Marketing Happiness

Waiting in traffic in my town last week, I glanced at the storefront of a residential builder that will be developing a small townhouse community in the center of town.  In the window were the company’s name and its tagline “Simply Happy”.  “Now that’s a big promise to deliver on, “ I thought.  What makes one person happy may not make another person happy.

Of course, marketing the concept of happiness is nothing new.  Coca-Cola has been using the tagline “Open Happiness” since 2009.  But Coke doesn’t necessarily make me feel happy.  I don’t think, “Wow, I’m happy because I’m having a Coke!”.  It is just something to drink and I would be just as satisfied with Pepsi if the restaurant served that.  And if they didn’t serve either (is that possible?), I would drink something else.

The happiness theme was driven home for me when I was consulting to a wealth management firm last year.  The principals of the company were very focused on happiness as a marketing concept to pitch to clients and prospects.  When I quizzed them on what they delivered that would make clients happy, they said what you would expect: Focusing on the client’s lifestyle goals; providing peace of mind in retirement; accumulating resources so a surviving spouse can continue to live a certain lifestyle; leaving money to children, grandchildren, charities, etc.

If we really think about it, every product has one of two basic goals:

Make us happy – These are products that we enjoy and could include electronics, dining experiences, travel, entertainment, etc.  The actual use of the product makes us feel good.

Avoid unhappiness – These are often products that take the drudgery out of life, minimize the amount of work we have to do, alleviate ailments, save money or time, etc.

The problem with jumping right to happiness as the ultimate benefit is that every company in a given category could conceivably make me happy because the product will make me happy (or avoid unhappiness).  So there is no differentiation in that.  What differentiates one company from another is how it will make me happy. In the building category I mentioned earlier, one builder might offer a wider array of options with no up-charges, one might pay closing costs, one might double the warranty length, one might specialize in new homebuyers or retirees.  Each of these benefits will appeal to a different type of buyer.  There is no cookie cutter for happiness.

So before you reach for the easy way out with the “happiness” button, think about what your company does that will make customers happy and how what it does makes customers happier than a competitor can.  In defining this, you’ll find the foundation of your positioning, so happiness does not come across sounding like an empty promise.


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