Be kind, your customer is a true friend

Use the Straylight Neurobox for understanding brands



Warmth and Competence

Brands are friendships

This article in a serie of 5 about Neurobranding and the Neurobox. This chapter is about brand assessment and how the psychology of relations can help us understand how to improve brand work. The idea is that we actually treat brands as they where true relations and the headline about naming cars is one example. At a sub-conscious level we affilate with relations that are warm and competent. Thats interesting for the brand executive who wants to understand why the brand is chosen and how to improve brand equity.

Have you given your car a name?

A new study in America among 2000 drivers shows that 56% have given their car a name and 60% consider their cars to be full-fledged members of the family.

We name our cars like they where persons, we speak with our computer and we feel sorry for old an old sweater if we have to through it away. We expect brands that we have a long relation with to reward us and if we are a long term customers we expect better service. We identify our selves with brands just as we do with groups of people.  “I’m a Nike person and not Adidas”. ” I’m a Hipster and not an Emo”. We have relations to brands just as we have relations to people.

If you think that sound strange just consider that companies also have a relation perspective. There are customer relation departments, managers and strategies because it works and creates profits.


Which is the key brand attribute?

Brand work is often focused on unique brand attributes to influence how people prefers or dislikes you. The idea is that impact and a correct understanding of a brand makes it more popular and recommended in the future.

The challenge is however that a specific identity doesn’t explains preference nor loyalty amongst consumers in an effective way.  It actually seems like all brands evoke similar type of basic core attitudes and emotions, at least in the same category and quality level.

With Neurobranding we have a focus on that brand relations are similar relations between people. Knowledge on how people evaluate personal relations can be used to explain why we like a brand and are attracted to its offer.

What make you affiliate with a brand?

Look at the brands you have at home right now. Ask yourself why you bought them and how the brand assessment worked when they found their way to your home.

I bet they represent all kinds of styles and images. The truth is that we like all sorts of brands and products just like we appreciate different type of personal relations regardless of their characteristics. Having different types of friends is charming and the same goes with brand relations.

It is hard to say why we bought a specific brand and not the competing brand by looking at a set of brand attributes.

There are many different sources of input that may explain brand choice and one of them is that we affiliate with brands using the same biases as we use for directing our personal relations.


People looks for warm & competent relations

The Stereotype Content Model by S Fiske

The Psychologist Susan Fiske, says that people generalises all relationships into two dimensions, warmth and competence. The model is called the Stereotype Content Model.

We stereotype in warmth/competence because we need to answer two life saving questions before involving in any relationships:

  1. What is the intention of the other party?
  2. Can they make good on those intentions?

Warmth is directly linked to intentions and active behaviour and is therefore the primary question. A high level of perceived warmth indicates that you will get help and fair treatment. A low level indicates that you may be attacked or used.

Competence is the secondary question explaining why someone would affiliate with you. It predicts if you have the capability to deliver what you promise. A high level indicates that you expect competence. A low level indicates lack of competence and that you will be neglected. A high level of competence together with low warmth indicates service that is professional but passive and inpersonal.


Be kind, your customer is a true friend

Patagonia -A kind brand

Your customer is your best friend if you are kind. He or she will buy from you if you also are competent.  A Neurobranding advice may be to change focus in your brand strategy and aim for actions and messages that will make you feel both warm and competent. That would make more customers instinctively search for and join your brands community. It will create alliance and affiliation.

To be warm your brand needs to be a like sympathetic friend; varm, trustworthy, tolerant, sincere, generous, caring, kind, and honest. It need to be kind not only towards your customers, but to every stakeholder of the brand. Your mission should be about something truly good for the customer and you should not have a hidden agenda of overcharging or gaining to much from others.

To feel competent, you have to deliver your brand promise and meet expectations of your product or service. You need to show confidence, intelligence, capability, and independence.


Are you a lovable brand?

The Stereotype model will help to explain whether customers want to bond with you. Here are some more input about the model.

For branding the questions that stereotyping answers may be:

  1. Can I trust this brand (Warmth)
  2. Can I respect this brand (Competence)

Have the questions in mind looking at the matrix below. Warmth is about trusting and require generosity as a core attribute of the brand identity. Respect however comes from Competence which is also a core personality of a brand. Warmth and Competence needs to be addressed in all brand building to achieve the position as the Loveable star of the category. You don’t want to be the fool and you don’t want to be the jerk.


There are four relation stereotypes in the matrix above. Which of the quadrant does your brand belong to?

  1. Lovable star. Brands in this group are perceived as both warm and competent.The brands have no hidden agenda and want the best for the customers.
  2. Competent Jerk.  Brands in this group are perceived as high on competence, but low on warmth. These are brands customers have to choose rather than want to choose. The brand is felt egoistic and uses it’s position to maximise profits. Engagement for society is shown only when needed or is passive.
  3. Lovable fool. Brands in this group are liked but seen as incompetent and are often pitied. Service and help is often active and nice, but not always professional.
  4. Incompetent jerk. Brands in this group are perceived as cold and incompetent. The reaction of the customers regarding this type or brands usually elicits feelings of contempt and pity.


Airlines and stereotyping

I’m aware that it is a bit blunt to place a brand in some of the quadrants but I want to give an example how it all plays out. This is my own stereotyping of some well known airlines. The brands have their brand attributes and promises but I have som past experiences and also an image on how they will perform for me in the future. That make me stereotype them and when I chose that evaluation will have a big impact on my choice of carrier. I would definitely choose Singapore Airlines when I can.

Do you agree in how I stereotype following four airlines:

Virgin – The lovable fool

Ryan Air – The incompetent jerk

Lufthansa – The competent jerk

Singapore Airlines – The lovable star

Your new Brand KPI´s

Brands are friendships. The same principles that run your personal relations are used for brand relations. That’s why you should aim for being Warm and Competent. In your next brand research, why not include this perspective in your questionnaire?

Google Susan Fiske, Stereotype model to find plenty of more input.

Do you want to try this idea? Remember that it in the long run isn’t only about image, it’s about who your brand truly is and what you want it to be.

Be kind.