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Lessons Learned From A Golden Retriever

I recently had the good fortune of dog sitting my daughter’s golden retriever, Brady. Yes, he is named after Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady. It was fascinating to see him grow from a cute 6-month-old puppy to a year-old handsome dog.

We spent a lot of time together and learned to respect each other’s schedules. He’d sit quietly by my side when I was on a conference call, and in between meetings, we’d go for short walks to stretch our legs.

I recently realized that some of what I learned from Brady could be used to help my clients enhance their businesses, from product launches to brand positioning.

Anticipate what’s to come.

Every time Brady gets into the car, his excitement is tangible — irrespective of where we are going. He knows that he’ll be doing something fun, whether it’s going to his favorite farm for a run, having lunch or meeting new people.

In business, we want our customers to be just as excited about interacting with our company — to anticipate what’s next and how the product will make life easier, healthier or more entertaining. This holds true for brands that offer physical products as well as digital content. Think Apple, Amazon, Netflix or Peloton.

When designing a product, consider how the technology will benefit humanity and society. While developing brand narratives or campaigns, aim to create similar excitement and anticipation to “wow” your customers and influencers. You should want your customers to be looking forward to what’s to come.

Be authentic.

Brady is a big puppy and loves people, like all goldens. But his excitement and the way he greets people is infectious. He even makes non-dog lovers fall in love with him. Brady is genuinely joyful, and that rubs off on everyone who meets him.

Customers appreciate authenticity. They often like to see the human side of a company — how a founder got started and the employees’ passions outside of work. You should want customers to fall in love with your brand and rave about your customer service. You can achieve that by sharing the inside story of what motivates your brand’s founders or energizes its customer service activity. Find those genuine stories of people in your company, and share them with the world.

Give back to the community.

Whether at the airport or going for a walk, people of all ages will stop to pet Brady. It was amazing to see stressed passengers at airports feel better after petting him, and the mother of a crying toddler who left with a smile after her child was nuzzled by the puppy. Brady would just sit there and ask for nothing in return.

Companies large and small should consider giving back to their communities. In fact, I believe that giving should be considered a business imperative. It can humanize your brand while also giving your employees opportunities to support causes that are meaningful to them.

It warmed my heart to read that Patagonia gave its $10 million tax cut back to help the planet. Kudos to CEO Rose Marcario for her decision. It made me want to buy more from Patagonia. Not every company can do that. But small measures, such as allowing your employees to volunteer at a food bank or conducting a donation drive for your neighborhood shelter, are a great start.

Companies should give back to the community simply because it’s the right thing to do. But it also has a business benefit: It improves employee morale, especially among millennials. A survey of 2,000 individuals by Morning Consult for Fortune reported that “nearly two-thirds of people between the ages of 18 and 34 were at least somewhat more likely to want to work for a company that gave to charity than one that did not. That compares with 59% of those between 35 and 44 years old, and 47% of people between 45 and 64 years old.”

Tap into the happiness factor.

Brady isn’t going to win any agility contests, and he may not be the fastest or strongest retriever around. But he’s a winner when it comes to making people feel happy. I believe that dogs and other pets become part of our families in part because of the sense of well-being they promote in us humans. Dogs are fun companions. We keep them because they make us happy.

Many brands thrive by conveying joy in their product designs, packaging or customer experience. It’s a natural approach for manufacturers of snacks, soda and various “comfort foods.” Retailers like Target often thrive by creating advertising that conveys a sense of fun. Insurers like Progressive have worked hard to make their ads lighthearted and funny. Just like a dog’s wagging tail or smile (yes, I believe dogs smile) brings us joy, the look and feel of a brand can delight us.

More brands should tap into this happiness factor. Even if your brand’s product isn’t candy bars or snacks, you can present a spirit of fun or innovation when telling the story of your company. That insider view of a company and what keeps its employees energized allows others to share in the sense of joy.

A 2016 survey of 2,000 pet owners by the Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) and Cohen Research Group found that 74% attribute mental health improvements to pet ownership. This is likely nothing new for owners of golden retrievers or those who get to be around pets like Brady. We know that great pets inspire a sense of delight. More brands should seek to do the same.

This article first ran in Forbes.Com.