Meaningful : the story of ideas that fly


Summary and book review of “Meaningful: The story of ideas that fly”: According to Bernadette Jiwa, to offer maximum value to your customers, you have to present them with products that have meaning.

By Bernadette Jiwa, 2015, 178 pages.

Note: This chronicle is a guest article written by Franck Mattler

Book review and summary of “Meaningful”:

Here in the age of the internet, opportunities have never been so plentiful and it has never been so simple and inexpensive to start a business. Anyone can get started, from just about anywhere, and can offer maximum value to others. In this new world, the most common approach consists of creating the best possible product, and then promoting it through marketing. But this approach contains an important flaw: it completely leaves out the customer!

In contrast, a good approach consists of making the customer the center of attention, in order to offer a product that is the perfect match. To do this, you need to be familiar with your prospects and their needs, and this will allow you to respond efficiently to their problems. The most memorable companies favor the customer experience over the product and that is how they build up a fan base. The best example of this has to be Apple, a company that is permanently preoccupied by this question, sometimes to the point of obsession, but we have to admit that its users return the compliment, and how! At the time when things were bottoming out, when the Apple brand’s products were at their most expensive and performed less well than their competitors, they continued to sell very well.

Eric Ries extensively developed the question of basing everything on the customer to find the formula that is a perfect match for your target in his book Lean Startup,

Part 1: Offer your customers an incredible experience

Emblematic products are those that radically change the life of their users; in other words, they provoke a paradigm shift. Staying with Apple, we can mention the conference that introduced the first iPhone. The product itself was far from perfect (there were no applications, no Apple Store, low battery life, and it didn’t even have 3G, even though the technology had existed for several years). Despite this, there was a “before” and “after” this launch.

An emblematic service makes what was previously impossible possible, what was previously difficult simple. For example, Google totally disrupted the search for and access to information, as did Wikipedia. iTunes and Kindle transformed access to content.

A desire for customization is also increasingly apparent. Today, many technological tools help you to understand the needs of your prospects and allow you to better adapt to each user’s personal experience. The data collected should be put to good use and used in a relevant way, in order to offer solutions for even the most intimate needs of users. Therefore, it is essential to understand and know how they fill their days, what annoying problems they encounter, what they are passionate about, or what their values and their objectives are. This knowledge is essential in order to create a useful and appropriate product.


Airbnb thrived on the fact that many people were asking for less formal experiences than the ones offered by hotels.

iTunes abandoned albums in favor of singles, in order to offer its users maximum customization and a unique experience.

Now customers are attached to the experience more than to the technical characteristics of the products they buy. That is why it is important to have a solid knowledge of your customers, their habits or their culture. IKEA, for example, studies each country in depth prior to locating there. Customs and behavior can vary widely from one country to another. Indians are absolutely not in the habit of assembling their furniture themselves, for example, in contrast to Europeans.

The Apple Store also offers a unique experience, allowing the potential customer to find his or her place within the Apple ecosystem.

Part 2: Build a strong, transparent relationship with your customers

Major brand names, formerly feared and respected, are finding it increasingly difficult to adapt to a world that is moving forward at breakneck speed. Reputation or advertising no longer carry enough weight in the face of increasingly connected, informed and demanding customers. Consumers share their lives and offer their opinion via social networks, which makes marketing much more difficult.

Conversely, startups invest in niche sectors, which enables them to create a close relationship with users and to stand out from large companies that are too general and impersonal.

Relationship of trust

Therefore, the Internet allows the establishment of a relationship of trust, an extremely strong one, between people who are scattered across the globe. Barriers fall and a sense of closeness is strengthened. Closeness is in fact becoming more emotional than geographic because Internet users connect on the basis of similar interests (and are also put in touch with each other with the help of algorithms).

Personal data is very useful, but it is much more effective and pleasant to meet one’s customers. In addition to this, in order to offer maximum value, we must feel attached to the people we help.

That is why many of the creators of startups founded their company because they themselves encountered the problem that they are trying to solve. It is the ideal situation: they totally identify with their clients, they understand them better than anyone else and therefore know exactly how to talk to them and help them. This is the story behind Shoes of Prey. Its founder Jodie Fox could not find attractive shoes to fit her, so she had a pair made to measure. Seeing how much her friends liked her shoes, she developed them on a large scale.

Part 3: Take care of your relationship with your customers, especially in the internet age

meaningful products offer customers

Digital has completed disrupted the relationships between a company and its users by abolishing borders. Thanks to digital, and in particular thanks to all the data that you collect, you have a strong link to your prospective customers.

However, digital does not allow you to have face-to-face contact with your customers. Therefore, you must be careful to stay in touch with your customers’ expectations.

Fortunately, digital has allowed the development of technological tools that can allow you to bridge this gap provided they are used properly. For some companies, this happens through the use of social media in order to build a base of followers and to keep abreast of new trends, which tend to renew themselves more and more quickly. To illustrate this, the author takes the example of the brand Black Milk Clothing which is very active on Pinterest.

People’s attention span is very short on the internet. We quickly forget one thing and move on to another. So, you have to be sure to make your users loyal. To do this, be sure to create a relationship of trust in the long term with your customers.

Place appropriate mechanisms at their disposal, such as:

  • The opportunity to subscribe to your products and services.
  • Regular, quality updates.
  • An efficient after-sales service.

If you like, it is also possible, and desirable even, to allow your community to come together, to discuss and share things. This takes us above and beyond the purchase or use of a product. Create places where people can hold exchanges, whether virtual or not.

For example, the company Velo Cult is not limited to selling bicycles. On the contrary, their desire is to grow, to house a museum, coffee bars, and to host events. This allows the community to meet around their shared passion.

Therefore, if you want to succeed, it is essential to take care of your customers by establishing a warm relationship with them.

Part 4: The story strategy blueprint

Opportunities and problems go hand in hand. For you, it involves understanding the unsatisfied needs of your prospects in order to create an attractive product that will transform the everyday lives of those who buy it.

And the problems are even more numerous! For any enterprising individual, this means that there are still a lot of opportunities waiting to be seized. In particular, everyday life is filled with many micro problems that we become accustomed to. This represents a bottomless reservoir of possibilities. Think of the number of times we can be pessimistic and complain because we think that there are no solutions.

Instead of being fatalistic, we must strive to see things from a different point of view. By using a more creative approach, you can radically change things. Sometimes when we look at the things retrospectively, it is astonishing to see just how obvious the opportunity seemed. We may even wonder how we ever managed before this change took place.

For example, the introduction of disposable razors by Gillette transformed the lives of thousands of men. Overnight, they no longer had to sharpen their blades.

meaningful products offer customers

The author offers a few simple tips to improve the lives of your customers:

  • Save your users’ time so that they can focus on their objectives. In our stressed-out societies, everyone aspires to cultivate their passions and live in a more peaceful manner.
  • Restrict friction. We are all looking for more comfort and freedom. So try to make the lives of your users as practical and as efficient as possible.
  • Have a global vision. Many entrepreneurs confine themselves to talking about the characteristics of their product, which is not much of a selling point. You need to learn how to speak to your customers’ hearts. Be sure to share your values, your opinions. You are unique. Be proud of it!

On the other hand, beware of statistics about your prospects. We often act either out of habit or out of frustration. Most of us continue to buy imperfect items that do not fully satisfy us simply because there is nothing better on the market. It is very complicated to understand what your target is really thinking.

Nevertheless, when you look at what has happened in recent years, you can identify a certain number of attitudes that are no longer the same.

Some new expectations that are increasingly significant:

  • A growing need for personalization.
  • Widespread democratization of Internet use, including for shopping, and the shift in traffic towards smartphones instead of computers.
  • More and more demand for human contact and guidance, in parallel with digitization and a more individualistic society.

Here, in contrast to major groups, the advantage of a startup is that it has nothing to lose. This is its strength and it means that it can busy itself with the needs of its customers. For example, GoPro noticed that sports enthusiasts wanted high-end cameras, previously available only to professionals. Canon or Sony were unable to achieve this.

This is because big names like Canon or Sony have their habits and have to defend their income. The priority is not innovation or the customer, but the durability of profits and the satisfaction of shareholders. Sometimes they do not even see that the behaviour of their own customers is changing.

Startups can allow themselves to take far more risks. They often begin by profoundly changing the market. The objective is not to make money, at least not initially, and this offers them increased freedom.

Part 5: Invent pragmatic solutions

Now that you have identified a strong need among your clients, you will have to find a way to respond to that need in a satisfactory manner. To do this, get help from partners with skills that complement your own. That way, you will be able to build an efficient solution and begin to establish a business model.

To structure this solution, it can be interesting to pay attention to both the constraints and the shortcomings of your sector of business.

For example, the designer behind Shoes of Prey realized how difficult it was to mass-produce attractive and comfortable shoes in a range of sizes.  This is what led her to tailor-made solutions.

Another example is the company Flow Hive, which helps bee-keepers with innovative tools. It relied on the fact that this artisanal sector had not been reformed for several decades.

Ask yourself what value you want to offer your customers and the experience that you would like them to have:

  • What are the principal features of your product?
  • What user experience do you want to offer?
  • How can you make your customers’ lives easier?
  • What emotions will your product awaken in the people using it?

Nevertheless, even if you have identified an urgent need among your customers, bear in mind that this need can change over time. If you forget this, you could find yourself out of touch with your customers’ desires. And in the end, they will move to your competitors.

So, to avoid this pitfall, rely on your base: your most loyal users, in general, the early adopters. They will help you to understand what is not working and fix your mistakes, giving you the keys to respond effectively to their dissatisfaction.

Finally, when things are going well, it will be time to expand your range. New habits, new desires, and new needs appear regularly. Take advantage of this to improve your range and offer even more value to your customers. Do not be afraid to show them your complete consideration and sympathy.

A genuinely attractive offer creates the need rather than simply meeting it. This was the case with Apple, which put forward its own values, in particular through the now-legendary marketing campaign “Think Different“. A lot of people recognized themselves in this campaign and went on to adopt the product.

Part 6: Offer a meaningful experience

The best marketers understand one thing: you are not just selling a product or service to your customers, you are selling an experience. These days, people have much higher, much more complex expectations. Consequently, your product must work on multiple levels: personalization, emotion, or value.

selling an experience

Instead of talking about your story by trying to embellish it, which is generally recommended in marketing, give your customers the opportunity to tell their own story. To go back to two previous examples, customers of Shoes of Prey feel more beautiful thanks to their purchases. As for GoPro, they offer their customers the chance to better appreciate their sporting performance and share it with their relatives.

According to Bernadette Jiwa, ideally, inspiration should come directly from your customers. When they inspire you and push you to excel, then you can create something exceptional.

The appearance and the beauty of what you are selling is also very important, including for technological products. Design of course, but also packaging, are an integral part of the experience that you are offering. For example, you can make unboxing and discovering your product an exciting moment.

Tailor-made and customized products

It is also nice to have the impression that we are enjoying a unique experience. This is what makes the success of tailor-made and customized products.

Finally, the values that you defend are also of major importance. Nowadays, consumers are more and more inclined towards responsible, transparent companies, companies with which they can establish a relationship of trust.

Consumption has indeed become a true militant act. It is the opportunity to express who we are, what counts for us, and to act to defend our convictions: environmental protection, supporting local businesses, ethics…

The company Patagonia is committed to the fight against waste, in particular by dedicating itself to repairing damaged clothing. Not only is this a worthy approach, but it also allows them to be closer to their customers and to stand up for their convictions.

Book critique of Meaningful”

In order to win over your customers, you need to create a relevant and personalized offer. Start with their needs and offer them maximum value, in order to add something to their lives. Most people are not looking for complicated solutions or over-performing products. What they are looking for is something that will help them in their daily lives.

Make your customer the center of your attention. A good company focuses on its customers above all else, even before considering the product. In consequence, get to know your users, above and beyond the superficial and the data. Listen to them talk about themselves and put yourself at their service. What counts is to build a strong relationship over the long term, a blend of attentiveness, respect, and trust.

What’s more, keep in mind that many needs and problems exist that we do not talk about. Because of this, nobody is offering a satisfactory solution to them. They represent interesting opportunities that can be seized upon by people with an entrepreneurial approach.

Finally, to satisfy the demands of your users, it is important to build comprehensive solutions. In other words, offers that are both practical and that present a meaningful experience. To do this, rely on what brings you together, in particular your shared values.

Strong points of Meaningful: The Story of Ideas:

  • A number of relevant case studies.
  • Excellent knowledge of marketing.
  • Advice that is particularly useful for any kind of entrepreneur.
  • Quite accessible.

Weak points of Meaningful: The Story of Ideas:

  • Abstract ideas.
  • Sometimes long and repetitive.

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