Meaning Is The Soul Of Your Company

Meaning Is The Soul Of Your Company

We know already that brand management is largely meaning
management. But if we want to make any lasting changes to how
brands are managed today and what value they create, we need to
take the conversation up a notch, engage the C-suite along with
marketers and look at the organizational matrix.

For brands to create and retain their meaning and to be
trustworthy, corporations need to check the way they set up their
own processes, how they behave in the world and how they do
business. If corporate management continues to favor short-term
profit over long-term value creation, image over real-world
behavior and performance metrics over inspiring trust and
instilling universal values, the way brands are managed isn’t
going to change much.

To make a real change
, we need to go higher up in the hierarchy
and explain how meaning touches and affects business, not just
brands. Because without the business component all we’re doing is
creating make-believe.

The True Value Of Meaning In Business

Beyond branding, the wider idea of pursuing meaning in
businesses and organizations is that our everyday marketing
activities shouldn’t just be labored through, they should
inspire. They should aim in a clear direction that encapsulates a
higher value other than just making profit. It’s what the great
founders of traditional heritage brands knew all along – that the
creation of products and services should be the extension of the
best we have to offer to this world.

Be it a vision of the great Czechoslovak visionary Tomáš Baťa
who wanted to “shoe the whole world” or of the Englishman John
Cadbury who made his first Dairy Milk bar chocolate with a higher
proportion of milk than anyone before him, these early success
stories were marked by a genuine interest, care, passion and
ingenuity. These brands were founded by the strong characters who
loved what they did and wanted to make things better for other

these deeply instilled values
that we’re leaving here for the
next generations that count, not stuff. Stuff is meaningless, the
ideas and values behind them are what counts. That was the original
idea of capitalism. We would all benefit from revisiting it today
to get our priorities sorted again.

Meaning is the inner value of the business itself
that should
be visible through everything that we do. Our activities should
mean something because it’s through meaning that businesses and
brands gain and grow their value. It’s meaning that people
consume in brands, not brands alone – it’s what they represent
that matters to us. It’s how they connect to the fabric of our
own human values, mindsets and behaviors, how they strengthen our
identities that’s important. Brands alone are neither important
nor valuable; it’s the cultural context in which they are
embedded that makes them valuable.

It’s about time that brands start to be managed just as that
– as symbolic entities and markers of a shared social value and
cultural capital. On the most essential level, brands are the
artifacts of culture. And if managed well, brands can become mighty
social currencies and transfers of cultural value.

Meaning Makes Organizations More Aligned, United And

Meaning needs to be present at the core of organizations to make
them valuable from the inside out. Whether it’s optimizing
company processes or org structure, creating new products and
services through innovation and marketing activities, streamlining
brand DNA,
mission, vision and values
, internal
, sales or aligning customer experience via different
touchpoints – all these corporate functions should have one
single denominator: meaning. That is what the brand means and
stands for in the larger scheme of cultural complexity in our world

Let’s call meaning ‘the
soul of the company
’ for a minute. The singular focus of a
CMO, Chief Culture Officer, COO or any other C-suite individual who
is in charge of processes and delivering value should be to capture
and translate this meaning through the particular horizontal of
core capability they are managing within the company.

What does this soul mean in terms of our operations? How is it
translated into how we approach sales and marketing? How does it
inform what kind of processes our company puts into practice? How
is this meaning delivered to our customers through the product,
service and experience we create for them? And how is it engaged in
relationships with our employees and in our company culture? These
are the questions the C-suite should be asking themselves on a
daily basis, instead of their obsession with technology, data
management, short-term profit and performance metrics. First you
need to create value, then you can manage it. Reverse-engineering
value creation out of management is a path that doesn’t lead
anywhere worth going.

When meaning directly informs a company’s real-world behavior
in every step of the way, the result isn’t a siloed culture and
fragmentation where value gets compartmentalized; it’s unity of
character and purpose. This in return generates higher levels of
brand trust, which seems to be eroding or in decline so vehemently
the current era of post-factualism and post-truth
. Direct
accountability and behavior based on authentic values can lead the
organization back to integrity and therefore brand trust.

With one single symbolic denominator underlying all corporate
functions, the company would use all its core processes and
capabilities to bring this meaning alive – whether it’s through
marketing, how the corporate processes are structured, what the
employee culture looks like and what the customers care for and
value in the company. For all core capabilities, this will
inevitably mean something a bit different but in result such a
holistic approach to company management will lead to a greater
coherence, unity and collaboration among departments and horizontal

Such a ‘symbolic alignment’ will undoubtedly
lead to the internal company culture mirroring the external
(the cultural context of the world outside), which will
then effectively merge the two cultures together into one. Such an
immersive act of cultural unity is paramount for any company to
achieve today as the evolution of our society is moving from
division back to unity.

What organizations need to do the most today is to shift their
inner dynamic of ‘striving for division’ towards ‘embracing
unity’ and look at the value they create from the human
perspective. This much-needed moment of self-reflection and clarity
will help them get untangled from being trapped in their daily
operations and processes and key performance indicator’s.

Business and brand leaders should be looking at the entire
organization as a living breathing ecosystem of value creation,
rather than as a machine where all cogs – people – need to be
in the right place, controlled and measured against each other for
the company to work efficiently at the optimum speed.

Machine thinking is the chief enemy of meaning creation and
long-term brand and business growth simply because it measures the
wrong things. As Rory Sutherland, the Vice Chairman of Ogilvy Group
UK, says: “Meaning is in the invert proportion to the ease of
measurement. It’s hard to do and hard to measure simply because
it’s not trivial, it’s significant.” Things that are
worthwhile aren’t easy and they usually don’t come in numbers.
It takes time for good things to show up but when we get there,
it’s worth the time, effort and investment we’ve put into
nurturing them.

Rethinking Business Organizations For The 21st

So what is the biggest reason we should embrace meaning in
business beyond just branding? The real impact of meaning on
business is not only in
the total alignment of value between the internal and external
layer of your company
. Its real impact has to do with how we
conceptualize organizations to begin with: what they’re supposed
to be doing and how they organize themselves to maximize value in
people’s lives.

Essentially, we’re making a huge circle and coming back to
basics – back to what we knew 100 years ago when the founders of
great global brands were just young men and women with a vision and
big ideas.

To utilize the full potential of meaning in business, we need to
rethink how companies today are organized and structured, how they
create value and most importantly how they behave – to their
employees, to their customers and what footprint they’re leaving
in the larger scheme of the world outside. Brands and companies
have a direct impact on society so it’s important their leaders
understand what set of values they want to contribute to

Meaning isn’t a short cut for the inner sense of hollowness,
corporate hypocrisy and lack of vision. It’s not simply an add-on
companies can paste on their brands to redeem bad consciousness,
it’s much more integral than that. True meaning stems from the
reality – from the heritage, strength of belief and conviction,
moral compass, vision and integrity. It cannot add something
that’s not there. Rather, it’s a magnifier of things you do and
do not want to see.

My sincere hope is that meaning doesn’t become a buzzword and
get trivialized. Because when something becomes a trend, its
meaning gets emptied very quickly. The market jumps at everything
new very quickly and when the life span of a trend has been
exhausted, it gets discarded and stops being cool. And then we move
onto the next shiny thing again.

Meaning is not one of those things – its validity and value is
fundamental to the inner being of things and to our perception and
exchange of value. It’s inherent. The meaning of life is meaning:
this is how we operate, how we create value, share ideas and
navigate the world around us. It’s primarily through the medium
of meaning that we structure our thoughts, create stories, build
our identities, relate to one another and to ourselves.

In a world without meaning, we could no longer create anything
of value – which is the very idea that would render brands and
businesses obsolete.

Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: Dr. Martina
Olbertova, founder and chief executive at Meaning.Global.

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Source: FS – HT – Brands
Meaning Is The Soul Of Your Company