When someone signs up for my newsletter, I reach out to see if they have a burning brand question they’d like to ask.

Recently, I got a great one. The question was:

What do you do when you see your brand dying, but others around you don’t?

At first, I was taken aback. Brands are very public things. Certainly, everyone would know if a brand was dying. But, mulling it over, I began to see scenarios where a brand could head down a wrong path with few people noticing. In fact, I’d seen it happen to a brand I loved, when our hot indie agency was sold to a conglomerate. Even as champagne corks were popping, staff saw the lifeblood draining out of the ‘pirate’ brand we’d worked so hard to cultivate. It happens every day.

Brands are about relationships. And relationships can die.

That brings me to a fundamental brand truth. Brands aren’t logos or jingles. They’re bonds of trust between humans and product / service providers. To stay healthy, they need to be nurtured. When neglected, they wither. If there’s sudden ‘non-characteristic’ behavior (aka selling a hot indie brand to a big conglomerate), they break the bond of trust.

Brands are bonds of trust, like human relationships. If you don’t nurture them, they die.

Sound familiar?

I know, it’s exactly like human relationships. As I thought this through, I was drawn inexorably to the mountains of self-help articles out there. Could advice columns serve up some helpful tips on how to spot a brand relationship on the rocks? Let’s see.

You can’t see yourself being with your (brand) for the long haul.

This indicator of a dying relationship comes to us from Huffpost. The author continues “We were at a wedding I was in, and multiple times this thought passed through my mind: This will never be us.”

Does a brand give consumers room to grow? Or do you need to break up?

Think about this in brand terms. You own a small car, and feel it’s time to move on. Do you leave the brand, or does the brand give you room to grow to the next level – to a sporty four-door or an SUV,  for example?

You’re failing to communicate.

This one comes to us from Cosmo, the motherlode of relationship advice stories. The author poses this question:  “Are either of you no longer talking about issues or communicating about things that bother you?”

A healthy brand relationship requires collaboration, give and take.

Again, put this in a brand context. A healthy brand relationship is about co-design and collaboration. If consumers feel the brand isn’t listening to them, check-out time is fast approaching.

She consistently cheats on your Netflix shows.

This rather cryptic indicator in a Men’s Health story is explained by the author: “When your little habits—whether it’s a walk every night after dinner, or calling each other on your lunch break (or watching Mad Men on Netflix)—start to dissolve, you lose a critical part of your bond.”

When brand habits lose their lustre, the relationship may be in trouble.

What happens to Oreos when all of us start dunking a new cookie in our milk? I shudder at the thought, but it could happen.

Now for the good news.

Instead of just looking to the advice columns for indications that a relationship is dying, I thought I’d finish on a hopeful note. What do the columns advise for those of us who want to save the relationship?

let go a little.

This one comes to us from Psychology Today. Now, more than ever, consumers are demanding an equal role in creating their brands. Sometimes that doesn’t square with the perspective of the brand manager. But if you stifle consumer input, they’ll find another brand to dance with.

Consumers are demanding a co-creator role in their brands. Ignore them at your peril.

A great example – Chevy Tahoe let consumers edit their ‘dream’ Tahoe commercial and post it. What ensued was a flood of ads – many of them mocking the Tahoe. Chevy, however, was brave enough to roll with it. And they were rewarded for their magnanimity: the foray earned heaps of PR – almost all of it positive.

You need to focus on your partner’s happiness more than your own.

This great one comes to us from Elite Daily. It’s truly a timeless tip in personal, and brand advice.

Brands exist to make people happy. When they lose focus on that, and choose instead to focus on things like shareholder happiness, they die.

Hello, United Airlines.

Consumers, not shareholders, are the ones your brand needs to please.

Of course, brands that decided to stop behaving like boors, and start focusing on things that really matter to consumers (like sustainability), reap big rewards.

Hello, Wal-Mart.

Schedule some alone time.

I couldn’t resist relationship advice from a column titled ‘The Frisky’. And sure enough, The Frisky delivered.

Often, the best way to inject fresh life into a relationship – brand or human – is to pull back and do a bit of self-reflection.

I regularly schedule brand check-ins with my clients to assess how their brand is doing in the real world. We polish up the good stuff, trim off the bad, and emerge refreshed and ready to take on the world again.

As a brand strategy expert, successful entrepreneur, and award-winning author, Marc Stoiber uses simplicity and creativity to help people discover what’s awesome about their business… and then helps them tell the world. For more on creating your company’s value proposition, connect with Marc on FacebookTwitter, and LinkedIn, and sign up to his monthly newsletter.  

Want to try building your own powerful brand to create an unfair business advantage? Try out Marc’s Brand DIY Course – available now.