We’re In The Happiness Business

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The fine folks at BBH Labs pointed me in the direction of a brilliant talk given earlier this month by Peter Sells, head of mobile (or mobILE as he calls it) at BBH London. Peter’s focus is naturally the medium he’s responsible for, and I think he provides an excellent framework for anyone working in the mobile space to follow. He certainly takes to task a lot of current behavior and received wisdom.

But what made the talk especially powerful for me is that the foundational truth Peter has discovered in the mobile space is equally as true and important (although still largely unrecognized) across all of digital communications, and indeed all of business.



Digital technology is a huge enabler and amplifier of human capability. It’s surely what Marshall McLuhan meant when he talked about technology extending our central nervous system. Humans have a number of deep seated needs that are solved with great and increasing success via digital (especially mobile) technologies. Among these are the needs for resolution, connection, control, information and contentment. I think any one of us can examine each of these needs on a personal level and quickly come up with examples of how digital serves us.

Interestingly these needs are also served and solved in our personal relationships, and having them successfully addressed (multiple studies have shown – start here) leads to happiness. It might be fleeting – there’s always another problem to solve – but it’s happiness nonetheless. And positive, optimal experiences (otherwise described as ‘flow’) are the ones we tend to remember.

Let’s spin this around for a moment. Marketers (including this one) talk with increasing frequency these days about the need to achieve ‘engagement’ with consumers. We believe that if we can hold someone’s attention by telling them something interesting, or listening what they have to say to us, that we will increase the chances they will become a customer. And obviously that’s a good thing.

But if you think about the idea of ‘engagement’ through the lens of providing happiness by helping people solve deep-seated, personal needs or goals, you quickly realize that the best way for a marketer to engage a consumer is to actually to provide a service that allows them to resolve something, to make a connection, to achieve control, to be informed, to be content.

In other words help them get things done. Be of service to them. Don’t sell things, provide solutions. Thought about this way every company is in the service business and their approach to engagement should be: don’t ask what you can say to people, ask what you can do for them. Very JFK-ish!



Of course, implicit in this statement is exactly what’s wrong not only with the current advertising and marketing industry but the command and control mindset that still pervades so much of business. We’re still doing far too much saying and nowhere near enough helping.

Our view here at U&S is that companies are in business to understand and serve their customers and that the better they do that the more successful they’ll be. If companies think about themselves as being in the business of providing service and making people happy they’ll be on the right track. And they now have the tools to do just that.

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