How ‘Likability’ Trumps Competence In A Brand’s Image [PSFK CONFERENCE SF]

How ‘Likability’ Trumps Competence In A Brand’s Image [PSFK CONFERENCE SF]

PSFK talks to author Rohit Bhargava about how building deeper and more trusting business and personal relationships is the key to success.

Timothy Ryan, PSFK Labs
  • 28 october 2012

PSFK is excited to have Rohit Bhargava as a speaker at PSFK CONFERENCE SAN FRANCISCO. Rohit is the author of ‘Likeonomics‘, a book exploring why some companies are more believable than others and why being likable is the secret to being trusted and getting more customers. On November 1st, Rohit will discuss what he has termed a modern believability crisis and why likeability often trumps competence and is the real key for building trusted personal relationships.

What is the modern believability crisis?

One of the big problems that we all struggle with is something I’ve defined as a modern believability crisis. What I meant by that is it is essentially harder for any organization to inspire people to believe them than it ever has been at any time in the past. I think we have seen this not only through multiple surveys, but also just in our own personal lives. We are constantly bombarded by political messages and advertisements selling us products. Most of us don’t find it believable, and we just don’t trust it. I think that characteristic defines the marketing climate today.

One of the things that I wanted to try and do was talk about why the problem is so much worse today, and set the table for one that we’re all facing today.

How can we believe?

The big thing that I found as a solution is that, in a world where we can’t or won’t trust the organizations that are trying to speak to us, we return to the most basic human desire, which is to trust each other. What that has meant – and I found this through research studies and multiple surveys of people – is that we believe individuals far more than we will ever believe an organization. It’s become so much more important for any organization to have customers making human connections on its behalf, because without it, most people won’t really believe the message that it is putting out there.


Are the personal relationships that we’re relying on for recommendations extended through social media?

I think social media is a part of it. I think that the unique thing about social media is that it has now created this idea of virtual trust. We don’t necessarily need to know someone in real life in order to trust an opinion that we might read relatively anonymously through an Amazon review, for instance. Far more broadly, what I tried to write about wasn’t so much the impact of social media as it was the impact of this natural, human desire to trust the people that we like and the importance of likability to actually building that trust.

Is ‘likability’ something that you feel is possible for brands and marketers?

Well, I think you are already seeing it. To some degree, you have always seen it. If you look at the Business 2 Business (B2B) market, for example, anybody who has ever done any sales or marketing in the B2B world knows that a big part of why you make a sale has very little to do with the five bullet points about your product. It has a lot to do with the relationship that you have built over time with the customer that you’re eventually going to work with. I think that we see that in a lot of different industries. You look at real estate or any service-based business, from consulting to the legal profession, they’re all operating on this same basic structure of, “We choose the people that we work with and the organizations that we work with based on something other than their 10‑point brochure. We choose based on our relationship with those people, and based on who we want to do work with.”

What does the future business landscape look like in this scenario?

I think one big effect is that we stop taking personality out of every business interaction. The faceless business, and being successful because you are faceless, really doesn’t exist anymore. The companies that do succeed are the ones that manage to open up. Not necessarily in an “Open up and be completely transparent about everything that they do,” although that’s often good, but the companies that manage to take that more personal approach, that manage to inspire more loyalty and passion in their customers because of that connection.

It’s not just about selling something to somebody once. It’s about having that loyal customer that can’t help always coming back to you and then always talking about you with everybody else that they know.

Can you think of an example to illustrate?

One of my favorite examples is Costco, the membership retailer. If you look at every aspect of their business, they operate in a way that’s very different from other businesses, yet it works amazingly well for them. They cap their margins at 15 percent, and say that they’re not going to make more money. If they can buy the products that they sell for less then they pass that savings on to their customers instead of just keeping the difference. That is already unique.

They also pay their employees higher than the industry norms, and give them full benefits, so as you can imagine, the employees don’t leave. They stick around, and they love working there. If you talk to any customer of Costco, they have passionate customers. Customers love Costco, and they stay part of Costco.

I think that, when you look at a model like that they consistently deliver profits every year to Wall Street. Could they make more money in the short term? Sure. Probably they could. But the sustainability of a business like that, where you have consistent margins, you have happy customers, and you have happy employees. As long as you can get those pieces all together, which is surprisingly unique and businesses might be able to do one but not the other, it becomes pretty powerful.

Does it boil down to a good company culture?

Having a good company culture is part of it. If you look at some relatively newer companies that have figured out a way of really building a deep connection with their customers by providing a great service, but also by having a personality and by actually getting to know their customers on a deeper level. That really inspires people to then take that relationship and start talking about it.

A customer won’t talk about you unless you do something wrong. A satisfied customer will be satisfied, but a customer that’s delighted, a customer that you’ve taken to the next level, they’re the ones who will passionately talk about you even when they have no reason to.

Ultimately, it’s coming down to the most basic marketing principle of all, which is word of mouth and the power of word of mouth. Even today, 2012, you do any survey where you look at what the most powerful form of marketing is, and word of mouth is always number one, and it always has been.

Thanks Rohit!

Rohit Bhargava/ @rohitbhargava

Please join us on November 1st to hear Rohit discuss why ‘likability’ is the most important skill anyone can learn is how to build deeper and more trusted personal relationships at PSFK CONFERENCE SAN FRANCISCO.


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