Why Meaning Matters for Business and Business Matters for Meaning

  • Published on

  • View

  • Download

Embed Size (px)


  • 1


    Meaning matters for business; business matters for meaning.

    Would people miss your brand if it disappeared tomorrow?

    Discussion Paper | January 2016

    Adam Johnson & Clare GoodridgePublished by The Lover & The Engineer

  • 2

    Executive summaryBusiness matters for meaning; meaning matters for business.

    Humans are defined by their search for meaning. Its how we make sense of the thousands and thousands of messages that we receive every day. We decide which of the messages matter, that is, which messages are meaningful.

    We resolve which messages are meaningful by having an understanding of our identity, and how everything we absorb relates to that identity. Meaning and self are connected. A strong sense of self permits meaning to be derived from the world, and meaning permits a strong self of self.

    Traditional anchors for meaning were relatively static, being connected to religion, where you lived, what you did for a wage, your family upbringing. These anchors are losing their power, and the sense of self starts to form in a much more fluid world. In this world, brands can help people derive meaning and thus a sense of self.

    Brands can give people a convenient and authentic shorthand for self-expression that is also deeply connected to personal goals and motivations. Brands can be more than placeholders for identity; they can also guide action. Cues from a brand can be taken and used to guide how to interpret a life consistent with that brands meaning and identity.

    Meaningful brands help people create anchors. They can contribute to the wellbeing of individuals and communities. Meaningful brands transcend rational judgement and are desired because they create an emotional resonance.

    Meaningful brands are effectively marketed, as the sense of identity that they contain for their audience makes it easy for that audience to authentically market the brand. They are also brands that people will pay a premium for, as the meaning represented by

    the brand makes price far less important in decision making. And meaningful brands are valuable, with research concluding that they outperform the stock market by 133%.

    Meaning is important to prevent a brand from becoming a commodity. Where brands are seen as selling commodities, customers purchasing decisions are transactional and competition becomes a death spiral. Brands avoid this death spiral by becoming deeply meaningful to their audience.

    It is not straightforward to become meaningful. Meaning grows over time, and it is nurtured in human connection. For a brand to connect with humans, it must be deliberate and cultivate empathy and vulnerability. People need to know what a brand is, what it stands for.

    There needs to be a self-apparent way in which a brand contributes to how a person forms meaning in the world, and this is uncovered by a brand thinking deeply about itself. Understanding why it exists, its values, its personality. Knowing this, a brand has what it needs to communicate a consistent and compelling sense of identity.

    A clear identity means that a brand can communicate meaning for people. It can feel solid and filled with meaning, enabling people to empathise and connect with the brand. Such a brand can communicate in ways that encourage empathy, such as through stories.

    Brand communications must always be consistent with the brand identity. Brands become meaningful when they are consistent in their identity and empathise with their audience. Brands become meaningful when they are humanised and given the opportunity to connect through vulnerability, empathy and emotion.

  • 3


    Introduction04Humans search for meaning

    Humans are characterised by their search for meaning.

    04Meaning and self

    We need to become clear as people on what is meaningful.


    In the past, meaning and self were relatively static.

    05Brands as shorthand

    The sense of self forms from a much more fluid world.

    05How brands can be shorthand for identity

    05How brands can guide action

    Brands can be more than mere placeholders to express identity.


    Meaningful Brands06 Meaning and self expression

    The shorthand offered by meaningful brands ultimately lets people express themselves more completely.

    06Meaning matters for business because it makes your marketing more effective

    A meaningful brand doesnt need to convince people.

    06A meaningful brand is a brand people will pay a premium for

    People want the meaning that you create for them.

    07A meaningful brand is a valuable brand

    Its reservoir of meaning has value, value that can be represented in money.

    07Without meaning, brands enter the death spiral of transaction

    If a brand is not meaningful, then it is only selling products or services.

    07Lifting above transaction

    The alternative to waging an escalating war with your competitors is to become deeply meaningful to your audience.

    07The Infinite Game of meaning

    Create a conversation around meaning.


    Humanising Brands08A brand must be vulnerable to be meaningful

    Meaning is important for brands, vitally important, but a brand cannot simply command that it be so.

    08A brand must know itself

    For a brand to connect with humans, people need to know what a brand is.

    08Brands need to communicate in a way that empathises with people

    A brand needs to have a clear, stable identity.

    09Brand identity must remain central

    Regardless of the way in which brands communicate with empathy, there needs to be a continued referral back to a brands identity.


    Discussion Topics10



  • 4

    Chapter 1 | Introduction

    IntroductionHumans are defined by their search for meaning.


    Humans search for meaningHumans are characterised by their search for meaning. Its something that people talk about all the time, from Simon Sinek and Start With Why 1 to Viktor E. Frankls book Mans Search for Meaning 2. Humans even invented astrology to derive meaning from something as intrinsically meaningless as the movement of planets.

    We continually try to make sense of the day to day events that buffet us. And as the pitch and frequency of messages increases, the need to derive meaning becomes more urgent. We receive thousands upon thousands of messages every day. Messages that coax and cajole us one way and then the other. Dreams and visions and alternate realities that all feel they could be a part of our potential self.

    These messages wash over us, a vast sea that we need to somehow resolve with our sense of self 3. Ultimately, from all of the messages around us we need to understand Does this matter? This question goes straight to the heart of meaningfulness, because a message matters if it is meaningful.

    Meaning and selfTo resolve messages with our sense of self in a way that we benefit from, we need to become clear as people on what is meaningful. To have a very intimate understanding of who we are, our identity, and how everything we absorb relates to that identity. The messages that are relevant to our identity are meaningful. The rest is meaningless noise that we unconsciously deal, but do not consciously engage in. Its for precisely this reason that we can survive in a message rich environment; we filter out the meaningless messages and wrap ourselves closer around the meaningful ones.

    Meaning is vital for humans to reinforce their sense of self. Without a sense of meaning, our self is rapidly dissolved. Indeed, a life without meaning doesnt feel imaginable. This isnt to say that a life needs to have a grand purpose to be lived well, but rather that we create meaningfulness around whatever life we live.

    Meaning and self are mutually supporting. A strong sense of self permits meaning to be derived from the world. It readily filters out irrelevant messages and reinforces meaningful ones, it is less buffeted. Equally, meaning permits a strong sense of self. When we have a compelling, powerful sense of meaning, then our sense of self is powerfully buttressed.

    Anchors In the past, meaning and self were relatively static. They were connected to things such as your religion, where you lived, what you did for a wage, your family upbringing. These are all strong anchors, but also anchors that are rapidly losing their power.

    For many, a secular age dissolves religion as an anchor. The fast pace of change in working life means that people are more mobile and can expect to change profession several times in a persons career; this dissolves secular anchors. And the family, the building block of society, is becoming less well defined as a unit, leading to the traditional family being dissolved as an anchor for meaning.

    The extent of these changes have progressed to the point where it feels anachronistic to base ones self in religion, or hometown, or job or even the family. A nostalgic impulse, perhaps, when under stress, but actually very restrictive in the aspirational world.

    1. Simon Sinek, Start With Why How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action Published 8th January 2010

    It doesnt matter what you do, it matters Why you do it. With a little discipline, anyone can learn to inspire. Start With Why offers an unconventional perspective that explains the reasons some leaders and organizations are more innovative, more profitable, command greater loyalties from customers and employees alike and, most importantly, are able to repeat their success over and over. www.startwithwhy.com

    2. Viktor E Frankl, Mans Search For Meaning. First published 1946

    Psychiatrist Viktor Frankls memoir has riveted generations of readers with its descriptions of life in Nazi death camps and its lessons for spiritual survival. Between 1942 and 1945 Frankl labored in four different camps, including Auschwitz, while his parents, brother, and pregnant wife perished. Based on his own experience and the experiences of others he treated later in his practice, Frankl argues that we cannot avoid suffering but we can choose how to cope with it, find meaning in it, and move forward with renewed purpose. Frankls theory-known as logotherapy, from the Greek word logos (meaning)-holds that our primary drive in life is not pleasure, as Freud maintained, but the discovery and pursuit of what we personally find meaningful.

    3. Creating Brand Meaning: How to Use Brand Vision Archetypes, Dr Peter Steidl, 2nd Edition, 2012

    We are not aware of the vast majority of signals our brain processes. Neuroscience tells us our brain processes something like 11 million bits per second and only 40 of these are processed consciously while 10,999,960 are processed by our unconscious.

  • 5

    Brands as shorthandIn our world of dissolving anchors, the sense of self forms from a much more fluid world. It is a world in which brands can help people derive meaning, and in turn their sense of self. A world where people start to believe in business and the meaning business can create. Brands can help people express who they are, they can give people a convenient and authentic shorthand for self-expression. Brands can become signifiers in their own right.

    How brands can be shorthand for identityFor example, somebody who wants to be associated with an element of maverick 4 is comfortable in adopting the brands that express this kind of personality or archetype, brands like Harley Davidson 5.

    On the surface, choosing to associate with this maverick brand seems like a convenient shorthand for self expression, but the choice is actually deeply connected to personal goals and motivations saying much more about the persons life purpose, values and aspirations than you might expect.

    Similarly, somebody who identifies with the characteristics of the artist 6 might be excited by a brand like Moleskine 7. And Harley Davidson and Moleskine can be drawn on to create a layered, blended identity that, done well, is regarded as strongly individual.

    Instead of drawing upon traditional fixed anchors for identity, people can weave together their own identity using brands and the meaning they signify as shorthand, meaningful cues.

    How brands can guide actionBrands can be more than mere placeholders to express identity. They can also guide and inform how people act and think, again as a form of shorthand.

    For instance, rather than needing to think too hard about the aesthetic of an artist, cues can be taken from Moleskine and incorporated into a persons life. The Moleskine style, the Moleskine belief in quality and collaboration.

    This shorthand becomes internalised and reinforces a sense of identity, it gives people quick suggestions for how to act consistent with that identity.

    Chapter 1 | Introduction

    4. The Maverick - Those may be your rules but they arent mine. I will not blindly obey; I will not keep my silence. I am not your sheep, your soldier or your slave. Do not wrong me, do not underestimate me and do not insult me. I never apologise for what is right. I celebrate non-conformity. I dare you to be different

    5. Harley DavidsonPurpose: We fulfil dreams of personal freedom.Mission: Customers for life... Harley Davidson values the deep emotional connection that is created with our customers through our products, services and experiences. We are fuelled by the brand loyalty and trust that our customers place in us to deliver premium quality and the promise of fulfilling lifetime ownership experience. We exemplify this commitment by embracing a culture of personal responsibility and stewardship or quality in everything we do. http://www.harley-davidson.com/content/h-d/en_AU/company.html

    6. The Artist - The true purpose of creating art is to leave something behind greater than yourself. You remember Van Gogh not for who he was but for the beauty he gave the world. Art elevates us and makes us human; art is the mark of humanity on the world. You may not be here tomorrow but your art will last a thousand lifetimes.

    7. MoleskineThe Moleskine notebook is, in fact, the heir and successor to the legendary notebook used by artists and thinkers over the past two centuries: among them Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, and Bruce Chatwin.http://www.moleskine.com/en/moleskine-world


  • 6

    Chapter 2 | Meaningful Brands

    Meaningful BrandsMeaning matters for business.


    Meaning and self expressionMeaningful brands let people create solid anchors in an otherwise chaotic world of swirling messaging and exhortations. They contribute to wellbeing. Of individuals and of communities.

    A meaningful brand can help people with self-esteem, self-expression and social status. The shorthand offered by meaningful brands ultimately lets people express themselves more completely. It gives people a far more nuanced way of self-expression and identity than any of the past anchors we as humans have relied on.

    Once a brand becomes and remains meaningful in this way, it is very difficult to dislodge in the psyche. The great brands are meaningful brands, not necessarily because of their products or services,...