Brands were created to make us happy – for a fleeting moment, at any rate. After that moment passed, they trained us to be dissatisfied until we hit the ‘buy’ button again.
This cycle of desire, fulfillment and dissatisfaction worked beautifully in our economy, built as it was on the concept of planned obsolescence.
But lately, something strange has been happening.
Blame it on sustainability or internet-induced transparency. Blame it on people getting fed up with feeling compelled to buy more on smaller paychecks. Blame it on enlightenment.
Today, people want to be makers, or they want to enjoy experiences. Buying new shiny things is starting to look less, well, shiny.
In this context, I wanted to introduce you to John Habibi.
John caught my eye because his business was teaching tech entrepreneurs to close more deals and take more time off. As I spend considerable time with tech entrepreneurs, this promise seemed like the holy grail. Intoxicating, and unreachable.
When I dug a bit deeper, it turned out John was helping many of these entrepreneurs discover happiness through mindfulness and spirituality through meditation. Again, a concept that seemed incongruent with my impression of the average alpha tech entrepreneur.
John and I have had a number of conversations on his practice, and how our yearning for something ‘more’ than material success is changing the face of our society. As a brand specialist, I dug into his thoughts on how mindfulness could destroy brands, or reshape them.
If you’d like to hear the conversation, press play below. If you’d simply like the Coles Notes version, I’ve summarized some of the highlights for you. Either way, enjoy!
Habibi said key to attaining happiness was being aware of living in the present. Easy to say, hard to do.
“Society has trained our brains to think in terms of the past or the future. Brands do this by constantly promising happiness just ahead. What’s interesting is if we can discover mindfulness, and use it to find happiness in the moment.”
Not surprisingly, this isn’t easy when you’re dealing with tech entrepreneurs. As Habibi said, men are generally wired to be more goal and action oriented – always striving for more. And men comprise the overwhelming majority of tech entrepreneurs.
“I teach them that happiness is a process – like a marriage. The point is enjoying the results every day, at multiple levels. Happiness comes not from trying to make your marriage better tomorrow, but in making it better moment by moment. To be a happy entrepreneur, you need to figure out how to treat your job the same way.”
This concept is also core to brand thinking. We have created a linear approach to consumption – desire, buy, use, discard. The results have been environmentally disastrous, and haven’t made us very happy in the process.
Habibi believes this linear approach to consumption is coming to a close.
“Most tech guys are just passionate about what they do. But some of them are coming around to the idea of a circular world. In the same way, authors like Peter Diamantis have shown that we live in a world of abundance – ruling out the brand-centric concept of linear consumption and scarcity.”
According to Diamantis, ‘exponential’ technology unleashes new thinking and ways of getting things done. At this stage, the technology is monetized as it is taken to market. If successful, it creates a wealth of new products at progressively lower prices, until those products are given away – completely demonetized.
Where does this leave brands?
Look at the trajectory of demonetization. Through exponential technology – and our search for happiness beyond consumption – we discover that money cannot buy us spiritual happiness. What we discover all around us (again through technology) is a growing movement toward mindful living. For free.
So where do brands go as we happiness becomes demonetized? That’s the big question.
Habibi believes looking at our current reality and fixating on that to determine the future is like looking in the rearview mirror to drive. Pointless and dangerous.
However, there are some signs of brands in transition as we move toward demonetization.
The ultimate experience is created from the inside out. We need to find happiness inside, not in the world around us.
Nike’s Find Your Greatness campaign is a good example of this. The athletic equipment manufacturer asserts that we already have everything we need inside us. All Nike wants to do is join us on the journey.
This is a wonderful example of a brand that understands how people on the road to mindfulness think. The further they get from their personal essence, the less happy they’re going to be. The closer they get, the happier.
Rather than signalling doom for brands, Habibi thinks it will be a motherlode of creativity. “If a brand person has to imagine creating a product for people who don’t need products to be happy, imagine the new avenues they could explore!”
Leading North American advertising agencies used to be headed by creatives and innovators. Today, managers and accountants hold the reins. The result? Less focus on innovation, and more on efficiency and maintaining revenue.
This has created a crisis in confidence in the sector, with vital young talent pursuing their passion in sectors like tech.
Andrew Carty’s agency Send+Receive is rethinking the role of agencies, and changing a number of accepted practices to put the focus back where it belongs. Crafting great ideas.
Carty’s agency is also re-emphasizing the importance of selling, striving to achieve outcomes that should make any client CFO smile.
Andrew joined me for a lively discussion where we covered these issues, and more.
You can check out the actual interview by pressing play. Or skip ahead to the highlights that follow. Enjoy!
Advertising is the business of selling things. We are vital cogs in the machine of capitalism. And while the bloom may have gone off the capitalist rose, it remains our most effective tool for creating outcomes we all desire – comfort, wealth and security.
Carty feels advertisers have grown bored with selling, chasing more ethereal, complex measures of success instead. Driving impressions, creating engagement… everything but sales. This could be a direct outcome of an hourly billing structure, which tends to encourage adding non-essentials to justify more work. Or it could simply be the result of sales becoming disassociated from marketing – a trend that could put advertising agencies in serious jeopardy.
Either way, it’s a sad state of affairs. As Carty says “Our job is to get to the heart of what makes a product special and figure out how to sell that. It’s simple. And, I believe, endlessly exciting.”
Post-recession, consumers may have less money, but large companies and brands are sitting on unprecedented wealth. How do advertisers get them to unlock the war chest?
According to Carty, it isn’t by doing defensive, status quo work. “We aren’t in the maintenance business – we’re in the creation business. But the creative modus operandi contradicts the status quo mandate of holding companies and shareholders. Risky, bold work is, by its nature, well, risky. Unfortunately, timidity has become the new normal. What client would pay vast sums of money for work that, at best, maintains market share?”
Carty bemoans the sameness of most advertising. While he does point the finger at the ‘status quo mentality’, he also sees another fundamental fault in the system – consumer insight driven research. “We’ve come to believe that ads should cater to consumer needs. This completely de-emphasizes the awesome stories products have to tell. I believe if you start by unearthing the magic of the product, then go to consumer, you create much more original, impactful advertising.”
Carty’s agency Send+Receive was created to answer to rapidly shifting client priorities. “We haven’t seen the agency model fundamentally change in 50 years, despite the last half century being one of unprecedented change and innovation.”
Carty points out simple fixes like moving to an outcome-based fee as progress. He also emphasizes the importance of building an agency that’s small and nimble, without the burdens of network overhead inflating client costs.
Ultimately, it’s about getting to better results, faster. A mantra of modern capitalism. And, with any luck, a breath of fresh air for ad agencies.
Brands sell happiness. And, of course, brands sell perennial unhappiness.
They’re two sides of the same coin – on the one hand, we promise consumers that their next purchase will make them happy. And as soon as they’ve made the purchase, we tell them they need to update to the latest model / version / colour to truly be happy. It’s sad, but this method of selling planned obsolescence is a reality of 20th century marketing.
Consumers are getting wise to marketers’ superficial promises of happiness through consumption. They’re beginning to understand that happiness without consumption isn’t just possible, but natural.
How will brands survive?
To decode happiness from a brand perspective, I brought aboard author and psychologist John Marshall Roberts. Check out our lively discussion below!
Culture is a word everyone in the corporate world uses, but few understand. What we do know is that companies with strong cultures outperform their rivals in everything from customer engagement to employee retention. Culture works.
So how do you ‘get culture’? David Reeve, author of Unleash Culture, has made corporate culture his career. He’s won 45 major awards for helping companies reboot and upgrade their culture, counselled companies from startup to Fortune 500, and made the workplace a happier place for thousands of us.
I spoke with David on how to develop a corporate culture, the impact it can have, and how strong culture translates into a powerful brand.
Enjoy the interview!
Cleantech Canada asked me to write a series of op-ed pieces on effectively branding technology. This story describes how to make your pitch simpler, and more compelling. Enjoy!
In this podcast, I brainstorm with behavioral psychologist John Marshall Roberts on the causes of our dependence on our digital devices, what that means for brands, and how we can break free. Enjoy!
The global economy is turbulent, and not getting any better. Jobs are changing, jobs are being lost, people are striking out in new directions.
In an atmosphere like this, one of your most valuable assets is the story you tell. Your vision of the future, your path, and your adventures along the way – if you can bring these elements together, you can capture your listener’s ear and make yourself unique.
I published Why You Need a Personal Pitch on Linkedin today. The uptake was phenomenal. Think this one struck a nerve.
Take a look, and tell me what you think. And if you like it, please make sure to pass it along.
In my final episode of the Ian Jessop show for 2015, Ian and I explore which brands will thrive, and which will dive in 2016. Enjoy the fun!