Why Marketers Should Focus on Anxiety Points and Not Pain Points

Updated: Jan 3

Written by: Megan McDowell


Happiness Survey

If you have ever had to make the case for conducting more market research in your business you need look no further than the happiness survey conducted last year. Everyone wonders how they can be more happy, and many of the answers that people come up with are rather predictable, and often times incorrect. Many people think that making more money will grant them greater levels of happiness, yet in the study they found that those whose income were doubled only saw a .02 increase on a happiness scale of 1-10. In a recent article entitled Customer Happiness – Tackle Anxiety-Points (OECD Study) Marsden looked at a landmark study on the origins of happiness. The study was co-written by Lord Richard Layard and is based on a 200,000 participant research project across, Australia, U.S., and Europe.


The headline of the study was, “Human happiness is flatlining.” Happiness levels have been measured for the past 50 years and there has not been any significant increase in those levels over time.  Marsden writes, “from a political perspective, this is odd since population happiness is the best predictor (.64) of whether a government gets re-elected (better than growth (.36), or unemployment (-.06), or inflation (.15)).” But what makes someone’s happiness increase? According to the study it is through the absence of anxiety.


The Absence of Anxiety

Marsden writes that this is a great insight for marketers. “Happiness is about the absence of anxiety.” If this is true that a customer’s happiness is directly related to anxiety and not pain, then why do we keep focusing on pain points? The article suggests that we need to start focusing on anxiety points which consist of worry, insecurity about the future and potential threats.


The study also looked at key drivers of happiness and came up with some noteworthy headlines:


- Overall increases in income or education have little effect on the overall happiness of the population

- Happiness is not about inequality, inequality explains under 2 per cent of the variance of happiness in any country (however, an extra dollar is 10 times more effective in boosting happiness to a poor person than to someone who is 10 times richer)

- Happiness is about the absence of anxiety (and depression) – psychological discomfort associated with the anticipation of future threat

- Happiness is not about money, differences in income explain only 1% of the variation in happiness. A doubling your income only results in a 0.2 bump on a 0-10 single item happiness scale* (see below)

- Happiness is about mental health. The biggest distinguishing feature between happy and unhappy people is neither poverty, unemployment or physical illness, but mental illness.

- Eliminating anxiety and depression would reduce misery by 20% compared to just 5% if policymakers focused on eliminating poverty

- Happiness is about having a loving partner – this is the R in the ARC of happiness (the finding that happiness is driven by as sense of Autonomy (Freedom), Relatedness (Connectedness) and Competence (Mastery)

- Education has a very small effect on happiness, compared with, for example, having a partner.

- Happiness is about being in work – people derive a sense of satisfaction from life from work, whilst unemployment cripples happiness


Creating Happiness through Marketing

Marsden writes how for many marketers it may seem above their pay grade to figure out the keys to happiness and try and connect them with marketing strategies. Using an online research community is a great way to inquire and test the success of ideas with your customers.  He suggests that their are some practical applications beyond alleviating anxiety. One is that brands could start focusing on the gift-economy. “Gifts help build relationships, and relationships drive happiness, so if you want happy customers, sell gifts. Creating a gift version of your product or service could be the single best thing you can do to contribute to happiness,” according to Marsden.


The article concludes with a quote by Thomas Jefferson who stated “The care of human life and happiness… is the only legitimate object of good government”,  yet Marsden tweaks it for marketers by stating that a brand could say this “– The care of human life and happiness is the only legitimate objective of a good brand.” As marketers we can learn that what we think will be a great idea and should be the focus of a campaign needs to be constantly tested and evaluated, and that we should be focusing more on alleviating customers anxieties instead of focusing on pain points.


 If you would like to know more about how to truly understand your customers, please contact us.  We would be happy to talk with you about how market research online community software can differentiate between your customers pain points, anxieties, and happiness.


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