The Importance of Positivity in Business

No matter where they look people are told that they can’t. It doesn’t matter what field it’s in; it doesn’t matter what they’re doing. People hear that they can’t be happy without a new gadget. People hear that they can’t lose weight, they can’t work, they can’t succeed.

These can’t statements add up and eventually bury a person. Either they can’t decide what to do for themselves or they collapse beneath the weight.

The path of negativity—or the path of “can’t”—is never a good look in business. Whether you’re dealing with employees, customers, or peers, the single best thing that you can do in any situation is to stay positive (and there’s plenty of data to back this up.)

Uplifting Your Audience: Positivity as a Draw

To create and retain a positive brand image one has to commit entirely to the idea that a company and its products can stand for more than what it produces. Sometimes this can involve taking a stand on a controversial issue (and many companies have taken this route), but it doesn’t have to. Many times, simply marketing one’s product in a genuine and uplifting way can be enough to transform the image of a brand from a simple product into a light in someone’s life. Even delivering on a brand promise can be enough to create this sense, if the promise is clear, strong, and acted upon consistently.

Positivity and Branding

The association between a positive brand image and sales is strong: a brand image that comes with positive feelings and a healthy sense of belonging can render a product a part of a person’s life forever. By creating a brand image associated with positive images and memories, large companies such as Disney have been able to grow vertically and horizontally over time. Since its inception as an animation studio, Disney has branched into everything from merchandising to video games and resort destinations. By creating a happy and uplifting image, sticking to it, and consistently delivering on the feel-good promise, you will stick out in the mind of the customer.

Creating such a positive image, however, demands a lot of hard behind-the-scenes work that cannot be accounted for overnight. Disney, for example, sets tremendously high standards for each and every interaction with its customers, and never strays from those standards. At Disney resorts cleanliness is essential, and despite the enormous amount of foot traffic, no litter stays around for very long. Issues ranging from large to small are immediately dealt with, with as little disruption in any customer’s time in the park as possible. The company sets their resort standard as “the happiest place on Earth” – and though it’s impossible to hit this mark every time, the company appears to do what it can to reach those lofty goals.

Make sure that you spend a lot of time considering what your company’s brand promise is. Is that promise uplifting? To what extent do the day-to-day interactions between your company and its customers match that promise? Where can you improve? Setting a positive goal and meeting it in a positive way in every single interaction with your customers will absolutely go a very long way for your business’s profitability. Every business falls short sometimes—we’re all human, and customers respect companies that recognize their short comings and do something about them.

Unfortunately, not every company can take this service approach. Sometimes there are just aren’t enough paths of established contact between the customer and the company to create a genuine feeling through good deeds. However, marketing, too, can also be positive—and can in turn set up a brand promise that customers can realize in their own lives without too much help from the company itself.

A Case Study: Dove’s “Real Beauty”

Few brands have committed to the idea of positivity in marketing more thoroughly than Dove, which began a campaign focused on “real beauty” more than a decade ago. Many beauty products for both men and women focus their advertising efforts on creating needs: if you lack beauty or feel hideous, the product can change that (or so the story would seem to go). Dove, however, takes a completely different approach, encouraging consumers to find the absolute beauty that exists within themselves. Its campaigns have focused on areas in which beauty is approached ungracefully in Western culture, such as in aging, weight, and standard-setting for young people.

The company started by laying the groundwork in a series of advertisements before the campaign even began, testing the waters. What followed were tremendous video advertising victories like the company’s two minute Evolution video. More recent entries have focused on exactly the obsessive flaw-chasing that other beauty products sometimes prey upon in advertising, while attempting to illustrate the beauty others perceive in people compared to the flaws they see in themselves.

This campaign—a celebration of beauty rather than an insistence that a product is necessary to be beautiful—has earned millions of views on its YouTube videos and has even garnered the company several awards. In the age of here-and-gone brands and business efforts through social media, Dove’s campaign has stood the test of time, and has continued for more than 10 years. People want to hear the message that Dove is sending. The brand’s sales have gone up from $2.5 billion to $4 billion over the course of the campaign. People buy Dove’s products not because they tout their necessity, but because people want to be a part of the message and the inspiration of its campaigns. They want to purchase products to show that they care about what Dove thinks and spread that message.

Positive Mood and Persuasion

Even if a brand isn’t intimately tied with a major issue in the human psyche, it can still throw a positive spin on its branding and put people in the mood to buy. Positive moods are associated with positive persuasive effects in numerous studies, but the short and simple assessment of the situation is this: people in better moods, especially those who have been placed in a better mood just before or during an interaction with intent to sell, will be more likely to buy products.

An advertisement that gets someone into a positive mood, then, is more likely to buy the product featured at the end of it than an ad that induces negative feelings or that doesn’t ping the emotional radar at all. It’s very important to keep in mind, however, that this is not always a hard and fast rule. Be creative. Advertising strategies that play with this expectation in unexpected ways can actually induce a greater response from a consumer than one who has been tried with all the same happy-go-lucky ads they’ve seen in the past. A 2006 paper by Cory R. Sherer and Brad J. Sagarin of Northern Illinois University highlighted an experiment that examined the effects of judicious swearing on persuasion in a pro-attitudinal speech. The results suggested that obscene words like “damn” can significantly increase the persuasive power of a speech. Who’s to say that such words, which might otherwise be associated with “negativity,” couldn’t also increase the persuasive power of an advertisement?

Nostalgia: An Easy Shot at Happiness

The idea of returning to a favored product or brand in hopes of recapturing some happiness might be summed up as nostalgia—and for brands that can trade on nostalgia, it really sells. Think about it: many companies have gone through their back catalogues for a chance at improving their market share. Coca-Cola, for example, recently revisited Surge, its 1990s citrus drink, in a limited run. This run was so successful that it led to a second, both of which sold out in hours. Calvin Klein recently produced a fashion line from decades prior. Nostalgia is a special kind of positivity, one rooted not in the brand itself but in the memories of the time associated with a particular product or brand image.

Even companies that weren’t around to have such a deep history to draw on can still take advantage of nostalgia in special cases. The world of gaming has made something of a culture of retro-clones, in both board games and video games. The companies that created these traditions have in many instances moved on to higher-budget titles, leaving independent developers with a huge opportunity to capitalize on the warm feelings people have for the past with products that evoke styles of the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s gaming experiences (which, if you are a gamer, you know can be vastly different). With their seemingly simple mechanics and dated looks, modern titles that harken nostalgic feels can still turn this nostalgia into big bank.

The Emotional Contagion in Social Media

Positive messages spread faster on social media than negative ones, explained—at least, partially—by how these networks are structured. Specific social media platforms allow for different kinds of sharing. For example, Twitter doesn’t really allow for much commentary on a retweeted tweet, and while Facebook allows for some, the shared content itself still takes the center stage of a post. It is actually much harder to share a negative piece of content on these platforms while adequately expressing how that content makes you feel.

Typically, people spreading content with a “negative” message might need to accompany that content with paragraphs describing why it’s important to them. Negative content tends not to go viral because who wants to read all that text? And who wants to spend time explaining to their friends how a piece of negative content makes them feel as they share it? The barrier to sharing is very high. Positive messages, on the other hand, elicit instantaneous reactions that are shared among most people. You don’t need the same number of words to describe why a cat is cute as you would need to explain why certain hypothetical cat shelters don’t meet safety codes of care.

Happiness spreads through social media quickly for a very simple reason: positivity makes people feel good, and people tend to go on social media to feel better about themselves or the world. Not all people, of course, but most.

A 2014 study conducted by Lorenzo Coviello et al., Detecting Emotional Contagion in Massive Social Networks, tracked the impact of rainfall on social media messages, and found that the effects of weather on an individual’s social media updates in turn tended to affect the emotional content of their friends in other regions not experiencing the same weather. Every person affected directly by the rain typically affects at least one other person, and sometimes two or more. Emotions ride the waves of social media across geographical lines. It is with this in mind that one should make sure that the emotions their brand brings to the table are positive ones. They don’t have to be falsely happy—but they can certainly look at the best of a situation rather than mongering fear.

Customer Service on Twitter: More Than Just a Smile

Not all interactions on social media are going to be positive. People are going to complain with regularity. Whether it’s a banned account or a mediocre frozen dinner, social media users are going to take to their platforms and talk about the bad experiences they’ve had with your product (as well as the good). Some engagement with this negativity is definitely healthy—it’s important for a company to show that it takes a genuine interest in what people are saying, regardless of what it is. Doing business of any kind requires a relationship, which means sometimes having conversations about negative things that aren’t working for a customer.  Negative interactions are going to happen.

Do your best to keep your company’s necessarily neutral or negative interactions out of the social media eye. It’s impossible to bury them, of course, but consider a different Twitter account or Tumblr blog to deal specifically with customer service issues. By filtering these necessary functions out of the day-to-day feeds that your company uses to generate a brand image, you can avoid inflicting interactions that might be seen as “negative” to your overall band of followers.

At the same time, look for opportunities on your main brand social media account to surprise and delight your followers. Someone who casually mentions that your service isn’t performing well might find that a kind word and decisive action from a public-facing social media account can be just the thing they needed to turn that disappointment into happiness. It’s impossible to give this treatment to every upset customer, of course, but surgical strikes of positive courtesy can strengthen the joy and positivity in your brand image tenfold.

Health and Wellness: The Costs of Negative Feelings

Staying positive in the workplace is just as important as staying positive when facing customers. A company that has poor internal interactions has sabotaged itself from the moment it starts putting its brand out into the wild.

Positive and negative moods affect more than just the brain—the body often follows suit. When people are positive, they aren’t just more satisfied with their jobs: they’re also healthier and more likely to live longer. With poor health currently costing the economy billions of dollars in lost productivity, to say nothing of the impact on individual pocketbooks, staying positive can make a tangible difference. Assuming that employees under a brand don’t end up calling out of work solely for reasons of morale, their health might keep them out anyway when morale is low.

It’s important not to confuse the need for workplace positivity with the belief that work has to be all sunshine and rainbows. Some studies suggest that “negative” feelings are important in work as well. In one study published in the Journal of Career Assessment it was shown that people in leadership positions in particular need to feel both positive and negative emotions over the course of the day to stay optimally effective in all aspects of their jobs. Negative, in this case, does not mean caustic—it means balancing. Problem solving skills tend to dip if people are overly positive, and without the idea that some things need to be challenged towards realism, it can be very difficult to find the energy and impetus for growth.

Positivity and Learning: Quick on the Uptake

It’s not just health that benefits from a positive attitude, either: the ability to learn and grow also drastically increases when someone feels positive. Research from Case Western Reserve University indicates that positivity and compassion make coaching and training activities much more effective. Coaches who demonstrate a sincere interest in those being trained, and who try to encourage rather than to “fix” problems (or emphasize weaknesses) tend to do markedly better at drawing out the full potential of their trainees.

Conversely, negativity during training tends to ruin any opportunity there may have been for progress. Negative attitudes in training activate a negative emotional attractor, which causes trainees to lock themselves down and defend the ways in which they already do things. No amount of money thrown into training can overcome the way a person feels. To get anything out of training, the training has to avoid cutting itself off at the knees with negativity.

Serving Up A Smile: A Comprehensive Approach to Positivity

All of these areas that we’ve discussed feed into each other. No element of doing business positively exists in a vacuum. Happy employees will happily promote a brand. Good social media interactions will support a strong traditional marketing campaign. Once all the pieces fall into place, the process tends to perpetuate itself.

Sustaining this positivity takes work, however, and requires a significant investment of time, thought, and willingness to look at a company’s entire process to see what can be improved. Part of real, sustained positivity is honesty with oneself. Without that, it’s just empty smiles and customers will see right through it.

Some final questions to think about:

  1. Is your brand promise a positive one? What are you doing to fulfill it?
  2. When customers contact you, what is their experience like?
  3. How is your social media presence structured? Do you post positive updates on your social media presence regularly?
  4. What is morale like in your office? What do you do to make sure it stays positive without seeming forced?

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