Social perception of brands: Warmth and competence define
images of both brands and social groups
| Susan T. Fiske
| Chris Malone
Louvain School of Management, University of
Louvain, Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium
Psychology and Public Affairs, Princeton
University, Princeton, New Jersey, USA
Office of the President and Founder, Fidelum
Partners, Wayne, Pennsylvania, USA
Susan T. Fiske, Psychology and Public Affairs,
Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08540,
People form impressions about brands as they do about social groups. The Brands
as Intentional Agents Framework (BIAF) a decade ago derived from the Stereotype
Content Model (SCM) two dimensions of consumers’brand perception: warmth
(worthy intentions) and competence (ability). The BIAF dimensions and their
predictive validity have replicated the general primacy of warmth (intentions) and
developed the congruence principle of fit to context. BIAF domains include various
brands, product design, and countries as origins of products and as travel destina-
tions. Brand anthropomorphism plays a role in perceiving brands’morality, person-
ality, and humanity. Consumer–brand relations follow from anthropomorphism:
perceived brand-self congruence, brand trust, and brand love. Corporate social (ir)
responsibility and human relations, especially warm, worthy intent, interplay with
BIAF dimensions, as do service marketing, service recovery, and digital marketing.
Case studies describe customer loyalty, especially to warm brands, corresponds to
profits, charitable donations, and healthcare usage. As the SCM and BIAF evolve,
research potential regards the dimensions and beyond. BIAF has stood the tests of
time, targets (brands, products, and services), and alternative theory (brand person-
ality, brand relationships), all being compatible. Understanding how people view
corporations as analogous to social groups advances theory and practice in
Twenty years ago, the Stereotype Content Model (SCM) arrived in
social psychology (Fiske et al., 2002). The SCM’s central claim is that
stereotype content maps onto two fundamental dimensions:
warmth—a group’s perceived intentions—and competence—a group’s
ability to reach these intentions. Beyond stereotype content, the com-
bination of perceived warmth and perceived competence leads to
different elicited emotions and behavioral tendencies toward these
social groups. Ten years later, the Brands as Intentional Agents Frame-
work (BIAF) proposed to apply the same idea to study brand percep-
tion (Kervyn, Fiske, et al., 2012). After summarizing the BIAF, this
article reviews current research, which ultimately supports the roles
of both warmth and competence in brand perception. The review also
identifies theoretical, practical, and conceptual challenges that encour-
age future research.
2|WARMTH AS BRAND INTENTIONS
AND COMPETENCE AS BRAND ABILITY
In the model, BIAF (Kervyn, Fiske, et al., 2012), the central
proposition was simple: How consumers think about brands
resembles how they think about groups of people. More precisely,
BIAF proposed that brand images are cognitive shortcuts akin to
stereotypes. Following this logic, BIAF applied the Stereotype
Content Model (SCM; Fiske et al., 2002) to brand perception (see
Received: 20 August 2021 Revised: 18 October 2021 Accepted: 25 October 2021
Consum Psychol Rev. 2021;1–18. wileyonlinelibrary.com/journal/arcp © 2021 Society for Consumer Psychology 1
The SCM’s two stereotype dimensions are warmth (trustworthi-
ness and friendliness) and competence (ability and initiative); the
BIAF adapted them to brand perception and proposed viewing them
in this context as perceived intentions and ability. As the data
showed, positive perceptions on both dimensions increased
purchase intention and brand loyalty. Introducing the BIAF as a
potential brand equity measurement tool brought a new focus on
the warmth dimensions, as most brand equity measures primarily
focused on competence-related features and benefits. The BIAF also
had an emotional level. Positive-intentions/high-ability brands
FIGURE 1 Warmth and competence scores of salient brands, emotions typical of each quadrant (Malone & Fiske, 2013)
2KERVYN ET AL.
elicited admiration, negative-intentions/low-ability brands elicited
contempt, positive-intention/low-ability brands elicited pity, and
negative-intentions/high-ability brands elicited envy. As in the Ste-
reotype Content Model, these emotions mediated the impact of
cognitive perceptions on behavior.
Foundational work in developing the BIAF was inspired by a num-
ber of high-profile brand reputation crises that occurred in 2010, dur-
ing which company responses and the resulting impact on customer
loyalty unfolded quite differently. In particular, BIAF guided examining
the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the removal of Tylenol products
from retail shelves, and the recall of Toyota vehicles due to accelera-
tor problems during 2010. As a result of this early study, executives at
Johnson & Johnson, Coca-Cola, Hershey, and OfficeMax commis-
sioned commercial studies to inform their brand strategy decisions in
In the 10 years since its publication, the BIAF has informed
research in consumer behavior, marketing, and management.
Over 400 articles published in international journals have cited the
BIAF. Included here are some of the most relevant and impactful
papers, in the authors’judgment: published in international peer-
reviewed journals, cited more than five times (except for very
recent papers), and considered as relevant by the authors of this
review. The review proceeds from closer empirical work (replica-
tions and developments) to extensions (anthropomorphism and
consumer–brand relationships) to challenges (e.g., the role of trust),
ending on corporate social responsibility. The review illustrates the
BIAF’s impact on brand management practices through some case
Overall, consistent with the BIAF’s central claim, brand perception
shares many similarities with perceptions of human groups (stereo-
types for good or ill) but provides new avenues for research. This
review also discusses recent evolutions of the theory of the two
dimensions in social psychology and how researchers in brand
perception can use these evolutions.
3|REPLICATIONS AND DEVELOPMENTS
OF THE BRANDS AS INTENTIONAL AGENTS
Across various brands, products, and services, the BIAF replicates
both the dimensions and their predictive validity. To anticipate, the
BIAF’s claim that both warmth and competence independently predict
brand perception and purchase intent has largely replicated (Bennett
et al., 2013; Ivens et al., 2015; Zawisza & Pittard, 2015). Some other
characteristics of the two dimensions of stereotype content, namely
the primacy of warmth and the innuendo effect, have replicated for
brand perception. The BIAF has further extended to newly identified
antecedents of the two dimensions (Ivens et al., 2015; Japutra
et al., 2020) and to a proposed differentiation between two types of
competence (Wang & Liu, 2020). This work also extends to product
design, countries of origin, and travel destinations.
3.1 |Tests of the Brands as Intentional Agents
Tried out in new domains, the BIAF does fairly well in validation tests.
For example, key parts of the BIAF survived a test by Swiss respon-
dents rating eight well-known brands (Ivens et al., 2015). Warmth per-
ceptions positively correlated with admiration and, counter to the
BIAF’s predictions, also positively correlated with envy. Competence
perceptions positively correlated with admiration and negatively cor-
related with contempt and pity. The univalent emotions of admiration
and contempt had the strongest effects on consumers’brand attitudes
and purchase intentions.
Also, testing the new hypothesis that brand personality is an
antecedent to brand warmth and competence, the same study mea-
sured brand personality with Aaker’s (1997) five dimensions
(i.e., sophistication, sincerity, competence, ruggedness, and excite-
ment). Warmth and competence mediated the effect of brand person-
ality dimensions on emotions. Specifically, warmth mediated the
impact of brand personality on admiration and envy. Competence
mediated the relationship between brand personality and contempt
and pity. Although it did not fully replicate the BIAF, this study con-
firmed that the BIAF’s dimensions of warmth and competence are
predictors of specific feelings about brands, and it added to the BIAF
by showing that brand personality components are antecedents of
the two dimensions.
The BIAF central claim to predictive validity replicates reliably:
Perceived brand warmth and competence influence consumer behav-
iors (Bennett et al., 2013). Extending the model, US ethnic groups dif-
fer in their brand perception. Specifically, Hispanic American, African
American, and Asian American consumers reported certain categories
of branded products to be “warmer”than White Americans did, by a
significant margin. No significant differences emerged for brand
The primacy of warmth—the tendency to give more importance
to warmth over competence when forming an impression—is well-
established in perceiving others (Abele & Wojciszke, 2007); in sponta-
neous stereotypes (Nicolas et al., under review); and in relational, per-
sonal contexts (Nicolas et al., 2021). This replicates in the context of
new brand perception (Andrei et al., 2017). Participants read a brand-
launching communication that developed warmth then competence
arguments or the other way around. The warmth-competence com-
munication led to both more frequent and less negative word of
mouth than the competence-warmth communication. Warmth’s
primacy also relates to the social perception innuendo effect (Kervyn,
Bergsieker, et al., 2012)—making negative inferences about the miss-
ing dimension—which also replicates for brand communication
(Peter & Ponzi, 2018). When an advertisement communicates only
about one dimension, it leads to negative inference about the other
dimension. As in social psychology, this is especially the case when
this innuendo concerns the most relevant dimension: an ad for a
hedonic brand omitting warmth or an ad for a utilitarian brand omit-
ting competence (Peter & Ponzi, 2018, see also Kim & Ball, 2021).
KERVYN ET AL.3
Finally, the BIAF can differentiate between two types of brand
competence (Wang & Liu, 2020): perceived operational competence
(skills needed to manufacture existing products) and perceived con-
ceptual competence (ability to generalize the abstract brand concept).
This distinction parallels differentiating groups’competence between
sheer ability (intelligence, knowledge) and effective activity (assertive-
ness, initiative, and confidence; Abele et al., 2021). In three consumer-
psychology studies, these two different types of brand competence
had a different impact on near versus far brand extensions. Brands
with high operational competence are more able to manage near-
brand extensions because of skills transferability, whereas brands with
high conceptual competence are more able to manage far brand
extensions because of brand-concept consistency.
3.2 |Congruence effect
Besides the reported support for a primacy of brand warmth over
brand competence (Andrei et al., 2017), research using the BIAF has
also provided a more nuanced answer. The BIAF shows a congruence
effect (Zawisza & Pittard, 2015): The priority of the two dimensions
depends on a range of factors such as product category, company
size, consumer personality, and advertisement type. In brand percep-
tion, the congruence effect thus means that depending on the con-
text, warmth or competence will be the most important of the two
dimensions in brand perception.
The congruence effect emerged from studying impacts of
warmth and competence on advertising effectiveness (Zawisza &
Pittard, 2015). In theory, the high-warmth, high-competence “Golden
Quadrant”(Aaker et al., 2012) would facilitate advertising effective-
ness. Extending the BIAF, the prediction was that this golden quad-
rant would shift, relying more on warmth or on competence
depending on the congruence between dimension and product
category or consumer personality. In the first experiment, for high-
involvement products (smartphone vs. toothpaste), competence had
more impact than warmth on purchase intent. In a second
experiment, consumers with high (vs. low) anxiety toward
smartphones evaluated warm smartphones ads better than compe-
tent ads. These warm ads also proved more effective for these
anxious consumers. A third study manipulated an ad for blood
donations by ad type (warm vs. competent) and service type (self-
focused vs. other-focused). This involving and anxiety-provoking
service of blood donation also showed a congruence effect. The
warm (vs. competent) ad was more effective for the other-focused
messaging, whereas the competence (vs. warm) ad was more
effective for the self-focused messaging.
As noted, the focus on warmth (communality) in perceiving others
but competence (agency) in self-perception fits a related account in
person perception (Abele et al., 2021; Zawisza, 2016; Zawisza &
Pittard, 2015). This and the SCM context effects (relational
vs. analytic; Nicolas et al., 2021) thus argue for adding a congruence
(fit) principle to the BIAF. In order to help managers make informed
decisions about which dimensions to put forward, a scale measuring
agentic and communal consumer motives has since developed
(Friedman et al., 2016).
This congruence principle does indeed provide a useful tool to
interpret other research that has found varying importance of warmth
versus competence in their impact on consumer attitudes and behav-
iors. For instance, when consumers (are made to) feel a loss of control,
they tend to prefer brand leaders (vs. non-leaders) (Beck et al., 2020).
This effect is explained by the fact that brand leaders are perceived as
having high agency, thus allowing consumers to regain a sense of per-
sonal agency. A congruence effect between company size and expec-
tations of communion also emerges (Yang & Aggarwal, 2019). Both
large and small companies are expected to display high agency.
Customerperceive small companies as having lower market power,
and therefore they expected them to display higher communion. This
congruence effect leads customers to have harsher reactions
(e.g., lower yelp ratings) when faced with a low communion transgres-
sion from a small (vs. large) company.
Finally, a congruence effect emerged between local/global brand
and the two dimensions. Local brands are perceived as having cooper-
ative intentions and thus high on warmth, while global brands are per-
ceived as able to enact their intentions and thus high on competence
(Davvetas & Halkias, 2019). The high-warmth perception of local
brands had a positive impact on emotional and behavioral reactions
toward the brand. The high-competence perception of global brands
had antagonistic emotional and behavioral effects, acting as a double-
edged sword with both positive and negative consequences. Being a
local brand also increased brand warmth, while being a global brand
increased perceived competence (Kolbl et al., 2019). In a developing
market (Bosnia and Herzegovina), perceived brand globalness had a
positive effect on competence and, unlike a developed market in the
first study, on perceived warmth.
The BIAF has thus replicated many times but also adapted and
extended to better fit the reality and diversity of brand perception,
under varying conditions. (The SCM has evolved in parallel ways, as
later section review.)
3.3 |Product design
Together with the congruence effect, research on the BIAF and prod-
uct design has developed the BIAF from a general model treating
brands as abstract concepts to a framework that can apply all the way
to practical issues. Indeed, applications of the BIAF have not stopped
at brand perception. Product attributes (e.g., shape, packaging, and
logo) demonstrably influence perceptions of brand warmth and com-
petence and the other way around: brand warmth and competence
impact product perception (e.g., food taste).
Several brand and product features influence brand warmth and
competence perceptions. Products presenting gender cues such as
color (pink vs. blue) or shape (round vs square) elicit different brand
warmth and competence inferences (Hess & Melnyk, 2016). Feminine
cues link to higher warmth perception, masculine cues to higher com-
petence perceptions. Hard to pronounce brand acronyms lead to
4KERVYN ET AL.
higher competence than warmth perception, whereas easy to pro-
nounce lead to similar competence and warmth perceptions (Kim &
Dempsey, 2018). Compared to a control condition, a restaurant with
sensory (e.g., sweet and buttery) and nostalgic (e.g., grandma’s home-
made and traditional) food names is perceived as providing a warmer
service, whereas one that utilizes brand names (e.g., Bonefish Grill
) in their food description is perceived as more
competent (Kim & Magnini, 2020). In the retail sector, participants in
a warm room rated the retail brand as warmer than participants in a
cooler room (Möller & Herm, 2013). Finally, the typeface used in
advertising messages influences brand warmth and competence (Kim,
Jung, et al., 2020). Handwriting (i.e., Tornac) typeface led to higher
warmth, whereas sans-serif (i.e., Nimbus) led to higher competence
For product packaging and texture, consumers with a warmth
(vs. competence) focus preferred matte products/packages, whereas
competence focus led to a preference for glossy products/packages
(Chen, 2020). For instance, one experiment asked participants to
select an invitation postcard either for their grandma’s birthday party
(warmth focus) or for the company’s annual meeting (competence
In a taste tests, even though all participants tasted the same choc-
olate, those who read that the brand is competent (employing highly
qualified staff and consistently meeting its performance targets)
and/or warm (committed partner in equitable trading whose products
are certified as fair trade) experienced the product as tasting better
than those in the low warmth and/or low competence conditions
(Bratanova et al., 2015). Thus, product features influence brand
warmth and competence perceptions, but also the other way around:
brand warmth and competence can influence the perception of cer-
tain product features.
3.4 |Countries as product origin and as travel
The research applying the two dimensions to the country-of-origin
effect and country as destination offers another type of support to
our claim that brand perception resembles social perception by show-
ing that a single object, a country, can serve both as a social identity
and a brand. In 1997, the two dimensions of competence and morality
framed a study of national stereotypes, to help understand intergroup
relations (Phalet & Poppe, 1997). Using the BIAF framework, market-
ing research also applied a two-dimensional model to country percep-
tion but from a marketing perspective. That is, they studied national
stereotypes to understand the effect of country-of-origin of products
or country as a destination.
The country-of-origin effect refers to the associative network
elicited when consumer see a “Made in …”label (Nagashima, 1977). In
a study using India and China as countries of origin, both warmth and
competence affected the perception of the country (macro image),
but only competence affected the perception of the products from
this country (micro image) (Motsi & Park, 2020). However, both
dimensions had an indirect impact on product evaluation, and warmth
also had an impact of destination receptivity (attractiveness of the
country as a journey destination). Two studies found a congruence
effect between the country-of-origin perception and the type of
advertisement message (symbolic vs. utilitarian). For foreign brands
(but not domestic or global brands), a warm country of origin
(Brazil/Italy) fit with symbolic advertising, and a competent country of
origin (Japan/Germany) fit with a utilitarian message. This higher fit
had positive effects on attitude toward the ad, attitude toward the
brand, and purchase intent (Motsi & Park, 2020).
Factorial analyses of Chinese nationals’perception of 31 domestic
destinations confirmed that destination stereotypes organize along
the two dimensions of warmth and competence (Shen et al., 2019).
These destinations’warmth and competence perceptions grouped in
five typical Stereotype Content Model clusters: the four quadrants,
plus high warmth/medium competence. Both warmth and compe-
tence perceptions were independent predictors of visit intention.
Studying Hungarian respondents’perception of six popular countries
as destinations (Micevski et al., 2020) replicated this predicted desti-
nation evaluation by warmth and competence perceptions. Addition-
ally, the positive effect of warmth and competence on intention to
visit were mediated by the country-related emotion of admiration.
The positive effect of warmth and competence on evaluation of a
country as destination also replicated in a study of the perception that
Indonesians have of a destination that they had visited in the previous
twelve months (Japutra et al., 2020). Perceived quality of a destination
predicted its perceived competence, and enduring culture involve-
ment predicted its perceived warmth.
“Corporations are people, too,”claimed a presidential candidate.
Anthropomorphism refers to the tendency to perceive concrete
or abstract objects as humanlike entities, “attributing human
characteristics to nonhuman things or events”(Guthrie, 1993, p. 52).
Anthropomorphism also applies to brands, a tendency termed brand
anthropomorphism (Aggarwal & McGill, 2007) or brand-as-a-person
(Veloutsou & Taylor, 2012). Anthropomorphism has mostly been
measured by ad-hoc 2–7 item scales (Aggarwal & McGill, 2007; Epley
et al., 2008; Waytz et al., 2010), but two validated scales (Guido &
Peluso, 2015; Huang et al., 2020) were developed to investigate,
respectively, brand personality and morality (see those sections).
Brand anthropomorphism underlies BIAF’s claim that brand
images are similar to stereotypes (but without the usually negative
connotation). Responses to the original 2012 BIAF paper (Fournier &
Alvarez, 2012; Keller, 2012) immediately linked BIAF and brand
anthropomorphism. As reviewing the active field of brand-
anthropomorphism research will show, the BIAF has played a role in
their theoretical background and their research questions.
According to the new evidence, brand anthropomorphism
increases warmth per se, and this perceived warmth mediates the
effect of anthropomorphism on brand outcomes such as brand
KERVYN ET AL.5
attitudes or purchase intentions. But context matters, so this straight-
forward sequence (anthropomorphism àwarmth àliking) depends
on the product or its positioning and whether the fit is congruent. For
example, anthropomorphism interacts with brand positioning (Zhang
et al., 2020). In this experiment, respondents learned about a fictional
brand that was anthropomorphized through the logo design (facial
features vs. control) and expression style (first vs. third person) for half
the conditions and that used a popular (“loved by youth”) or distinc-
tive (“pursue uniqueness and fashion”) positioning. For the popular
positioning, the anthropomorphism manipulation led to better brand
attitude, and warmth perceptions mediated this effect. No such effect
occurred for the distinctive positioning. In the service industry, like-
wise, anthropomorphic communication (first vs. third person pronoun)
leads to higher hotel visit intentions; this is partially mediated by an
increased warmth perception. This effect emerged only in the sharing
(vs. traditional) economy for hotels with local (vs. global) advertising
(Lee & Oh, 2019). Finally, this positive impact of anthropomorphism
on perceived warmth replicated for the perception of robots (Kim
et al., 2019). However, in this case, anthropomorphism also can go
too far; it decreased some attitudes due to the uncanny effect
(distaste for robots that are too humanlike) (Kim et al., 2019). All three
papers report some effect of anthropomorphism on perceived warmth
but less effect on competence perceptions.
4.1 |Brand morality
One component of warmth is morality (Ellemers, 2018); friendliness is
a secondary component (Abele et al., 2021). Related to brand anthro-
pomorphism is consumers applying morality judgments to companies.
By default, corporations are assigned moral agency (provoking anger
when they act immorally) but not moral experience (no sympathy
when they are suffering) (Gray et al., 2007). However, when people
anthropomorphize a corporation (senior executives or people asked to
imagine that the corporation “had come to life as a person”), they
increase the corporation’s perceived moral experience (Rai &
Diermeier, 2015). Although the anthropomorphism manipulations
reportedly influenced the corporation’s perceived warmth and compe-
tence perception, more research needs to specify the relationship
between warmth/competence and moral agency/experience. As a
start, a newly developed, psychometrically sound scale measures
anthropomorphism on two sub-scales: a think and a feel dimension
(Huang et al., 2020). The think dimension of anthropomorphism influ-
ences moral agency, while the feel dimension influences moral experi-
ence. Warmth and competence positively correlated with both
anthropomorphism dimensions, with a stronger correlation between
warmth and the feel dimension of brand anthropomorphism.
4.2 |Brand personality
Brands’perceived personalities are closely linked to anthropomorphiz-
ing them. Before the scale just described (Huang et al., 2020), another
newly validated scale also specifically measured brand anthropomor-
phism (Guido & Peluso, 2015). This scale comprises three dimensions:
human body lineaments (e.g., This branded product looks like a per-
son); human facial physiognomy (e.g., This branded product seems to
have a human face); and self-brand congruity (e.g., This branded prod-
uct is congruent with the image I hold of myself ). This three-
dimensional brand anthropomorphism scale predicts brands’per-
ceived personality and respondents’own brand loyalty, one dimension
of consumer–brand relationships. The tendency to attribute personal-
ity traits to a brand thus links to brand anthropomorphism. Indeed, a
review of brand anthropomorphism (MacInnis & Folkes, 2017) iden-
tifies three ways of humanizing brands: brands as having human-like
features/traits, brands as similar to self, and brands as relationship
partners. The latter two humanizing drivers help explain the
consumer–brand relationships (see that section). Regarding the third
driver, attributing personality traits to brands is one of the ways to
achieve brand anthropomorphism (MacInnis & Folkes, 2017).
Although the BIAF applied a stereotype model to brand percep-
tion, not a personality model, including the BIAF as applied personality
traits to brands can be useful (MacInnis & Folkes, 2017). Linking these
different models, the BIAF’s warmth dimension resembles the brand
trait dimensions sincerity and sophistication (Aaker, 1997), agreeable-
ness and nurturance (Sweeney & Brandon, 2006), and female brand
personality (Grohmann, 2009). The BIAF’s competence dimension
seems close to the personality dimensions of competence and rugged-
ness (Aaker, 1997), dominance (Sweeney & Brandon, 2006), and male
brand personality (Grohmann, 2009). Similarly, for luxury brands, com-
petence links to the dimension of brand prestige (e.g., expertise and
consistency), and warmth links to brand authenticity (good intentions)
(Heine et al., 2018; see Davies et al., 2018, for empirical support of
links among personality models). Through re-analysis of existing
datasets (Davies et al., 2018) and new data measuring a total of 16 dif-
ferent brand-personality dimensions, the use of non-orthogonal rota-
tions revealed three dimensions: sincerity (agreeable, friendly, and
warm), competence (confident, effective, and efficient), and status
(elegant, prestigious, and sophisticated). In the SCM (parent to BIAF),
status serves as a social structure predicting competence, but a
related model treats status and competence as a single dimension (see
ABC and SCM in Abele et al., 2021). Thus, the brand personality work
loosely supports BIAF and SCM.
4.3 |Human brands
Although sometimes used more broadly (Malone & Fiske, 2013), a
human brand originally refers to an actual person actively branding
themselves (Thomson, 2006). The notions of human brand and brand-
as-a-person tend to combine when it comes to owners-managers of
small and mid-size enterprises (Centeno et al., 2019). These owner-
managers tend to anthropomorphize their brand mainly by projecting
their own personality and values into the brand. In qualitative inter-
views, admired brands exhibit traits of warmth and competence trace-
able to employee and management behavior. Along the same line,
6KERVYN ET AL.
companies that use their own employees or CEO as spokespersons in
their advertising enjoy more credibility, authenticity, and congruity
with their storytelling (Zeitoun et al., 2020). Blending social perception
and brand perception even further, a famous person can be both a
social being and a brand, bringing closer together the notion of social
perception and brand perception.
The notion of human brands also applies to politicians (Bennett
et al., 2019). In one study measuring the warmth and competence of
actual politicians in the 2016 election and two experiments manipulat-
ing the warmth and competence of fictional politicians, both warmth
and competence influenced voting intentions.
5|CONSUMER BRAND RELATIONSHIPS
Under the inspiration of Susan Fournier (1998), researchers have long
been applying models of social relationships to brand perceptions. As
the BIAF did later, they use social perception theory to study brands.
Anthropomorphism provides the necessary context for relating to a
brand as a social being. In research on consumer–brand relationships
that included the BIAF theoretical framework and methodology, one
concept is key: self-brand congruence, a fit between self-perception
and brand perception, including on the dimensions of the BIAF. This
evidence amends the way the BIAF considers brand trust.
5.1 |Brand anthropomorphism and social
Anthropomorphizing brands renders them as social objects with
whom consumers can develop relationships (Wijnands & Gill, 2020).
Indeed, a review of research advances in consumer–brand relation-
ships identified anthropomorphism (including perception as inten-
tional agents) as the key factor on the brand side of the equation for
the development of such relationships (Alvarez & Fournier, 2016). On
the consumer side of this equation, the BIAF offers a parsimonious
model of how consumers relate to brands (Fournier & Alvarez, 2012).
However, consumers develop a variety of rich relationships with
brands and, arguably, boiling down to the two dimensions of warmth
and competence forfeits some of that variety and depth (Fournier &
Alvarez, 2012; Keller, 2012; MacInnis, 2012). Further, consumer
storytelling about brand archetypes can convey the richness and
complexity of consumer–brand relationships, in this view (Muniz
et al., 2015).
Anthropomorphism and consumer–brand relationships are linked;
for instance, using graphic and textual personification strategies leads
to higher consumer engagement of global brands’Facebook pages
(Chen et al., 2015). Social media thus offer a tool to anthropomorphize
brands (Chen et al., 2015) and also to develop brand communities.
These online brand communities can present the brand’s good inten-
tions and abilities and thus elicit consumers’engagement in the com-
munity (Wang et al., 2019). Brands use anthropomorphism strategies
in their posts—such as the use of personal pronouns and imperative
verbs—and these brand personification strategies lead to higher con-
sumer engagement with these posts (Chen et al., 2015).
On the consumer side of the equation, highly engaged consumers
anthropomorphized brands—by using first-person pronouns—in their
reactions. They also expressed more positive emotions toward
anthropomorphized brands (Chen et al., 2015). This replicated in a
longitudinal study that manipulated and followed reactions to a
brand’s fan page for 4 weeks (Kim, Sung, et al., 2020). In the anthropo-
morphized conditions, the product (a fictional vitamin water brand)
had an anthropomorphized design (arms, legs, and face) and style of
expression (personal pronouns, informal language, and emoticons).
Anthropomorphism of the brand led to more engagement and the per-
ception of the brand as a trustworthy relationship partner. More spe-
cifically, the anthropomorphism manipulation led to higher rating of
the brand in terms of social presence (warm, social, and emotional),
which in turn led to higher brand attitude and relationship partner
quality. These positive effects of anthropomorphism were persistent
over time, even after consumers were made aware of a brand trans-
gression. Although not necessarily about the BIAF per se, the dimen-
sions activated in brand relationships closely resemble warmth and its
facets of trust and sociability.
On the explicit use of the BIAF to study consumer–brand rela-
tionships, theoretically, different types of relationships may match the
two BIAF dimensions (Florack & Palcu, 2017). Communal consumer–
brand relationships should develop when consumers perceive the
brand as friendly and warm and give more weight to this warmth
dimension, whereas exchange relationships will develop when the
competence of the brand prevails. One of the strengths of the BIAF is
that it combines the two dimensions of warmth and competence, thus
creating the possibility for ambivalent perceptions (cold but compe-
tent/warm but incompetent) (Johnson et al., 2016).
5.2 |Self-brand congruence
Once one considers that consumers develop relationships with
brands, the question is how close these relationships are. According
to the Attachment–Aversion model, the brand prominence (accessibil-
ity of brand memories) and the perceived distance between a brand
and self together predict the strength of the consumer–brand rela-
tionship (Park et al., 2013). This Attachment–Aversion measure
proved to be a good predictor of a brand mind share (cognitive evalu-
ations) and heart share (emotions and feelings) as well as of behavioral
intentions and actual behaviors toward the brand. Rather than explor-
ing the different types of relationships, self-brand congruence can
help understand why different consumers turn to different brands
(Wijnands & Gill, 2020). Rather than self-reported congruence, brand
affective congruence can measure self-brand congruence. This brand
affective congruence measures the fit between a brand and a respon-
dent’s (ideal and actual) self-perception using the Semantic Differen-
tial dimensions of evaluation, potency, and activity (Osgood et al.,
1957). Higher self-brand congruence on these measures led to higher
brand relational outcomes (e.g., brand trust) and better behavioral
KERVYN ET AL.7
outcomes (e.g., purchase intentions and willingness to pay a higher
price). The semantic differential dimensions used in this approach sys-
tematically relate to the two dimensions of warmth and competence
(Kervyn et al., 2013). A congruence effect also influences narcissists’
consumption preferences (Lee et al., 2013). Narcissists, defined as
being hyper-agentic but hypo-communal, prefer products that socially
elevate and/or distinguish them. The authors labeled these choices
Congruence is a key factor to building strong brand-brand rela-
tionships in B2B contexts (He et al., 2018). The BIAF’s warmth dimen-
sion relates to the motivation of self-transcendence (brand associated
with helpfulness, friendliness, and trustworthiness) while the dimen-
sion of competence relates to the motivation of self-enhancement
(brand associated with efficiency, conscientiousness, and skills) (He
et al., 2018). Data—collected from 251 B2B firms rating firms with
which they had longstanding relationships—showed that both self-
transcendence congruence and self-enhancement congruence posi-
tively influence brand trust, word-of-mouth, and value co-creation.
Brand identification mediated these effects.
Even in work on consumer relationships with smart objects (inter-
net of things) and not with brands, an innovative perspective links the
two dimensions of agency and communality with relationship types
(Novak & Hoffman, 2020). When the consumer and the smart object
have similar agency and communal values, the type of congruency
described above (He et al., 2018; Lee et al., 2013; Wijnands &
Gill, 2020) leads to a partner type relationship. But when a difference
in the agency value instead leads to a master–slave type relationship,
the higher agency consumer or smart object takes the role of master.
5.3 |Brand Trust
In the stereotype content model and in the BIAF, trustworthiness is
one of the components of warmth. However more recent research
using the BIAF to study brand trust raises an alternative. In a response
to the original BIAF paper (Aaker et al., 2012), US adults rated brands
selected to vary in warmth and competence. As in the BIAF, perceived
warmth and competence both encouraged purchase intentions.
Beyond these main effects, brands rated as high in both warmth and
competence have purchase intentions even higher than the combina-
tion of both main effects. Brand admiration mediated these effects of
warmth and competence on purchase intentions. The high-warmth,
high-competence combination earned the label “Golden Quadrant”
(Aaker et al., 2012).
Their interpretation hinges on a sweeping view of trust, beyond
the SCM and BIAF narrow view of trust as the warmth component
(trust that the brand has positive intentions toward the consumer).
Added to intent is a competence component (trust that the brand has
the ability to achieve its goals) (see also MacInnis, 2012). With all due
respect, this blurs the warmth-competence distinction between two
dimensions: warmth of intent and competence to enact it.
Similarly, other views divide trust into rational trust (linked to
competence) and emotional trust (linked to warmth) (Andrei & Zait,
2014). Emotional trust has more influence on brand trust than does
rational trust. Brands should therefore establish positive intentions
before establishing ability to achieve these intentions (Andrei & Zait,
2014). Later research also used the BIAF to research brand trust. In an
experiment using a fictitious brand, results confirmed that brand trust
mediates the effect that both the warmth and competence manipula-
tion have on purchase intentions (Xue et al., 2020). In a subsequent
experiment, participants’gender moderated this effect. The indirect
effect of warmth on purchase intentions replicated only for female
consumers, whereas the indirect effect of competence on purchase
intentions occurred for both genders (Xue et al., 2020).
Brand authenticity is an antecedent of brand trust (Portal
et al., 2018). In three South African airports, frequent flyers who rated
airline companies showed that brand authenticity comprised four
dimensions: continuity, integrity, originality, and credibility. Brand
authenticity has a positive impact on brand trust. Warmth and compe-
tence perceptions partially mediated this effect of authenticity on
5.4 |Brand love
Going beyond the BIAF claim that social perception applies to brands,
consumer–brand relations could develop because of the same basic
drives that make social relationships essential to humans
(Ahuvia, 2015). In this theory, just as for human relationships,
consumer–brand relations then develop brand communities and brand
love. In proposed theoretical links with BIAF, the warmth dimension
meets the need to manage relationship closeness, whereas the com-
petence dimension relates to the need to maximize status. Consumers
should thus more readily develop close relationships with warm
brands. These warm brands can create or enhance interpersonal rela-
tions (brand communities) or substitute for these interpersonal rela-
tions (consumer–brand relations and brand love). On the other hand,
competent brands hypothetically maximize status through material-
ism, consumed to create or maintain esteem and respect from others.
Anthropomorphism—including perceiving brands as intentional
agents—was one antecedent of brand love, when respondents rated
brands from one of four categories (clothing, sport shoes, body care,
and chocolate) (Rauschnabel & Ahuvia, 2014). Also, the propensity to
anthropomorphize a fashion brand facilitated brand love and brand
forgiveness (Hegner et al., 2017). Anthropomorphism similarly encour-
aged brand love, when respondents rated a clothing brand randomly
assigned to them (among brands that they had bought) (Delgado-
Ballester et al., 2017).
6|CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY
Even though Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a much wider
issue (Lindgreen & Swaen, 2010), part of it overlaps with brand per-
ception (Hur et al., 2013). This consumer perception of CSR has
benefitted from BIAF, linking CSR perception and brand warmth. Here
8KERVYN ET AL.
too, a congruence effect matches consumers’concerns and brand per-
ception on the two dimensions.
For example, perception of corporate social responsibility (CSR)
fits the BIAF (Johnson et al., 2018), emphasizing warmth, but
depending also on context. Manipulating an advertisement for a
fictional coffee brand produced a congruence effect similar to that
discussed earlier (Zawisza & Pittard, 2015). When consumers had
goals specifying product attributes (vs. product experience), the ad
communicating the brand’s competence was more effective.
Activating brand experience (vs. product attributes), consumption
goals made the ad emphasizing the brand’s warmth (CSR) more
effective. This research assumed that manipulating CSR perception
amounted to a manipulation of warmth (Johnson et al., 2018), and
follow-up research (Grazzini et al., 2021) supported this assump-
tion. In the context of fast fashion, the positive effect of having a
CSR attribute (i.e., recycled material) on purchase intention was
mediated by higher perceived brand warmth. Investor regret
showed a similar CSR-warmth link (Vohra & Davies, 2020). Shares
underperforming led to investor regret, but less so for firms
presented as high in CSR. Perceived brand agreeableness mediated
this effect of CSR on investor regret. Finally, brand extensions
showed a similar CSR-warmth link (Johnson et al., 2019). In a
series of experiments, consumers had higher purchase intentions
for low-fit brand extensions when they came from a brand with a
high CSR reputation. Higher warmth perception and higher helping
intentions for these brands particularly held for participants with
high communal orientation.
This link between CSR and the BIAF also exists at the emotional
level of the BIAF (Castro-González et al., 2019). As a survey of con-
sumers of a Spanish food company known for its CSR showed, admi-
ration mediated the positive impact of CSR perception on brand
advocacy. This was particularly true for consumers with high moral
The BIAF also proved useful to investigate the perception of
green brands. One obstacle for brand positioned as environmentally
and/or socially responsible is that their brand image is influenced by
stereotypes about their typical consumers, who are perceived as “hip-
pies, greenies, and tree huggers”(Antonetti & Maklan, 2016). Indeed,
while consumers of green brands are perceived as high in warmth, this
lowers envy and therefore lowers imitation of these consumers. Envy
is stronger than admiration in driving imitation. Green brands are thus
associated with higher warmth than conventional brands. In the con-
text of brand placement, this turns out to be positive for green brands.
Green (vs. conventional) brand placement led to better brand attitudes
and higher purchase intentions (Meijers et al., 2018). This was medi-
ated by a higher brand warmth and lower persuasion knowledge for
green (vs. conventional) brand placement.
The BIAF has also helped explain charitable donations—how com-
panies are perceived when they make donations—by manipulating the
description of a fictitious high- or low-warmth company (Gershon &
Cryder, 2018). When a high-warmth company makes any kind of
donation, consumers perceive it as motivated by communal intentions
and give the company high charitable credit. When a low-warmth
company makes the same donation, it is perceived as motivated by
exchange intentions, and the company is awarded few charitable
credits. Further, for goods donations vs. monetary donation
(i.e., boxes of food vs. money to a food bank), then even the low-
warmth company is perceived as having communal intentions and is
awarded high charitable credit. In research studying the effect of
warm vs. competent donation requests (Zhang et al., 2019), a warm
message from the Red Cross (“/…/Give out your helping hands and
help the victims in the disaster-hit area to get through the difficul-
ties!”) led to more time than money donations. Social connectedness
mediated this effect. A competent message (“/…/Give out your pow-
erful hands and help the victims in the disaster-hit area to get through
the difficulties!”) led to more money than time donations; competitive
orientation mediated this effect.
6.1 |Corporate social irresponsibility
Corporate Social Irresponsibility is not necessarily the opposite of
CSR (Lange & Washburn, 2012), so it is therefore worth studying for
itself. However, results do mirror CSR: As for CSR, an experiment that
manipulated the CSiR or Corporate Social Irresponsibility of a fictional
company found effects similar to those reported (Shea &
Hawn, 2019). Relative to the control condition, these manipulations
had respectively positive or negative impact on purchase intentions
and reputations. Warmth perceptions mediated these effects,
whereas competence did not.
In a theoretical paper, Voliotis et al. (2016) make different predic-
tions for the consequences of Corporate Social Irresponsibility
depending on where the company belongs in the BIAF. A typical for-
profit company is perceived as low in communality but high in agency.
For this competent-but-cold type of company, Corporate Social Irre-
sponsibility evokes anger and intense harmful behavior. However, for
an admired company enjoying high communality and high agency per-
ceptions, Corporate Social Irresponsibility will either slightly decrease
respect and liking and evoke mild facilitation or it will significantly
decrease the communality perception of the company and therefore
lead to anger and intense harm. For the latter to occur, the Corporate
Social Irresponsibility needs to be attributed to controllable factors
and congruent with the communality of the company. This last predic-
tion was empirically tested (Chen et al., 2020). Studying the percep-
tion of corporate hypocrisy, when Corporate Social Irresponsibility
happened in the same domain as a firm’s prior record of CSR, people
perceived more corporate hypocrisy than if domains differs. A mis-
match between the firm’s CSR prior record and a Corporate Social
Irresponsibility event indeed led to attributed lack of ability or
resources, not corporate hypocrisy.
6.2 |Human resources
If CSR has an impact on consumer perception (Hur et al., 2013), it also
has an impact on (potential) employees’perception of their company
KERVYN ET AL.9
(Prokopowicz & Zmuda, 2015). Here too, congruence between the
workers’motivations and the company’s perception.
In theory, the BIAF can explain how CSR perception impacts
employees’career decisions (Prokopowicz & Zmuda, 2015), by equat-
ing Corporate Social Performance with the warmth dimension and
Corporate Business Performance with the competence dimension.
The position of a company in the BIAF will determine the distinctive
meaning of work their employees can find in their job. Companies per-
ceived high on Corporate Social Performance (Warmth), including
nonprofit organizations and NGOs, will attract applicants who see
their job as a calling, while companies perceived high on Corporate
Business Performance (Competence) attract applicants who see their
job as a career. Companies perceived as high on both dimensions
attract both types of applicants, whereas companies perceived as low
on both dimensions attract only applicants who see their job as a
mere source of income.
Part of this model has empirical support (Prokopowicz &
Zmuda, 2015). A survey of the general population showed that volun-
teers working for nonprofits are perceived as warmer rather than
competent (Peiffer et al., 2020). In a second study sampling a popula-
tion of volunteers, the volunteers’perception match those of the gen-
eral population but that this ingroup’s perception of warmth
decreases when nonprofits adopt more business-like practices
(i.e., rationalization, professionalism, managerialism, and a commercial
focus). It thus fits well with the claim that high Corporate Social Per-
formance companies attract applicants who see their job as a calling
(Prokopowicz & Zmuda, 2015). In a survey of German medical gradu-
ates, nonprofit and public hospitals were more attractive to these
young professionals than for-profit hospitals (Drevs et al., 2015). This
effect was mediated by perceived warmth of the institution and
perceived Self-Ownership Status fit, the perceived congruence
between self-perception and the ownership status (nonprofit, public
Job seekers’perception of potential employers (Antonetti
et al., 2020) empirically confirmed another part of the model
(Prokopowicz & Zmuda, 2015), namely, the ability of low Corporate
Social Performance/high Corporate Business Performance to attract
applicants who see their job as a career. Corporate Social Irresponsi-
bility had less negative impact on market-dominant employers’
attractiveness. Perceived employer ethicality and perceived employer
competence mediated this moderation.
Finally, in human resources, both company warmth and compe-
tence are important. Companies combining high Perceived Organiza-
tional Support and high Perceived Organizational Competence
enjoyed the highest employee affective commitment (Kim
et al., 2016).
Service marketing is a particularly social domain for brand perception,
as it often entails personal contacts between consumers and
customer-facing employees serving as brand representatives. In a
survey of retail bank customers, both warmth and competence per-
ceptions were important (Güntürkün et al., 2020): warmth perception
dominated competence as a predictor of relational outcomes, such as
customer–company identification, whereas competence dominates
warmth as a predictor of transactional outcomes, such as customer
share of wallet. Subsequently, a replication manipulated warmth and
competence across various service types (service context: retail bank-
ing, car repair, cleaning services, doctors, and hair stylists).
Framing a company’s competence as caused by employees’effort
leads to better brand outcomes (word of mouth; idea provision behav-
ior) than attributing brand competence to employees’talent (Leung
et al., 2020). Framing competence as effort (vs. talent) led to higher
perceived warmth, which mediated the effect of competence framing
on brand outcomes. This competence sub-dimension having different
relations with warmth replicates earlier work in social psychology
(Louvet et al., 2019).
In-store interactions with brand representatives influence online
store value. In such interactions, friendliness (vs. competence) is a
stronger predictor of online store value (Verhagen et al., 2019). This
effect is mediated by perceptions of online store usefulness and
online store enjoyment.
The Stereotype Content Model applies to patients’perception of
hospitals. Both warmth and competence perception drive trustworthi-
ness, which in turn determines hospital choices (Drevs, 2013). Three
antecedents predict perceived warxmth and competence of hospitals:
Ownership Status (see also Drevs et al., 2015); Teaching Status; and
Hospital Size. Parts of the model have empirical support (Seemann
et al., 2015): for German patients, religious non-profit ownership sta-
tus leads to higher trustworthiness and attractiveness.
Nightclub brand perception identified another type of anteced-
ents to warmth and competence perception: guest selection
(Aagerup, 2020). Interviews in three clubs identified the criteria door-
men use to pick the best guests to allow into the club; this guest
selection is a key feature of the nightclub’s brand personality
(Aagerup, 2020). Typical “good guests”are in a fashion or media
career, have a clothing style and consumption habits that fit the club’s
brand positioning. Selecting the club manager’s and staff’s friends is a
way to build brand warmth. It fosters trust and customer-to-customer
interaction. Guests’good intentions manifest themselves via a polite
and respectful demeanor. Brand competence on the other hand builds
through being selective on criteria of identity fit and status. Building
brand competence can thus come at the expense of building brand
warmth and vice versa.
7.1 |Service recovery
The BIAF has also appeared in studying consumers’reactions to ser-
vice failure. When faced with a data breach event, potential cus-
tomers are more critical (expect a quick and stable solution) when the
hotel is perceived as competent and are more forgiving when it is per-
ceived as warm (Gao et al., 2021). Similarly, communicating about the
company’s CSR leads to less dissatisfaction after service failure but
10 KERVYN ET AL.
only when relatedness motivation is activated (Alhouti et al., 2021).
This effect was mediated by warmth perception and limited to service
sectors that involve human interactions (vs. self-service technology).
Warmth-oriented (vs. competence-oriented) responses to a ser-
vice failure online complaint are perceived as more relevant and sin-
cere, leading to higher satisfaction and more positive word of mouth
(Huang & Ha, 2020). This was particularly true for consumers who
have a communal (vs. exchange) relationship with the brand. Further-
more, the gender of the apologizer affects the effectiveness of the
apology. Female apologizers were more effective for value-related
wrongdoings, while male apologizers led to more consumer forgive-
ness for performance-related wrongdoings (Wei & Ran, 2019). These
effects are mediated by associating women with warmth and men
Positive warmth perception thus seems to protect from the
negative effect of service failure (Alhouti et al., 2021; Gao
et al., 2021; Huang & Ha, 2020). The corollary of this is the warmth
negativity effect: perceived lack of warmth is more damaging than
perceived lack of competence (Skowronski & Carlston, 1987). In a
US representative-sample survey, scandals that damaged brand
warmth perception were more consequential than scandals that
damage a company’s competence perception (Kervyn et al., 2014).
Experimental data confirmed that framing a brand failure as a lack
of warmth attribution is more damaging than a lack of competence
framing (Kervyn et al., 2014). Similarly, negative brand publicity
is more damaging when questioning a brand’s values (corporate
social irresponsibility) than when questioning its performance (poor
R&D, low market performance) (Liu et al., 2018). This effect was
mediated by the BIAF emotions of contempt and pity that were
higher for value-related and performance-related negative publicity,
The emergence of social media has given brands the opportunity to
develop participatory interaction with their consumers (Dwivedi
et al., 2015), going from one-to-many communication through mass
media to one-to-one communication. This means that social media
bring social perception and brand perception closer together. This is
even more the case with the recent rise of chatbot and personal
assistants that can hold a conversation with consumers. Brands thus
have even more opportunity to act in a social way, thus encouraging
consumers to perceive them as social objects. Social media leads to
more brand engagement and purchase intentions through the media-
tion of higher brand warmth perception. Here too evidence is found
for a congruence effect.
We have already mentioned how the BIAF has been used to
study digital marketing in the anthropomorphism section. Social media
offer a wonderful tool to anthropomorphize brands but also develop
brand communities (Chen et al., 2015; Wang et al., 2019), and anthro-
pomorphism has a positive effect on engagement with a brand’s fan
page (Kim, Sung, et al., 2020).
A series of experiments went further by showing that congruence
between first-person advertising (a classic anthropomorphism tech-
nique) and warm images versus third-person advertising and compe-
tent images (Chang et al., 2019). The first person/warm combination
led to more consumer engagement (i.e., likes) through the mediation
of social belonging motivation. The third person/competent combina-
tion does so through the mediation of self-enhancement motivations.
Warm brands should thus use first-person messages, and competent
ones should use third-person messages (Chang et al., 2019). Similarly,
a series of experiments manipulating Instagram posts found higher
congruence for warm brands using entertaining engagement initia-
tives and competent brands using informative engagement initiatives
(Eigenraam et al., 2021). This congruence led to higher brand authen-
ticity perception and thus higher online consumer engagement. There
is also a congruence effect between warmth and brand symbolism
(Bernritter, 2016). Consumers read about brands pretested as highly
symbolic (i.e., Apple and Nivea) and brands pretested as low in sym-
bolism (i.e., Philips and Hansaplast) in the same product categories.
Both perception of warmth and competence were positive predictors
of consumers’intention to endorse, but only warmth reached signifi-
cance. Brand symbolism moderated this effect of warmth: Warmth
perception was an especially strong predictor of consumers’intention
to endorse for highly symbolic brands. Furthermore, warmth was a
better predictor of online brand endorsement than competence
(Bernritter et al., 2016). In a series of experiments, participants rated
the warmth, competence, and their willingness to endorse a series of
for-profit and nonprofit brands. Respondents more willingly endorsed
nonprofit than for-profit brands, and warmth perception mediated this
effect, whereas competence did not.
Potential employers’social media presence influences the way
job seekers perceive them (Carpentier et al., 2019). Being present and
active on social media leads to higher brand warmth perception, while
the informativeness of the information presented on social media
influences the brand competence perception. Analyzing 1500 mes-
sages from 34 nonprofits (Chinese universities) and the reaction of
web users, friendly and community-building messages generated the
highest and most positive engagement (Wu et al., 2019). Similarly,
when manipulating the type of interaction consumers had with intelli-
gent assistant (e.g., Siri and Alexa) (Wu et al., 2017): Friendly interac-
tion led to higher brand attachment through the mediation of high
brand warmth and brand competence. An engineer type of interaction
lowered brand attachment through the mediation of lower brand
warmth. Perceived brand competence was not different between the
two interaction styles. This result of warmth conversation type lead-
ing to better brand attitude and purchase intent was replicated
through manipulation and survey of interactions with a chatbot
(Roy & Naidoo, 2021). Participants’time orientation moderated this
effect. Warm interactions were more effective for present-oriented
participants, whereas chatbots with competence conversations were
more effective for future-oriented participants.
As noted, high self-brand congruence leads to positive brand rela-
tional outcomes (He et al., 2018; Lee et al., 2013; Park et al., 2013;
Wijnands & Gill, 2020), and some people can become human brands
KERVYN ET AL.11
(Bennett et al., 2019; Centeno et al., 2019; Thomson, 2006; Zeitoun
et al., 2020). Combining these two ideas, research studied the way
consumers relate to influencers. In a survey of Instagram users who
followed at least one influencer, actual self-influencer congruence
determined the psychological distance between the consumer and the
human brand (Zogaj et al., 2020). So higher actual self-influencer
congruence led to more purchase intentions (of the products
recommended by the influencer) through the mediation of influencer
trustworthiness. Ideal self-influencer congruence also had a positive
effect on purchase intentions, but this time through the mediation of
perceived competence of the influencer. So, like the country-of-origin
effect and human brands, research on social media influencers (Zogaj
et al., 2020) shows that social perception and brand perception are
not only similar but sometimes apply to the same target.
9|NOTHING SO PRACTICAL AS A GOOD
In addition to the academic explorations of BIAF, a wide array of prac-
tical applications seem to validate its usefulness as well. These busi-
ness applications include strategic brand positioning, competitive
analysis, product development, and customer segmentation, to name
a few. In particular, BIAF insights have been especially compelling in
measuring, understanding, and improving customer experiences
across a variety of different industry sectors.
9.1 |Customer experience
In early 2014, the management team of a multi-national supplies dis-
tributor made the decision to focus on becoming a more customer-
centric organization with a “customer-first”culture. This would be
accomplished by gathering ongoing customer–experience feedback
that could guide business strategy and implement targeted business
initiatives. Specifically, the company sought to initiate a truly compre-
hensive and continuous customer-experience measurement and
To guide the program, benchmark experience feedback from over
8000 customers created a foundation for ongoing tracking and
improvements. This benchmark study captured customer warmth and
competence priorities, perceptions, emotions, and loyalty. In addition,
the study identified five distinct attitudinal segments of customers,
each with very different priorities, perceptions, and loyalty. The analy-
sis of the benchmark customer data revealed that while the supplies
distributor was exceeding customer expectations on several compe-
tence dimensions, such as competitive payment terms and electronic
billing, they were falling short on critical warmth dimensions. So
despite the vast majority of customers being quite satisfied and loyal,
certain customer segments were still being inadvertently alienated by
poor and inconsistent customer experiences.
Based on these findings, a BIAF-based customer experience
tracking program began across critical touch points that included
personalized correspondence and an early alert system that routed
customer concerns to a dedicated problem resolution specialist who
would follow-up personally within 48 h. During the first year, over
16,000 customers provided BIAF-based experience feedback, and
over 1000 customer problems were proactively identified and
promptly resolved through the tracking program. In addition, other
operational changes resulted from the timely feedback received.
These included simple but greatly appreciated improvements,
such as increased inventory in certain locations, reduced supplier
drop-shipping, and enhanced website search features. Customers
responded with double-digit increases in satisfaction, willingness to
recommend, and loyalty. These significant customer experience and
loyalty improvements lasted over the next 4 years.
The company also observed compelling financial reasons for
building stronger customer loyalty, as those accounts reporting the
strongest loyalty spent 36–107% more on office supplies with them
annually. In addition, their most loyal customers contributed fully 65%
of annual revenues.
Perhaps most relevant here, structural equation modeling of
BIAF-based customer experience and purchase data confirmed that
for every 1 point increase in warmth and competence perceptions
(on a 7 point scale), customer loyalty to the client increased by .91
points. In addition, for every 1 point increase in customer loyalty (on a
7 point scale), annual revenue increased by $356 per customer—a
12% increase. This highlights the clear and significant financial
that can be achieved with a BIAF-based approach to
customer experience measurement and management. Notably,
warmth effects were twice as strong as competence effects, and
warmth is the distinctive feature of BIAF.
9.2 |Nonprofit consumer experience
Practical applications of BIAF-based customer experience measure-
ment have not been limited to for-profit, commercial enterprises. In
2019, a not-for-profit health system with $7.1 billion assets also
initiated BIAF-based patient, employee, and care-provider experi-
ence measurement programs that have yielded similar insights.
Warmth, competence, and loyalty data were collected from over
3000 patients and compared to their visits and payments over the
previous 10 years. Patient and doctor relationships are much longer
and transactions are much less frequent, so they require a longer
period of behavior data. In addition, the perceptions and loyalty of
patients reflects their accumulated experiences with the health
system over time. As a result, their responses are the outcome of
their past behavior and interactions with the system. For instance,
structural equation modeling of BIAF-based patient experience and
payment data revealed that for every 1-point increase in warmth
and competence perceptions (on a 7-point scale), patient loyalty to
the health system increased by .42 points. In addition, for every
1-point increase in patient loyalty (on a 7-point scale), actual patient
payments and visits to the health system over the previous 10 years
had been 14%–16% higher. As a result, a focus on improving
12 KERVYN ET AL.
BIAF-based patient perceptions could be expected to contribute
significant increases in health system revenue.
Similarly, a non-profit organization focused on cancer research
and prevention found that for every 1-point increase in warmth and
competence perceptions (on a 7-point scale), donor loyalty to the
charity increased by .89 points. Warmth effects again were far
stronger than competence. In addition, for every 1-point increase in
donor loyalty (on a 7-point scale), actual donor contributions to the
organization over the previous 3 years had been 11% higher. Thus,
donor behavior over time reflects loyalty, perceived warmth, and
perceived competence. In both cases, although individually significant,
warmth perceptions outperformed competence.
These effective practical applications of BIAF to the measurement
and management of various customer experience types, along with
the extension of BIAF and SCM into a wide range of business
research endeavors, suggest that warmth and competence
perceptions are likely foundational to a broad array of customer
beliefs, decisions, and behaviors. As such, continued investigation and
application of these models and constructs certainly seems warranted.
10 |EVOLUTION OF THE STEREOTYPE
CONTENT MODEL AND CONSEQUENCES
FOR THE BRANDS AS INTENTIONAL AGENTS
In social cognition research, the SCM fit the moment. Building on half
a century’s person perception insights, the primacy of warmth, and its
interplay with competence, had first appeared in Solomon Asch’s
(1946) experiments on likeability. The warmth-competence configura-
tion contrasted the intelligence of a cold man (threatening) with the
intelligence of a warm man (admirable); the same feature’s meaning
depends on context. The SCM picked up on the insight that warmth
and competence combine to create recognizable clusters of group
stereotypes characterized by their emotional correlates: the pure
admiration vs. contempt quadrants and the ambivalent pity and envy
quadrants. In the SCM domain, the 2002 article has elicited 7,000
citations and has informed not only brand images but also images of
animals (Sevillano & Fiske, 2016), artificial intelligence (McKee et al.,
under review), and politicians (Fiske & Durante, 2014). The SCM
captures meaningful stereotype maps in nearly 40 countries (Durante
et al., 2017).
But science never lets well-enough alone. Several competing
approaches have challenged the SCM, and by extension, the BIAF.
Preferring consensus over mutually assured destruction, some of the
adversaries have collaborated to align their shared conclusions (Abele
et al., 2021) and to identify continuing controversies (which apply to
the BIAF as well). Consensus supports the two primary dimensions.
The dimensions’priority, however, depends on paradigm: perceiver
goals (epistemic or hedonic), the nature of the targets, and their sheer
number. All these principles potentially apply to brands. For example,
as noted, the SCM best describes a relational goal, making sense of
societal groups to decide whether, how, and why to interact. Inferred
intent (warmth) and ability to enact (competence) capture these
concerns. In contrast, a pragmatic goal to understand the landscape of
many groups from an epistemic distance evokes a third dimension,
ideology (progressive/conservative beliefs) (Nicolas et al., 2021).
Priority also depends on the measure (processing speed and subjec-
tive weight favor warmth; pragmatic diagnosticity favors competence)
(Abele et al., 2021); both SCM and BIAF could benefit from further
11 |POTENTIAL FOR FUTURE BRANDS AS
INTENTIONAL AGENTS FRAMEWORK
Throughout, this theoretical review supports arguments that brand
images are akin to stereotypes. This idea should go further. Much that
we know about stereotypes could be tested on brand perception.
Some ideas follow.
11.1 |Further research based on the two
dimensions of stereotype content
The primacy of warmth/competence depends on a dual system
(Abele & Wojciszke, 2007), as noted: Warmth tends to be the primary
dimension for observers, but the competence is the most important
dimension for actors. In BIAF, this might mean that for consumers
perceiving a brand, warmth is more important, but for managers and
workers within the organization, brand competence becomes more
important. More recently, as noted, several other conditions for
warmth and competence primacy emerged from the adversarial
alignment (Abele et al., 2021).
The relation between brand warmth and brand competence per-
ception also merits more research. A compensation effect (Aaker
et al., 2010) finds some brands are perceived as either warm but not
competent or competent but less warm. For these brands, describing
just the positive dimension produces an innuendo effect (Peter &
Ponzi, 2018) with the omitted dimensions being perceived as low (see
also Kim & Ball, 2021). But this should be researched more thoroughly
and combined with the congruence effect (Zawisza & Pittard, 2015),
to help brand managers determine how to dose warmth- and
Another BIAF parallel to social cognition is a brand warmth nega-
tivity effect: Brand warmth failures are more damaging than brand
competence failures (Kervyn et al., 2014; Liu et al., 2018). Social psy-
chology has also found evidence for a competence positivity effect
(Skowronski & Carlston, 1987) meaning that signs of high competence
have more impact on social judgment than signs of high warmth. The
logic behind this positivity effect is that it is possible to fake high
warmth but more difficult to fake high competence. High competence
displays, even irregular, thus seem more diagnostic of a person’s true
self. This competence positivity effect could be tested on brand
KERVYN ET AL.13
11.2 |Further research beyond the two
In our review, the main narrative is that brand perception functions
like stereotype perception because brands tend to be anthropomor-
phized and thus become social objects with which consumers develop
relationships. However, two alternative interpretations were also
mentioned in the review. One is that brand perception is social
because consumers think about the people behind the brand such as
the CEO (Centeno et al., 2019; Zeitoun et al., 2020) or employees
(Leung et al., 2020; Zeitoun et al., 2020). The second is that
consumers used their stereotypes about typical brand consumers to
apply it to the brand (Aagerup, 2020; Antonetti & Maklan, 2016).
It would be interesting to develop research addressing these three
This review highlighted that some concepts (countries, CEOs, pol-
iticians, influencers) have been treated as social groups/beings or as
brands by social psychologists and marketers, respectively. Compared
to a model presented alone, when a model is presented with a brand
in an ad, she/he is dehumanized (Herak et al., 2020). Could we make
the same prediction when a social being/group is treated as a brand?
Other characteristics of stereotypes could also apply to brand
perception. Research on entitativity (Yzerbyt et al., 2001) has shown
that when the group is perceived as very tight and sharing a common
essence, stereotypes are much stronger. Would brands perceived as
high in entitativity also be stronger? In research on stereotype mainte-
nance, when people face contradictory evidence, people protect their
stereotypes by using strategies such as sub-typing and alternative
causal attribution. Consumers might use similar strategies to protect
their brand image when facing contradictory evidence. Finally, social
psychology research has shown the importance of meta-stereotypes
(Vorauer et al., 1998): what do I think that members of this group
think about people like me? It could also the case that what
consumers think that brands think about them impacts their
consumer–brand relation. These possibilities make brands even more
human, their warmth and competence even more vital.
Susan T. Fiske https://orcid.org/0000-0002-1693-3425
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How to cite this article: Kervyn, N., Fiske, S. T., & Malone, C.
(2021). Social perception of brands: Warmth and competence
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