The two most important factors of how we relate to people, products and companies


Share on LinkedIn

Book Review: The Human Brand

In our evolution as humans, we were forced to develop skills integral to our survival. One of which was the ability to make snap judgements about our surroundings with a high degree of speed and accuracy. As we walked out of the “cave” our senses went immediately into survival mode. We judged everyone and everything we encountered on two basic criteria:

  1. Are they a threat?
  2. What was their ability to carry out that threat?

The Human BrandThis basic truth is at the heart of Wiley’s new book The Human Brand by Chris Malone and Susan T. Fiske. Their research has shown that over 80% of our judgements as based on these two factors. It boils down to our perception of 1. warmth and 2. competence. These perceptions don’t just apply to people. We also apply the same standards to products and companies. We automatically perceive and judge their behaviors on a subconscious level. Brands are people too.

Here is author Chris Malone talking about the two dimensions of Trust:

Relationship Renaissance

From the Local Village to the Mass Market to the Global Village

The mass market is a relatively new phenomenon. Merely 150 years ago we consumed almost everything made from people we know. A merchants reputation was as precious as gold. If a small business wronged you, everyone in the local village would quickly know about it. Merchants faced public censure, potential ruin and even losing a limb (see story of the “Bakers Dozen“). As a result, businesses worked hard to establish trust and earn repeat business.

But then the mass market emerged. Almost everything we consumed was made by a faceless, far off company. The voice of the customer waned. We were powerless to expose or punish brands that acted badly. Outside of lodging a complaint with the Better Business Bureau or writing consumer advocates like Ralph Nader, we were handcuffed.

Enter Digital, Social and Mobile. The internet has changed the game. In the words of author Chris Malone, “For the first time in history, the entire world is wired in a way that is consistent with the way evolution has wired us to think and behave.” Social has flattened the earth. Each consumer has the opportunity to share their experiences with millions of others. There is a huge ripple effect in the global village.

A phenomenon John Lennon famously called Instant Karma,

Lyrics from the Hard Rock Vault

Lyrics from the Hard Rock Vault

“Instant Karma’s gonna get you
Gonna look you right in the face
Better get yourself together darlin’
Join the human race”

Need an example to drive this home? Look no further than Panera and the story of Brandon Cook.


The Human Brand shares the touching tale of a Panera store manager who used good judgement to help the dying grandmother of a customer. Making soup and sending along cookies for good measure. In less than four weeks, a single Facebook post by customer Brandon Cook garnered 800,000+ likes, nearly 35,000 comments and scores of national media attention. Why? Because Panera empowered its employees to demonstrate warmth and competence by doing the little extra.

BOOK TAKEAWAYS: Consumers want to be heard. Social accountability is back and its here to stay. Consumers expect to have relationships with their brands. Companies must forge genuine relationships with customers. We now expect relational accountability from the companies and brands we support. Consumers will view the actions (or inaction) of brands based on warmth and competence. And warmth is absolutely key.

Chris Zane of Zane's Cycles

Chris Zane of Zane’s Cycles

The Human Brand is not just theory. It draws from original research, evaluating over 45 companies over the course of 10 separate studies. There are plenty of case studies. The book features in-depth analyses of large companies such as Hershey’s, Domino’s, Lululemon, Zappos, Coca-Cola, Panera, Amazon, Chobani and Sprint. It also touches on small to medium sized businesses with compelling case studies such as Dr. Kelly Faddis, the University of Dayton, Zane’s Cycles and Loeber Motors.

I can’t recommend this book enough. It’s a game changer. I guarantee you will be rethinking your approach to customers and prospects after reading this book.

  • You’ll rethink your approach to loyalty programs
  • You’ll rethink how you prioritize people vs. profits
  • You’ll rethink ever doing a “daily deal” like Groupon or LivingSocial
  • You’ll rethink the cost of new customer acquisition vs. upselling current customers
  • You’ll rethink how important is to make the first step in demonstrating warmth and competence
  • You’ll rethink how your actions will be perceived through the Principle of Worthy Intentions
  • You’ll rethink how leadership can become the literal “face” of your brand
  • You’ll rethink how you handle a crisis

In the words of Malone, perhaps the greatest takeaway is this, “Companies need to embrace significant change in the way they do business with customers, better aligning their policies, practices and processes to reflect warmth and competence.

One word: AMEN

Today’s Lagniappe (a little something extra thrown in for good measure) – Here is John Lennon singing his classic, Instant Karma at Madison Square Garden:

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Stan Phelps
Stan Phelps is the Chief Measurement Officer at 9 INCH marketing. 9 INCH helps organizations develop custom solutions around both customer and employee experience. Stan believes the 'longest and hardest nine inches' in marketing is the distance between the brain and the heart of your customer. He is the author of Purple Goldfish, Green Goldfish and Golden Goldfish.


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here