In The Pursuit Of Happiness: How To Create Meaningful Brand Experiences

Nathalie Nahai, international speaker and author of Business Unusual: Values, Uncertainty and the Psychology of Brand Resilience explains how businesses can create meaningful experiences for their customers.

We’ve all witnessed it – the rapid, extensive, unstoppable roll-out of tech-mediated commerce, education and work have transformed how we live these past 18 months. Yet alongside the extraordinary benefits this transformation has ushered in, it has also yielded other, less desirable and unforeseen consequences, from social isolation and feelings of disconnection, to zoom fatigue and employee burnout. Managers have struggled to work with remote teams, and organisational cultures have stuttered as workforces remain dispersed and atomised. As we’ve adapted to these dramatic changes, business leaders and employees are questioning their priorities, and whether they’re finding as much meaning and freedom in their work as they might have once hoped. And they’re not alone. 

Consumers Want More

Consumers are also demanding more from the brands they interact with – whether it’s a public commitment to good corporate citizenship, or public advocacy for social issues and climate justice, expectations have shifted, and along with them, the consumer landscape. Of course, against the background of tumult and uncertainty, it’s no surprise that we’re seeing a desire for interactions that will give us a sense of happiness and pleasure, no matter how fleeting. Yet despite heightened demand for escapist media (think Netflix and TikTok), a sea-change is already underway as to what is capturing the hearts and minds of consumers as we emerge from this pandemic

Given the virtual arena to which commerce (and business more broadly) has been consigned this past year, consumers are hungrier than ever to engage in immersive, multi-sensory and emotionally resonant experiences with their favourite brands. Whether the high-octane, adrenaline-fueled events designed by RedBull or the Instagram-worthy augmented reality 3D showcase put on by Zara in their New York storefront, brands are upping the ante in a bid to craft experiences their consumers will remember. And younger generations are driving this shift. No longer is it enough for a product to do what it says on the tin – Gen-Z and Millenials are increasingly eschewing traditional symbols of status (the fancy watch, designer jacket or corner office) in favour of unique experiences, and their take on a life well-lived. With research showing they’d rather trade experiences for material gain, there’s money to be made in understanding what they want and how to deliver it.

We know, for example, that we typically prefer people and places that reflect our personality (an extrovert is more likely to favour the crowded bar than a quiet drinking hole), and that the more similar we perceive a brand to be to ourselves, the more likely we will be attracted to them. So when it comes to the pursuit of happiness, we have to dig into what really drives our consumers in order to reflect their preferences and meet their needs, which is where pleasure and purpose come in. We’re all pretty familiar with the hedonistic kind of happiness that involves seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. What might be less familiar to us, is what’s known as eudaimonic happiness, which is about our search for meaning, self-expression and well-being. 

Gen Z women with colourful shopping bagsWith growing numbers of consumers prioritising brands that share their values, and deliver more mission-driven products and services (you need only look at the swelling ranks of B-corp companies to see this in action), it’s clear that whatever your business, if you want to attract and retain the consumers and talent of tomorrow, you’ll have to do more than simply deliver the next dopamine hit. So what might this mean? Alongside giving consumers greater autonomy to direct their experience (a characteristic that is largely lacking in most virtual consumer-brand interactions), we can also create more meaningful experiences by focusing on integrity.

The Four C’s

Known to boost customer loyalty, build trust and foster deeper brand attachment, cultivating integrity also makes businesses more resilient during times of economic hardship, and even engenders greater understanding from consumers when mistakes inevitably happen. Essential to our ability to form trustworthy long-lasting relationships, integrity can also be expressed through a steady commitment to moral principles such as fairness, justice and honesty, or through the adherence to a set of cherished values and ethics. In the course of researching my new book, “Business Unusual”, I discovered that in a business context, when integrity delivers, it does so because the organisations in question abide by what I conceive of as the “four C’s”: commitment, congruence, consistency and coherence. 

The first ‘C’ is about making an explicit, public commitment to a specific set of values, from inclusion, respect and openness, to honesty, fairness and more. The second ‘C’ refers to congruence in word and deed, a characteristic that has been found to influence employee performance and even shape commitment levels towards the organisation. The third ‘C’ is about being consistent over time, demonstrating the patience and tenacity to establish a strong track record that people can believe in. The fourth and final ‘C’ refers to being coherent in intention and behaviour, or doing the right thing for the right reason. While loftier than the rest, this final ‘C’ is often underestimated (as is consumers’ ability to sniff out the fakers), and it’s this key aspect of doing something because it’s right, rather than because you have to (for optics or legal reasons) that sets the real brands ahead of the pretenders. 

In short, whatever your business or industry, it’s clear that we won’t be returning to business as usual any time soon. The landscape has fundamentally changed, and if we are to succeed along with it, then it’s time our approaches changed too.

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