24 February 2006

15 Things that Create Meaning

Steve Diller, Nathan Shedroff, and Darrel Rhea have written a book - "Making Meaning: How Successful Businesses Deliver Meaningful Customer Experiences" - that really targets a deep issue in our lives - meaningful customer experience. How we experience our engagements with brands, and the business people delivering those brands, shape much of our daily lives. It can turn our day sour, or make our day smooth. We wish we could have more meaningful experiences when we come in contact with our suppliers and our providers of things we need or use. How often do you have a meaningful customer experience?

The authors have identified 15 Meanings, 15 things that create meaning for us in our roles as consumers. They're listed here in alphabetical order and quoted directly.

Achieving goals and making something of oneself; a sense of satisfaction that can result from productivity, focus, talent, or status. American Express has long benefited from transmitting a hint of this meaning to its card holders by establishing itself as a credit card intended for those who are successful. Nike relies on the essence of this meaning for many in its “Just Do It” campaign.

The appreciation of qualities that give pleasure to the senses or spirit. Of course beauty is in the eye of the beholder and thus highly subjective, but our desire for it is ubiquitous. We aspire to beauty in all that surrounds us, from architecture and fine furnishing to clothing and cars. Enormous industries thrive on the promise of beauty stemming from shinier hair, whiter teeth, and clearer skin. Beauty can also be more than mere appearance. For some, it is a sense that something is created “correctly” or efficiently with an elegance of purpose and use. Companies such as Bang & Olufsen audio equipment and Jaguar automobiles distinguish themselves through the beauty of their design.

A sense of unity with others around us and a general connection with other human beings. Religious communities, unions, fraternities, clubs, and sewing circles are all expressions of a desire for belonging. The promise and delivery of community underlies the offerings of several successful organizations including NASCAR with its centralizing focus on car racing and leagues of loyal fans that follow the race circuit, Harley-Davidson motorcycles and their Harley Owners Group (HOG), and Jimmy Buffet with his dedicated Parrotheads. These businesses attract and support user communities who embody specific values tied to their products and services.

The sense of having produced something new and original, and in so doing, to have made a lasting contribution. Besides driving our species to propagate, we enjoy this experience through our hobbies, the way we decorate our home, in telling our stories, and in anything else that reflects our personal choices. Creation is what makes “customizable” seem like a desirable attribute, rather than more work for the buyer, for example, making the salad bar a pleasure rather than a chore.

The willing application of oneself to a responsibil-
ity. The military in any country counts on the power of this mean-
ing, as do most employers. Duty can also relate to responsibilities
to oneself or family, such as reading the daily paper to stay abreast
of the news. Commercially, anything regarded as “good for you,”
including vitamins, medications, Cross-Your-Heart bras, and cush-
ioned insoles relays some sense of duty and the satisfaction it

Clear understanding through logic or inspiration. This experience is not limited to those who meditate and fast, it is a core expectation of offerings from Fox News, which promises “fair and balanced” reporting, the Wall Street Journal, which many consider the ultimate authority for business news, and the Sierra Club, which provides perspective on environmental threats and conservation.

The sense of living without unwanted constraints. This experience often plays tug-of-war with the desire for security; more of one tends to decrease the other. Nevertheless, freedom is enticing, whether it’s freedom from dictators, or in the case of Google, the freedom to quickly search the Web learning and interacting with millions of people and resources.

The balanced and pleasing relationship of parts to a whole, whether in nature, society, or an individual. When we seek a work/life balance, we are in pursuit of harmony. Likewise, when we shop at Target for a toaster that matches our mixer, we are in pursuit of harmony. Much of the aesthetic appeal of design depends on our personal desire for the visual experience of harmony.

The assurance of equitable and unbiased treatment. This is the sense of fairness and equality that underlies our concept of “everyman” or Average Joe. It helps explain the immense popularity of the Taurus and the Camry, the ranch house, Levi jeans, and white cotton T-shirts—all products with a simple, impartial appeal to a very broad audience.

A sense of unity with everything around us. It is what some seek from the practice of spirituality and what others expect from a good tequila. Although we don’t normally think of them as a company, the Grateful Dead sustained its revenues for decades building an experience that connected with its fans’ desire for oneness. Similarly, organizations that connects their members into nature or a broader sense of the world, like the Monterey Bay Aquarium or the United Nations, are capable of evoking a meaning of oneness.

Atonement or deliverance from past failure or decline. Though this might seem to stem from negative experiences, the impact of the redemptive experience is highly positive. Like community and enlightenment, redemption has a basis in religion, but it also attracts customers to Weight Watchers, Bliss spas, and the grocery store candy aisle. Any sensation that delivers us from a less desirable condition to a more pleasing another one can be redemptive.

The freedom from worry about loss. This experience has been a cornerstone of civilization but in the U.S. in particular, acquired increased meaning and relevance after 9/11. On the commercial side, the desire for this experience created the insurance business, and it continues to sell a wide range of products from automatic rifles to Depends undergarments to credit cards that offer protection from identity theft.

A commitment to honesty and integrity. This experience plays an important role in most personal relationships, but it also is a key component of companies like Whole Foods, Volkswagen, and Newman’s Own, all of which portray themselves as simple, upright, and candid.

The recognition of oneself as a valued individual worthy of respect. Every externally branded piece of clothing counts on the attraction of this meaningful experience whether it’s Ralph Lauren Polo or Old Navy, as does Mercedes Benz, the Four Seasons hotel chain, and any other brand with status identification as a core value.

Awe in the presence of a creation beyond one’s understanding. While this might sound mystical and unattainable, consider the wonder that Las Vegas hotels create simply through plaster and lights. Disney has been a master of this experience for decades, and technology companies routinely evoke awe as they enable their users to do what seemed impossible the year before."

I wish that every business would use this book as a guideline for its brand behavior, training people and creating channels of communication that actually reach past the call centers and land in the heads of people who will act. We need better brand behavior as we automate our businesses and disconnect the human communication that shares the consumer story.

Invest in this book - "Making Meaning : How Successful Businesses Deliver Meaningful Customer Experiences". It's a gem.

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