How brands can use two primal judgements to drive brand engagement and influence purchase intentions

In this month’s Marketing Science Cheat Sheet for brands we explore how consumers use two judgments (warmth and competence) to assess brands and how you can utilise this to influence purchasing decisions and drive consumer engagement.

The Insight

Consumers use the same two categories; warmth (what are the intentions of the brand towards me) and competence (how successful the brand is in their ability to carry out their intentions towards me) to engage with and assess each other as they do when evaluating brands.

The Science

Supported by a large body of research around the effects of warmth and competence on consumers interaction with brands, findings from “Stereotyping global brands: Is warmth more important than competence” by Ziva Kolgl et al., 2018, highlight that a brands perceived warmth was revealed to be a key driver of consumer-brand identification (the perceived feeling of belonging and value of being a part of the brand) and increasing purchase intentions.

With more and more challenger brands entering the market and targeting consumers on an intimate level, it is important for existing brands to assess their brand identify and strategies. Brands that are able to convey positive intentions (warmth) towards their target audience will be able to develop strong connections and influence purchase intent.


The University of Vienna collaborated with the University of Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovin to test whether a brand’s perceived warmth was more important than competence at both a global and local experience. The research was published in the Journal of Business Research, a scientific academic journal dedicated to research on all aspects of business and how the theories can it developed to affect actual business situations.

The report analysed whether consumers’ perceptions of brand globalness/localness influenced their assessment in terms of their warmth and competence by conducting a self-report study of the reactions to seven well-known global brands (including Ikea and KitKat).

This study revealed that the perceived brand’s warmth positively and significantly impacted consumer-brand identification, which in turn is linked with purchase intentions. Consumer-brand identification leverages social identity theory, where brands are able to target their audience by tapping into in-groups and out-groups. Discover more about this by reading our first Marketing Cheat Sheet here:

These findings are supported by research conducted by Kervyn et al., 2012 which found that companies and brands were judged so strongly along the lines of warmth and competence that these judgments were able to be used to explain 50% of all purchase intentions.

Who can benefit

With consumers using the same parameters to judge and interact with brands as they do with other humans, brands need to ensure their branding is reflective of their personality and values to elevate levels of warmth and competence, and encourage brand attachment behaviour.

These findings will benefit a wide variety of brand types, including service brands such as British Airways, innovative brands who are bringing new products to the market such as Apple and e-brands such as amazon.

Opportunities to Create Brand Magic

To capitalise on these findings, brands can use their unique and personable stories to evoke feelings warmth and demonstrate competence, to engage the consumer’s sub-conscious mind.

Most brands are good at effectively communicating competence. But not many are good at communicating positive intent (warmth). There are many ways for brands to communicate warmth, it may come from for example the brand’s history or underlying genuine brand purpose.

An example of a brand using brand purpose to build perceptions of warmth and competence is TOMS. The brand’s on-going campaign One for One is based on the fact that each time a pair of shoes is purchased from the brand, they donate another pair to someone in need. This leads consumers to perceive the brand being generous and giving, provoking feelings of warmth.

Following the triumph of the brand’s Yeo Valley Rap, Yeo Valley Family Farm went through a successful rebrand that saw the company’s name change from Yeo Valley Organic to Yeo Valley Family Farm. The brand played on its historic family roots and now uses ‘Supporting British Family Farms’ as its strap-line to evoke a sense of warmth and community.

Whilst brands which focus on the functionality and benefits of products or services are able to effectively use competence, they often miss out on creating warmth, which this research has shown to be a leading factor in purchase intention. An example of this would be Ford’s car advert, which focuses more on the practical functions of the car rather than projecting a sense of warmth to the target audience.

About StoryScience

StoryScience is the UK’s first scientific strategic creative agency. Moving away from the traditional opinion-led approach, StoryScience’s guiding purpose is to pioneer scientific creative and deliver brand magic that audiences want and the results clients need. We deliver creative and strategic marketing solutions underpinned by a scientific creative thinking. In short, we use science to create brand magic.




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