Yesterday we asked whether our brands are making meaning after examining the progression of brands from functional, to aspirational, and now to meaningful.

Today: how on earth do you make a brand meaningful?

Guy Kawasaki, when he discusses the Art of Innovation (exceptional videos – 10 minutes long), says that you must make meaning with your offering. He explains that products that go deeper than entertainment and touch at purpose at the ones who are making meaning – that their existence in the life of their customer is one that helps the customer define their world.

There are two core parts here for me that I would say we could distill “making meaning” down to:

  1. Help people understand and define their life through your offering. Deliver offerings that empower people to make sense of where they are today, and where they were yesterday.
  2. Move beyond entertainment to purpose. Provide people with direction, help them to discover their reason for being, where they want to be tomorrow. Make your brand something that people can derive identity from.

So we’ve got yesterday and today, and tomorrow. Understanding yesterday and today, and directing tomorrow. I believe that offerings and brands that do this are meaningful to me on the most fundamental level.

For example, my church, The River, is a meaningful brand to our community. We help people through teaching resources understand where they are and where they’ve come from. And our events, our community, and our strong emphasis on life application and living life on purpose provides direction.


So how do we go to the lab and make meaning? If our two key words are understanding and directing, then we must take what our offering is and adjust it to provide these two. Some ideas:

  1. Deliver tools that help people categorise themselves. This categorisation helps them define the world within them. Note that this isn’t boxing people in. For example, the book “Now Discover Your Strengths” by Markus Buckingham was meaningful to me because the large set of skills that it assigns you with via the online test helps you better understand yourself. The label increases self awareness with restricting me. Apple do this with their product types – “Are you a MacBook Air or a MacBook Pro – or are you an iPod Nano?”
  2. Deliver tools that people can build on. The idea of building platform is what Apple did with the App Store. Because of it, other developers have an income, therefore Apple is meaningful to them. Guardian also did the same with their Open API.
  3. Deliver tools that help people define the world around them. The power of faith is that it gives people a decision making framework through which they can understand their life. Decisions are powerful and when we help people make them and define their worlds, we are meaningful to them. Consider here how powerful youth tribes are in that they provide slang that defines what is part of their tribe, and what isn’t. That slangs defines their world.
  4. Deliver tools that help people direct their life. Or perhaps more pertinently, helps people make their next step. If your offering is making the next step for someone easier, then you matter to them. I’m doing courses with my wife on how to breastfeed, change nappies, give birth, etc, and the fact that these courses are preparing us and helping us make decisions about our life is meaningful to me. They are helping direct us.
  5. Deliver tools that people can use to help others. The power that I’ve seen in affiliate and networking marketing programs is how they give their distributors all the tools in the world to get others on board. And guess what? That type of assistance directs people to do it more, and the original distributor draws value and direction out of this.


For a more in-depth and academic approach to making meaning, read this article that I found on “developing meaningful brands“.

Otherwise, I’d like to hear your thoughts: how do YOU make meaning?

Archived Comments

  • Brian Driggs

    I’m trying to cultivate meaning by helping gearheads take note of how they came to be so knowledgeable about cars, to recognize why they pursued the activities leading to their various levels of expertise/mastery, and to translate the language of one passion to another.

    What one man can do, another can do.
    What I can do here, I can also do there.

    I see the value in every single idea you share under the “Labs” heading, above, Scott. They are still fragmented (and a bit scattered) across my consciousness, but each of them excites me. I can see how they work and it’s thrilling. We’re developing resources along these lines at Gearbox right now, but this list – this list – just connected a metric shitton of dots in my mind.

    GREAT POST! (haha)

  • / Scott Gould

    Hey Brian

    Admittedly I didn’t go deep into these lab ideas, but these are the general principles that I see for building platform.

    We need to think through these more together!

  • Brian Driggs

    I agree. This is exactly the sort of thing I’d love to sit down and chat about over a cuppa. That 5,000 mile commute each way would be such a bear, though. :P

    Like you said, Scott, it’s a function of helping people determine exactly where they are now, where they want to be in the future, and working together to develop tools enabling us all to make the journey together.

    (Yeah. I totally watched Robin’s LikeMinds Alumni video yesterday.)

    The concept of “tools” feels like it’s hanging me up, though. As a gearhead, tools are objects – wrenches/spanners, sockets, screwdrivers – they are tangible. As a digital collaborator, tools are platforms and applications – blogs, Twitter, Facebook, LBS – semi-tangible.

    We are bombarded with talk of tools all the day long, but what of the tools we inherently posses as human beings? These are the fundamental tools which I feel we must develop if we are to help anyone get the most out of our Twitters and spanners.

    I’ll close by mentioning nuts and bolts holding everything together to make sure you’ve got the same, foggy metaphor swirling about upstairs I do right now. :D

  • Phillip Hofmeyr

    Hi Scott – like you – I really enjoyed “now, discover our strengths”. It was one of the book i was recommend on a course while i worked for Vodafone group marketing. All participants were given another book. A book i still recommend to friends: “Leadership and Self-Deception”.

    As you’d expect (& no doubt endorse), it shares it’s ideas through a story. It has a slightly ‘patronising/american’ style but the message is simply brilliant. And the last page will make you cry :-)

    If you haven’t read it.. google it and read a review or two on amazon…

  • / Scott Gould

    Thanks for this Philip – I will check out now!

  • / Scott Gould

    Hey Brian.

    Yeah – that 5,000 commute will happen soon though!

    So then what word works instead of tools?