Arianna Huffington on how brands can help consumers ‘thrive’

In Arianna Huffington’s latest book, Thrive, the HuffPost founder and serial entrant in Forbes’ ‘Most Powerful Women” list, explains how people should redefine the idea of success beyond money and power to a third metric that encompasses “wellbeing, wisdom, wonder and giving”.

Speaking to Marketing Week ahead of delivering an address at WACL’s (Women in Advertising and Communications, London) speaker dinner event in London this week, Huffington explained how marketers can help their brands adopt the worthy principles of the third metric of success to help their consumers thrive.

Arianna Huffington
Arianna Huffington spoke to Marketing Week ahead of her address at WACL’s speaker dinner on 28 May at London’s Savoy hotel.

Marketing Week: How can brands help their consumers thrive?

Arianna Huffington: Wellness has become huge in the way brands want to market themselves, but this is partly because it’s in the zeitgeist. Marketers are very good at capturing what’s in the zeitgeist. There’s a new awareness that people don’t want just to survive, but to thrive – and you can’t thrive if you’re not well.

There’s a big emphasis on this by the food and beverage industry and particularly the hotel industry – they are competing now as to which hotel offers the best bed and the most comfortable sleep. It’s another indication of how the world is shifting.

MW: Is this type of marketing not just brands trying to cover up or make up for mistakes made in the past?

AH: There is some image laundering going on, but the fact that it’s all going in that particular direction is an indication of where the wind is blowing.

MW: If lots of brands are promoting wellness in the same way, what particular elements should marketers focus on to stand out?

AH: There’s been a lot of emphasis on the right food, which is very important. But we’re now seeing a greater emphasis on stress reduction: stress is the biggest killer here in the UK and the primary reason for ill health. We are also seeing brands prioritise sleep and unplugging and recharging – but it is key these things must be consistent with their other messages.

There’s also the third metric to success and thriving, wellbeing is one of the pillars, but there are three others. The fourth pillar, giving, is pretty key and instrumental in terms of how brands market themselves. Just about every brand now has a cause they identify themselves with.

MW: Your book discusses the importance of disconnect from technology in order to be successful. Yet brands are trying to target us at every waking moment via our devices and media organisations like the Huffington Post are 24/7 operations constantly calling for our attention – is it possible or worthwhile for brands to promote the idea of disconnect too?

AH: Even if you take one minute in the morning when you wake up, before you go to your smartphone, to set your intention for the day and remember what you are grateful for, that transforms your experience of the day because you don’t start your day at the mercy of what is incoming.

The media has a responsibility to cover and put the spotlight on a lot of these efforts [to help consumers disconnect from technology]. It’s an editorial responsibility, especially at the Huffington Post.

What’s interesting is that we are finding every country [of the 11 regions Huffington Post operators in] has different manifestations of this idea. In Germany, for example, Volkswagen has given medium managers phones that automatically turn off at 6pm and turn on at 7am. And we see other kinds of examples in the UK.

MW: The book also includes the line: you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma…”. Is this really relevant for all business people? Particularly marketers who have to prove to their financial directors that budget spent will equal a return on investment, ahead of actually spending that budget?

AH: The most successful agencies and brands accept failure. If you only measure success by short term metrics you will kill the best ideas. For me, part of what I’ve done is accepting I’ve failed on the way and getting up one more time and trying again.

MW: Huffington Post today (29 May) announced a partnership with four media agencies (MG OMD, Mindshare, MEC and Carat) to launch a series of workshops to help staff introduce more mindful practices in the workplace. Why did you choose to partner with the media agency sector? Is it a sector guilty of burnout and not approaching working successfully in the right way?

AH: We are recognising that one of the best ways to improve the creativity of employees is to prioritise their wellbeing. These agency days will feature, yoga, meditation classes, healthy snacks and massages that companies can choose from.

[Media agencies are] not doing anything wrong, any more than any other company, but it’s great starting with agencies that have a lot of people that value creativity, because we are saying these practices are huge performance enhancers and improve creativity and productivity.

If we fuel our lives through burn out, sleep deprivation and exhaustion we are actually going to be killing creativity.

MW: What about the creatives, marketers and agency staff that say they work better under pressure?

AH: You may work better under pressure if you have a deadline, but it makes a difference about whether or not you’re burnt out when you start. If you wake up and you’re recharged you stay focused and you work better because if you are under pressure with a deadline you are unlikely to be spending time on Facebook and the Huffington Post.

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