The Two Most Vital Elements in Marketing and Sales

[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. 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.

Bio: Stan Phelps is the founder of 9 INCH marketing, a consultancy that helps brands obtain customers that are four times as valuable as ordinary customers through the Goldfish Rule. He’s the author of the Purple Goldfish, Green Goldfish and the Golden Goldfish. He works with senior leaders to focus on meaningful differentiation to win the hearts of both employees and customers. Driven by client objectives and inspired by bold vision, Stan creates custom keynotes, workshops, and programs that are memorable and on brand, inspiring businesses to become REMARK-able by design.

Thinking Inside the Box to Promote Customer Loyalty around Christmas

One of the 12 types of Purple Goldfish is In the Bag / Out of the Box. Smart companies realize there is an opportunity to leverage surprise and delight by delivering a little something extra. A sign of caring that gets thrown in for good measure.

My friend Sal Vilardo shared a fun PG story yesterday:

Hey Stan,

honestSo, we did the whole trial order from The Honest Company (@honest) and completely forgot that if you don’t cancel, they will ship the next month too. We kept moving out the shipment and forgot about it one month until a soft charge appeared on our card. Jess called to cancel the shipment, but it couldn’t be stopped. The customer service agent said they would send a prepaid return bag and would have FedEx come pick it up. We wouldn’t be charged a restocking fee and would be refunded the full amount.
Long story short, the box showed up today and had a little something extra in it. A Frasier Fir and a book for the kiddos.
little woodsman
They sent us a tree!!! Who sends a tree with their diapers and wipes!? The company is all about environmental stewardship and we got a tree to plant with the kiddos…Needless to say, we are now setting up a monthly order for our youngest. They won us over! We went from wanting to stop the shipment to setting up a second order.
Oh, the power of Lagniappe!
Thought you would enjoy,

Human Brand What a tremendous story! It speaks volumes about Jessica Alba’s The Honest Company. The company scores high on the two factors that drive our emotional reactions and ultimate loyalty to a brand. According to Chris Malone and Susan T. Fiske in The Human Brand

“Research tells us that, thanks to the struggle for survival among our early ancestors, we all rely on a primal, unconscious ability to quickly size up others according to two specific categories of perception: warmth and competence.” 

Honest was responsive to the issue (competence) and thoughtful with the little extra (warmth).

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 recent article,

“…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.”

I couldn’t agree more. Companies need to find ways to leverage individual customer relationships by doing a tangible extra. Actions speaks louder than words.

Five more “cases” of In the Bag / Out of the Box

Here’s five more examples from the book, What’s Your Purple Goldfish:

imgres-6#1. Johnny CupcakesJohnny Cupcakes bakes its way into Purple Goldfish Project at #636. He was submitted in a tweet by David Knies @davidknies:

@9INCHmarketing stan check out @johnnycupcakes and what they do in their shipments to customers!”

It turns out that Johnny Cupcakes spends time creating a few purple goldfish to accompany his mail order shipments. Here is a comment from a forum:

“What a great display. So, there was a. the box, b. the tissue paper, c. the bag, d. the shirt, e. the hang tag, f. the oven mit label, g. the home alone card, h. the business card, i. the button, and j. the candy.”

Wait a second . . . I didn’t see any cupcakes in that package??? Turns out that Cupcakes is Johnny’s nickname. His name is Earle and Johnny Earle doesn’t make cupcakes. He makes T-shirts and Johnny knows marketing.

Here are three takeaways from Johnny Cupcakes:

1. Details, details, details – Johnny understands that you need to do the little things to stand out in a sea of sameness.  You need to create an experience for your customers and make your brand talkable. The product in ovens + bakery counters, the oven mit hang tags, the takeout boxes and the 80’s T-shirt designs all play a part in creating the Johnny Cupcakes brand.

2. Keep it fresh and limited – Despite numerous offers by department and specialty stores, Johnny prefers to keep it personal and only sells his products online or in his three stores (hometown of Hull, MA, Boston and LA).  All of his shirts are limited editions, some of which are runs of 100 or less.

3. Be approachable and take care of your fans – Part of Johnny’s appeal is his personal story of a scrappy kid selling T-shirts out of an ‘86 Toyota.  He’s an American success story of following your passion.  Johnny makes himself accessible by blogging, releasing videos and even hosting customer appreciation events.

#2. Peter Millar – Minty Fresh and Packed with Detail

peter millarPurple Goldfish #437 comes courtesy of University of North Carolina Professor Joe Bob Hester @joebobhester.

Joe Bob forwarded this article from Ron Green Jr. at the Charlotte Observer. It highlights Peter Millar and its founder Scott Knott. Here is an excerpt:

“They remember the mints”

When boxes of golf shirts and shorts and other high-end menswear are shipped from the Peter Millar office and warehouse, the packing list includes mints.

When customers unpack their orders, they are struck by three things: The quality of what they’ve ordered; each item comes out of the box in the order it’s listed on the packing sheet; and, mints are included for the pleasure of it.

It’s a little thing but this year when a few boxes arrived short of mints (they ran out briefly), phone calls started coming.

perpetualkid#3. Perpetual Kid – #549 in the Purple Goldfish Project comes courtesy of Ariel Savrin-Jacobs.

In her own words:

“I spoke to you after blogging about your purple goldfish project this summer when I interned for STELLAService. I’m happy to finally say I’ve found a purple goldfish! I checked your list, so if its updated I think this is a new one.

Last week I bought a few fun things online for my dorm room from It was my first time buying from them, and I’ll certainly be a repeat customer. The site is overall really fun (for example, I got measuring cups that stack like a Russian nesting doll), and it definitely didn’t hurt that my order placed at 10 pm on the 18th shipped the next morning and arrived on the 20th. But the best part of it all was the surprise “finger monster” (for lack of better words) sitting on top when I opened the package. While I don’t quite know what to do with it, I sure got a kick out of it, and I bet many other customers probably did too. I’ve attached a picture of this rubber “finger monster”. Hope it helps on your way to 1,001 and I will let you know if I come across any others!

maroni cuisine of northport#4. Maroni’s Cuisine – A fixed tasting menu, legendary meatballs, free wine and a jar of sauce makes Maroni Cuisine a Long Island Legend:

Maroni Cuisine of Northport pours in at #223 in the Purple Goldfish Project courtesy of Clark Johnson:

“Maroni Cuisine in Northport NY is consistently rated by Zagat voters as either the best or among the best restaurants on Long Island. Mike Maroni beat Bobby Flay in a throwdown! The meals are exclusively customized tasting menus, prix fixe, with all the wine you can drink included.  At the end of the meal, hours later, guests are generally presented with jars of Maroni Pasta sauce as a Thank You. Once you have used it, you want to go back for more (both the meal and the sauce!).”

#5. Michael Lynne’s – This Purple Goldfish Has Balls (three of them to be exact)

michael lynne tennis#245 was submitted by Will Prest. Will is from Minneapolis and he shared this gem from the Twin Cities.  It comes in as #245 in the Purple Goldfish Project:

Michael Lynne’s Tennis Shop

“When you pick up your professionally strung racquet, you get a new can of Penn balls with the Michael Lynne Tennis logo and name in big letters on it. It is a nice gesture, plus his balls are left all over the clubs around town. Here is the website. It got me to visit the site and I read a few of the articles on there…they were a nice surprise.”

Companies that tend to really get the concept of marketing lagniappe, tend to have multiple examples in their arsenal. Maybe it has something to do with fish wanting to swim in schools. Here is an excerpt from an article about Michael Lynne’s in an industry publication:

“…it’s not only about sales. Fully supportive of Minneapolis’ large tennis community, Lynne puts kids’ and local team photos on his back wall along with local tennis stories and news. And he’s happy to offer tennis tips to his customers and encourages them to “test drive” racquets for free.

…Clothing is grouped by size and the price is always visible. Racks are never overcrowded and pieces are displayed on the wall so customers can see them as “outfits.” When customers try on clothes, they find large dressing rooms with excellent lighting. Also, all the employees don various tennis outfits to work so customers can see what the clothes actually look like “on.”The store also has six stringing machines, so, as Michael notes, “You can have your racquets strung while you wait.” But even “waiting” at Michael Lynne’s Tennis Shop is a pleasure. Customers can watch the Tennis Channel on TV while having a snack or sipping gourmet coffee the shop supplies.

“We’re a destination point,” Lynne says. “People have to drive here, so we want to make sure our staff is well-informed on the merchandise and offers great customer service.”

“Michael and Mimzy personify customer service, and they teach their staff to take this approach,” says Greg Mason, senior director of sales for HEAD. “It’s the little things like greeting each customer, then thanking them as they leave, writing thank-you notes to repeat customers — that really makes the difference.”

Let me count the purple goldfish:

  1. Free balls with restringing
  2. Free racquet Demo’s
  3. Stringing while you wait in style
  4. Large well lit dressing rooms
  5. Hand written thank you’s.

I love the last paragraph of the article, “It’s the little things . . . that make the biggest difference.”  AMEN.

Today’s Lagniappe (a little something extra thrown in for good measure) – Here is Chris Malone talking about The Human Brand at the Human Capital Institute: