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The Happiness, Sustainability and Brand Equation: Three Rules for Making a Results-Driving Connection

Happy (2011)

The topic of happiness is exploding, with growing conversations locally and globally on happiness as a goal, a brand-positioning opportunity, and a metric of success in marketing, political and cultural arenas over the past two years. Brand and marketing leaders are obviously paying attention as there’s been a steady increase in brands' positioning around, and promises to deliver, happiness to their consumers and the culture in which their business operates.  

“Happiness” is an important and potentially game-changing opportunity in which brand and marketing leadership can — and should — engage, strategize and execute, but there are several key steps to ensure any human and financial marketing resources invested show a return.

Instead of brand and marketing executives jumping on the happiness bandwagon due to its current popularity, we need to understand what customer experiences and concerns lead to happiness while looking at quantified metrics that reveal where this insight authentically aligns with the brand and brand experience. The movement around happiness is not a trend and shouldn’t be viewed as such. It is instead an indicator of the cultural shift to sustainability and The New Variables™ that characterize this shift. The New Variables guiding people's lifestyle choices, brand relationships and purchase decisions are: authenticity, integrity, community, connection, consciousness and social responsibility.

What do happier people care about?

The people who are happier with their lives overallcare most about sustainability and CSR issues than those who do not, according to The SHIFT Report’s 2012 survey of 4,000 Americans and 1,000 Canadians. The quantitative data in this free report  a preview of The Brand Happiness Index™  reveals that those who are the happiest are significantly more likely to feel that sustainability and CSR issues  across all of Consumers’ Four Pillars of Sustainability™ (personal, social, environmental, spiritual)  are more important than those who are not very happy. This includes CSR issues such as community connection and engagement, climate change and having a higher purpose in life. This quantitative research mirrors SHIFT's cultural and qualitative research.

Can some brands enable happiness more than others?

While brands from Coca Cola and Jet Blue to Domino’s Pizza and Best Buy are packaging and promising happiness, some brands will be more successful in enabling happiness than others. The SHIFT research reveals that brands that stand for more meaningful values and connect with what consumers care about today are more likely to have happy consumers than brands who package and promise happiness when it’s not a cornerstone of their brand DNA. These brands are less likely to enable happiness in their consumers.

For example, the Report finds that 32% of regular Seventh Generation consumers are very happy versus 20% of regular Tide consumers. 31% of weekly Whole Foods customers are very happy versus 21% of weekly Safeway customers. 

An initial response to this finding is that the Whole Foods/Seventh Generation customer is likely a wealthier customer, and therefore more happy. However, while higher incomes do equate to higher levels of overall happiness, this plateaus at $75,000, according to research by Economist Angus Deaton and psychologist Daniel Kahneman. The SHIFT Report reveals that this applies across income groups and not just to those with higher household incomes.

What are the implications of happiness for brands today? 

A dozen or so years ago, I was at the Account Planning Conference in Miami where I attended a great workshop run by On Your Feet, in which one workshop volunteer sat on the “Hot Seat” and assumed the personality of a brand nominated by the group, while others tossed both silly and strategic questions their way. I took the Hot Seat as Levi's, during a time when the brand was knee-jerk responding to the latest trend without any confident, central consistency of what it stood for. With every question, I answered something along the lines of “I don’t know. Whatever you think is cool.” At this point, Levi's was going through a tough time  sales were tanking, factories were closing and lay-offs were happeningthey had not authentically connected with what their customers cared about. Shortly after came Flat Eric  a character created for Levi’s commericials by advertising agency BBH  with a cool, relevant, confident and consistent brand experience that led the way, and didn’t knee-jerk respond. Flat Eric became a cultural phenomenon and things improved for Levi's.

Regardless of subject area, a knee-jerk response by a brand is never a good thing if you’re looking for authentic consumer (and other key stakeholder) engagement and trust, and the market and shareholder value that require these two elements. In the current consumer, cultural and marketplace landscape of The New VariablesTM, these elements are even more important. Doing a “happiness” campaign in a silo because it's trending well  without looking at what people care about today, what is important to those that are happy versus not, and how this authentically aligns with your brand experience — won’t deliver results. Without this strategic analysis, as simple as it is, companies lower their chance of brands delivering a return on their “happiness” marketing investment.

How to use consumer happiness to drive results

Here are three rules for looking through the lens of happiness to engage your customers, grow your audience and drive market share and results in the cultural shift to sustainability and CSR:

Rule 1) Big Picture:
Take a big-picture understanding of happiness and what kind of experiences, issues, cares and concerns lead to happiness

Rule 2) Look at Your Audience
Drill into and understand what makes your audience happy, where the lines and significant differences are between them and the general population. Do the same thing for micro-targeted consumer groups in your overall audience.

Rule 3) Alignment
Determine where the alignment points are between what your brand authentically stands for, the overall brand experience pipeline and the cares, concerns, experiences and sustainable life issues that lead to happiness. Your products may taste, feel and cost the same as your competition but enabling happiness can be a competitive advantage, if it's done right.

Happy consumers that will engage with, buy and evangelize your brand are the result of not just understanding happiness, but authentically linking your brand to your CSR initiatives to gain competitive advantage and market share. 

Tune in next week for the top 10 Happiest Brands from The SHIFT Report’s upcoming Brand Happiness Index™.


Kierstin is the CEO and founder of Ci and the creator of Ci’s proprietary strategic research and analytics tool, The SHIFT Report™. In 2002, she founded Ci with the launch of a white paper titled “Integrity: The New Brand… [Read more about Kierstin De West]


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