How to Create a Trustworthy Brand with Heidi Grant Halvorson

heidi grant halvorson

“How do we create the perception of trust?” That is the million dollar questions for individuals and brands alike. And it’s a central question addressed in Heidi Grant Halvorson’s new book No One Understands You and What to Do About It. I couldn’t wait to talk to this successful social psychologist speaker and author about trust, perception, first impressions, and everything in between on this week’s episode of the podcast.

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About Heidi Grant Halvorson

Heidi Grant Halvorson is a social psychologist who researches, writes, and speaks about the science of motivation. She is the author of the new book No One Understands You and What To Do About It, as well the national best-seller Nine Things Successful People Do Differently. She is also Associate Director of Columbia Business School’s Motivation Science Center, and a frequent contributor to Fast Company, Harvard Business Review, and Business Insider.

Heidi is a member of the American Psychological Association, the Association for Psychological Science, and the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, and was recently elected to the highly selective Society for Experimental Social Psychology. She received her PhD in social psychology from Columbia University.

Episode Highlights

What’s it all about? Heidi’s new book is all about the divide that exists between our perception of ourselves and what others actually think of us. So is it about making an impression? “It’s really about coming across as you intend to.”

Perception matters for brands too. After attending Heidi’s talk at SXSW 2015 I practically rushed the stage. Her message and book are incredibly relevant to brand builders today. “Brand identity projects fail because we are too close.” As with individual perception, we forget that we have much more information about ourselves and our brands than our audience does.

It’s all about creating trust. OK. But how …? Heidi asserts that trust is built using two key constructs — warmth and competence. “Warmth tells someone whether you’re a friend or foe — it’s an evolutionary instinct. Competence tells someone if you are able to act on your intentions.” Often we place too much emphasis on competence.

The Simpsons make everything easier. As she did at SXSW, Heidi illustrated this point with examples balancing competence and warmth featuring Simpsons characters. You’ll have to listen to the show for the whole breakdown but I will say you don’t want to be like Mr. Burns — all competence and no warmth. Better to aim for Lisa — both competent and warm.

How to create a warmer, more trustworthy brand? Individuals can do this through eye contact (a challenge with smart phones), nodding along to show we’re listening, and open body postures. Brands can do this by asking questions and showing that they care first before demonstrating their competence. “The order matters.”

You never get a second chance to make a first impression. “I’d love to be the first one that says don’t worry about the first impression …” Alas, Heidi can’t be that person. It’s more important than ever as primacy rules as much if not more in the digital age. You have to convey warmth and competence. However, you have to be careful with competence as some listeners view these assertions as an attempt to cover something up. Instead, Heidi suggests employing a humble, Midwestern tone.

She also used examples from Abercrombie and Lululemon to point out why being an aspirational brand is not always the best strategy.

What brand has made Heidi smile lately? “I’m a mom so I love Trader Joe’s and their adorable flyers.” As she noted, when a brand can make you laugh it can be very powerful. We also confessed to both smiling a lot about Marvel’s upcoming slate of movies including Avengers: Age of Ultron.

To learn more about Heidi and her books, go to

As We Wrap …

Recently Andrea D. Smith tweeted after listening to last week’s interview with Siegel+Gale’s David Srere saying that she “loved it.” Thanks Andrea! We love hearing that.

Did you hear something you liked on this episode or another? Do you have a question you’d like our guests to answer? Let me know on Twitter using the hashtag #OnBrandPodcast and you may just hear your thoughts here on the show.

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Until next week, I’ll see you on the Internet!