What is the Noble Edge Effect? When consumers perceive a company as being noble — whether through donating to charity or supporting social responsible causes — they transfer the perceived goodness onto the company’s products and services. In turn, consumers feel better about their choice and reward the company with further purchases or positive word-of-mouth, creating the Noble Edge Effect.
While sitting in the Mac engineering lab, John Sculley, former Apple CEO, says he overheard Bill Gates and Steve Jobs talk about their noble cause.
“They wanted to change the world by empowering individuals with tools for the mind – and change the world one person at a time,” Sculley recalls in a 2017 Entrepreneur article. “No one in corporate America was talking about changing the world or empowering individuals and things of that sort.”
Sculley lists other companies besides Apple and Microsoft that started out with noble causes and said:
- Google found a way to empower people to navigate all kinds of information and knowledge.
- Facebook connected all the people on the planet to all the other people on the planet.
- And in the early years of Silicon Valley, passionate people wanted to do what had never been done before. Their business models came after their products changed the way people did things.
“If you are dealing with a really big problem, and a really big solution,” Sculley said. “You want to characterize it into a noble cause.”
Understanding the Noble Edge Effect
Interestingly, behavioral scientists have been studying how corporations are characterizing their business models as noble causes.
Researchers Sean Blair and Alexander Chernev published a paper called “Doing Well by Doing Good: The Benevolent Halo of Social Goodwill” in the Journal of Consumer Research and studied what they called the Halo Effect, which is a cognitive bias that happens when we associate good looks with other good attributes like friendliness and smarts.
Basically, we fall prey to associating good with good. And the Noble Edge Effect, by extension, is a tendency to lump together an evaluation of a brand’s product performance with the moral judgment of the company’s charitable giving.
In delving into the Noble Edge Effect, this blog series aims to dive into the findings of different cognitive biases, so you as marketing and content creators can create nuanced marketing materials, based on evidence-based consumer psychology.
An example of the Noble Edge Effect in action
- While at the local supermarket, I was confronted with a dilemma. Our normal brand of black tea, PG Tips, was out of stock. Befuddled, I searched the tea aisle, examining many variances of black tea, and none piqued my interest until my eyes landed on “Newman’s Own Organics: Organic Black Tea.”
- I compared the list of ingredients to a box of the classic brand Lipton. Nothing was notably different.
- Yet the words: “All Profits To Charity” arched above Paul Newman’s smiling face gave me a sense that, if I didn’t like the tea, at least the money I threw away trying this product would amount to something good. I had no idea what kinds of organizations or what kinds of causes these profits would go to, but it didn’t seem to matter.
- Then my mind narrowed on: Organic Black Tea. The word ORGANIC appears twice in big capital letters in parallel structure on the front of the box. My PG Tips isn’t organic. Let me buy this.
- When I returned home with my new find, my husband was not impressed with my choice at first. The first batch of chai, we said: “Meh, not any better than Lipton.”
- The second time we made chai, he said: “You know, there’s a subtle taste to it. It’s pretty good.”
- By the third try, he was raving about it: “I really like this tea.”
With the Noble Edge Effect, one has to question whether all businesses really do good, or merely use the company’s sense of corporate social responsibility as a tool to enhance their reputation and create goodwill among customers.
Could it all be a marketing ploy? Did my husband and I slowly convince ourselves that because the black tea was organically sourced and that all profits go to charity that the tea began tasting better?
Blair and Chernev’s study concluded just that: A consumer’s perception of a company’s do-good acts influences the way consumers evaluate a company’s product. In their study, participants at wine tastings were asked to rate the wine. One group of tasters were told the winery donates a portion of the profits to charity, while another group was not informed of this. Non-expert wine tasters actually gave the wine higher ratings if they knew the company gave to charity.
Should you use the Noble Edge Effect? Consider this first…
Before you start extolling the virtues of how socially responsible your company brand is, here are some other interesting findings from the study that should be taken as precautions:
- People who exhibited an abstract mindset, thinking that facilitates the creation of higher-level associations, tended to connect the charitable deeds of a company with a better performing product. (Imagine a Tom’s shoe customer who finds her shoe more comfortable as she thinks about the child across the world who got a pair of free shoes because of her purchase.)
- Meanwhile, concrete mindset respondents were unaffected by the information of a firm’s social goodwill. (Some people just want a good product and care little about what the company does with the profits).
- Researchers also found that if consumers suspect the social goodwill is motivated by self-interest, well, then the Noble Edge Effect becomes null and void. They won’t buy it if they detect it’s a marketing ploy.
- The researchers also suggest that branding managers encourage building customer trust by focusing on the firm’s environmentally friendly image overall rather than focusing on a single product as being environmentally friendly. Take for example the words from this company: “Seventh Generation: More Than a Name: A name can say a lot about a company—where it comes from, what it makes—but for us, Seventh Generation is far more than just a name. It embodies the soul and spirt of who we are, what we strive to be, and what sets us apart. We’ve always had the belief that you can’t live a healthy life on a sick planet. Every day that I come to work I’m reminded & inspired by the work our community does to nurture people & planet in all that we do. That mission inspired the origin of our name thirty years ago and continues to guide us in every product we make, and every action we take. It inspires our belief in a seventh generation to come.”
In summary, the Noble Edge Effect works if consumers feel it’s authentic, motivated by a business’ sense of doing good for social good. If it comes off as self-aggrandized virtue signaling, it might not fly for many customers. So writers, beware.