Kaitlin Pike

Why aren’t more customers using your product? Maybe it’s because your brand’s story isn’t making them happy enough.

jennifer-lynn-aaker1Web 2.0 Expo speaker and Stanford Professor Jennifer Lynn Aaker is a social psychologist and marketer who studies, among other areas, happiness. (She answers such questions as “What actually makes people happy, as opposed to what they think make them happy?”) And as you can learn more about in her book, she also focuses on using social media to drive social change.

In her keynote address this March, Creating Infectious Action, she’ll discuss how you can connect meaning to your social media campaigns to create impact as well as why some brands who harness social media take off when others don’t.

I recently interviewed Jennifer about her talk, including what makes people happy and how her research can help brands create more effective marketing campaigns and stories.

Kaitlin: I see and hear a lot of unhappiness and complaints about not being happy enough in our culture. Why aren’t we (Americans) all happy all the time? We have Disneyland AND the iPhone now. What went wrong?

Jennifer: Our understanding of what happiness is (and how to get it) is often misaligned with what really drives happiness. (For two excellent books on the subject, see “How of Happiness” and “Stumbling on Happiness”.) Our society’s prevalent belief is that money and status will make us happy (or we behave as if they will). The reality, however, is that the link between money and happiness is tenuous. Take the striking evidence that although income has steadily increased over the past fifty years in the United States, life satisfaction has remained relatively flat. Research shows that for those who earn more than $75,000 (the number varies depending where you live), additional money does surprisingly little to increase life enjoyment, stave off sadness, or reduce stress. Once your basic needs are met, the correlation between money and happiness or satisfaction is relatively low.

So our behavior patterns are often misaligned with being happy in the long run.

Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately for those who wish they could just buy the Happiness app and be done with it, we do know what correlates with happiness in the longer run – meaning, a sense of purpose, a sense of connectedness. Those who behave in ways that allow them to feel more connected – tend to have a very different view of happiness; one that is associated with calm, contentment and peacefulness. For more on this research, see this paper. What is interesting is that – those who pursue other goals (beyond happiness), often become happier as a result.

Finally, one thing that is important to keep in mind is that – in our thirst to always be happy, we often forget the upside of negative emotions. When you experience negative experiences, they are often memorable, defining and impactful.  As we rethink our beliefs about what it means to be happy, keep in mind that the drive to be happy all the time can be distracting – and does not always deliver long term happiness.

Kaitlin: If you were suddenly omnipotent, and I asked you to create the happiest culture possible, what would it look like? Rich/smart/beautiful/religious or not religious/young/a Web 2.0 Expo audience member? Why?

Jennifer: If happiness and meaningfulness can go hand in hand, the happiest culture possible would be one where people are encouraged and empowered to search for meaning. People who are on the search for meaning can be said to be on a “social good” mission because finding meaning oftentimes requires finding a way that you fit into something bigger than yourself. For example, the person who only sits at home with her iPad playing Angry Birds is likely unhappy because she is only focused on herself and her own material possessions. A person who helps bring Internet access to those who don’t have it likely feels a sense of meaning because she is helping others in fundamental ways. So meaning is very tied in with social good.

The very phrase “social good” means different things to different people. And to be clear, when I say social good, I don’t just mean solving the water epidemic or saving babies from malaria (although those are both important goals). I extend the scope of social good to include building trust, creating opportunity, improving self-esteem, and cultivating meaning.

Kaitlin: Supposedly the happiness one gets from an experience lasts longer (may be “better”) than the happiness from buying, say, a new car or nice phone. How do brands create experiences for customers to keep them happier longer rather than just creating a product? Is interacting with consumers via social media an answer?

Jennifer: In our framework for thinking about social media, “grab attention” is one element but right after that comes “engage” – how do you make someone step closer to you.  Social media is a whole new way to grab a consumer’s attention. But the secret to success is compelling people to care deeply about your brand rather than just notice it through attention-grabbing schemes. Engaging consumers is arguably more challenging than grabbing attention because it’s more of an art than a science.

One example of a brand that engages consumers is Procter & Gamble’s Pampers. In 2000, Pampers’ marketing team took a deep look at who their customers were and found that a good portion of them were first-time parents who are inexperienced, confused, and tired. Pampers took this knowledge and followed up with a Web strategy that transformed the Pampers website from a presentation of static brand information to a complete “new mom information portal.” The site includes expert advice and articles covering the first few years of a child’s life, from medical concerts to developmental issues to parenting best practice. Despite the fact that Pampers’ website relaunch occurred at a time when store brands were undercutting Pampers’ prices, Pampers sales rose from $718 million in 2001 to $826 million in 2006.

Kaitlin: If you could break down how to create happiness for a marketing campaign, what elements would a marketer need?

Jennifer: Although there are many strategies a marketer could employ in creating a marketing campaign aimed at increasing happiness, a core component is that the marketer himself must feel a deep sense of happiness/meaning. Research shows that ripple effects result from small actions that have a positive significant impact on others and over time. When the action at the epicenter of the ripple effect is based on deep meaning, a multiplier effect can occur. In such conditions, others around you feel the emotion that you’re feeling, and can therefore become strongly mobilized.

Kaitlin: Why does a brand manager need to be a good storyteller to be effective on Twitter, Facebook or other social media channels? Any recommendations on how to become a better storyteller?

Jennifer: The power of a story is a profound one: it can help you connect with and move your audience, and make your material more memorable.  So, how do you go about constructing a story?  There are some easy steps to follow to get started. First, recognize that you only have a few seconds to grab attention. Then, focus on a central story that the viewer can latch onto right away. And finally, ask yourself, “is this a story I would re-tell?” What makes a social media campaign go viral? It’s pretty simple: people watch your video/see your tweet or Facebook status, and like it enough to send it to friends. Whether it makes you laugh, cry, or feel nostalgic, a story has to affect the viewer to make it share-worthy.  In terms of becoming a better storyteller, nonprofits and causes have traditional done a better job in telling stories than have for-profit companies. You can learn a lot from how stories are cultivated and used by visiting Andy Goodman’s site, reading a book called Story, or explore some of the stories told here.


Kaitlin Pike is the Web 2.0 Expo community manager. She can be reached @w2e or @kcpike. To see Jennifer speak, register for Web 2.0 Expo SF now with  discount code websf11bl20 to save 20%.

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One Response to “Happiness and Why Your Social Media Efforts Could Use More of It”

  1. Edward Koscicon 15 Feb 2011 at 3:18 pm

    You are responsible for your own happyness !

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