An indoor bike lane at a Google office in the Netherlands. Image via Google.
Here in the Netherlands I see a lot of companies struggling with the question of how to maintain a stable and successful brand in a time of crisis. The old-school way of thinking is to look for every opportunity to cut costs, and at the same time direct attention to maintaining or growing existing business.
Most of the time this results in working harder, instead of working smarter, and feelings of fear and insecurity leading to bad decision-making.
For instance, many brands are cutting costs on fun team-building activities because they’re seen as cost centres. But adding playfulness to the corporate culture is vital for doing business successfully, especially in these difficult times.
Look at companies who are doing very well, such as Coca-Cola, Zappos, Google, Virgin and Southwest Airlines. What they have in common is a strong focus on a positive company culture that makes room for freedom, creativity and the well-being of their employees. And this clearly rubs off on the outside world in the form of healthy profits and loyal customers.
Playfulness inside and out
You have probably seen the videos of the Coca-Cola Happiness Factory or the Hug Me vending machine, because playfulness has a way of going viral. But adding playfulness to your marketing strategy without incorporating the value of playfulness into your culture won’t get you very far.
Zappos staff boasting their threads on “Ugly Holiday Sweater Day” at Zappos headquarters.
As Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, writes in his book, Delivering Happiness, “You have to build a culture first, then your brand and profits will follow.” Indeed, one of Zappo’s 10 core values is “to create fun and a little weirdness.” They even have a CHO (Chief Happiness Officer).
Having fun is also something Southwest Airlines is famous for. You can check out the airline’s rapping flight attendants and passenger toilet paper races on YouTube. When hiring, Southwest actively seeks out applicants with a sense of humour.
“Caring for customers starts with caring for your own people,” explains President Emerita of Southwest Colleen Barrett in her book, Lead with LUV (co-written with Ken Blanchard). “What’s important is the fact that you’re honouring people and acknowledging that what they do makes a positive difference. In the process, you are making heroes out of them.”
Play and creativity
Children have a natural ability to play and have fun. It’s a very important tool for learning and connecting to those around us. But somewhere along the way to adulthood, we’re taught to be serious.
Southwest employees getting playful at a corporate event. Image via Southwest’s Facebook page.
Playfulness, fun and laughter are necessary antidotes to our daily stresses. Scientific research confirms that laughter relaxes the body, lowers our stress hormones, and increases the level of happy hormones like endorphins.
When we add fun and playfulness to our daily work, it stimulates our right brain, which is what enables us to be creative and see the big picture.
Creativity is what enables us to come up with innovative products, services and solutions that serve our customers and, ultimately, generate revenue.
It’s time for brands to stop seeing play as a time suck and start seeing it as a necessary ingredient for success – not only in their marketing campaigns, but in building a creative and constructive culture from the inside out.
Want to play?