And what kind of market is that? At the moment, for example, we seem to have:
- Web 2.0 people theorising about the importance of ethereal content over physical objects, of production versus consumption;
- psychologists, and even the UK government, propounding the importance of well-being and happiness;
- an ever-growing discussion of environmental sustainability;
- the feminisation of the work-place;
- the rise of long-term, inter-generational thinking;
- and, of course, the rise of Conscious Business – in all its various shapes and forms.
Could this all be part of an even bigger trend for the market? A shift towards what we might call a “meaning economy“? We’ve had the information economy, and the knowledge economy. (Once I even heard talk of a “wisdom” economy.)
A meaning economy for me is one in which people’s basic needs are already met through the producing power of our industrial economy. And instead people start to change their focus towards gaining more meaning in their lives.
But what is meaning? Meaning is an answer to the question “why?”, not the industrial age questions of “how many?”, or “how much?. We know how to answer those questions and we know how to answer questions about “what”, “who”, and sometimes even “when”. Why we want things, why we have things, why we do things: the answers remain much more elusive.
Put another way, is the overall market changing so that people are no longer satisfied with just goods, and no longer satisfied with shabby, or any, “services” – are they seeking instead to fulfil their higher values?
Of course this won’t mean much to the billion at the bottom of the pyramid. But for the aspirational 5 billion people in the world – is that where we are heading?
If so, this might mean different things in relation to each of the product types we are already familiar with, and we can see that some of these trends are already underway in some areas of the economy:
- for a physical, tangible product it means valuing the associated brand and reputation more than just the product itself;
- for a service it means valuing the associated relationships more than just the service itself;
- for content it means producing something that deeply touches the heart and soul, not just the mind.
In business more generally it might mean shifting our emphasis as we try to build revenue and profitability. Shifting it:
- from technological innovation to service innovation;
- from growing functional value to growing relationship value;
- from improving process quality to a focus on the quality of the customer experience;
- from strategies that grow transactional volumes to those that grow loyalty and retention;
- and even from strategies designed to reduce cost to strategies of investment;
- and so on.
All of these things have been identified before, of course. And some would say that a knowledge economy leads to some of these things. So, I wonder, does it add anything to see this as a change in the market to meaning away from information and knowledge? What else might that ‘frame’ tell us?