One of the more talked about trends in marketing recently is “happiness marketing,” which describes an attempt by many brands to associate their offerings with increased happiness for the consumer. Coca-Cola’s “Open Happiness” campaign and Zappo’s “Delivering Happiness” messaging are just two examples of how brands are capitalizing on consumer demand for products and services that help them satisfy their psychological needs, as opposed to basic, utilitarian needs.

Brands seeking to align themselves with consumer happiness will benefit from a good understanding of the types of purchases that make people happy, and how their product or service taps into this universal desire.So what types of purchases actually do make people happier?

One consistent finding from the field of positive psychology is that purchasing experiences, such as travel, concerts, and dining experiences, makes people happier than purchasing material items, such as clothing or jewelry. Among the reasons for this are that experiences provide opportunities to enhance social relationships, are less subject to social comparison, and are viewed as more central to a person’s identity.

Some brands are capitalizing on this knowledge by promoting the “experiential” aspects of their product. For example, a hiking shoe company may present a visual of a vast, tree-lined hiking trail as opposed to presenting the shoes themselves. Indeed, recent studies have shown that experiential ads generate more eWOM (electronic word-of-mouth) than more product-centric ads.

However, before diving headlong into an experiential marketing campaign, brands must first develop a meaningful understanding of their customer base and what motivates them at the level of their core values. Namely, not all people prefer experiences to material objects, and if your customers are among those who don’t, experiential advertising may fall flat.

Zenzi’s Social Values Project seeks to identify value-based differences in consumer behaviors such as experiential buying. The graph below shows the relationship between Zenzi’s Social Value Types and the tendency to purchase experiences:

As the graph indicates, Pleasure, Purpose, and Freedom Seekers gravitate toward experiences while Security, Prestige, and Tradition Seekers tend to be more materialistic. Zenzi’s Social Values Project offers insights such as this to companies seeking to engage with their customers at the level of value-driven, psychological needs. As consumers increasingly demand more from their brands, we believe it is vital for businesses to make this type of value-based connection with their customers.