of meaningful experiences do people value? In the course of
helping companies develop products and services that suit their
markets, every year we interview over 100,000 individuals from
countries and cultures around the world. In these interviews,
we’ve found commonalities among the meanings people feel
strongly about, whether we’re studying the adoption of
new software in Poland or the purchase of toothbrushes in Florida.
compiled a list of these meanings, but it is far from exhaustive.
We’ve found potentially dozens of types of meaningful
experiences and at least as many possible ways to characterize
them. What we concentrate on here are 15 of the meanings that
emerge most frequently in these interviews and appear to be
universal among people’s values. While the relative importance
of these meaningful experiences might vary and their interpretation
could differ slightly, all cultures seem to recognize their
significance. This is good news for businesses, because it means
that there is a certain constancy among human needs that transcends
the distinctions of culture and language.
none of these meaningful experiences is more or less important
than any other, we’ve presented them in alphabetical order)
Achieving goals and making something of oneself; a sense of
satisfaction that can result from productivity, focus, talent,
or status. American Express has long benefited from transmitting
a hint of this meaning to its card holders by establishing itself
as a credit card intended for those who are successful. Nike
relies on the essence of this meaning for many in its “Just
Do It” campaign.
The appreciation of qualities that give pleasure to the senses
or spirit. Of course beauty is in the eye of the beholder and
thus highly subjective, but our desire for it is ubiquitous.
We aspire to beauty in all that surrounds us, from architecture
and fine furnishing to clothing and cars. Enormous industries
thrive on the promise of beauty stemming from shinier hair,
whiter teeth, and clearer skin. Beauty can also be more than
mere appearance. For some, it is a sense that something is created
“correctly” or efficiently with an elegance of purpose
and use. Companies such as Bang & Olufsen audio equipment
and Jaguar automobiles distinguish themselves through the beauty
of their design.
A sense of unity with others around us and a general connection
with other human beings. Religious communities, unions, fraternities,
clubs, and sewing circles are all expressions of a desire for
belonging. The promise and delivery of community underlies the
offerings of several successful organizations including NASCAR
with its centralizing focus on car racing and leagues of loyal
fans that follow the race circuit, Harley-Davidson motorcycles
and their Harley Owners Group (HOG), and Jimmy Buffet with his
dedicated Parrotheads. These businesses attract and support
user communities who embody specific values tied to their products
The sense of having produced something new and original, and
in so doing, to have made a lasting contribution. Besides driving
our species to propagate, we enjoy this experience through our
hobbies, the way we decorate our home, in telling our stories,
and in anything else that reflects our personal choices. Creation
is what makes “customizable” seem like a desirable
attribute, rather than more work for the buyer, for example,
making the salad bar a pleasure rather than a chore.
The willing application of oneself to a responsibility. The
military in any country counts on the power of this meaning,
as do most employers. Duty can also relate to responsibilities
to oneself or family, such as reading the daily paper to stay
of the news. Commercially, anything regarded as “good
for you,” including vitamins, medications, Cross-Your-Heart
bras, and cushioned insoles relays some sense of duty and the
satisfaction it brings.
Clear understanding through logic or inspiration. This experience
is not limited to those who meditate and fast, it is a core
expectation of offerings from Fox News, which promises “fair
and balanced” reporting, the Wall Street Journal, which
many consider the ultimate authority for business news, and
the Sierra Club, which provides perspective on environmental
threats and conservation.
The sense of living without unwanted constraints. This experience
often plays tug-of-war with the desire for security; more of
one tends to decrease the other. Nevertheless, freedom is enticing,
whether it’s freedom from dictators, or in the case of
Google, the freedom to quickly search the Web learning and interacting
with millions of people and resources.
The balanced and pleasing relationship of parts to a whole,
whether in nature, society, or an individual. When we seek a
work/life balance, we are in pursuit of harmony. Likewise, when
we shop at Target for a toaster that matches our mixer, we are
in pursuit of harmony. Much of the aesthetic appeal of design
depends on our personal desire for the visual experience of
The assurance of equitable and unbiased treatment. This is the
sense of fairness and equality that underlies our concept of
“everyman” or Average Joe. It helps explain the
immense popularity of the Taurus and the Camry, the ranch house,
Levi jeans, and white cotton T-shirts—all products with
a simple, impartial appeal to a very broad audience.
A sense of unity with everything around us. It is what some
seek from the practice of spirituality and what others expect
from a good tequila. Although we don’t normally think
of them as a company, the Grateful Dead sustained its revenues
for decades building an experience that connected with its fans’
desire for oneness. Similarly, organizations that connects their
members into nature or a broader sense of the world, like the
Monterey Bay Aquarium or the United Nations, are capable of
evoking a meaning of oneness.
Atonement or deliverance from past failure or decline.
Though this might seem to stem from negative experiences, the
impact of the redemptive experience is highly positive. Like
community and enlightenment, redemption has a basis in religion,
but it also attracts customers to Weight Watchers, Bliss spas,
and the grocery store candy aisle. Any sensation that delivers
us from a less desirable condition to another, more pleasing,
one can be redemptive.
The freedom from worry about loss. This experience
has been a cornerstone of civilization but in the U.S. in particular,
acquired increased meaning and relevance after 9/11. On the
commercial side, the desire for this experience created the
insurance business, and it continues to sell a wide range of
products from automatic rifles to Depends undergarments to credit
cards that offer protection from identity theft.
A commitment to honesty and integrity. This experience plays
an important role in most personal relationships, but it also
is a key component of companies like Whole Foods, Volkswagen,
and Newman’s Own, all of which portray themselves as simple,
upright, and candid.
The recognition of oneself as a valued individual worthy of
respect. Every externally branded piece of clothing counts on
the attraction of this meaningful experience whether it’s
Ralph Lauren Polo or Old Navy, as does Mercedes Benz, the Four
Seasons hotel chain, and any other brand with status identification
as a core value.
Awe in the presence of a creation beyond one’s understanding.
While this might sound mystical and unattainable, consider the
wonder that Las Vegas hotels create simply through plaster and
lights. Disney has been a master of this experience for decades,
and technology companies routinely evoke awe as they enable
their users to do what seemed impossible the year before.