In our digital age and with the current broader shift toward more human values, brands have the opportunity to contribute to people’s need for interaction and quest for happiness. By doing so, they will be able to drive sustainable preference, add meaning to our lives and contribute to society in general.
I CONSUME THEREFORE I AM
This is a fundamental step in the evolution of brands and their role in people’s lives. When products started to be mass-produced, local grocery stores lost their advisory role and brands provided us with a seal of quality and reassurance. They evolved beyond functional value and became emotional and aspirational references. (1)
In order to further grow national economies, corporations and governments taught people that the more money they had, the happier they would be. It was assumed that material possession was the key to happiness. (2) Over time, we became richer, but not necessarily happier. For the last sixty years or so, there hasn’t been any substantial increase in life satisfaction despite the rise in economic wealth. Quite the contrary, it’s depression and distrust that have risen. (3)
A SHIFT OF VALUES
Why is that? Some key factors explain that evolution:
• Trust erosion – People know they’re marketed to. We understand brands’ commercial purpose and have become increasingly cautious about it. (4)
• People power – When it comes to opting for a brand, we tend to highly value the opinions of our peers. And these peers are now empowered like never before thanks to technology.
• Inequality – The increasing gap between rich and poor people is divisive and socially corrosive, for almost everyone – the well-off as well as the poor. (5)
• Responsible consumption – Triggered by the efforts of activists and the transparency of today’s world, consumers have realised that consuming has an impact on themselves, others and the planet. (6)
• Adaptation – We tend to take things for granted. We are very good at adapting to changes, which also means that material goods often provide only a temporary emotional boost that quickly fades. (7)
If mere consumption of goods and ready-made lifestyle is not the answer, we need to understand what people crave, how we have evolved and “ascended the Maslow pyramid, expecting brands to do the same.” (8)
I SHARE HAPPINESS THEREFORE I AM
Although we are still very much the same irrational, emotion-driven human beings, we’ve grown up expecting something more from brands. “People are now not only looking for products and services that satisfy their needs but they’re also searching for experiences and business models that touch their spiritual side.” (9)
Touching this spiritual side, ultimately making people happier, is a challenge but there’s strong evidence that happiness has a positive effect on the bottom line. (10)
That presupposes that we define ‘happiness’, and looking at a simple definition – “A moment of enchantment, when you leave your concerns and feel you are in a different state of mind” (11) – we see that it is a relative notion. To help us, psychologists have identified some universal influencers of happiness: (12)
- Positive influencers: autonomy, competence, relatedness, self-esteem;
- Negative influencers: fear, confusion, loneliness, lack of control.
What does this say about us?
• Being generous makes us happy – Besides mutation and selection, generosity is the third principle of our evolution. We all live with a constant tension between what is good for society and what is good for ourselves. We are ‘super-cooperators’ and the world a collective enterprise. (13)
• Connecting with others makes us happy – People are not only individuals, but also members of networks. Individuals influence networks as much as networks influence individuals. Sociologist Nicholas Christakis explains, “When you feel bliss, a friend you hang out with regularly will have a 25% increased chance of being happy; a friend of a friend has a nearly 10% greater chance; and a friend of that friend has a 5.6% greater chance.” (14)
• Making makes us happy – It has been demonstrated that experiences provide more happiness than passive consumption, because they have social value, “bringing us status by being good at something, and the story telling that comes with it.” (15), while goods are often purchased to impress others.
• Adding value makes us happy – Happiness is also heavily associated with self-esteem and having projects to work on, and that work needs to be meaningful if we are to be satisfied and healthy. (16)
What’s interesting is that all these influencers of happiness are also the ones generally seen as strong ingredients of interactivity. Empowerment, connecting, active involvement,… positively affect both interactivity and happiness.
From a branding perspective, how can we capitalise on the fact that happiness relates to interactivity and vice versa? By combining them – something we can call ‘Shared Happiness’ – brands can fulfil people’s aspirations, drive preference and add value to society in general.
This approach requires brands to define a higher level of moral standards. Go beyond economic value, also consider social progress, culture and sustainability as fundamental, strategic values, and define their role in these areas. (17) A move from individualism to collectivism, which we know people crave: “realness, human touch, surprise … these will be the most effective ways to connect with people.” (18)
If what makes people happy is connecting with others, being generous, making things and adding value, then brands should become facilitators of these activities. Brands should become agents of action, connection, generosity and value, and apply this in a social, cultural, economic or environmental context:
1. Generosity – Create good vibes
An increasing number of brands have understood the benefit of going beyond selling product attributes and becoming a catalyst in society.
2. Value – Help people help themselves
Emotions are what drive people to connect with others and these emotions can be caused by something light-hearted or something more meaningful, as long as it delivers value. “In this new world… brands have to stand for more than the functionality of their product. You have to provide real solutions and real services.” (19)
3. Connection – Organise for propagation
Successful brands are the ones that “act as networks and connect like-minded people around shared interests and causes.” (20) This means not only considering the end recipients but also the intermediaries, influencers, communities,… who will help kick-start a campaign and spread the word.
4. Action – Trigger participation
If a brand can propagate some intermediate behaviours, it’s more likely to lead to attitudinal change. (21) Starting with small requests for behavioural change is not only easier than changing people’s attitude, but it’s also proven to have a positive impact on brand measures.
As a conclusion, “through creative activity, where making is connecting, we can increase our pleasure in everyday life, unlock innovative capacity, and build resilience in our communities, so that we can face future challenges with confidence and originality.” (22)