1 Ingredient for a Happy New (Marketing) Year

Business success has long been founded on making products that make people happy and making people happy about products. For most, the driving vision and mantra has been: Make people happy with my product and service and they will come back for more.

Business success has long been founded on making products that make people happy and making people happy about products. For most, the driving vision and mantra has been: Make people happy with my product and service and they will come back for more.

Yes. And no. Many studies on human happiness find that “Happiness” from materialistic, external things is fleeting and does not always result in repeat business. In fact, it rarely does. We may be happy with a buying experience. And we may tell people about it as it occurs — and intend to go back for more. But then once the novelty of the product purchased wears off, we move on to new things and find new sources of “happiness.”

This kind of happiness, the kind that comes and goes — and is assigned to new products, places or people — is often no more than a dopamine or oxytocin rush. They’re hormonal experiences that make us feel exuberant, ecstatic, on top of the world, loved and appreciated. At least for a moment.  Creating these feelings among our customers can bring them back for more product when they need that happy rush again. But it is not sustainable for the long-term in a market where they can get similar rushes of “happy” feelings from competitors who can imitate, duplicate and replicate anything you do faster than ever before. Or in a market with customers who are well-conditioned for instant gratification, and so the demands and expectations to keep them happy change instantly, too!

So what’s a product marketer to do? Ugh.

Do we buy more technology? Clean more databases? Create more content and social dialog and push it out more often?

While all of the above may work for generating sales and happy customers for the short-term, what is it that we can do to generate a lasting commitment, long after the novelty of our product or initial experience wears off? It’s kind of like asking what keeps couples together after the hormonal rushes and honeymoon become past tense.

You might be thinking, “build a better experience,” “create more emotional relevance and value through better relationships,” and many of the things discussed in my posts over the years. And yes, these matter, but there’s another element that is critical and not often thought of building customer bonds— culture.

There’s a lot of sociologists, bloggers and reporters out there trying to discover the “happiest place on earth” and many of those on this mission end up at the same place.

Denmark

Denmark was just named the “Happiest Country on Earth,” per the United Nations’ “World Happiness Report,” according to an article recently published by CBS News.

It may seem odd that the happiest place is not some tropical island where its always warm, sunny, and pina coladas run free for locals and tourists. Instead, it’s Denmark, where it can be cold, dark and a bit on the dreary side in terms of climate — with rain 50 percent of the time.

So why Denmark? It’s the perfect example of how a culture has more lasting impact than purchase alone.

Here are some insights:

While Denmark’s culture has many elements to it, there are three that stand out to me as elements we marketers can bring home to our brands. These are:

Equality

Loyalty programs have morphed into elitism for VIP customers. And while these programs may be profitable, they can also be limiting in terms of acquiring new customers and keeping a base of steady but lower transaction value customers who provide the long-term stability all brands need. In Denmark, equality reaches a different level. People view each other as equals, despite occupation and income, and thrive on socializing often with people who have like hobbies and interests, building bonds on common values — not common bank accounts. I loved the example shared on a site promoting tourism to Denmark, quoting a garbage man about how he feels comfortable with lawyers and doctors because wealth does not matter as much as time with friends and family, as well as what you do to bring light and warmth to your circle and to others around.

How Does This Apply to Marketing?

Quite simply. Instead of finding ways to elevate the elite in your customer base, find ways to make all customers feel equally important. One of the things that just baffles me is how airlines treat you so blatantly differently for boarding. Remember how airlines used to roll out a red carpet for first class and extremely high mileage customers? What a blatant statement of inequality to all of those whose collective value for economy fare far outweighed the value of the six to 10 first class tickets who were made to feel like superior human beings. Yes, give perks to high-transaction and high-value customers, but not in ways that make others feel worthless. Present experiences and interactions that make people feel like your most important customers. It’s not hard to do.

Social Values

Hygge (pronounced hug) refers to the Danish ritual of enjoying life’s simple pleasures and embracing friends, family and graciousness over wealth, status privileges and materialism. This translates into a culture where all feel welcome, appreciated and secure. These feelings translate into staying power and loyalty for consumers to brands. When people come together to celebrate bonds, relationships and kindness, they create a welcoming atmosphere of acceptance and safety that outweighs the fleeting joy of a new toy, digital widget or out-of-the-normal experience. People go back to social circles like chess clubs, book clubs, cooking groups and so on, where they can mingle with like minds and feel equal, despite their social status or wealth contribution to the hosting organization.

Marketing Application

Bring customers together just because. Not to try or buy a new product or to spark sales in any way, but to do what the Danes do — share light, warmth and friendship, and create an atmosphere of coziness and happiness. We will come back to these experiences and communities and stay loyal to those who continue to make us feel enlightened and valued at the same time.

Trust

Despite being one of the most written about and overly discussed topics, it still is and will always be the structural pillar of strength and success. Trust is one of the primary cornerstones in the Danish culture, and in ways that would be scary in our U.S. culture. Danes are comfortable using the honor system in business and letting kids play alone at parks while parents shop nearby.

Elevating Trust

Consumers need to have unbridled trust that they can count on brands to:

  • Deliver on the product and service promises made directly and indirectly in all communications, promotions and experiences.
  • Stand behind all purchases and meet customer expectations for service, refunds, returns, repairs and so on.
  • Create an atmosphere of transparency on all levels. By sharing financials, corporate values, updates on product and industry issues, and other insights to keep customers informed about your brand and related issues, you build indirect trust that creates that sense of hygge mentioned above and stronger emotional bonds that transcend price and other competitive elements.

Essentially, when you build a culture, you build a community. And building communities is critical in a world where consumerism is turning to minimalism; people are turning to experiences over materialism; and trust and respect for business is waning. It’s is critical for short- and long-term success. Largely because people flock to communities more than they do to products or brands that distribute them. As we learn from religious and political “communities,” we humans tend to stay aligned with people who reflect our values, as well as build our sense of belonging to a safe, secure group that understands us and what motivates us.

Takeaway

Study what matters most to your consumers in terms of values, lifestyle and culture. Create events, experiences and communications around those values, and find ways to bring customers together around those values. State Farm is a good example of just this. If you go to the brand’s website, you can find a calendar of volunteer events you can join along with local agents in order to further good causes in your community, and of course experience “hygee” with agents and employees that can result in sales and loyalty.

Will Millennials Fully Experience the Analog Revival?

Analog is back. It’s hip, it’s retro and it’s hot in film photography, print books and paper notebooks. But will the embrace of tactile, non-digital media among Millennials extend to music? That remains to be seen.

Analog is making a comeback
Analog is making a comeback

Analog is back. It’s hip, it’s retro and it’s hot in film photography, print books and paper notebooks. But will the embrace of tactile, non-digital media among Millennials extend to music? That remains to be seen.

Instagram shows over 3 million posts each for the hashtags #filmphotography, #filmisnotdead and #polaroid. Photo booths are popular at weddings. Young people are increasingly enamored with pictures taken on devices other than their phones, even though Instagram remains the go-to place to view and share them.

My students who have done class research projects on ebook readers have consistently found that college students prefer print books over electronic ones for classes. I’ve observed an increasing number of students using paper notebooks rather than tablet computers and laptops to take notes. Hardcover diary-type notebooks are gaining a hipster cache, and recently, I had a student enter an appointment in a paper calendar, as I remarked, “How quaint!”

A New York Times review says the new David Sax book, “The Revenge of Analog,” is “a powerful counter-narrative to the techno-utopian belief that we would live in an ever-improving, all-digital world.” The review adds that the author contends that the analog revival “is not just a case of nostalgia or hipster street cred, but something more complex.”

But while most things we can have and hold are easily accessible to Millennials, music is different. Fortune magazine reported vinyl record sales hit $416 million last year, the highest since 1988, according to the RIAA. But there are several barriers to the mass adoption of analog music, most significant of which is the need for a turntable and vinyl platters. Millennials own digital music and listen to it on portable devices through headphones, occasionally through a Bluetooth speaker. I’ve written before about the Millennial music experience being more individual than social, more like filling your ears with sound than filling a room with sound.

It’s easier for Baby Boomers to embrace analog music, because many still have their vinyl collections stored away. Marketing consultant Lonny Strum recently wrote in his blog Strumings about re-experiencing the joy of a turntable needle drop, saying “What the process of using a turntable has reminded me of is the joy of interaction/engagement with music that vinyl provided. The ‘needle drop’ (and alas the subsequent vinyl scratches) were all part of the process of listening to music. The selection of the song, the cut of the album took time and consideration, not a millisecond fast-forward that digital allows. I rediscovered the snap, crackle and pop from excessive play in past years. In fact, I instantly recall the places in songs of my 45s and LPs where the crackle, or pop existed, as if it were a key part of the song.”

EmotionsThese are the types of experiences that the Times notes in reviewing “The Revenge of Analog,”

“ … the hectic scratch of a fountain pen on the smooth, lined pages of a notebook; the slow magic of a Polaroid photo developing before our eyes; the snap of a newspaper page being turned and folded back … ”

A recent study published in the Journal of the Audio Engineering Society concluded that “MP3 compression strengthened neutral and negative emotional characteristics such as Mysterious, Shy, Scary and Sad, and weakened positive emotional characteristics such as Happy, Heroic, Romantic, Comic and Calm” making the case that analog music might actually be a more positive and pleasant experience.

Will Millennials and the generations who follow get to experience it?

Can Brands Really Make Us Happy?

Can brands really make us happy? If you ask any brand marketer, the answer is clearly “yes.” And even more so if you ask marketing staff from Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Dove and now LuLuLemon, all of which have spent substantial marketing resources on associating their brands with “happy.”

Can brands really make us happy? If you ask any brand marketer, the answer is clearly “yes.” And even more so if you ask marketing staff from Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Dove and now LuLuLemon, all of which have spent substantial marketing resources on associating their brands with “happy.”

But do consumers consciously purchase products with the sole purpose of achieving happiness? And if so, it is a conscious drive or among the 90 percent of our thoughts that drive our behavior from our unconscious mind?

According to Steve Quartz, professor at California Institute of Technology, we do, but mostly unwittingly, as emotional purchases are often unconscious. Quartz, a one-time believer that consumerism or the drive to buy stuff did not generate happiness, changed his tune after creating a consumer neuroscience project to further explore the psychological impact of buying. As stated in his article, which appeared on PBS.org, here’s what he learned:

We found that asking people to merely look at products they considered “cool” sparked a pattern of activation in a part of the brain known as the medial prefrontal cortex.

Quartz continues to explain that the brain activity resulting from seeing something deemed to be cool, and contemplating owning that coolness, is similar to how the brain responds when we receive a compliment, or feel that someone else values the brands or they have gone up in social status or peer approval. These are the same feelings we get when we anticipate love or rewards, or feel connectedness as we actually experience hormonal rushes of dopamine and oxytocin.

If the above is true, then it makes sense that adding visual and social coolness to your product packaging will increase attention and sales to even failing products as the cool score can actually trump other decision influencers. A case in point is that this very approach made big dollars for Proctor and Gamble when it redesigned the packages for Clairol Herbal Essences, a failing brand it bought in 2001 and decided to reinvent, per its packaging appeal in 2006.

P&G added a total happy appeal to its product, replacing the clunky dull pink rectangle bottle with vibrant-colored, shaped bottles that actually nestled together, making the purchase of the shampoo and conditioner pair more attractive – visually and emotionally. In addition to creating a more energetic shape, they added fun, happy language and changed the names of each product to reflect that new, inviting energy. P&G also uses fun language that reflects the persona of its target consumers and added riddles to the bottles. If you wanted the answer to the riddle on the shampoo bottle, you needed the conditioner, too. Post-repackaging, with a more vibrant, fun, shaped bottle and adding elements of happiness through language and interaction, sales soared. Products like Color Me Happy and Hello Hydration rose to the Top 10 products for shampoo sales in 2014, according to research from Statista.

In recent years, McDonald’s jumped on the happiness bandwagon with its 2014 Super Bowl advertisement, “Pay With Lovin.”Instead of focusing on its products or building appeal for new products, the entire 60-second TV spot showed cashiers surprising customers by telling them to pay for their purchase with gestures of love toward another instead of money. The impact of happy customers doing happy dances and calling home to say “I love you, Mom” produced some happy results for McDonald’s, as well as happy customers. In just two weeks of running the ad, the McDonald’s brand perception rating went from 30 percent positive or neutral to 85 percent positive or neutral, per a March 2015 article on adweek.com.

Aligning with happiness seems to be working well for Coca-Cola, too. It has a website dedicated to happiness quotes, music and tips. Its corporate social responsibility program is built all around giving people free gifts out of Coke vending machines at shopping malls, the Happiness Truck in underprivileged communities worldwide, and so much more. I’m pretty sure the marketing team and shareholders alike are happy with the brand’s 96 million likes on Facebook and sales of more than 1.7 billion servings of its product daily.

How you can add happiness to your brand’s marketing:

1. Learn What Moves Your Customers: Every personality has style, color, energy, art and more preferences. What are those associated with your target consumer? I was working with an agency that creates ads for auto dealers. We did a psychology-based marketing audit of its customers for a specific car and learned the creative was spot-off in its ads. The psychology profile for potential buyers was bright colors, high-energy visuals, and action/adventure-oriented themes. Its ad featuring a white car, sitting still in a parking lot, was doing nothing. We changed it up and changed response.

2. Know Your Data: Skip the transactional data and focus on behavioral data that is aligned with emotions. As mentioned earlier, we learned from neuromarketers that 90 percent of our thoughts and subsequent actions are driven by emotions, not conscious thought processes upon which our past transactions are based. Invest in programs that help you understand patterns, attitudes, emotional needs based upon behavior science, generational and cultural influences.

3. Share the Love: Remember, customers are people with strong emotional needs that go far beyond the products they purchase. And they are more than a name on a data field with a dollar value assigned to it. Create customer journeys that provide joy, relief and comfort along the way with your brand, and put in place return policies and customer service protocols that make them “Happy” when working with you vs. frustrated or anxious.

Most importantly, have fun creating opportunities for your customers and speaking with them on their terms, and from their own persona. When you have fun and create happiness on the job, it is simply contagious. And that’s a good thing to spread.

Pop Culture, News and Politics in Content and Direct Marketing

On a recent marketing team conference call, someone asked if everyone was happy. I said, “sure!” and remarked how a recent song, “Happy”—the infectious hit by Pharrell Williams—had been playing in my mind all day. “What’s that?” was the reaction from the team. Those on the call agreed that they don’t pay attention to or care about hit songs. Which, by extension, suggests they are missing what’s going on in

On a recent marketing team conference call, someone asked if everyone was happy. I said, “sure!” and remarked how a recent song, “Happy”—the infectious hit by Pharrell Williams—had been playing in my mind all day. “What’s that?” was the reaction from the team. Those on the call agreed that they don’t pay attention to or care about hit songs. Which, by extension, suggests they are missing what’s going on in pop culture.

Now, some of you may disagree that “Happy” is a song that merits the description of being pop culture (the definition being “cultural activities reflecting, suited to, or aimed at the tastes of the general masses of people”). But this is a No. 1 song from the hit movie “Despicable Me 2,” and it was showcased on the Oscars, which was the first time I heard the song and experienced its energy. The official Happy music video has been viewed over 200 million times on YouTube.

Listening to this song, which energizes my creative juices, got me thinking about the use of pop culture, news and politics in content and direct marketing messages.

The fact is, when properly and responsibility used, pop culture icons, news headlines or politics work to get attention. Why else do you suppose you find the names of political leaders in promotional headlines?

Feel-good pop culture at one end of the spectrum, and negative headlines, at the opposite end, are proven to work. It’s all a part of the way our brains are wired, with the left amygdala reacting to positive messages and the right amygdala engaged with negative messages. So as you look for ways to make content and direct marketing work for you, consider the possibilities:

  1. News Headlines: Borrowing from the news shows your audience that you’re timely. Headlines can be either positive or negative. Marketing and PR guru David Meerman Scott, calls this effective technique “newsjacking.”
  2. Politics: Be careful with this one, but you can grab attention when you put a political spin on your story. This is usually negative, and why negative ads during campaigns are used (and work—it’s how our brains are wired).
  3. Pop Culture: Feel-good happy moments are few and far between. People embrace positive news, especially in social media. Pop culture can be a big winner when you need to grab onto something positive (even if possibly outrageous).

Obviously, the hard news/politics/pop culture combination doesn’t work for everyone or every product. But, if you want attention, consider how you can ramp up your content and direct marketing messaging with pop culture, news or politics.