Leverage the Human Brand: Incorporate the Surprising Psychology Behind Customer Choice and Loyalty

Article excerpt

Consumers are constantly forming deep, personal connections with brands--they love their iPhones, hate their banks, and are in a codependent relationship with their favorite coffee shops. Psychologists agree that in social interactions, we make two types of judgments about others: what the person's intentions are and how capable he or she is of carrying them out. Simply put, people judge other people on the basis of warmth and competence. And according to The Human Brand: How We Relate to People, Products, and Companies, by Chris Malone and Susan T. Fiske, they judge brands in much the same way. Associate Editor Maria Minsker caught up with Malone to discuss how brand perception and judgment can influence customer behavior.

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CRM: How did you notice a connection between social perception and brand perception?

Chris Malone: Back in 2010, some interesting things started happening. Some trusted and respected brands were going through tremendous turmoil. BP was hurting as a result of the Gulf [of Mexico] oil spill, Toyota was going through a series of recalls, and even Tylenol was in major trouble with recalls and an FDA investigation. I was just starting to think about how angry customers were getting at these brands when I read a paper by Susan Fiske called "Warmth and Competence: Universal Dimensions of Social Cognition." It was then that I had an "aha!" moment. I thought, I bet that companies and brands are evaluated by customers using the same parameters--warmth, which has to do with how honest and trustworthy someone is, and competence, or someone's general abilities.

CRM: Warmth and competence make sense in the context of people, but how can a brand exhibit these characteristics?

Malone: It turns out that we are wired to interact with everything around us as if it were human, and whether we are aware of it or not, a lot of our perceptions happen subconsciously. This means that even though we don't necessarily have direct contact with the people at Coca-Cola, we know that inanimate bottle is made by a company, and at that company are people. It also turns out that the more we know about the intentions and abilities of the people at that company, the more likely we are to become loyal to it.

CRM: In your book, you highlight companies like Honest Tea and Zappos as brands that are getting it right. …