Happiness and the secret to achieving it is one of life’s big debates. Just this August, a counterintuitive new study by the American Psychological Association suggested that humans might be happier experiencing negative emotions, instead of what we assume are good ones.

Right now, times are tough for people. Across technology and digital communication, social justice and education, international conflict and climate change, the measures by which we understand our place in the world have shifted, dislodging people’s sense of self.

Everywhere, sentiment seems to be worsening. This is something that has been rumbling on for some time. Last year, our Redefining Loyalty report discovered only 6% of Brits trust brands, suggesting something is going badly wrong for the remaining 94%. At the time, we were motivated by a desire to understand how brands can better their chances of achieving customer loyalty. However, our research revealed that the problem of how people are feeling is much bigger.

It’s likely that consumer trust has plummeted further since we conducted this research, considering major shifts on a macro level. But brands aren’t helping themselves either, with new scandals arising all too often.

Surely, at a time of great uncertainty, people are motivated to seek security. They need consistency. They need something to believe in. It is in this context that we wanted to better understand what people are lacking today and how marketers can help to fill the void. We interviewed 1,000 UK consumers, poured over key texts and spoke to experts. What do people need? What matters most to them?

One in 10 is not as bad as it seems

Our research found that one in 10 Brits would describe themselves as happy. At a glance, this figure seems depressingly low – but it isn’t quite as bad as it seems.

We asked people to describe themselves in three words. Any words at all. Out of 3,213 words collected, “happy” landed in the top five, alongside “loyal”, “honest,” “caring” and “friendly”. That happiness is cited so often is surely a positive thing.

But why does this matter to brands?

Our research uncovered an intrinsic link between trust and happiness. What’s more, it found that in trying to remedy ailing trust, brands haven’t focused on the right things. Instead of thinking about people’s well-being, they have been fixated on gaining short-term brownie points, such as via rewards, prizes, and loyalty schemes.

Martin Seligman, godfather of “positive psychology”, believes that to achieve happiness, humans need to find balance through three pillars: Engagement, Meaning and Small Pleasures. The first two are long-term pursuits. Engagement is all about our signature strengths, which we use to craft our work, love, family and social lives. Meaning refers to using these signature strengths in the service of things that we believe to be bigger than ourselves.

In contrast, small pleasures are simply quick boosts of satisfaction. While they contribute to our day-to-day mood, fixating on short-term pleasure-seeking can prevent long-term happiness from being achieved.

If consumer trust is low and happiness is an antidote, brands clearly have a big opportunity to make a difference for people. We also asked people what were the top reasons they lose trust in a brand. The top two reasons were bad customer service and poor quality. These were followed closely by emotional factors like corruption, misleading advertising and change in prices. These are all negative experiences that can be turned into good ones if brands start seeing things through a positive lens. Employees can be invested in, trained and become powerful advocates. Adverts can be designed with consumers’ well-being in mind.

For businesses, the potential return on investment for positive marketing should be enough to want to give it a try. Consumers don’t trust brands, but helping them to achieve happiness can turn this around. But we also live in very tough times. Despite significant shifts in the world, with groups of people becoming increasingly polarised, there is as much that unites us as divides us. Happiness remains fundamentally important – and brands are in a good position to help people achieve it.


By Ben Pask, founder and managing director at Rare

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