Companies that do good in the world tend to perform well too – but why is this? Home’s Liz Clover shares a fascinating book that attempts to explain why.

The Human Brand

I’ve just finished reading a book that explores why companies that do good in the world are increasingly doing well. The Human Brand is written by customer loyalty expert Chris Malone and social psychologist Susan Fiske. Malone and Fiske argue that we need to look back at our evolutionary past to understand why we make certain judgements today. I think there is something in what they are saying…


Back in the mists of time

As primitive humans, our survival depended upon us being able to successfully judge the intentions and ability of others: who can we trust, who will help us stay in the tribe, who should we avoid? The stakes were high. If we got mixed up in the ‘wrong crowd’ we risked getting thrown out of the tribe and our life expectancy would only be a few weeks. We’d likely end up as lunch.

We were drawn to people we perceived to have warm intentions – those who were trustworthy, honest, who’d listen and care about us and would think about our best interests. We were also drawn to people we judged to be competent – those with the intelligence, resources, knowledge and creativity we could rely upon. It seems that this decision-making process became hardwired in our brains.


Purchasing decisions today

Today, 80% of our behaviour is still influenced by judgements on warmth and competence.


Malone and Fiske’s research was carried out in 40 different countries so seems pretty universal.

When we judge brands we see warmth as a kind of moral compass; we expect organisations to make ‘good’ decisions – to treat customers, suppliers, employees and the wider community fairly, to give back and not solely focus on profit at others’ expense.

Employee and customer loyalty and advocacy are typically super high with pro-social organisations, because the goodness these company’s stand for resonates deep within us.

We positively judge competence when we believe a company’s products or services are good quality and will meet our needs.


Why does this matter more now?

Before the industrial revolution, business was conducted face-to-face between people that knew each other – it was about creating value for everyone and there were high-levels of social accountability. If you experienced poor service or quality the word spread quickly. The mass production, distribution and consumption of the industrial revolution put an end to this. Organisations became faceless as the ever-seductive marketing machine took over. Lots of us got sucked in.


In today’s digital age, things are changing again.


Fiske and Malone argue we are experiencing a relationship renaissance. For the first time in 150 years, the world looks a bit more like it used to.

Social networks can turbocharge an organisation’s brand loyalty. Good and bad experiences aren’t just shared by a village – these days the whole world can know the truth about a company’s warmth and competence almost instantly. Organisations that truely believe creating value for all is a higher prize than simply profitable gain will increasingly do well – their warmth will shine through, we will believe in their purpose and make purchasing decisions accordingly.

Our resident bookworm and agency director was reading The Human Brand by Chris Malone and Susan Fiske published by John Wiley & Sons. Find out more here