Gain deeper knowledge through our adaptive insights™ communities. See the world through your customer's eyes.

Back To Views

The Human Brand – Chris Malone

April 12, 2018

Chris Malone is the co-author of The Human Brand. Following three years of research, Chris explains how social psychology and the way we interact with humans mirrors how we interact with brands, products, and companies. Using the principles of warmth and competence, Chris demonstrates how brands can better connect with consumers. If you like our podcast, please subscribe and leave us a rating!

Podcast: Download Subscribe: iTunes | RSS

Podcast Signup


Chris Malone:Never let a great crisis go unused, go to waste because it doesn’t come along very often. When things are going smoothly and everything’s going according to plan, it’s tough to stand out.

Bill Gullan:Greetings one and all. This is Real-World Branding. I’m Bill Gullan, president of Finch Brands, a premier boutique branding agency. Thank you for joining us. So we have taken a little bit of a hiatus from the pod for good reasons both client related and also the exciting news that we’ve moved offices. We were in a wonderful space in Old City Philadelphia which is for those who don’t know the region pretty much the historic district near the Liberty Bell and other interesting attractions. So many folks from all over the world would walk by every single day, school groups, etc.

But we were there from about 2003 or early 2004 until about a month ago. And now, I speak to you from our perch on the 21st floor of 123 South Broad Street. Again, those who don’t know the area, that’s sort of in the central business district in Philadelphia. Just a couple of blocks from City Hall. And also for you movie buffs and I’m dating myself, this is the building where Duke and Duke from Trading Places, the wonderful flick in early 80’s I guess was located. So folks will perhaps recognize that. It’s now a building that I think is Wells Fargo branded and has a branch in the lobby etc.

Anyway, happy to be here and really happy to bring you an interview that we conducted actually just before we moved with Chris Malone. Chris is the managing partner at Fidelum Partners. He has an incredible background as an executive in situations like the NBA and the NHL and then moving into sort of consumer-packaged goods with Leaf, the confectionery and then Coca-Cola of course as a brand manager both on the coke brand and other brands within the umbrella. All the way through Aramark at the CMO at Choice Hotels. An incredible track record of executive leadership in marketing and other areas.

And also a published author and you’ll hear from our conversation he’s a thought leader. He has really interesting theories that are both sort of practical as well as academically grounded about how to build strong brands. I won’t steal anymore thunder from our terrific guest, Chris Malone.

Coming to you live, not really live but from Finch Brands world headquarters, we’re here with Chris Malone who’s the managing partner at Fidelum Partners. Thanks for joining us and for coming down.

Chris:Great to be here, Bill.

Bill:It’s our pleasure. Let’s start as we customarily do with a little bit of a twirl through your background which is an incredible story of various responsibilities across this landscape and could take us through the main stops and kind of what’s led you to this point?

Chris:Sure, sure. I started my career as a field sales rep for Procter and Gamble and my territory was Queens in the Bronx, New York City which was quite an education for a kid from suburban Maryland. I really enjoyed the experience and learned a great deal from it. After a few years there moving up the ranks, came back to Philadelphia for grad school where I studied entrepreneurship at the Wharton School. And after grad school I unexpectedly ended up working at the National Basketball Association at NBA Properties in their licensing and sponsorship group. Got recruited away to do similar things for the National Hockey League Players Association in Toronto. So a few more years in professional sports. And eventually found my way down to Coca-Cola where I became a global brand manager on everything related to Coca-Cola and the Olympics.

Bill:We’ve heard of that.

Chris:Yeah. So it was a great opportunity for me because they were interested in my sports background and I was very interested in getting kind of classical brand management training.

Bill:That was right in the aftermath of the Atlanta Games?

Chris:It’s exactly right.

Bill:What a moment.

Chris:Yeah, exactly.

Bill:With Atlanta with coke and everything.

Chris:They had just put 500 million dollars into the Olympics around the world in 1996 and I came in in January of ’97 and they were kind of in this post-Olympic hangover, kind of asking, gosh, we spent all this money, we did all this stuff, but we’re not entirely sure what we got for it. And so it was an opportunity to kind of a deep dive post-mortem on the Olympics and try to figure out what they should do for the ’98 and 2000 games so that was a great experience for me.

Worked there for the next few years developing a strategy for the ’98 and 2000 Olympic games around the world and then actually left with the chief marketing officer from Coca-Cola, a guy named Sergio Zyman.

Bill:Very well known, legend.

Chris:Exactly. We started a consulting firm in Atlanta. There was about five of us and Sergio started the Zyman Marketing Group in Atlanta and we consulted to large Fortune 500 both consumer and business to business on how to apply consumer marketing principles to their business to grow it. We had great success with that. Grew the firm to about 150 employees before selling it to an ad holding company out of Toronto. And that was what really opened the doors for me to come back to Philadelphia again and become the senior V.P. of Marketing for Aramark Corporation back in 2002.

After five years at Aramark, I joined Choice Hotels as their chief marketing officer and then in 2010 decided I’d seen enough of the corporate marketing world and decided to start my own consulting firm here in the Philadelphia area and wrote a book called The Human Brand.

Bill:Yeah, which we’ll definitely get to and what a bunch of lessons you’ve learned along the way that you are now applying obviously in pursuit of your client’s objectives. Just track Philadelphia over and over just because we’re City champions or what leads you here to our fine city. A Maryland kid but couldn’t resist the lure of coming back.

Chris:Exactly. It’s a great town of course. From a family standpoint, there is a personal appeal of it. One is that I’m from DC but my wife is from New York. And so Philadelphia is some place I’m familiar with as well as it’s exactly halfway between, makes for lots of great day trips on holidays and birthdays and weddings and things like that and so it’s ideally suited, I managed to fulfill that promise I made to her parents that eventually I’d bring she and my offspring back within driving distance. Got that monkey off my back.

Bill:Perfect. Our tagline, I’m not sure that city marketers would like, we’re on the way somewhere but anyway such is life. So you talk about and we’ve been blown away learning more about this, the book’s called The Human Brand. I encourage all of our listeners to check it out. It’s based on a model that I know that you’ve sort of conceptualized I think, you can tell us about it with some folks in the academic realm. You want to tell us about the warmth and competence model and how you came to it and what it means in a little bit about what some of the practical applications of that might be?

Chris:Yeah, absolutely. It’s been a fascinating story and experience for me. Just to briefly describe what it is, the warmth and competence model is a model of human social perception that was developed by number of social psychologists around the world that in the last 10 years has been kind of accepted as the universal way that humans everywhere perceive, interact and form relationships with one another. And my co-author Dr. Susan Fiske at Princeton is probably the best known at kind of formalizing and kind of publishing her work on warmth and incompetence which has been shown to be highly predictive of stereotypes, bias, all kinds of social behavior.

And so it was in 2009 when I first stumbled across some writing about this. It was in Harvard Business Review. There was an article entitled Just Because I’m Nice Don’t Assume I’m Dumb, and it was written by one of doctor Fiske’s proteges Dr. Amy Cuddy who has since become very well known as well.

Bill:Power poses and all that.

Chris:Exactly. Amy Cuddy wrote this article in 2009 that talked about warmth and competence in the workplace and how we have these stereotypical perceptions of people that we may work with and that people who are more friendly and approachable and warm an affable, we may sometimes assume that they’re less competent. And similarly, there is kind of a stereotypical perception that people who are really cold and unapproachable and difficult to judge their intentions, we might assume that they’re more competent as a result of that, and how we should be thoughtful about this. And I said, wow, that’s really interesting. I never thought of it that way but it certainly makes a lot of sense.

One of the things that I had developed during my time in professional sports, I had the opportunity to market products as brands at Coca-Cola and Procter and Gamble but also athletes and people as brands and professional sports. I’d always had the belief that probably people were probably the first brands, faces were probably the first logos and all this branded trade and commerce that we engage in was probably some kind of adaptation of the way that we interact with one another. But I’d never really seen any research to that extent or seen a model that could prove this.

And so, when I stumbled across warmth and competence, gosh, the social psychologists say that this is driving 80% of human behavior and I’m thinking one, if that’s the case how come I’ve never heard of it. It turns out it wasn’t well known outside of academia. But then two, if that’s the case how could it not be impacting how we do business. And so, I had the belief that perhaps this model could be predictive of what we choose to buy and become loyal to. And so I reached out to Dr Fiske at Princeton University out of the blue with kind of a random email saying, “Hey, I’ve become a fan of your work and I have a theory that I’d like to share with you and I basically explained I think your model might be predictive of what we buy and become loyal to.”

And she said, “You know, I’m not really into marketing. I’ve got eight published textbooks, 250 published academic papers and so forth but I’ve got a fellowship student here with me that I’m looking to get involved in some other projects and if he’s interested maybe you can have us as a packaged deal.” And he was interested and that led to over three years of research and nearly 50 companies around the world studying how their customers perceive them on the basis of warmth and competence. And what we found is that over 50% of what we buy and become loyal to can be explained by these basic human perceptions, things that we never think or talk about in our marketing or positioning and that was a real eye opener for me.

Bill:Yeah. I can imagine in some ways predictive of what we’ve seen, certainly with the other consumers who really are looking to access values in a sense of what a company stands for which is one way to express warmth and …


Bill:This explains a lot of human behavior but also a lot of what’s happening in the commercial realm as well. When we were first introduced to this I think what really brought it home for me beyond the obvious sort of cogency and power of it was a little bit about how it works in practice. Is there a story or two that you think are effective in expressing that?

Chris:Yeah, absolutely. One of the most striking things that we learned from our research was how, a lot of what we are taught and trained in life is that all of our success in our careers comes from our competence and that the quality of our product and product features and all of that kind of stuff. It turns out that in social psychology, they’ve been able to show over and over again that yes, we have to have competence to get by but competence alone can only get us so far. I think it really set people apart and [in fact it 00:10:40] was the more predictive element in human survival was what people believe your intentions or your warmth is towards them.

And so what we’ve found through our research is that virtually every company we evaluated was falling short of customer expectations on warmth and was perceived to be much more competent than warm. It turns out that a lot of what we are taught and trained in business is actually fundamentally at odds with what it takes for us to trust one another. We need to get more as quick as we can-

Bill:Control the message.

Chris:Control the message, control the information, close the sale, get the price, change the policy, limit the cost. All of these things send these little subtle messages that perhaps the company or the brand isn’t perhaps looking out for our best interests. And so that really causes to think differently. Our first round of research we did in 2010 was during like when B.P. was gushing oil into the gulf, Tylenol was being taken off the shelf.

Bill:All financial services brands were …

Chris:Exactly. Toyota, speeding down California highway is out of control with the accelerator problem and all that. We looked at which of those brands were really harmed by that and which of those weren’t. One of the things that really jumped out at us is that one, most companies and brands are not perceived to have the customers’ best interests in mind but two, when you have one of those major crises, it’s really a moment of truth. It’s an opportunity that you don’t get very often right to change the way people think about you and it’s an opportunity to demonstrate that you do have the best interest of the customer in mind in a way that doesn’t come along very often.

So for instance, if B.P. had said, you know what, unilaterally we’re going to stop drilling around the world until we get to the bottom of this. We’re not sure what the cause of the fire and the explosion was but we’re going to get to the bottom of it. We’ll take whatever responsibility is ours because we really do care about the environment and really what we say in all of our marketing is true. How might that have unfolded differently if they would have perhaps been the most loved energy company to ever exist depending on how they’d handled it.

And it turns out that Tylenol as it turns out back in that recall actually did pretty well. They weren’t perhaps as good as the 1983 episode but they did well enough that actually they continue to have stronger purchase intent and loyalty than Advil despite that you could hardly find the product anywhere in the United States.

Bill:Right, interesting. We did podcast a couple of weeks ago looking at some of the big crises of 2017. Your Uniteds and your Ubers. It seemed to me without any research backing at all, certainly not three years of it, the brands that recovered quickly were also those were the sort of core of the crisis was not anchored to a core brand attribute. Uber is a disrupter, Uber is not supposed to be a warm and cozy fireman. United amazingly has recovered quickly too but there may be something to the messages that you were talking about earlier, how you deal with it. How many apologies did we have in that first week.

Chris:Yeah, exactly.

Bill:It was amazing.

Chris:I think there is something else that has been changing. What we’ve found is that this basic warmth and competence that we are wired with as humans hasn’t changed in human psychology or physiology for thousands of years. However, the environment that we have been living and working and doing business in has changed dramatically. And it seems like there was a bit of a tipping point around 2010 with the convergence of mobile devices, social networks, E-commerce, all of that, because frankly there is a kind of a dynamic of social accountability that has existed for thousands of years in small communities.

If you imagine a small town, the merchant does wrong by a customer, those are pretty interdependent relationships and if the merchant doesn’t make it right, pretty much everyone in town is going to know about by Sunday at church and he could come under pressure or be run out of town if he doesn’t kind of balance the scales and do the right thing.

Well, there was a period during the industrial revolution where lots of those kind of social accountabilities went away. Companies became very large, bad news and good news didn’t travel very far, very fast and the kind of social accountability that we were wired to hold each other’s feet to the fire to keep things in balance went away to a large extent.

Well, around 2010, that really flipped back and I really think of it as kind of a back to the future moment where the social accountability that we were a wire with by evolution is now back with a vengeance turbo charged by this digital technology. Because now if a company or a merchant does wrong by a customer, it’s not that everybody in town could know about it by the end of the week, it’s everybody in the country could know about it by the end of the day. The demands and the accountability and the transparency that is demanded of companies, whether it’s Uber, or United or what have you is really thrown us for a loop because our systems and our corporate communications and all of that stuff wasn’t, we haven’t had that level of accountability in a long time.

So, it just requires us to be that much more open and transparent and to basically say more often than not, you know what, here’s what our intentions were, we did make a mistake, here’s what we’re doing about it and try to turn all of those crises and problems into opportunities basically. Never let a great crisis go unused, go to waste because it doesn’t come along very often. When things are going smoothly and everything’s going according to plan, it’s tough to stand out. But when you do have one of those incidents you can either be the hero that basically says, you know, we really do care about you or you can be the goat basically that doesn’t care and doesn’t respond fairly or rapidly enough or what have you.

Bill:Yeah. Well it seems the more progressive voices recognize customer service as an opportunity.

Chris:Yeah, exactly.

Bill:As opposed to whatever the case may be. But you’re right, there was [inaudible 00:16:14] time obviously but between the industrial revolution and the internet revolution there was a disintermediation of brand from consumer often with a retail location in between often with three broadcast networks in between and the nature of the dialogue, well, it wasn’t a dialogue, it was more of a sort of a dictation of by this, not this and now wild and wooly. It definitely is.

It’s wonderful. First of all before we get to that, warmth in this definition is more about motivation and intention it sounds like as opposed to just congeniality or …

Chris:That’s exactly right. It’s an important distinction because there’s a couple of different flavors of it. To back up a step, you should think of warmth as a whole category of perceptions that have to do with what are the intentions of other people towards me. Are they warm, are they friendly-

Bill:Do we come in peace.

Chris:Do we come in peace. Do they have my best interests in mind or are they looking out for themselves? Are they honest, are they trustworthy, do we have anything in common? All of that list of stuff that you could have about someone’s intentions and they’re kind of two flavors of warmth if you will. There’s the kind of sociability part, warm, friendly, affable and there’s kind of the morality part, honest, trustworthy, integrity, character, all of that stuff. Those are two different pieces but they’re all in that kind of warm bucket.

And so we should not take the word warmth only to mean kind of warm cold, it’s intended to be kind of an umbrella term to refer to a whole bunch of stuff. Similar with competence. Competence as all those things having to do with abilities, whether it’s knowledge, resources, expertise, problem solving, creativity, all of that stuff related to competence. What we found in all of our research is that in most cases a lot of what we think of as product or service features or benefits fall into the competence bucket. We’re covering that bucket pretty well.

What we found is what we’ve been missing is recognizing that everything we may infer or know about the people behind the companies and brands we do business with is actually even more important than the product features because we view those at those products as an extension of the people.

So I’ll give you a great example related to Hershey Company. So Hershey many people in this part of the country know was founded by Milton Hershey and in 1909, he and his wife donated their entire fortune to create the Hershey Foundation and the Hershey School for Underprivileged Children.

Bill:Which has had some issues as I think you may be about to tell us.

Chris:Exactly. Most people don’t know this. In our research we found only 20% of the population know about the Hershey School and the Hershey Trust and all that. But if you tell people the story of Milton Hershey and what he did and then ask people afterwards again, before, what’s your purchase intent and perception and loyalty towards Hershey and then tell them the story of what he’s done that for over one hundred years, every purchase of a Hershey product benefits this trust and the school and then ask them again about purchase intent and loyalty, you see a 15% jump in purchase intent, loyalty and brand perception.

Nothing changed about the product. What you did was you told them something new about the people at that company and causes them to think they pay their farmers fairly for chocolate, they must treat their employees well, they must give back to their communities and all of that. And so it turns out that the information we get about the people behind these companies and brands has a huge impact and it’s actually the more dominant impact on our behavior. So that’s why when we hear one of these scandals and we find out that what they did or what they said or what they were prying to do can have such a big impact on our attitude, not only towards the product but towards the company, despite that the product itself may not have changed.

Bill:Fascinating. And actually, it ties a lot of things together. We were wondering, I was on a panel the other night about Super Bowl ads this year and there seemed to be a pullback from directly over political statements but a big move in the direction of sort of philanthropic expressions. Be it Budweiser, not trotting out Clydesdales and puppies but instead their role in disaster relief in terms of flipping the switch of that factory away from beer and into water which they then put in cans. We saw Verizon’s similar message, we saw Hyundai not promoting and you could second guess whether the Super Bowl actually promote the New Genesis line of vehicles or whether Hyundai’s sort of strangely expressed commitment to, I don’t even remember what the health cause was but there’s that.

The degree to which folks convey that there are caring good purposeful people, I think you’re saying if they can convince folks of that have really significant benefits.

Chris:Exactly. And you highlight two different kinds of things that were a shift this year from what might be considered in the past kind of the warm and fuzzy animals, jokes, humor, puppies, all of that stuff, which is more on the sociability side of warmth to a shift of more about philanthropy and doing the right thing and giving back to communities which is more on that morality character integrity side of things.

We have found certainly that both of them have an impact but the integrity morality part is the part that is more important to consumers. And so, it needs to be reflected in more than just your Super Bowl ad in order for people to believe it but that you’re seeing both of those two things going on, not totally in the absence of competence related stuff but kind of as the overshadowing of the competence related things. So I think it’s an interesting observation and I think what’s going on there is they’re trying to send the message, they’re trying to demonstrate that we as people we as a company or a brand care about more than just making a profit.

There’s nothing wrong with making a profit, customers don’t have a problem with that. They would only have a problem with if you’re making a profit at their expense or to their harm. If you’re helping them solve a problem, God bless you, have a profit. A lot of these small purpose-driven, cause-oriented companies that have grown very rapidly nibbling away market share from the Procter and Gambles, the Gillettes, the Lever Brothers-

Bill:Toms and your Warbys and your …

Chris:Exactly. I think part of what draws people to them not just as customers but also as employees is that you feel like you are attaching yourself to something that’s about more than just making a profit. It is a cause that demonstrates, I might not even care about people who don’t have shoes in the other part of the world but the guys at Toms, I know they care about making something more than just money and that may cause me to trust them more and be more willing to give them a try.

Bill:Absolutely. As a downstream permission slip or even as an upstream sort of decision tree I want to work with and invest in people that I believe in and care and that care about me and the world.

Fascinating stuff. How might marketers incorporate these insights into their day to day. There are some very obvious implications of this but if you wanted to kind of highlight a few in terms of folks who are, practitioners who are completely compelled by this idea and wondering what it means for them.

Chris:I think I could boil it down to three imperatives. If you really are interested in leveraging the insights of warmth and competence to build stronger customer loyalty, client loyalty, repurchase growth, those kinds of things, I could boil it down to three things. And the first is, we’ve been really getting blindsided. We have to become more self-aware of how our policies, practices and processes are coming across to customers.

Because it turns out a lot of what we have taken for granted as standard operating procedure for the last 20 or 30 years is actually no longer acceptable and not meeting the transparency expectations of customers. Whether it’s how often we take price increases, what level of customer service we offer, our return policy, our cancellation policies. All of these other little things that we do, the degree to which we push out one way messages that say no reply, we’re only interested in sending you communication, not hearing anything back from you. All send subtle little signals that we care more about us than we care about you.

And so the first step is gather feedback from your customers about how they perceive you on the basis of warmth and competence. What you often will find is as I said with all the companies that we evaluated, that we’re not meeting expectations on warmth. In many cases, we’re meeting or exceeding expectations on competence but as a result there isn’t a lot of trust. Lots of the choices are competent, no, I don’t really trust any of them and so as a result I’m willing to switch between brands for a small difference in price and you create this kind of very transactional environment without a lot of loyalty.

So step one is get the feedback from customers, find out what are the little things you are doing that may be rubbing customers the wrong way and pushing them away. That’s step number one.

The second step is that once you’ve gotten that feedback, you’re going to have to be willing to embrace the notion of significant change. That whether we like it or not the world is changing faster than before and the expectations of us are changing faster than ever before. And so, the stuff that got us here, those policies, practices, processes, the way we do business may not be good enough to keep our customers in the future. So, if we’re not meeting expectations on those things, we’re going to have to say, you know what, we always used to do it that way but maybe this isn’t good enough anymore and we’re going to have to try doing things differently in the future to better demonstrate warmth through what we do.

Some quick examples, Zappos and Amazon are great at demonstrating warmth to customers despite they never have any physical contact with them, right? Zappos has got that 800 number on every page of their website. They want you to call 24/7, 365 days a year. And if you call you’ll get a live human on the phone in the first 30 seconds. The reason is they know that if they get you on the phone and started talking to one of their live people, you’re going to like them, you’re going to come back. Those people, they don’t even call them the customer service department, they call it the customer loyalty department. And so despite they never have any contact with person to person directly, they’ve demonstrated warmth through these little things that they do and they have tremendous loyalty, 75% of their sales every day from repeat customers.

So that’s the kind of change that we have to be willing to embrace. Not a lot of people know this about Zappos but they didn’t really adopt that whole customer service focus until they were about to go out of business. Tony Hsieh invested his last million dollars into the company that he sold the company to Microsoft for 30 million bucks and was down to his last [nook 00:25:59] and said, we can’t lose a single customer, we’ve got to do whatever we can to keep the ones that we’ve got and that’s what led to the tremendous focus on customer service they have. That’s the second part, embrace that change.

Then the third part is we really got to take a hard look at what our priorities are. And so if our priority is that to maximize our profit, maximize our revenue growth at the expense of our customers or employees, the reality is we’re not going to be able to get away with that for very long anymore. There used to be a time where you could do little things and squeeze the grape if you will and more blood out of the stone for a while and kind of keep that ball in the air but word travels so far so fast anymore that customers and employees figure out pretty quickly when we’re profiting at their expense and it becomes unsustainable.

That’s why you see a lot of these ups and downs. A company squeezes the margin here or cuts costs there, reduces labor there and they get kind of a boost out of but they can’t keep it going because when you take that stuff from customers and employees, those are the ones you rely on for the service delivery, for the customer loyalty, for the customer referrals and things of that nature. And so what we really need to do is to rebalance those priorities. It’s not that growth or profit is bad, it’s that we just need to keep that in balance with the need to maximize our loyalty of customers and to maximize the engagement of our employees. If we can grow and generate profit that way, it’s much more sustainable.

As Sam Walton said when he founded Wal-Mart that if we take care of the employees they’ll take care of the customer. And the problem was that that philosophy did not outlive him and that Wal-Mart became known as the exact opposite, not taking care of employees who didn’t take care of customers. And so, it can be kind of a virtuous cycle. And so that’s why I think the short term focus of current business and public companies has really done us a disservice because we’ve tended to profit at the expense of customers and employees and it hasn’t been sustainable.

Bill:Right. Absolutely. You’re making a case and one that’s very compelling that these sort of contemporary discussions about finding purpose, about triple bottom lines, about these other things are not just ethical imperatives but they’re financial and performative imperatives as well.

Chris:Domino’s Pizza is another great example. The headline of the story is we actually generate better financial results by putting the interest of customers and employees first than if we put the shareholders first. So Domino’s Pizza back in 2008, the Great Recession hit and all that discretionary spending got cut back. Domino’s wasn’t known for great pizza at that point anyway. They were already not in great shape. And so they got hit really hard. They had the humility to say you know what, we’re going to have to go and talk to customers and figure out what we need to do differently.

They knew that their quality had not kept up with the frozen pizza you can get in the supermarket and so forth. They were not prepared for the level of vitriol that they heard from customers in focus groups. Your pizza tastes like cardboard, it’s totally devoid of flavor.

Bill:They turned that into a campaign.

Chris:Yeah, exactly. Even the people saying, what was even worse than that it’s clear that the people of Domino’s don’t care. And so they had been going about kind of developing this new pizza recipe, they worked on it for two years but they got to the point where say, gosh, based on what we heard, we can’t just come out and say we got new improved pizza. Who’s going to believe us, who’s going to give us a chance.

And so it was at that point that they got inspired to do something kind of unthinkable from a business an advertising standpoint but was totally natural from a human warmth and incompetence standpoint which is their C.E.O. as you recall went on national television during the NFL playoffs and said, I’m sorry. We lost our way. Our pizza wasn’t very good, our service wasn’t very good but we’ve not only had a change of recipe but we’ve had a change of heart too and we hope you’ll give us another chance.

I don’t know if you’ve seen what has happened to Domino’s stock since then. They were trading at about $10 in 2009 when this started. As of today, I believe despite today’s downturn, $210 a share. They’ve had double digit revenue growth for almost 10 consecutive years and far outpaced any other fast food brand. I think it’s just a great example of, what they realized is that wasn’t just a campaign for them. For them, that was a new way to operate. It was a level of transparency and focus on telling the truth and doing the right thing and putting the customer first that just changed their fortunes.

Bill:Yeah, total reset. Amazing. This has been wonderful. Thank you so much. As we tend to finish and particularly in this case with all that you’ve accomplished and the teams you’ve built and the businesses you’ve built, are there a couple of learnings for those inspired by your career path, a couple of sort of words to live by or important philosophies that you’ve sort of built and adopted over the years that sort of are central to who you are as a business person?

Chris:Yeah. Yeah, there are a couple of things that I would certainly say that I wish I knew about this early in my career.

Bill:That’s the category here that we want to talk about.

Chris:Yeah, exactly, right? Because I wish I knew this earlier. In all candor, I think there were times early in my career where I was kind of a competent jerk. I’ve never been accused of being stupid but I don’t think I understood at the time the importance of relationships and the importance of warmth. And that the reality is it doesn’t matter if you have a better idea, your answer is more thorough, you’re smarter or whatever if no one can stand you and wants to listen to you. I used to think at the time that my competence would carry the day. To some extent, I was fortunate to have some measure of success but I could have been much more effective if I had recognized that it doesn’t matter if my answer is right if you’re not hearing me because I’m kind of demonstrating coldness and indifference to you basically.

So that would be number one is to get this message to younger people in their careers and recognize that you can only get so far with your competence. Your warmth is actually going to be the dominant driver of success over the course of your career. So that would be number one.

I think the other would be, there is a simple rule of thumb in my book that can simplify this down to a single idea. We call it the principle of worthy intentions and it’s a surefire way to demonstrate warmth and confidence to others without having to kind of overthink the thing or what have you. And what we think describe it as is that it’s the notion that we’re going to put the best interest of others before our own in the short term. Doesn’t require us to recklessly disregard our own interests but rather by putting the best interests of others ahead of our own in the short term, we demonstrate loyalty towards them first and we demonstrate that our intentions are worthy of their loyalty in return.

The way that human psychology works with if someone goes out of the way to do you a favor, we feel an obligation to reciprocate, right? And so often I think in business we’re asking for customers to show loyalty to us before we’ve done that for them. And so the principle of worthy intentions has put the best interest of others first in the short term and in the medium and long term we will all get much more in return.

Bill:Makes sense. Words to live by, words to work by certainly. Steve here who we tend to make fun of gently because he doesn’t have a microphone and he can’t clap back has perfected the art of being congenial but incompetent but we’ve appreciated all that he does in producing this and Chris thank you so much for your time and insight over an incredible career that certainly continues day in and day out. It was a real pleasure having you on with us.

Chris:My pleasure.

Bill:Wow, what a conversation. I could have gone hours with Chris. He’s such an interesting guy and his ideas are so powerful and he’s accomplished so much. So grateful for his time and insight. Chris Malone. Three ways to help us is always at Finch Brands on the Real-World Branding Podcast than they are to rate and review. Give us a rating in the App Store, leave a review. If you’re so inclined we are told that that helps make us visible to those who would enjoy this content with business and brand builders that we try to bring on a regular schedule, though, I know we’ve been a bit challenged recently. We promise we’ll get back to it.

And also let’s keep the conversation going, That’d be the third way. On Twitter @BillGulan or @FinchBrands, ideas comments, criticisms, this skin is thick. Interest level is high when it comes to the sort of dialogue that has sprung up around this show and so we’re so grateful for your time and your participation and what it is that we’re building here. And so in that spirit, we’ll sign off from the cradle of liberty.

Access Our M&A Branding Playbook

Click here for a step-by-step review of M&A branding best practices.


Explore Our Blog & Podcast

Gain perspective on key topics shaping brands and businesses.

Sign Up For The Finch 5 Newsletter

Five thoughts, topics, and tips to inspire you.