Meaning and the experience of brand


A Tesco epiphany

Energy and entropy

The scientists call it entropy. It means an inevitable pull from order to chaos, or a loss of energy.

Entropy, slightly adjusted in its usage, is what I experience when a politician makes another promise, when I'm on hold with a mobile phone operator's call centre, when I read any annual report, or when my kids demand chocolate cereal for breakfast. And about another 2,500 times a week. It's a panicky sinking of the heart, a draining of energy.

What about "brand energy"? Five years ago, Tesco and the rest were into their stride with loyalty cards. Clearly, no matter how much data they collected, it made no difference to them, and none to my experience. They were more or less paying me to shop with them, and I was busy collecting my points.

Late on a Thursday I was finally at the checkout, exhausted, cranky, trolley packed with a week's worth. My cashier was a tiny Asian girl, hugely pregnant, equally weary. I'd forgotten – disaster! – the bloody milk, which, this being a super-mega store, was 200 yards away. I grunted this despairingly to her, and a rare brand epiphany unfolded … Building meaning
She – angel of light – hopped hefalump-like off her seat and exclaimed: 'I can get it for you!' I insisted no, she must sit down again. We sent someone else off for the milk. We basked briefly in our new feeling of connection and goodwill.

I don't need to say more, do I? This tiny (massive) event did more for my jaundiced bond with the Tesco brand than ANY OTHER EXPERIENCE with the brand I'd had. What exactly did that girl do? I've thought about it ever since. She built Meaning. She built, to be precise, what I call a 'platform of meaning' between me and her brand, Tesco.

Most of what I experience however - service, communications or both - creates the sinking feeling of brand entropy. The already flimsy threads of meaning that connect me with the brand are further frayed, that familiar gap between the promised service and the delivered experience tells me again and again that, well … we just don't understand one another at all.

Hopeless? I don't happen to think so. I think that the people who lead these firms can take on this notion of "managing for meaning". They can start by replacing that old silliness about missions and visions, with the construction of shared platforms of meaning.

About The Author

Michael Bayler
Michael Bayler

Michael Bayler is a strategist and futurist based in London. He specialises in the impact on brands, organisations and individuals of developments and trends in culture, media and technology.