Expressions of Meaning

11 Jan 2006|Steve Diller

When you try to re-imagine any practice, you generally have to re-purpose language. The reason for this is simple- all words have connotations and a history of usage that invariably reinforces earlier concepts. New ideas need new language to bring them to life.

Take “meaning” in life. We view it as “that which gives us a sense of the value of our lives.” This is the conventional definition in religion, anthropology and other social sciences. Unfortunately, it’s NOT the definition of the word in marketing. When marketers got their hands on this word, they generally used it as a way to express “importance” of any kind.

They would describe an experience as “meaningful,” by which they intended to communicate that the experience had a value. Unfortunately, this use of the word “meaning” weakens its specialness.

We struggled for many months to find a word other than “meaning” to describe “that which gives us a sense of the value of our lives,” but nothing quite hit the spot. “Meaning,” in fact IS the word to describe that. So, we find now that we have to distinguish between the conventional definition that marketers have been using, and OUR definition. Sad to say, in the current environment, anything that takes more than a few words to describe is frequently considered a waste of time, and people who try to use that time invariably find they’re criticized for not having their “elevator pitch” in tip-top shape.

As time goes on, and we talk more about “meaning,” we have to keep working at reconciling the desire for brevity with the need for conceptual clarity. I’m naturally inclined to err on the side of clarity, which involves re-defining some important words, but the word “err” is important here. No concept is goiing to have value if people are simply too busy to consider it.

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