The Thing That Gets Us to the Thing

Marketing doesn’t work if it doesn’t create meaning.

Imagine you’re sitting with a couple who just came back from the Grand Canyon. They’re showing you photos from their trip. So many photos, and mostly the wrong kind. Shot after shot of the Canyon itself. Scenery without meaning.

The first couple of pics are great … but you get bored, fast. To your friends, the pics remind them of the feeling they had when they were there, looking out over that breathtaking landscape. But you weren’t there. You have no feeling to remember. What you know — what you care about — is them. And those are the pics you want to see: your friends smiling, laughing, having a great time.

I’m building toward a metaphor, of course. And here it is:

You, as a business leader, are inclined to show your audience your products or services, their features and benefits (i.e., the Grand Canyon). But your audience wants to know what these products or services mean to them (i.e., the “people pictures”).

Your audience wants the human element. Put another way:

Your offerings are not the thing. They’re the thing gets us to the thing.

That line is paraphrased from Halt and Catch Fire, the AMC show about the early days of computing. In this scene, a computer programmer confronts his company’s head of sales, confused about why they’re not presenting their new PC to the public in terms of gigabytes and RAM (terms no one understood in 1983). The head of sales explains that a product, even a great one, is meaningless unless you give it context — unless you explain to people why it matters to them.

The human mind doesn’t just absorb information, like a sponge. It interprets information, like a photographer using a special lens. Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl posited that the primary motivation of human beings is to discover meaning in life. In that sense, everything we do — even passive things, like eating a sandwich or scrolling through TikTok — is one of a zillion miniature searches for meaning.

We are meaning makers. This is what we do. It’s what makes us human.

Given that, the core question every good campaign should answer is:
What should our offering mean to them? How can it matter?

As we’ve said before in this space, nobody cares about you. The audiences you’re trying to reach have busy lives, with anxieties, desires and needs you couldn’t possibly know anything about. They don’t care about you, your products or your company — unless you give them a reason to.

Keep this in mind next time you start a new campaign, and you’re inclined to lead with the key features and benefits of your offering. Remember:

Your offering is not the thing. It’s the thing that gets us to the thing.

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