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Brand Meaning

Brands Need Meaning To Revive, Expand Or Disrupt


Brands Need Meaning To Revive, Expand Or Disrupt

Last month, we established that consumers do not care about (most) brands. Consumers are on a quest to find meaning and brands that succeed are the ones that help them fulfill this quest.

Today, we will look at brands that rely on meaning to grow and differentiate. I also share some important guidelines on how to create meaningful brands and products. You will find many more case studies and tips in my book Brand Hacks: How to Grow your Brand by Fulfilling the Human Quest for Meaning.


Leica is a 114-year-old German camera brand. It is known for launching the first ever 35mm portable camera, which was soon favored by Henri Cartier-Bresson and his fellow photographers from the famous Magnum agency. But Leica initially failed in marketing its digital cameras and by 2004 was facing insolvency.

Enter Dr. Andreas Kaufman, who brought financial support for Lecia and perhaps most importantly, a marketing vision to reposition Leica as a passion brand. Leica cameras are known to be masterfully engineered, robust, and fitted with the best lenses that exist. Beyond these functional aspects, a Leica is a medium for its users to bring their purpose to life. While competitors overwhelm their users with features, Leica focuses only on three: aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. Leica’s core value is das Essenzielle (“the essential”). That is, radical simplification and the elimination of redundancies.

This focus on the essential perfectly aligns with the growing trend of minimalism, whereby consumers buy less material goods to concentrate on life’s most important things. For minimalists, products must be meaningful or enable people to make meaning. As such, a Leica camera is the perfect meaning-making machine. Leica is now bringing simplicity and meaning into lifestyle and accessories, which include Leica watches and the Leica café that opened in Bankok in September 2018. For example, Leica watches feature a single, patented push-piece that was designed to be reminiscent of the eponymous camera.


Dominated by a handful of global brands, the banking and financial services industry has been resting on its marketing laurels. Most banks tout their functional (parity driven) benefits such as overdraft alerts, lower interest rates, and mobile banking.

In contrast, ‘digital wealth manager’ Nutmeg promises to ‘unravel the knotty works of investing and finance’. It is making investing simple and meaningful to its clients. For example, Nutmeg manages socially responsible portfolios that feature environmental, social, and governance scoring. It is on a mission to make investing accessible, affordable and better for the world. In line with the minimalism trend outlined above, Nutmeg also considerably simplified the investing experience. It focuses on four products only and its users are encouraged to label their ‘pots’ with descriptive names such as ‘Good Old Pension’ and ‘Peter’s education’.

Nutmeg and Leica operate in very different verticals. Their marketing budget is nowhere near industry behemoths HSBC and Canon. Neither wealth management nor photography represent new consumer needs. However, these brands thrive because they are meaningful to their customers.

How Marketers Can Fulfill Consumer’s Quest For Meaning

In the early stages of product development, I urge you not to obsess with the product, nor even the brand. First, you must uncover the meanings your audience is trying to fulfill. To bring these meanings to light, consider projective techniques in your qualitative research such as collages and scrapbooking. These enable participants to materialize meanings that are subjective in nature. Then, craft your product and its value proposition around the specific meaning it is aimed at fulfilling.

When tracking the performance of your brand and product over time, do not limit yourself to measuring standard Key Performance Indicators such as awareness, consideration, and purchase intent. Make sure you also capture the cultural fit of your brand and its ability to fulfill meaning.

Last but not least, emphasize in your marketing the meaningful attributes of your brand and not only its functional aspects. For example, Marriott, Westin, and Airbnb each offer different functional, meaningful and aspirational benefits:

Functional: Marriott rents hotel rooms. Each of Marriott’s 30 brands has distinct traits, from room types, food and beverage options, and amenities.

Meaningful: Equinox health clubs and hotel fulfills our ongoing quest for a healthier lifestyle. Their tagline is ‘It’s not fitness, it’s life’.

Meaningful and Aspirational: Airbnb fulfills our quest for discovery and adventure. Its core segment of ‘head-first explorers’ consider new ways to travel and local experiences as part of their identity.

To sum up, consumers have become insensitive to most advertising. Big data and advanced analytics claim to reveal what products people search for but there is much more to the equation. You must begin with the realization that people don’t search for products, brands, Instagram pictures, and social influencers. They search for personal, social, and cultural meaning and the brands that succeed are the ones that help fulfill their quest.

How will your brand fulfill their quest?

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