Happy customers: how joyful experiences make us feel good

In retail, inclusivity is the new exclusivity.  Shoppers are more likely to take the recommendation of someone they follow on Instagram than the editor of a glossy fashion magazine - 84% more likely, in fact. After decades of marketing geared towards perfection and unattainable ideals, brands are embracing positivity and ‘realness’, creating joyful experiences, championing great causes and helping their customers feel and do good.   

The ‘new’ positivity

It seems that consumer priorities are changing. Amidst reports that some high-end brands are burning excess stock to protect their image, it seems that showing off is becoming uncool.

According to one report, 82% of consumers always buy from a company with which they have high emotional engagement, 70% will spend twice as much on brands they feel an affinity with and 81% will share their love of a brand with friends and family. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this has everything to do with the digital revolution. As we share every aspect of our lives online, different generations love sharing unique experiences they’ve been a part of and championing the causes that matter to them on social media.

Similarly, many of us are looking for more from the brands we do business with - seeking companies, products and experiences that move us on a deeper level. In recent years, the most compelling brand experiences and campaigns have been the ones that speak to who we are as people: the experiences that bring us joy, the causes we are passionate about, the things that motivate and drive us.

This presents certain challenges for retailers. With the experience economy‘snap and send back’ trends and the phantom economy showing no signs of slowing down, increasing numbers of shoppers are having the brand experience without paying for it. 

The goosebumps factor

Whether you’re enjoying live music or listening to someone you admire making a powerful speech, goosebumps are a sure sign that you’ve had an emotional experience.

To celebrate Barclaycard Entertainment’s partnership with Live Nation, we recently launched a scientific study led by Harvard University researcher Matthew Sachs and Professor of Experimental Psychology at University of Oxford, Robin Murphy.

Held at the legendary Reading and Leeds festivals, the study found that more than half of Brits experience goosebumps while watching a live music performance. Female respondents were found to be more likely to experience goosebumps than male respondents at 55% and 46% respectively - suggesting they might share a deeper emotional connection to music.

It was also found that people who get goosebumps tend to be more empathetic, happier, healthier, more creative and even earn more than those who don’t. The lesson? Joy is good for us.

People who get the goosebumps also tend to form stronger relationships (80%). It’s this one that businesses should sit up and pay attention to as they build their brands.   

Happy, happy, joy, joy

Responding to changing consumer expectations, brands are embracing positivity, focusing on things like love, wellness, self-care, environmental issues, body positivity, social justice and the simple power of joy.

According to designer and writer Ingrid Fetell Lee, when psychologists describe joy, they mean “a momentary experience of positive emotion.”

It’s not the same as contentment, satisfaction or even happiness, which describes something sustained over time. Joy is lighter. It’s about laughing, smiling, feeling good in the moment.

In marketing, the idea is to take that strong feeling of positive emotion and centre your brand at the heart of the conversation.

In her TED talk ‘Where joy hides and where to find it’, Fetell Lee talks about the things that tend to come up when people are asked to describe the things that make them feel joyful: “cherry blossoms, bubbles, swimming pools, tree houses, hot air balloons and ice cream cones - especially the ones with sprinkles.”

What do all these things have in common? Pops of colour, patterns and symmetrical shapes. Feelings of abundance and multiplicity. Weightlessness. Nostalgia.

All of these things can be easily translated into campaign, customer interactions and brand experiences. Boots’ “Summer Like You’re Seven” campaign is a one such example of this; bringing out the sights, smells and sounds of the summer holidays.

Joy also works a treat in experiential marketing and brand activations. Lifestyle brand Refinery29 continues to take this into account each year with its “29Rooms” event, an interactive funhouse of style, culture and fun made up of 29 individually branded and curated experience rooms featuring bands from Dyson to Dunkin’ Donuts. This year’s theme is ‘Expand Your Reality’. Purina’s recent #UpToMischiefcampaign let curious cat-lovers play with virtual animals in augmented reality pop-ups and let the brand’s long-time mascot leap from ad to ad, disrupting ads from other brands at Waterloo station.  Virgin Holidays’ ‘Say Balls to Boring’ event featured the world’s largest outdoor ball pool with more than 140,000 re-usable balls.  

Fun and games

Some companies have gone all-in with the ‘surprise and delight’ trend, like IFS department store in Chengdu, China, which in 2015 created a 14,000 square-foot carpet made from 13 tonnes of sweets. The stunt was intended to celebrate the first anniversary of its shopping mall and raise awareness of the plight of underprivileged children in rural areas.

With support from Barclays, competition winners Black Milk Cereal recently surprised and delighted people in the VIP area at Barclaycard presents British Summer Time, dishing out freakshakes. The event also featured our world-first rock star “stage dive” experience.

Then there’s Instagram-heaven, The Museum of Ice Cream in San Francisco - a pastel-hued wonderland created simply to encourage play, drive joy and give millennials something beautiful to post on their social feeds.

While it is possible to knock it out of the park with a highly choreographed strategy, some of the best moments occur naturally – without a big price tag. It could be something as simple as remembering a regular customer and having their order ready for them, sharing a free gift or even a handwritten note. 

The things that matter

Brand positivity has many faces, from offbeat to being on-message, environmental concerns and social justice movements are front-of-mind for many.

Companies are thinking much more deeply about their social role and impact. Creating campaigns around the benefits of owning your products is no longer enough. To drive true loyalty with an audience of millennial and Generation-X-ers, but also baby boomers, brands must show awareness of wider social issues and demonstrate that they are a part of the solution. Shareholders  are increasingly expecting corporations to expand their focus  to include “non-financial returns”.

Some recent examples include Innocent smoothies - raising money for Age UK through tiny knitted hats atop its smoothies, River Island’s #ExplainEpilepsy campaign which used a combination of a competition, UGC content, online video and in-store events to deconstruct stereotypes and the Barclaycard brand’s Start today campaign which focuses on helping people take the first step towards achieving their long-term goals. “Small Talk Saves Lives” from Network Rail is another example centring on a campaign encouraging passengers on its trains to look out for and engage with those who appear distressed. Elsewhere, brands like Body Shop and Dove have been in the business of cause marketing for decades and Barclays just marked its fifth year as the headline sponsor of Pride in London.

We all experience joy differently. Getting it right can be incredibly powerful. Treat customers as individuals and you will be rewarded with their loyalty for years to come.