Aligning human meaning with customer experience for big results


Jimena Guijarro

North America Strategy Lead

How has Domino’s outperformed returns of companies like Google, and done so year after year? It’s not all to do with the success of transforming their operations through digital technologies. In fact, technology is just an enabler of the real transformation: putting real customer needs at the center of their service design to inform a full business shift. The pizza giant listened to customers and found an opportunity to differentiate from the competition by shifting the focus from product to service, and delivering a promise of transparency every step of the way to make customers feel in control. The company overcame the functional, commoditized need of “finding food” by removing friction and evoking an emotional response of truth in the form of a simple, upright, and candid customer service.

Companies are forever trying to connect with customers in meaningful ways. No matter which industry is in discussion, opportunities exist to drive successful businesses in directions that have a positive effect on people’s lives. The key to creating a sense of customer loyalty is anchoring meaning to the offerings for customers.

Product and business teams that are thinking through customer experiences can no longer create and operate with the product or service alone in mind: both should work together. For the partnership to work, companies must consider how to leverage customer-centricity to consistently deliver on the promise of meaning across the entire business, and throughout time, as they continue to evolve and innovate.

Creating a customer-centric culture should help companies across departments and functions share a clear North Star to inform decision-making. Meaning should always be a consideration when answering questions such as:

– What values does our company stand for?

– What issues do we want to help solve for customers or for our community?

– What is the employee experience?

– What is the best way to allocate resources?

Companies such as Nike, Disney, and Apple, are examples of customer-centric cultures with clear North Stars. Take the example of Disney: through every business line, touchpoint, and product, they aim to evoke magic. Now, think of Apple and its promise to deliver beauty through the physical design of products, but also in the simplicity of the digital user interface design. Similarly, Nike has taken the promise of achievement as the foundation for its product design principles, as well as for its employee journey.

At the heart of all of these are customer research and customer insights. Often, investing in this exploratory work can seem like an unnecessary burden with no short-term measurable returns. However, over time, as in the case of Domino’s and other staple brands including Apple, designing from a clear understanding of the promises that set you apart is an existential consideration. Especially in the face of the “there’s no such thing as a sustained competitive advantage” mentality. To make sense of meaning is no easy task.

One group of researchers embarked on figuring out which meanings are most coveted across global societies. Their work culminated in the book “Making Meaning: How Successful Businesses Deliver Meaningful Customer Experiences.” They drilled down into 15 universal meanings that manifest in the form of experiences. Understanding what your customers need and want, and being able to translate these into meaning, offers teams the agility needed to compete in fast-changing markets. While services, products, and experiences change and surface, the meaning evoked across the innovation portfolio remains a solid constant for customers and for internal teams.

Here are four of those areas that instill meaning for customers. Do any of these resonate with your company’s promises?

Achieving big results aligning human meaning with customer experiences


The sense of living without unwanted constraints.

Freedom means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Freedom can mean living in a democratic system that isn’t broken; it can mean taking a road trip to leave all your cares behind; it can mean living independently in a controlled environment. Building in a sense of freedom that is both aspirational for customers, and supportive of actual freedoms in the world, will create ties that bind. Propelland leveraged the power of evoking freedom working with Securitas Direct to develop an ecosystem of products that promoted independent living for seniors.


A commitment to honesty and integrity.

Every single company should assess how they’re implementing their values up and down their value chains. Consumers and entrepreneurs are making it a point to divest from funds that support bad climate practices and work conditions. Whether their goal is to reach zero-waste, or to prioritize social responsibility (for example, with fair trade practices and safe workplace environments), transparency has become non-negotiable. Business transparency should be built-in to internal systems and available for consumers. For example, Bank of the West is working toward redesigning touchpoints to evoke a sense of truth by aligning their offerings with their sustainability pledge, which in accordance with the Paris Agreement has ceased financing the most harmful forms of fossil fuel extraction.


The assurance of equitable and unbiased treatment.

Where does justice find itself on the continuum of product or service development? Does the product or service offer a very broad appeal, or is there a need that could be fulfilled that might otherwise be out of reach for societies? One example of an issue around justice is accessibility to drinking water. Everyone should have a right to clean and safe drinking water. Propelland worked with the company Splash to help design more efficient and eco-friendly designs that will better serve communities in need of access to better hygiene and drinking water.


The recognition of oneself as a valuable individual worthy of respect.

Brand recognition was, is, and will continue to be important, whether it’s the latest Prius to hit the market or pair of coveted sneakers. If the product or service that is being consumed resonates with and validates your own values, it will be reflected in the marketplace. For instance, Converse has a global community of All Stars and serves as a canvas for creative action and progress by investing in bold ideas and collaborating directly with individuals. They have worked together with the All Stars on campaigns such as a virtual store on the Pacific Garbage Patch for Earth Day 2021, which reflects the community’s increased emphasis on sustainability.