Fostering well-being is increasingly seen as the central idea of businesses to attract, retain and engage customers. Today, satisfying customers with the characteristics of the offering, like its quality or price, no longer guarantees their loyalty or advocacy. To strengthen the relationship between customers and brands over time, marketing managers have to provide positive experiences of consumption that move beyond functional and rational expectations. How can marketers develop and assess such positive, emotional and self-fulfilling experiences? This isn’t rocket science, it’s well-being science! It has been studied extensively by positive psychologists in the last 20 years. So let’s make a detour into well-being research to gain a comprehensive and actionable view of experiences of well-being in consumption.
1) The pivotal dimensions of well-being in consumption
Research on well-being distinguishes between two main dimensions: hedonic well-being (hedonia) and eudaimonic well-being (eudaimonia).
This dichotomy is rooted in ancient Greek philosophy. According to the ancient Greek philosopher Aristippus and his school of thought focused on hedonia, happiness is about living a sensual and pleasurable life and is thus perishable. Conversely, Aristotle led the study of eudaimonia with a different school of thought, emphasizing the importance of personal growth and living a meaningful life, leading to human flourishing, and profound and long-lasting happiness.
Against this backdrop, modern psychologists have proposed a multitude of conceptual and operational definitions of hedonic and eudaimonic well-being. Nonetheless, there is a general consensus regarding the core elements that are associated with hedonia such as pleasure, joy, contentment, and to eudaimonia such as meaning, growth, excellence. Indexes have also been developed to either assess those elements as predictors (e.g., seeking pleasure or meaning) or as outcomes (e.g., experiencing pleasure or meaning).
To create a pleasurable and meaningful experience, marketers may want to know if their customers are seeking fun, relaxation or excitement, but also if they are seeking to learn something, develop a new skill or pursue excellence
In marketing, however, researchers and practitioners approaching customer well-being generally take a unilateral approach, focusing exclusively on the hedonic, pleasure-based forms of well-being.
Enhancing positive emotions like pleasure, surprise or enjoyment through what marketers often like to call “WOW experiences” is a common view of customer well-being. Proposing an immersive and original experience using virtual reality or gamification may, for instance, provide such immediate positive emotions to customers. However, this hedonic view ignores the possible long-lasting feelings of purpose, meaning or self-development that customers may seek and experience.
“Why and how much this product/service/brand/experience contributes to your well-being?” is a question that should be more frequently asked, and its assessment should rely not only on hedonic elements but also on eudaimonic ones. To create a pleasurable and meaningful experience, marketers may want to know if their customers are seeking fun, relaxation or excitement, but also if they are seeking to learn something, develop a new skill or pursue excellence. In addition to the Net Promoter Score (NPS), commonly used as a key performance indicator in customer experience, marketers may also want to evaluate how much they contribute to strengthening the short-term hedonic relations and, more importantly, the long-term eudaimonic relations with their customers.
2) The regulatory functions of experiences of consumption
Even if most people are seeking well-being through consumption, they can do so in different ways: avoiding unhappiness or approaching happiness.
A first group of consumers may be seeking experiences of consumption allowing them to avoid unhappiness. In the context of the pandemic, for instance, people are likely to escape from realities through consumption. In particular, they may escape self-awareness and focus on ongoing physical sensations while consuming food or beverages. They may also escape reality and immerse themselves in imaginative escapes through video games or streaming platforms. Of importance to customer well-being, those immediate sensory stimulation and gratification may lead to detrimental effects of, for example, compulsive or excessive behaviour. Furthermore, this short-term hedonic well-being is more prone to habituation, which could encourage customers to frequently repeat those negative behaviours without obtaining long-term well-being. This is what well-being theorists refer to as the hedonic treadmill (or hedonic adaptation).
Alternatively, a second group of consumers may be seeking experiences of consumption allowing them to approach (vs. avoid) happiness (vs. unhappiness). To regulate their well-being during the pandemic, some consumers tend to use episodes of consumption as a means to express or develop one’s potential. They may, for instance, express their creativity through digital paintings or develop their physical skills by watching sports tutorials. Compared to episodes of escape in consumption, those experiences of self-actualization through consumption are more likely to contribute to long-lasting eudaimonic well-being.
Delivering experiences of consumption that focus on developing the ideal self or expressing one’s potential may, in turn, lead to a more sustainable alternative of well-being.
Brands may consequently use two different paths to disseminate well-being narrative and content.
Traditionally, marketing managers develop online and offline content in order to educate (through articles, guides or infographics), to persuade (through checklists, ratings, financial calculations), to entertain (through games, competition, mobile apps), or to inspire (through endorsements, testimonials, or forum comments) their customers. However, when contemplating these four categories of content, one transversal category could be offered to brands aiming at fostering the well-being of their customers.
If the goal is to create hedonic relations between brands and customers, this could be addressed by developing narratives and content focusing on escape and conveying stress-free benefits. Consider the example of companies like Facebook, Apple or Google that have introduced tools that help people limit their screen time and escape from a possible digital burn-out. With regard to enhancing the eudaimonic dimension of well-being, this could be addressed by focusing on self-realization and portraying the benefits of expressing and developing one’s true potential. Nike or Adidas, for example, are boosting the motivations of all types of athletes and are underlying the empowerment provided by all sport activities.
This detour into well-being research offers a comprehensive view on how to approach customer well-being. In understanding the hedonic and the eudaimonic dimensions of well-being, marketing managers can better determine the respective short-term, affective relationship between a consumer and a brand and the long-term, meaningful one. We’ve learned that with the right metrics, marketing managers can assess customers’ well-being motivations as well as the contributions of pleasurable or meaningful experiences to their well-being. Finally, thanks to well-being research, we’ve uncovered the different actions that brands could implement to reduce the potential negative effects of excessive hedonic consumption while fostering more sustainable well-being through consumption. Above all, well-being science offers and will keep offering very interesting insights into customer well-being.
Feature photo credit: Worawut – stock.adobe.com.