Fordham University’s Center for Positive Marketing put on its 4th Conference for Positive Marketing on March 26. A great blend of academic and practitioner talks and viewpoints, most of us participating felt refreshed and energized.
For me, I was absolutely thrilled that the humanistic ideas I and others have written about and talked on for a few decades are becoming accepted more widely and by mainstream brands. It also served to frame my own journey in business and research.
Empathy and Experience Design
I got a charge from hearing Stacy Graiko of Millward Brown Firefly talk about a retailer who wanted their customers to leave feeling better than when they walked in, irregardless of whether they bought something. When my mother and I opened a restaurant, City Island Diner, back in 1986, those exact words were the first principle of my business plan – they emerged from listening research I did to figure out what type of restaurant City Islanders wanted that we could create for them.
Cigna’s Christine Chastain and Tim McKnight, VP Global Innovation, talked about empathy, design thinking. and consumer experience.
Their excellent presentation reminded me of how I designed the restaurant from that first principle: the menu was to focus on comfort on familiarity – I described it as “the food you had growing up, but made with the freshest ingredients, to order, and in front of you.” I also banished square edges and right angles to the extent possible, which offered respite from the gridded world most of us live in, where our vision is forced to be straight, forward or back, up or down. This took form in the plates, cups, and saucers – only round or oval, chamfered edges on the tables, round stools, a curved counter, and so on, which let the eye wander. For dinners, every night had a theme that was warmly evocative and alliterative where possible: Meatloaf Mondays, Turkey Tuesdays, Wegetable Wednesdays, Pot Luck Thursdays and Fish Fridays. Many menu item names reflected the nautical heritage of City Island, and several local characters lent their names to desserts. My mother owned the restaurant for 11 years, then sold it to a local family – the “new” owners – who’ve had it for 18 more and counting. Some of the people hired over 25 years ago still work there, as do their kids, sometimes. A number of movies shot scenes in there, such as Solitary Man, with Danny DeVito as the Diner owner who offers his friend Michael Douglas a job. Jerry Seinfeld did an episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee with Ricky Gervais at City Island Diner.
Brand Love, Materialism, and Happiness
Prof. Aaron Ahuvia of the U. Michigan Dearborn Business School gave a talk about brand love, materialism, and happiness. Generally he found that materialism was not related to happiness, but he also found that, paradoxically, people who expressed love for brands were happier. He admitted that he didn’t have an adequate way to explain the findings yet and urged the audience to submit ideas. This was unusual at a conference – so often the ideas presented are so apparently airtight, but very welcome, showing that we have much to learn and can do so collaboratively.
Using Mobile Technology for Good: Mobile Apps, mHealth, and Mindsets
The Conference offered 6 Salons – presentations followed by participant discussion. These were held in 3 sets of two that ran concurrently. I gave one with Dr. Sandy Ng of RMIT (Melbourne Australia) having to do with mobile apps, mHealth, and mindsets. Sandy talked about her research on mobile apps, and I reviewed research by my colleague Howard Moskowitz on reducing hospital re-admission rates. Conversation we stimulated dealt with creating apps that helped people improve their lives, the need for integrated apps, and different ways to think about monetizing apps.
Training Positive Marketers
Dawn Lerman, who heads the Center for Positive Marketing, and Yanan Wang of Bishop’s University led a salon on training positive marketers. Yanan recapped a course she gives on “Happiness Marketing.” She covered a lot of ground. What I found interesting was the emphasis on training marketers to be happier people in order to create products and programs that help people improve their well-being, quality of life, and life satisfaction. Dr. Wang outlined specific frameworks that strengthen marketers’ empathy and understanding. The discussion following was far ranging and very engaging, touching on areas like inner strength, self-knowledge, and how can happiness marketing avoid being seen as a cute fad and become integrated into marketing culture.
I couldn’t attend every salon, but all the topics were of interest. They were: Gifts, Reciprocity & Obligation: Applications for Positive Marketing; Psychotherapists, Life Coaches & Professional Organizers: Why Consumers Seek Professional Help and How Professionals Improve Consumer Well-being; Overcoming Stereotypes in Multicultural and Global Marketing Strategy; and Purpose Driven Marketing: Achieving Social Change Through Brands and Consumer Advocates