Book Review: The Human Brand

How We Relate to People, Products, and Companies

In this feature, Rick Knight, President and Founder of Performance Administration Corp., will discuss what he’s been reading lately, and how it applies to franchise dealerships and the auto industry. Read something interesting that you’d like Rick to review? Drop us a line at

Wouldn’t you like to be more engaging on social media? What if you could drive more customers into your dealership simply by updating your Facebook page?

I recently completed reading the book The Human Brand by Chris Malone and Susan Fiske, and I believe that anyone interested in increasing customer retention and customer loyalty could benefit from this book.

What I realized is how social media is bringing the way we do business full circle to how business was done in the early days. The big picture is this: Humans were never mentally wired to trust and enjoy goods made by “unknown hands.” People prefer to do business with those they know and trust.

Business Transparency

In the beginning of business, people only bought from people they knew, and those faces were in fact the logos and brands that stood behind the products. People custom ordered their clothing and food and nothing was pre-made. Before 1880, things were not mass produced, there were no fixed prices for goods, and there was more bartering and less exchanging of money. Then along came the Industrial Revolution, and there was a shift in consumerism and how people began to buy. We were no longer purchasing from Betty the Baker, we were purchasing from a large baking company, not knowing the direct steps the baked goods took to get from point A to point B, C, D, and, eventually, the marketplace.

Now, with the emergence of social media, we’re starting to return to those old days of business transparency. Social media allows brands to show their true colors, and to communicate their values, processes, visions, and morals. It also provides a way for consumers and businesses to connect, and to get to know each other on a more personal level.

FEELINGS OF TRUST & ADMIRATION: One of the points made in the book is that a person who demonstrates both warmth and competence inspires feelings of trust and admiration within us, motivating us to seek a continuing relationship with that person (and the company they work for).Here is an excerpt from Chapter 1 on how doing good translates into doing well:

“During the summer of 2012, Theresa Cook, age eighty-four, was dying of pancreatic cancer in a hospital in Nashua, New Hampshire. Her twenty-one-year-old grandson Brandon was at Theresa’s bedside, feeling helpless because she had lost her appetite, and the hospital food didn’t appeal to her. What she would really like, she told Brandon, was her favorite food: clam chowder in a bread bowl from the local Panera Bread shop. It was a Tuesday, and when Brandon called over to Panera on Amherst Street, he discovered that during the summer they made clam chowder only on Fridays. Brandon said he didn’t think his grandmother could wait. In three days, she might not be able to eat at all. Suzanne Fortier, the manager of the Nashua Panera, got on the phone, and without missing a beat, asked him to come right over. She told her staff about the special request, and they got to work pulling out the fixings and putting a pot of clam chowder on the stove.By the time Brandon arrived from the hospital, his order had been bagged up, along with a box of cookies for Brandon. Suzanne told Brandon there was no charge and to keep her posted. If his grandmother needed more soup, she said, he should just give a call. Brandon went home that day and posted a status update to his Facebook friends. He gave a brief account of Suzanne Fortier’s and her staff’s kindness toward him and his grandmother. Then his mom reposted his update to her friends—but she also tagged Panera’s corporate page, as well. Within days, Brandon’s Facebook post had racked up 730,000 likes and drawn 24,000 comments. Many commenters jumped to conclusions about Panera—positive conclusions of a kind you’d love to see if you were a Panera executive or franchisee: “Panera seems like a wonderful company.” “Glad to hear that there are folks out there that still care for their neighbors and community …” “CHEERS TO PANERA for following the ‘Golden Rule.’ Do unto others as you would have them do unto you—and a little kindness goes a long way—there shall be showers of Blessings on this business.” “Bravo to Panera Bread! Goodness in food, and goodness in people!” “What a great story, I have never heard of Panera but I will be sure to try the first one I come across. It’s awesome to see how far a little kindness can go.”

What are you doing at your dealership to inspire trust and admiration? More importantly, what are you doing on social media to be more transparent to your customers and show them your value?

Using Social Media to Build Trust and Admiration

Here are some ideas for social media posts I thought up after reading the book:

  • Take pictures of you and your customers after a vehicle sale.
  • Ask customers to post reviews —honest reviews.
  • Poll the audience and get them talking. Ask them what car features are most important to them. What can’t they live without?
  • Ask customers about their service experiences, and what you could provide in your waiting room to better their experiences.
  • Take pictures of your staff members and highlight key features of their roles in your organization and the community. What do they do really well? What makes them individually significant that sets them apart?
  • Promote your sales and offers by communicating the direct benefit to the consumer —keep the consumer in mind at all times. This is the difference between posting pictures of your vehicle inventory versus sharing pictures of your culture and environment. Show customers what sets you apart and what makes you unique.

I’m sure that after you read the book, you’ll come up with dozens of other ideas to start incorporating yourself. Social media isn’t just for marketers, it’s for every department of your dealership. Consumers want to know the people: the owner, the service manager, the salesman they’ll be spending hours with in your showroom. Show them who you are and what makes your dealership inviting.

REAL WORLD EXAMPLES: What I liked most about this book, and what I think you’ll find most helpful is that it provides real world examples of success and failures that can shift the culture in the way we provide retail experiences to our customers.Here is a relevant excerpt that discusses how Mercedes Benz thinks about their customers:

“Our goal is turn our customers into advocates,” says Steve Cannon, president and CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA. “Having a trouble-free, great experience is not enough to turn loyalty into advocacy. If they’ve had a great experience, that’s wonderful, but when we layer on top of that something that truly makes the ownership experience a little more special, a little bit more emotional, then we sort of jump over that hurdle.” For instance, Mercedes practices what it calls “random acts of kindness” with its customers, offering them invitations to exclusive events related to the Masters golf tournament, Fashion Week in New York, or the U.S. Tennis Open. Mercedes’s alliance with fourteen exclusive hotels around the country means that when Mercedes drivers check in, they’re rewarded with a bottle of wine and a $100 spa and resort credit, presented as tokens of gratitude for Mercedes ownership. Each new buyer of a high-performance AMG Mercedes vehicle gets to schedule a day on a racetrack with a professional driver to learn how to drive the car under extreme, intense conditions.”

This is specifically helpful to auto dealers, because with increased competition, we’re always looking for a new way to stand out and attract and retain customers. What better way than to show customers who we really are and what we’re all about?

Ready to read this book? I assure you, you won’t regret it (and no, I am not an affiliate in any way)Buy it on Amazon today, or find it at a local bookstore.
There are plenty more books I’ve read on customer retention that I’ll be sharing in the coming months. Be sure to stay subscribed (or subscribe now so you don’t miss out) to receive my book reviews and continuelearning ways you can stand out from competition and drive customers back to your dealership family.
All The Best,