The Marketing of Happiness – interviewing Giuseppe Cavallo
Giuseppe Cavallo is the founder of Voxpopuli in Barcelona, and he just published his first book: “Marketing of Happiness”. These are the passages of our interview on the subject.
Q. We have seen a growing number of marketing sub-disciplines, which are less focused on immediate consumption (e.g., demarketing, social marketing, sustainable marketing, purpose branding…) and more on the role of brands and products as citizens in our society. Is this what the marketing of happiness is all about? How so or why not?
Marketing is a tool that organizations’ use to exist and possibly prosper in our society. And all sorts of organizations’ in our society are not more than tools that we use to go through the wonderful journey we call life. I believe that in the second part of last century we lost sight of these simple facts and started to see reality in ways that were distorted. We thought that business is very important. We believed that the appropriate metaphor to describe it was “war”. And we thought that customers were statistical measures. You could ultimately think of the marketing discipline as of a war game. It became apparent in 1999 that we were wrong. This is when a revolutionary book was published: The Cluetrain Manifesto. The authors shook up the marketing establishment and told the practitioners that all those numbers in their Excel sheets were living persons and those persons had started to live a life out of the spreadsheet. While the practitioners were having fun playing their war games, the persons that make the market had moved somewhere else and where making fun of enterprises and brands. It was a glorious year for the western society. A year in which we woke up to our human dignity and recognized that people are at the center of the business discourse, not the way around. As technology is constantly changing, we all need to use it to our advantage. If we’re not going to move forward, then what is the point? This is why something like a realtors guide to ringless voicemail was created, as these sorts of businesses have used the idea of technology to help their companies grow in a positive way. Obviously it was only the beginning of a process of change and we are now at the very core of the process. There is a movement that recognizes the ability of business to contribute to the unfolding of the life experience of individuals and groups and is set on a progressive vision of the society, one that sees happiness as a possibility to pursue. The marketing of happiness and my contribution with El Marketing de la Felicidad sit right in the middle of this sensibility.
Q. Who and what inspired you in developing the concept?
The original title of the book was Marcas que Aman (Brands that Love). I wanted to show that the initial spark for an enduringly successful business is normally the ability to empathize with a group of people that have a specific need and the resolution to serve them with dedication and talent. We may argue that in its essence, this initial connection between the entrepreneur and its public is a matter of love. I believe that successful businesses keep an ideal connection with that spark in all the important things they do. This is not about their Vision and Mission. It is rather the emotional spark that connected an entrepreneur to a group of persons and ignited the process of creating an enterprise. While I was writing the book, I recognized that the love story was secondary to a bigger one. I saw that we need to investigate the very reason for the existence of a business if we want the marketing discipline to add value to our lives. It was clear to me that pursuing happiness is what we all do every day and every minute of our lives. All the major wisdom traditions tell us that. And we should be clever enough to recognize that fact and live in flaw with it. So, you may say that the concept of the book came out of a personal journey. But there is more to the story. I have worked for many years in the marketing and communications area of a major multinational company. Marketing is serious in these organizations’. Marketers are extremely smart and talented people that deliver highly sophisticated output. I had been very proud to be in the party, but at some point I started to develop a sensibility that could not see reflected in the work I was creating. It goes back to the story in The Cluetrain Manifesto that I mentioned before. This is why I started a new agency as a consultant and a provider of creative services. I felt that the market, the people that form it, was demanding a more humane approach to marketing goods and services and that a new set of tools should be added to what we had learned from Kotler, Ries, Trout and a number of other masters of the discipline. I had developed tools that we use at Voxpopuli to serve our clients with success, so I thought that it would be nice to share what we had learned on the field.
Q. How do you measure happiness in a marketing context?
There is an inspiring speech that Bob Kennedy delivered in 1968 at the Kansas City University (I mention it in the ebook). He said that the US could be very happy with the growth rate of their GNP, but it would be missing the point of happiness. The US GNP included the value of Napalm, rifles, ambulances and other representations of the degradation of the western society into a stress- and fear-driven community. And it didn’t measure what’s important: happiness. Attempts to measure happiness were made in the little kingdom of Bhutan, where an illuminated king decided to create a specific measure of happiness in the Country. Lately, France and England have started to develop indexes of the level of wellbeing of their citizens. And a number of measurements are proposed by governmental or private organizations’. The reality is that happiness is very difficult to measure for its very nature. I believe that businesses should not worry with measuring happiness, but rather go back to what is their reason for existence: serving people and fulfill their needs. Now, needs can arise in different domains. We have functional needs: I need to go from point A to point B, so I buy a car. We can also have emotional needs: I want to feel young and lively, so I buy a sports car. And finally we can have spiritual needs. I care for the environment, so I will buy a car from a brand that expresses and operates according to the values I live by. Responding appropriately to the needs in the different layers is a good approximation of contributing to our public’s happiness.
Q. Why a firm should be working on the pillar of marketing of happiness? What’s in it for them?
In 2013 Interbrand published the scary results of an investigation they had conducted. The majority of Europeans were completely detached from most (really almost all) of the brands. One could conclude that brands do not matter in people’s life. But there was also space for hope in the study. People demanded more involvement of the brands in matters of ecology and social justice. So we can say that brands matter a lot: only they are not doing the right thing. They are not taking position in the defense of our planet and they are not contributing to building a better world in the perception of their public. This is what’s in it for brands. If they connect with the deeper needs and requests of their public, the boon will be big in terms of engagement, loyalty and ultimately sales.
Q. Which firms/ brands pioneer this concept?
Patagonia, the outdoor apparel retailer is a good example. They make a clear, tangible and public commitment to protecting the environment. And they do not see it as a marketing strategy. It’s their vision of the world that incarnates in their business and in the goals they set for themselves. People understand their simple yet powerful message and Patagonia thrives.
There are a number of other brands that can be mentioned, but you can just check the members of organizations’ like Conscious Capitalism or B-Corporations to have a list.
Q. Any consumer target which is demanding more than others that brands adopt the marketing of happiness?
In a few of the analysis of the customer base we have conducted for some of our clients, we have seen the recurrence of a profile that is similar to what has been called the Cultural Creatives. These are persons that enjoy a medium-to-high level of income and a certain mindset that includes curiosity, commitment, sense of justice, care for the environment and a series of other dimensions. But this is only one interesting demographic. Happiness or the pursuit of it through a values-based marketing is not for the few. More and more demographics are showing sensitivity to a committed brand.
Q. What do firms that want to embrace this type of branding need to do/ need to be good at before starting the journey?
We take our clients through a journey that is normally so deep to become touching. We ask them to revisit the essence of their value proposition and to see it from the perspective of their public. The point is not trying to find ways to sell more. This is the inevitable consequence of doing the right things. The point is to serve with dedication and talent, in full authenticity. So the first thing an organization needs to do is to re-establish itself around the purpose of serving its public. There are processes for the job, and the going is nice if the leading group of the company is truly committed.
Q. Any drawbacks? How difficult is to begin? Any risks?
The top management must be all-in. Without the commitment of the top management to a way of “being” business, the story that the brand will tell is not authentic. So, I suggest that a company does not embark on a similar journey if the top management is not on-board. People in the street are savvy and technology helps them spot the lack of authenticity in the corporate discourse. Although it may seem that their public does not care, brands pay a hugely high cost in terms of lack of loyalty and price- or benefits wars with their competitors when their discourse in not authentic. If the top management is onboard, all is easy. With a good facilitation process, the organization’s leading group finds ways to recognize the deeper value provided by the brand, its position in the society and the essence of its purpose.
Q. Can you tell us about the book e.g., structure, where is available?
I divided the book in three parts. In the first part I review theories and facts that show how our society has changed, putting a threat to those organizations’ that hold on to the old marketing paradigm. In the second part, I offer tools and techniques to be added to the traditional marketing practice, in order to meet the new expectations of the public. In the third part I give hints of how to build a story that is recognized by the public as engaging and authentic. At the end, the marketing practitioner should have a roadmap to navigate a brand from old to new paradigm.
The book is currently available in Spain in the major bookstores or on Amazon and La Casa del Libro.
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