People buy meaning not product

A little while ago I was talking to the Marketing Director of one of the leading consumer goods companies here in Europe and we began talking around his question “where does design fit in innovation and consumer goods?”

I started this with posing the premise back “What do things really mean?”  For example we need to have a clear vision of what good food means to us. We need to seek out and define a new meaning through, perhaps, design. So the question then became “how do you give meaning to things?” We innovate by making sense of these things- “People don’t buy product they buy meaning”

That stopped him in his tracks. He had not given this the necessary thought it required. I then went on and suggested “people are searching for re-invigorating their experiences” The emotional experience, especially in cooking or preparing a meal becomes increasingly the relationship and association with a moment of affection, a memory or statement. Designing this attachment into your product can happen in multiple ways.

“How do we trigger emotions?” “How do we evoke emotional attachment?”  One really significant route is through design. We see this in many products or services we want to ‘own or experience’ and design is a hugely critical factor. We can separate ourselves from our competitors through this association of a uniquely designed product or service. We compete as everyone else does, in common distribution methods, routes to market (although this might not always be the case) and often in similar product or service offerings. It is the emotional design that breaks through this and creates often the winning difference.

Today design is on the cusp of altering many of today’s present innovation practices or approaches. The profession and ascendancy of designers takes it right to the very heart of innovation considerations. Design is moving towards offering a business competency we can no longer ignore. Design can really differentiate and far too many innovators have not yet seen its enormous potential to cut itself out from the pack. Good design can do this.

Research today is telling us that design-driven companies are more innovative than others. How can you stop consumers in their tracks so they form an emotional association with what you are offering? This is where good design can help set you apart in so many unique ways others might find simply impossible to follow.

2 thoughts on “People buy meaning not product

  1. Hello Paul,

    I’m really interested in understanding the, “People don’t buy product they buy meaning” statement you made. I have read the blog through a couple of times, but I can’t seem to grasp it. Please could you give me an example of “People don’t buy product they buy meaning” and or break it down into simpler terms for me?

    Thanks very much,



    • We buy more the ‘attachment we have towards products, the brand and what we see as its values and how we identify- relate to those. We buy also for what it gives us ‘utility’ for example in a family car. So ‘meaning’ is a powerful emotional identification, it reflects often ‘us’ through the products we buy.


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