did you write this book?
had a front row seat to observe the world’s best
companies’ attempts to innovate and we have had
the privilege of helping define industry’s best
practices. We’ve been able to see those practices
evolve. We now see the next evolution and want to share
it because we know it works.
In essence, we’ve learned that providing a meaningful
experience to customers is the best way for companies
to gain an enduring competitive advantage.
is the key take-away of the book?
Innovation is the best way to grow and the
appropriate goal of innovation is evoking a meaningful
experience. Making Meaning givescompanies a road map
to organize themselves in a new way in order to innovate.
To put it even more simply, the highest level of value
for customers is meaning. For innovation to succeed,
you need to focus on what customers value most.
Making Meaning is the fulfillment of the promise
of experience marketing.
What is meaning?
Meaning is what we all use to make sense of our world.
It is what gives us a sense that our lives have value.
Meaning is our understanding of how the world works.
It transcends, and at the same time captures, those
things such as emotion, status, lifestyle and values.
naming 15 different “meaningful experiences,”
couldn’t just about any contemporary marketing campaign
qualify as “meaningful?” And haven’t
most of these concepts been around in some form or another
for decades? What’s new about this?
Through our work at Cheskin over the last 60 years,
we’ve looked at thousands of product and brand
innovations and expressions. Many are good but few are
meaningful. They have been designed to provide different
experiences, but very few touch people in a way that
changes their lives. What’s new is that we’ve
focused on those experiences that give people a sense
that their lives have value.
We’ve often observed that companies touch
on meaning accidentally. I’d add that what’s
new is our belief that providing a meaningful experience
can be a deliberate part of the innovation process.
can all 15 of the meaning experiences be equally important?
Wouldn’t there be some sort of hierarchy?
We don’t believe that there is a natural hierarchy.
Meaning is highly individual – it’s what
is important to you as a customer. The question is how
the customer individually relates to a product experience
that creates a high level of value to them personally.
We’ve chosen to list meanings we believe
are universally appealing. There is no hierarchy and
the list is by no means exclusive.
How do you distinguish “meaning” from “values”?
Values are applied methods for acting on what we care
about. But the common, underlying motivation is a meaning.
Meaning is expressed in different values and behaviors
depending on the individual and culture.
example, the right to bear arms is a value guaranteed
in the Bill of Right in the U.S. Constitution. But,
the underlying meaning is peoples’ desire for
security. Security is a meaning. In Japan it’s
against the law own a gun, even for law enforcement.
So, in Japan, the same meaning, “security,”
is be expressed through very different values.
is a meaning. Our country encourages expressions of
duty through acts of patriotism, but expressions vary.
In school children say the pledge of allegiance to the
flag while some people fly the flag only once a year
on the 4th of July and still others burn the flag in
protest. The expressions vary dramatically, but the
motivation – duty to one’s country –
is the consistent underlying meaning.
To add on to what Steve is saying, values are
associated with preferences and can be shaped by those
around us, in other words “how do I define myself
within this community?” How one chooses to express
their values serves a greater personal meaning.
What gets in the way of meaning? (for business; for consumers)
A lot of things get in the way of meaning. Technology
– people build things because they can. Emotions
– we become enamored by the feelings we have and
that can get in the way. Price – companies make
decisions based on price and miss the opportunity to
increase value. Function and delivery. Building a poor
customer experience. All these get in the way of creating
It’s the norm in business to define improving
functionality, efficiency or profit margin as the path
to creating value. But, if you’re focused on your
own definition of meaning rather than the customer’s
you miss the opportunity to do more. It’s the
customer’s definition of meaning that counts.
Once defined, the customer does the lion’s share
of the work in making a meaningful experience.
What type of research have you done to show that
meaning is important, is something companies should tap
into, and is going to be a trend?
We’ve talked with thousands of people every year
about the widest variety of products and services. In
ALL cases it became clear that there’s an opportunity
to focus on something of ultimate importance to people
that marketers haven’t been aware of. Meaning
itself isn’t a trend. We hope that making meaning
will be a trend when companies realize they can use
it to create lasting competitive advantage.
Meaning must be unearthed through a carefully
designed process rooted in customer understanding. We
think the trend is that increasingly, customers are
demanding that business provide meaning, not simply
through great jobs but by creating meaningful experiences
in the marketplace.
As a marketer, why should
I just assume that meaning is important? How is this different
from traditional marketing? How is it different from experience
Experience marketing doesn’t have the
basis to distinguish between trivial experiences and
more powerful ones. Trivial doesn’t deliver competitive
Meaningful experience is the fulfillment of the promise
of experience marketing. In the book we explain that
experience marketing has 5 dimensions – meaning
is by far the most important.
there plenty of wildly successful companies that do not
do a good job at creating meaning? What does this tell
It tells us that the competitive environment in that
category is not keen. In some cases, it may be sufficient
to just have the lowest price, or the product may have
a functional advantage that no one else has. But if
you’re selling in brown sugar water, you better
consider creating meaningful experience. Meaning isn’t
the only way to be successful but it is the most enduring.
In what market or industry
is “meaning” most likely to be achieved? What
industries are more likely to be successful at this? Why?
Meaning can be achieved in any industry. Where
it is most relevant is in categories that are most competitive.
The most effective way to compete is to evoke meaning.
Method cleaning products successfully competes against
well-established, global companies like Procter &
Gamble, Unilever and Clorox because they are competing
at the level of meaning. Method does what everyone else
in the category does, but it provides these attributes
within a context of meaning that connects with its customers’
desire for an experience of oneness and harmony. It
has transformed cleaning from drudgery to a joy and
overcome the perception that environmentally sound household
cleaners are too weak to be effective.
In addition, success is more likely if a category is
more reflective than habitual. An example is the Dove
Campaign for Real Beauty. It evokes the meaning of beauty
by asking customers to reflect on the idea of real beauty
before they buy soap and it allows them to expand their
product line into a related category, skin care.
do we know that meaning is what makes the companies successful?
i.e., Maybe Starbucks is just popular because people prefer
the coffee, or because they have more options, not because
of some greater sense of “meaning” that they
get from it.
We’re not saying that you have to connect at the
meaning level to be successful – we’re saying
it’s a differentiator. We know that Starbuck’s
operates at a meaningful level through the way the customers
describe their experiences, because they go beyond emotional
description and status. Research shows that meaning
is what people associate with the brand. Starbucks evokes
the meaning of community.
to say that efforts by companies like Kraft to create
a “meaningful image” aren’t just PR
tactics to overcome their negative reputations (i.e.,
being owned by Phillip Morris)?
Making meaning is not tactical it’s
strategic. It’s not added at an end point but
rather is the goal of a strategic development process.
do we know there’s a demand for meaning among consumers
if there’s no good way to measure this demand?
There are, in fact, many very effective ways to measure
this demand, and we “detect” it quite strongly
whenever we search for it. Regardless of the methodology,
all it takes is asking well-crafted questions about
what meanings matter to people and you get very easily-analyzed
results. In the book we talk about indirect questioning
as one technique to get at meaning. Combined with the
right approaches to market sizing and framing the opportunity,
there are ways to quantify demand.