Meaning Model and Strategy

Like with the Experience Model, it’s possible to orient an organization’s activities and offerings (products, services, and other experiences) specifically to trigger meaning for its customers, employees, and other stakeholders. In fact, I believe that doing so is the easiest way to build long-term value through enhanced, more stable, and therefore, more valuable relationships with any stakeholders.

The most important element is to have a model for how Meaning works, and we have just that (and have since at least 2005). This model helps us understand and differentiate a set of core meanings that describe how people interact with others and the world in the deepest, most meaningful ways possible. These 15 core meanings describe the breadth of value we see, create, and respond to at the deepest type of value (of the 5 kinds of value) and form a kind of “color palette” with which we can use to “paint” or create more meaningful experiences. These core meanings include:

  • Accomplishment
  • Beauty
  • Creation
  • Community
  • Duty
  • Enlightenment
  • Freedom
  • Harmony
  • Justice
  • Oneness
  • Redemption
  • Security
  • Truth
  • Validation
  • Wonder

These are described in much more detail in two books: Making Meaning and the more recent Blind Spot.

Once we understand this mechanism and how people interact with them, we have the basis for using these understandings strategically. In essence, if you use techniques to understand your customers’ top 3-5 core meanings, you have the tools to do the same to understand these for your organization (and it’s brand), your employees and teams, as well as those your competitors prioritize. Your strategy is based on the overlap between these (or lack thereof)—see the diagram at the top of this page. This helps you determine how suitable your strategy may be and whether you are set-up for its success (or even have permission form customers to “go there.” If there is a lot of overlap (2-3 core meanings), you’re in great shape to deliver products, services, etc. that appeal to customers on a meaningful level. If you have little overlap (0-1), the road ahead is going to be difficult and expensive. If the top core meanings you plan to deliver are different from your competitors, differentiation will be fairly easy. If not, there are still ways to be successful but only if you work to different the triggers you use (and know which ones will work).

Where possible, meaning strategy needs to be done separately for different customer or market segments. How you engage with one set off customers (and what they respond to) may be different than with others. In fact, a more successful strategy, overall, would be to base your customer segments on their core meaning priorities. This positions an organization and its offerings in a way that aligns with the deepest, most stable, and most “valuable” value in the customer relationship.

None of this is particularly complex but it takes careful work and focus to get right. And, like with experience strategy, its success isn’t often an accident.

Videos about this:
Redefining Design Value—to Business and Society

Books about this:
Blind Spot by Diller, Shedroff, and Sauber
Making Meaning by Diller, Shedroff, and Rhea
The Meaning of Things by Csikszentmihalyi

Other Resources:
Slides: Creative Leadership: The Value Design Brings to Business