What happiness can teach us about marketing

To support the relaunch of Flybuys in June, Loyalty NZ commissioned a study into the state of happiness in New Zealand. The research, which was carried out by Colmar Brunton in January and then repeated in May, revealed 72 percent of New Zealanders felt happy in May, compared with 69 percent at the start of the year.

It was interesting that overall happiness seemed to increase following the first COVID-19 lockdown period. Psychologist Susan Wall told us it’s because many Kiwis had the chance to slow down, re-focus and appreciate the simple things that matter, including time with family and friends.

“Those who were able to work from home felt under less pressure and, as a nation, we also shared a feeling of pride in joining together to eliminate the virus,” she says.

The research threw up other insights, many of which we used in our own campaign. They also have applications to marketers in general and thought I’d share them with you.


1. Businesses don’t thank customers enough

Some 84 percent of New Zealanders report being thanked at least once in the last week by family, friends and neighbours. By contrast, only 31 percent said they were thanked by a business in the last week. Of those, 22 percent regarded the thanks as perfunctory or lacking sincerity. This seems like a lost opportunity. Evidence shows the impact of being genuinely thanked – obviously it feels good but it also builds trust. If the majority of consumers are not feeling thanked for their custom is it any wonder businesses struggle to obtain trust – let alone loyalty?


2. Happiness is strongly influenced by age, stage and place

Happiness is not evenly spread. The happiest Kiwis tend to be older couples on above-average incomes. When you have children and life becomes busy, you slide down the happiness scale by around 10 percent.

Age and state diagram

The least happy Kiwis are singles aged 30-49 years who are potentially feeling pressure from society to conform or genuinely feel they are missing out by not having a partner. And where you live has a bearing. Southerners are happier than those living in the North Island (73 percent vs. 67 percent) and Wellingtonians are much less happy than the average Kiwi (60 percent vs. 69 percent). Great coffee may not be the secret to happiness, after all.

What does all this mean for marketers? It’s a stark reminder that our offers and our messaging must be nuanced and considered. For example, it’s a truism that marketing teams typically do not reflect audience groups. Nor do most boards, design departments and advertising agencies. Yet increasingly consumers want to see cultural diversity reflected in advertising.   How many campaigns, board decisions, product designs, marketing offers are conceived by marketing, advertising and communications executives who view the world through their own lens on life – complete with their own biases and obsessions?


3. Kindness rules: but find your own version

The qualitative research we conducted alongside the Flybuys Happiness Study revealed that beneath the healthy-looking headline statistics, Kiwis are carrying a constant, low-level of anxiety. Makes sense. Covid-19 is causing havoc around the world and locally is threatening our jobs and sense of security, and the return to higher COVID alert levels in recent weeks only serves to exacerbate consumers’ sentiments of anxiety.

The gravity of the COVID situation earlier in 2020, gave the Flybuys team real pause for thought about launching a brand platform and campaign that is grounded in the concept of happiness. We didn’t want to seem frivolous or offensive. So we put that question to our focus groups and the feedback was unanimous: everyone deserves a little happiness now and then – so do it! And now more than ever we all need a little bit of happy in our lives. 

And the result has been fantastic – many Flybuys members are choosing their reward currency, the campaign has landed as distinctive and involving and our members are playing back to us that this is a change for the better for Flybuys.

Now, I’m not saying every brand should launch a happiness campaign. But I think brands need to meaningfully address this low-level anxiety with practical deeds and offers. That could involve humour, or help, or one-off rewards – whatever is right for your brand.

Kindness still rules, but do it with your own twist.


4. Nostalgia is not what it used to be

In times of crisis, it’s tempting to look back at the past with rose-tinted glasses. Our study revealed that people do indeed remember the past more fondly than they view the present day. But which past? It depends on your age. Younger New Zealanders recall the times before social media where the technological reality of being constantly connected was much more limited. People in their 30s, long for a time when people were friendlier, life was easier and the cost of living was lower. No matter what time period it seems that our golden years are in our youth.

There’s a trap here. Selling brands on heritage and nostalgia might seem sensible as we return to values like goodness, wholesomeness and localness. But just be aware of what your audience regards as old or good.

To be relevant and generate greater engagement and loyalty, brands need to find ways to stimulate happiness among their consumer groups. We think we’ve found a way – I hope you can too.

Bridget Lamont is Chief Customer Officer at Loyalty NZ

This article was first published in StopPress on 23 August 2020.

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