But What About...?
At the end of any list, someone is sure to ask about what's missing. Why don't we include "control," "enrichment," or "happiness" on this list? Rather than defend this particular set of meaningful experiences, we recommend that you use these as a starting points for considering the meaningful experiences your own company, products, services, or related offerings might evoke. Depending on the category and audience, other meaningful experiences could be just as effective as long as they represent what your customers deeply value (not what the company wants them to value). For example, "happiness" or "satisfaction" is nearly always the result of one of the experiences on our list, rather than an end in and of itself. "Enrichment" is often what a company thinks it provides for a consumer's life, but it is not a meaning the consumer seeks.
Readers prone to nuance might look at the list and say, "These are not meanings but rather values." We believe there is an important distinction to be made between values and meaning. Values involve preferences. They represent our choices between opposing modes of behavior, and they are shaped not only by ourselves, but also by those around us. For example, I may prefer being a vegetarian because I believe it's the best mode of eating for my health or because I'm an advocate of animal rights. In this belief, I'm expressing a value. But practicing vegetarianism ultimately serves my sense of oneness, community, and maybe truth. That's meaning.
Is it really possible to create the meaningful experience of security or harmony for someone, or does a person need to create it for himself? This is a legitimate concern and one worth exploring more fully. As we've suggested, the experience people have with products, services, and events is only partly due to what a company might envision and endeavor to provide. The bulk of the experience is actually created by the experiencer; that's how it becomes highly relevant for the individual. A company could never create exactly the meaningful experience a consumer wanted because companies can't completely understand every detail of each person's life, and it can't control every interaction of the experience. However, a company can learn enough about its customers to design an experience for them that conveys its intention and prompts them to complete it. This is why we say companies evoke meaning through experiences, rather than creating meaning.