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Making Your Business a HUMAN Brand

The Small Business Council starts off the year 2014 with a new brand and new programming. How fitting that the SBC Launch Lunch on January 24 will feature Chris Malone, consultant and author of “The HUMAN Brand.” Below, Malone gives a preview of the topics in his book and why they are important to your business. To hear about these topics in depth and receive your own copy of “The HUMAN Brand,” register here.

If you’ve ever wondered how companies such as Zappos, Panera Bread, Lululemon, and Honest Tea have managed to build large numbers of loyal followers without the benefit of mass media, it turns out that social science offers some important lessons.

As smaller companies, these firms succeed in building lasting customer and employee relationships though word-of-mouth and community outreach efforts that triggered the primal human response to warmth and competence. Social psychologists have shown that as much as 82 percent of our everyday social judgments are based on our uncanny unconscious ability to size up others almost instantly according to whether we think they have worthy intentions towards us (warmth), and whether they are capable of acting on those intentions (competence). 

We make such instant appraisals in all our relationships, including those involving companies and brands. Warmth and competence defines what might be called “The HUMAN Brand,” and in the current age of social media and mobile communications, big companies are failing the HUMAN Brand test while smaller, more trustworthy upstarts are running circles around them. 

I’ve studied the warmth and competence perceptions of more than 45 well-known companies and brands over the past three years in collaboration with Princeton social psychologist Susan T. Fiske. Our research found that most major companies and brands are viewed by their customers to be selfish, greedy, and concerned only with their own immediate gain. 

The findings reveal some extraordinary opportunities for smaller businesses willing to build their HUMAN Brand. For example, grocers that place a strong emphasis on personal customer service, including Publix and Trader Joe’s, enjoy high levels of profit and customer loyalty without ever needing to offer costly “loyalty card” discounts. When the CEO of Domino’s Pizza’s launched a new pizza recipe in 2009 by publicly apologizing for the old recipe, his candor earned Domino’s such high marks for warmth and competence that the company has enjoyed industry-leading revenue growth ever since.

The trouble is that we all tend to be terrible judges of how others perceive us. While larger companies typically believe they are both warm and competent, they are often shocked by how their customers and associates perceive them on these dimensions.  They learn that many of their business practices are inadvertently alienating and driving away their most valuable customers and employees by running afoul of their natural warmth and competence expectations.  

In short, when the words and actions of companies and brands suggest that their primary focus is their own immediate gain, it becomes impossible for customers and employees to trust or become loyal to them.  Evolutionary psychology has hard-wired us all to think, feel and respond this way, whether we realize it or not.   This is where smaller companies can gain the upper hand on larger ones, by demonstrating a greater commitment to the best interests of their customers and employees.

For many, this requires a fundamental shift in business priorities, a shift in which long-term customer and employee 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.

Chris Malone is co-author with Susan T. Fiske of  The HUMAN Brand: How We Relate to People, Products, and Companies.
Posted: 1/6/2014 6:00:18 AM | with 0 comments

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Your business may be small, but that doesn't mean that your impact can't be huge! The Greater Memphis Chamber's Small Business Council serves to encourage, support, recognize and be a resource to small- and medium-sized businesses in the Memphis area. Here, our talented panel of contributors will present big ideas that could make a huge difference to your small business. And don't be afraid to ask questions ... no matter how small.

Sales & Small Business Ownership
Voss W. Graham is CEO and Senior Business Advisor for InnerActive Consulting Group Inc. He is known by his clients as "a knowledgeable partner who helps our team achieve business growth." He provides practical experience as a small business owner for over 29 years, yet is often engaged with Fortune 500 companies in the development of their people and business strategies.

Public Relations
Several professionals and strategists from the local Obsidian Public Relations firm provide excellent advice on everything from research to media relations to event planning. They believe that all companies, no matter how big or small the company or its budget, should have a public relations plan driving how they manage their relationships with key stakeholders. Public relations is an integral part of doing business the right way.

Human Resources
Joel Myers is a career Human Resources professional, with over 40 years in the field including 26 years in consulting.

Small Business Advice
Tom Pease is a small business owner of an office equipment dealership called e/Doc Systems, Inc. He has also owned a full-line Kawasaki dealership as well as a document shop. He used 30+ years of experience in owning a business to author two books, including: Going Out of Business by Design: Why 70% of Small Businesses Fail and Small Business Survival 101. He also has published 85 columns in The Memphis Daily News as the Small Business Advisor.

Marketing & Public Relations
Lori Turner-Wilson is CEO and Founder of RedRover Company, a sales development, marketing and PR consulting firm. Lori works with companies large and small, from start-ups to mature organizations, to help them improve the productivity of their sales force and the return on their marketing investment. Lori writes a weekly syndicated column for the Daily News, Memphis News, Nashville Ledger, and Desoto Times, among others, titled “Guerrilla Sales & Marketing,” for which she won a 2011 Summit International Award and 2012 International Communicator Award.

Design and Digital Strategy
Founded in 1999, inferno provides brand development, advertising, public relations, design and digital marketing services to clients across a broad spectrum of industries. Headquartered in Memphis with a satellite office in Kalamazoo, Michigan, the award-winning firm produces results-driven work by passionately combining strategic thinking, creativity and culture to ensure the success of its clients. For more information, visit

Labor & Employment Law
Fisher Phillips attorneys are ready to help you take a stand: in court, with employees and unions, or with competitors. Fisher Phillips has the experience and resolve to back you up. That's why some of the savviest employers come to the firm to handle their toughest labor and employment cases. The firm has 350 attorneys in 32 offices, including Memphis. For more information, visit

Since its founding in 2005, Paragon Bank has maintained a solid focus on the community and customer service. For more than 10 years, Paragon has delivered innovative products and financial expertise, convenience, and a deep understanding of what both businesses and individuals need from a ban, in order to provide solutions that make a difference. In the areas of business or personal banking, lending options or wealth management, Paragon delivers cutting edge technology, an experienced team and the most service-oriented staff of any community bank.