Fever TreeEverybody loves Fever Tree’s premium tonics and mixers, and premium market cap. At first glance, the brand simply followed bigger trends for artisanal, natural, niche brands. Cool, but not that interesting. But when you look closer, what Fever Tree actually did was change the meaning of the tonic, from neutral backdrop to active ingredient. Only then, with a new meaning, does a premium-priced mixer make sense. In doing so, Fever Tree not only created an entirely new conversation that category incumbents like Schweppes are having to react to, it lifted the rising tide of the gin category alongside it. Meanings aren’t just micro tweaks, they’re macro forces as well.
Kohler – the meaning of waterKohler has always understood the power of design to make meanings and drive commercial value, and it’s been a pioneer in using meanings as a strategic planning tool. Now they’re tackling the issue of how people’s experiences with smart technology change their expectations of the built environment. Last month Kohler debuted KOHLER Konnect, a series of smart bathroom and kitchen products primed and ready for the call to action from Alexa, Google Assistant or Apple HomeKit. Kohler handles the “bathroom”, the likes of Google handles the “smart”. Now the products have the potential to radically transform the meaning behind everyday bathroom and kitchen appliances. Kohler isn’t looking to create gimmicky appeal. Instead, it’s created seamless, beautifully-designed products which have the benefit of being voice-activated. No dongles to buy, no adapters, no switches. Just the luxury of knowing your bathroom will do what you ask it to do.
L’Oreal UV SenseSay wearables, you think smart watch. And eventually we imagine the technology to be imbedded in our clothes and other accessories: think “smart bra”. L’Oreal has opened up a new meaning of wearable, with the release of UV Sense, a UV monitoring device disguised as a nail decal. It monitors your sun exposure and reminds you to apply sunscreen through an app. Better skin health at your fingertips, from your fingertip. Not only has UV Sense shifted our perception of what wearables can be, they’ve introduced the beauty industry as a player in the field moving forward. It makes sense. Consumer needs for self-tracking and self-optimisation have fuelled the health tech and fitness markets for a few years, but those same needs exist for beauty consumers too. Introducing a wearable at the boundary of healthcare and beauty paves the way for more beauty brands to do the same. The beauty of meaning is that they are tool for innovation available to any business, of any size, in any industry. Even if you don’t have a disruptive new technology, you can still disrupt the conversation. And if you do have a new invention, meanings can make the difference between success and failure, amplifying your investment. It’s clear companies that master the emotional and cultural meanings central to consumer behaviour will be richly rewarded in the long-term. Julie Jenson Bennett is CEO of Precipice Design. She has been a driving force behind Meaning-Centred Design, a new way for companies to make sense of markets and cultures and create products that people will value more.
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