The Two Most Vital Elements in Marketing and Sales


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[The following post is an excerpt from Chapter 5 of the book, What’s Your Golden Goldfish]

Golden Goldfish BookIn our evolution as humans, we were forced to develop skills integral to our survival. One of which was the ability to make snap judgments 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?

This basic truth is at the heart of the work of Chris Malone and Susan T. Fiske. {Endnote 24} Their research, built upon work done by Dr. Bogdan Wojciszke, has shown that over 80% of our judgments 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. According to their book The Human Brand, we are in the midst of a Relationship Renaissance.

The Human BrandFrom the Local Village to Mass Market to Global Village…

The mass market is a relatively new phenomenon. Merely 150 years ago we consumed almost everything made from people we know. The reputation of a merchant 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. 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.” {Endnote 25}

Social has flattened the earth. Each consumer has the opportunity to share their experiences with millions of others. It has caused a huge ripple effect in the global village.

Instant Karma

Brands beware. Feedback is now instantaneous. John Lennon famously called this Instant Karma,

“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 the story of Panera and Brandon Cook. {Endnote 26}

panera-purple-goldfishThe Human Brand shares the touching tale of a Panera store manager who used good judgment to help the dying grandmother of a customer. The story involves Panera going above and beyond to make a special batch of clam chowder. The manager was thoughtful to provide a small package of cookies thrown in complimentary for good measure. Touched by the effort, it inspired the customer to share the encounter socially. In less than four weeks, a single Facebook post by Brandon Cook garnered 800,000+ likes, nearly 36,000 comments and scores of national media attention. Why? Because Panera empowered its employees to demonstrate warmth and competence by doing the little extra.

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.

The idea of warmth and competence is not just theory. It draws from original research spanning 10 separate studies. Once you start to view every action through the lens of warmth and competence, you will:

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

Malone and Fiske spent three years studying more than 45 major companies. The research has confirmed that warmth perceptions and communal relationships are the dominant drivers of customer loyalty. What’s a brand to do? The authors posit in a article, {Endnote 27}

Lasting prosperity requires a fundamental shift in business priorities, a shift in which individual customer relationships are every bit as important as short-term profit. Our success as humans has always depended on the cooperation and loyalty of others, and in that regard, our capacity to express warmth and competence ranks among our most precious assets. Therefore, keeping the best interests of others in balance with our own is simply a form of highly enlightened self-interest.

Companies need to find ways to leverage individual customer and employee relationships by doing a tangible extra. Actions speaks louder than words.


Doubletree Chocolate Chip CookieMy family recently stayed at a Doubletree Hotel in Richmond. It was part of a family vacation to Virginia. I’m a big fan of the hotel because of their chocolate chip cookie. It epitomizes the signature extra and the idea of being REMARK-able.

I can distinctly remember my first stay at a Doubletree like it was yesterday. It was April 1996 in Atlanta, GA when the love affair began. After numerous delays on a rainy day we finally reached the Hotel. It was one of my first business trips. Tired and hungry I checked into the Doubletree. In addition to receiving my room key I was a given an individually wrapped bit of warmth and goodness. Inside my bag was a chocolate chip cookie. And not just an ordinary chocolate chip cookie, it was warm, large and packed with oozy chocolate chips. A smile came across my face. I was smitten.

As much as I love the cookie, I pale in comparison to Jeff Hayzlett. The former CMO of Kodak and best-selling author of The Mirror Test & Running the Gauntlet loves them so much, Jeff dreams of the Doubletree cookie when he stays at other hotels.

Doubletree’s motto is “The Little Things Mean Everything.” A recent commercial highlighted the cookie as one of “the little things our hotel team members do every day to create a rewarding experience for our hotel guests.

The Origin

In the 1980′s, most hotels offered treats like chocolate chip cookies to VIP customers. Doubletree believed all customers are VIP’s and thus they started handing them out to every customer in 1987. Fast forward to 2014, Doubletree by Hilton gives away roughly 60,000 chocolate chip cookies per day across the world. Since starting the program, they’ve given away over 300 million cookies.

Why a Cookie?

Doubletree offers an explanation right on the brown paper bag the cookie comes in. “Why a cookie?” the headline asks. “Cookies are warm, personal and inviting, much like our hotels and the staff here that serves you.” Warm is key here and a signature feature of the Doubletree cookie.

You never get a second chance to make a first impression. Some may argue that a mere chocolate chip cookie is empty and meaningless gesture.  It’s not meaningless, especially when that little extra is a signature first impression.  I subscribe to the philosophy that Malcolm Gladwell offered in The Tipping Point,

The little things can make the biggest difference.”  

Doubletree understands the chocolate chip cookie is not just a cookie, it’s a warm welcome and a stunningly competent first impression.

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.


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