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Meaning: The new measure of a brand or marketer’s success

November 16, 2009 Comments

Reading Time: 2 minutes
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Stowe Boyd

In 1964, Marshal McLuhan made the famous statement: “The medium is the message”. More recently, Stowe Boyd stated, “Meaning is the new search.” I would like to add something to this trajectory of thought: Meaning is media.

We are all now capable of being content producers. As a result, the traditional distinction between media silos – television, newspaper, and magazines – is increasingly meaningless in terms of defining where you find and how you capture consumer attention.

The consumer no longer thinks in terms of media, but in terms of meaning. Brands, advertisers and individuals need to consider their content and contribution in terms of the meaning it adds if they want to command consumer attention.

The core issue is that traditional media silos no longer control content generation, and today, consumers are looking for meaning in content in many new and different places. As such, meaning must replace media as the lens through which we view the consumer landscape.

For example, if teenagers now finds badly produced, online video footage of the celebrity getting their make-up done for a photo shoot as meaningful to them as the final magazine cover itself, our strategy, planning and media tools must be structured in a way to reflect this, rather than dismiss that video footage as secondary to produced and polished traditional media.

What’s more, younger consumers are being trained to want the best, now, and spend less time on it when they get it. So if marketers truly want to be effective they must also look to how consumers behave with meaning once they find it.

As I spend more time engaged with social media on behalf of clients and my own brand, it’s impossible to escape the rising importance of meaning as a compass for all engagement.

For a long time, the internet was viewed as an asset because it gave us access to more and more information. For many people now it’s a borderline burden as there is simply too much information to absorb. As a result, people are no longer defining themselves by what information they access, but by what information, and in what way, they can avoid it. Meaning is that filter, and as such, any measure or map of consumer attention should be structured around it.

Meaning is now a currency as persuasive as media was when McLuhan made his powerful statement. This shift from the medium dictating the message, to a search for meaning in the message, to the meaning of that message defining is distribution has enormous consequences for brands and marketers.

Meaning has become the portal through which all communications are accepted, framed or filtered out. What commands attention is not where you look, but what you stand for, your integrity and the meaning you add to a conversation, experience or body of knowledge.

The days of advertising based on scarcity, interruption and traditional media silos are over and the era of measurement by meaning has begun.

Do you agree?

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8 responses to “Meaning: The new measure of a brand or marketer’s success”

  1. Brandon101 says:

    Excellent insight Simon. This hits the nail on the head for me. I believe that brands must now prioritize meaning and purpose and be willing to open up and respond to consumer interaction and feedback in ways that were essentially unheard of just a few years ago. It's not enough to serve a utilitarian solution – we are increasingly wanting more from the brands we support. And now with our ability to share information with vast audiences instantly, the meaning must be genuine or risk serious negative ramifications if the efforts are exposed as disingenuous.

    As you mentioned, I've noticed some interesting patterns in my own consumption of information lately – I'm consuming more than ever before, but it gets to me through filters I have set up to determine relevance and alignment with my values. I rarely ever go out and 'surf' the web – but I feel more up to speed on what's going on in the world than ever. I arrived here on your blog through Stowe Boyd's blog where he had some similar profound thoughts into the architecture of business. Truly incredible writing from both of you! But the trail started in a group I have set up in TweetDeck. Chris Brogan gave Stowe's post a glowing recommendation, which led me through Stowe's site and eventually here. The common denominator for me is that I'm not just randomly reading blogs – I choose where I invest my attention based on the meaning behind them.

    I recently went through a lot of soul searching on my own personal brand and the meaning and purpose behind what I'm doing. As a colleague noted, we talk to clients about this all the time, but I made a point to apply this filter to my own work, which is something I had thought about quite a bit but not fully applied. Meaning is truly the filter for me. Once I wrote it all out it, it not only made sense, but I felt much better afterward. I would be curious to hear your feedback on how this plays for you in your work. Is this something you have dealt with and had either difficulty or success with?

    Will definitely stay in touch. Thanks for the excellent post!

    Brandon Sutton

  2. Thanks so much, Brandon for such an insightful response. Brand transparency and integrity is critical now. And yes, I navigate the web along lines a meaning just as you did. Like you, I also continue to go through the critical process of self-definition. The sub-head on my blog has changed almost weekly. The mission statement on the landing page of my website changed as recently as last night – so yes, I struggle and actively work to articulate my mission and values as a filter on my own content and what I choose to read. As if that's not difficult enough, I believe it can never be static now as it constantly needs to maintain and reflect connection with a changing marketplace. Little wonder so many brands shy away from the effort. Yet the upside is unlimited in that it becomes a filter on your internal decisions, simplifying the process and saving time and resources, plus its gives consumers a chance to actually know if they want to engage with you, buy your product and be loyal. Without it you're simply gambling with your brand's well-being. So yes, it's a struggle and, no, it will never go away. Time to roll up those sleeves on a fresh shirt every day. Thanks so much for your feedback, Brandon, and let's stay in touch. Simon

  3. Brandon101 says:

    Excellent insight Simon. This hits the nail on the head for me. I believe that brands must now prioritize meaning and purpose and be willing to open up and respond to consumer interaction and feedback in ways that were essentially unheard of just a few years ago. It's not enough to serve a utilitarian solution – we are increasingly wanting more from the brands we support. And now with our ability to share information with vast audiences instantly, the meaning must be genuine or risk serious negative ramifications if the efforts are exposed as disingenuous.

    As you mentioned, I've noticed some interesting patterns in my own consumption of information lately – I'm consuming more than ever before, but it gets to me through filters I have set up to determine relevance and alignment with my values. I rarely ever go out and 'surf' the web – but I feel more up to speed on what's going on in the world than ever. I arrived here on your blog through Stowe Boyd's blog where he had some similar profound thoughts into the architecture of business. Truly incredible writing from both of you! But the trail started in a group I have set up in TweetDeck. Chris Brogan gave Stowe's post a glowing recommendation, which led me through Stowe's site and eventually here. The common denominator for me is that I'm not just randomly reading blogs – I choose where I invest my attention based on the meaning behind them.

    I recently went through a lot of soul searching on my own personal brand and the meaning and purpose behind what I'm doing. As a colleague noted, we talk to clients about this all the time, but I made a point to apply this filter to my own work, which is something I had thought about quite a bit but not fully applied. Meaning is truly the filter for me. Once I wrote it all out it, it not only made sense, but I felt much better afterward. I would be curious to hear your feedback on how this plays for you in your work. Is this something you have dealt with and had either difficulty or success with?

    Will definitely stay in touch. Thanks for the excellent post!

    Brandon Sutton

  4. Thanks so much, Brandon for such an insightful response. Brand transparency and integrity is critical now. And yes, I navigate the web along lines a meaning just as you did. Like you, I also continue to go through the critical process of self-definition. The sub-head on my blog has changed almost weekly. The mission statement on the landing page of my website changed as recently as last night – so yes, I struggle and actively work to articulate my mission and values as a filter on my own content and what I choose to read. As if that's not difficult enough, I believe it can never be static now as it constantly needs to maintain and reflect connection with a changing marketplace. Little wonder so many brands shy away from the effort. Yet the upside is unlimited in that it becomes a filter on your internal decisions, simplifying the process and saving time and resources, plus its gives consumers a chance to actually know if they want to engage with you, buy your product and be loyal. Without it you're simply gambling with your brand's well-being. So yes, it's a struggle and, no, it will never go away. Time to roll up those sleeves on a fresh shirt every day. Thanks so much for your feedback, Brandon, and let's stay in touch. Simon

  5. Excellent post Simon. Love “meaning as a compass for engagement”. Got me thinking about sport sponsorship and how brands continue to pay millions for naming rights to stadia, to sponsor major sporting events, to get their names on a team shirt. But what does this mean to the consumer? How does this engage them?

    Nike's Stefan Olander summed it up beautifully when he said “If we can do something good for someone, no matter the product, it's going to be good for us.”

    As you pointed out brands need to take a step back and ask how their content and contribution adds meaning to the lives of the consumers they'd like to have a relationship with.

    I tried to sum this up here http://bit.ly/6ytedd

    Your post helped reassure me that the vision we've worked towards for the past 3 years, to make brands meaningful to people who play sport, is the right one, even though it might take others longer to realise! Thanks

  6. I love that quote form Stefan Olander. Spot on. Even better is when a brand has defined its purpose and makes meaningful contributions that are consistent with that purpose and their core values. then every bit of outreach they do is no longer simply well-intended CSR but a reaffirmation of their brand narrative. As always in life, it's the “come from” that counts and consumers can smell duplicity.Great site too and I'll share it with others. Great to meet another Aussie doing meaningful stuff. Let me know if I can ever help. Simon

  7. […] and business strategies might be as tough as making a pin? When Simon Mainwaring talks about the importance of meaning, I can’t help thinking that we are forgetting Mr. Smith’s valuable lesson. The division of […]

  8. […] thought: Meaning is media. simonmainwaring.com […]

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Simon Mainwaring

Reading Time: 1 minutesSimon Mainwaring is the founder of We First, a leading brand consultancy that provides purpose-driven strategy, content, and training that empowers companies to lead business, shape culture, and better our world.

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