The Age Of Meaning

My dad worked as a director for the largest grocery chain in Canada for most of his life. On our morning commute in the early 1990s, he didn’t impose many of his visionary opinions on his impressionable son. Every once and a while though, when he was absolutely confident that he wasn’t leading me astray, he’d look me right in the soul, the way only a father can.

“Quality will be the next big wave. Quality will be everything.”

Retail industry insiders may have been predicting this for eons. But, in my version of the tale, I prefer to think that my dad knew what was coming before everyone else.

What’s arguably visionary about this statement (as opposed to just the romantic narrative of a kid who loves his dad) is that this was a time when Walmart was making its aggressive entrance into Canada, by purchasing 122 Woolco stores.

As it turns out, my dad was bang-on that high quality would eventually become a basic minimum standard for the average consumer. Starbucks turned out to be a raging success, creating the first real competition for Tim Horton’s (a popular coffee chain known more for its 18% milkfat cream than for the coffee itself). Krispy Kreme was a dismal failure in Canada, whereas Whole Foods took off. Apple went from near-bankruptcy to the most valuable company in the world. This is certainly not the world that the suits from the days of the Ford Pinto or Hyundai Pony predicted.

But, what happens when quality is just the minimum qualification for market acceptance? What’s next in the evolution of market consciousness?

In the same spirit that my dad looked me in the eye and said, “It’s all about quality,” I can look my son in the eye today and say, “It will be all about meaning.”

As consumers gain control over media, in an increasingly intimate, transparent and connected world, products, services and brands will survive on quality, but thrive on meaning.

A VP of the one of the largest discount retail chains in Canada once quoted to me: “Marketing is about turning your product into a habit.”

But, in the attention-deficit defined world of online and integrated media, habits can change as quickly as you can … oh, look there’s a squirrel!

So, what’s the practical answer to this problem?

Here’s a test. Try to recall the last time you entered a contest. Now, try to remember the last time something moved you, or you gave money to a charity. The first instance is driven only by powerful shortsighted, self-serving impulse (all great drivers), but also has the psychological lifespan of a gastrotrich.

But, being touched by a lonely abused child, environmental catastrophe, cancer, a suicide, or some other human event, leaves an indelible mark.

We are in a golden window of cause and green marketing. There is still enough unfounded skepticism that your competitors may not be doing it, but the window is open just enough for your brand, service, product or client to make a lasting impression. Oh, and you’ll feel like you actually achieved something…well, meaningful.






5 comments about "The Age Of Meaning ".
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  1. Vicky Hastings from Maxwell PR + Engagement, October 26, 2011 at 11:41 a.m.

    Love this! My colleagues and I have been talking about this, too. Thanks for expressing this point of view. I share your opinion.

  2. Brad Stewart from Molecule Inc., October 26, 2011 at 11:52 a.m.

    Thanks for taking the time to write such a glowing comment, Vicky! Cheers. Brad

  3. Godfrey Phillips from CBJN, October 26, 2011 at 11:54 a.m.

    I would say not the last time something moved you or you gave to charity, both are pretty passive and happen every day, maybe it should be when is the last time you personally helped another persons life and saw them smile, in a human way (NOT about religion or belief), just human contact... that takes hard work, that makes a difference

  4. David Hessekiel from Cause Marketing Forum, Inc., October 26, 2011 at 5:47 p.m.

    Brad -- You do a beautiful job of describing on a human level the tremendous potential of appealing to the best in human nature. Thanks!

  5. Brad Stewart from Molecule Inc., October 27, 2011 at 8:42 p.m.

    In reference to your comment, Godfrey: if you could see my face right now after having read Vicky, David and your comments, I can assure you that you've achieved a smile on the face of this humble scribe. Thank you sincerely.

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