We live in a world where the symbol
has become the new product. This is
why meaning needs to become the
new strategy. Staying symbolically
relevant to people and culture is the
new #1 task brands need to master
today to create future relevance.
The world has changed.
But unless we adapt, it'll be a change for the worse.
Due to the sheer scope of complexity in our lives, we are becoming paralysed.
So are brands, which are increasingly out of sync with reality.
Despite the last 50 years of technological progress, the way we manage brands hasn't advanced much. Brands are still managed in silos. This results in a range of illnesses. Brands today are innately fragmented, symbolically irrelevant, unable to mirror society and people’s needs properly, often insensitive to cultural nuances and incapable of adapting to change in a real profound sense.
We have plenty of data.
We have plenty of technology.
What we don’t have is meaning.
We need to find a way to make brands meaningful again and bring them closer to people.
Not to be driven by technology but rather enabled by it. Brands need to be driven by something else and fundamentally more human. And this is where the new vision comes in.
My vision for the future of our industry is clear and simple:
This means managing brands based on their meaning rather than anything else.
Not communication channels.
Not advertising campaigns.
Not data measurement.
Not their stock value.
Because without meaning, all of the above has absolutely no value at all.
Let's face it: most brands today are absolutely meaningless
All these key brand indicators that we like to measure so much only externalise brand value to what lies outside of the brand itself. Meaning, on the other hand, is a central element to brands –
it's what internalises brand value and keeps brands intact and vibrant from the inside out. By focusing on measuring the wrong things, we are losing the magic. No wonder we're buried in meaninglessness! We need to bring meaning back to where it belongs: at the core of brands to transform their symbolic value and raise equity. By doing that, we can also boost brand valuation.
Brands are in the business of meaning exchange
Brands aren't just vehicles of branding products, services and experiences. Their primary business is meaning exchange. The primary goal of a brand should be to help people maximise their inner potential and become more of themselves. Brands only have value when we value them. And we generally value what has personal relevance to us. If people aren't gaining value from brands, brands can't retain value. The symbolic relationship of value exchange only works when it's symbiotic. Value for me means value for you. This is why creating relevance is key to strategy.
Brand equity isn't monetary, it's symbolic
Brand equity is based on meaning – the inner symbolic value of brands, which is what people actually consume when they consume brands. Brands are the collectives of meanings that people have ascribed to brands via their own personal network of mental associations. Brand strategy should, therefore, be a systematic process of crafting and measuring these mental imprints. This is crucial. Organisations need to reframe their views and thinking of what brands are and reflect it in how they manage their own brands if they want them to remain valuable and grow value over time.
Meaning future-proofs brand value
When facing change, brand value can easily become volatile. Meaning is what can make brands future-proof. Unlike numbers, meaning has a constant value in time. Numbers can't deal with uncertainty, only meaning can. It's because numbers are only signifiers of value, pointing to a larger whole. Meaning is the value. It anchors brands in time and gives them a sense of stability. Meaning is the only true certainty for brands, especially in times of crisis, and the core aspect organisations should tend to while thinking of and crafting their future brand and business value.
Embracing meaning = embracing humanity
Meaning is the driving force of all human creation, including creativity. It is, therefore, paramount
to how brands and businesses create, capture and project their own value. People will always crave meaning – this is how our brains are wired and how the human cognition works. People are natural meaning makers. The meaning of life lies in the pursuit of meaning itself. Putting meaning at the core of brands means respecting humanity and how we relate to the world we live in. Embracing meaning as the core value of a brand and business will help leaders humanise their own brands and businesses and restore the fundamental principles of humanity in commerce.
Benefits of meaning-driven brands
Brands that are managed based on their innate symbolic meaning are more coherent and consistent, less fragmented, make more sense, are easier to manage, are more cost-efficient, perform better, retain their own value and create real lasting value in people's lives.
Meaning is the true future of commerce
Meaning is the true future of strategy, brands and business. This is because all the tangible things
we see around us today were first an abstract idea in somebody else's head. The abstract world precedes our physical reality. The symbolic precedes the matter. It is being manifested into our physical reality through the strength of our imagination, power of ideas and the meaning we assign to things we want to create. All tangible things are intangible in their essence – be it innovation, a brand, a new product, a service or an app. Otherwise, there would be no mechanism to value them. People value meaning, not things. So, if we want to change things, we first need to first change how we think of them and assign a different meaning. Then we can change the reality.
And this is why the future of brands should be based on meaning, instead of data and technology.
–– Written by Dr. Martina Olbert in 2016 as the founding vision of Meaning.Global