem and life. It will be interesting to see how this currently very solid new relationship of mine develops.

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