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    « (I'm Not So) BRITE Conference Report | Main | Brands: Caught In A Meaning Arms Race »

    March 07, 2011

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    Mike Wagner

    Meaningful question Tom!

    I think Simon Sinek's TEDx presentation touches on a possible answer.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u4ZoJKF_VuA

    Sinek suggests that it's a kind of meeting of the "why" of existence; Apple's being to challenge the status quo and mine being much the same.

    This helps me understand how Apple can move off of computers to other devices and still succeed whereas others haven't.

    Take a look at Sinek's presentation, see what you think.

    Thanks for stirring things up...keep creating, Mike

    Tom Guarriello

    Thanks for the link to Sinek's talk, Mike.

    The connection between why Apple exists and why I exist are part of the exploration I'm engaged in, both here and elsewhere. Think of this line of reflection as a journey to understand the "meaning-making" aspect of things.

    So, if, as you say, Apple's "why of existence," to challenge the status quo, resonates with a similar personal quest for you, then each Apple-branded object you acquire becomes a symbolic expression of that meaning.

    Yup. We've seen that pattern grow throughout the 20th century, at least.

    Now, creating things that carry that much meaning is a heavy burden for an object-producer. After all, continually challenging the status quo is not easy; the sucker keeps jumping around so much!

    It's much simpler, at least metaphysically, to take up the challenge of carrying the "always cheaper" meaning.

    This is where Wal-Mart started.

    That much meaning was more than enough to make them the biggest retailer in the planet's history.

    But, over time, as the "status quo" changed (time and meaning are very intimately interrelated) even Wal-Mart got caught up in what I'm currently thinking about as a kind of "meaning arms race." Wal-Mart, for instance, was forced to start lugging around meanings like "green" and "fair to women"; meanings that they may have embraced eagerly, but which now have added a significant level of complexity to their business.

    The meaning arms race is forcing brands to embrace a whole host of modern meanings as the price of entry into their market (what does "become a fan at Facebook.com/tostitos" mean if not, "we're a smart brand who's hip enough to know how to communicate with you chip eaters?"), some of which probably have nothing to do with their core purpose nor with things they're likely to be any damned good at.

    Think about "transparency" and "authenticity" as meanings that modern customers demand from their branded-object-makers.

    So, the meaning arms race is a dangerous one for brands to engage in. I wonder if it's not better for some brands to refrain from falling into the escalating modern-meaning-making trap than it is to raise the demands they make of themselves, and their customers' expectations, only to find in the end that they don't really mean those things to their customers, anyway.

    I think that's what Apple's doing. They say: "No Twitter. No Facebook. No blogs. We're not about 'conversations.' We just make products and services that make you feel _________________."

    In the end, meaning may be about thinking but it's much more about feeling.

    Mike Wagner

    Love this rumination...and not just because I live in an agricultural state! (let the reader understand)

    Have marketplace brands taken up the "meaning arms race" in part because traditional meaning makers like the church have failed to "make meaning"? That's just one question that hit as I read your comment.

    Will have to reread later. Busy just now looking for an opportunity to help another leadership team.

    Keep creating...and stirring, Mike

    Tom Guarriello

    Mike, I think the meaning arms race has definitely escalated in the branded world as other sources of meaning have faded. This angle on "consumerism" puts its growth into a broader context. We buy to be.

    Thanks.

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