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 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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.