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What Charles Darwin Taught Us About Marketing

Date published: July 08, 2015
Last updated: July 8, 2015

Competition defines the world we live in. We can draw some stark parallels between today's marketing landscape defined by competitive digital disruption and the Darwinian concept of survival of the fittest.

By its nature, the marketing field is one big, competitive mess. Thousands of brands contending for the complete mind-share of an exponentially greater number of consumers claw, scratch, and fight for the attention of their target audience.

Survival of the Fittest

In many ways, marketers live in a very Darwinistic world. Indeed, the marketer’s world is defined by a fast-paced, highly competitive environment. All marketers are seemingly shoveling out messages, content, promotions and offers – anything to incentivize customers to buy. But few are doing so in a way that will allow their species (companies) to survive (sell more in comparison to their counterparts).

One of Darwin’s central-most theories dictates that environment plays a role in determining who lives and who doesn’t.

With the evolution of company culture, service or product offerings, growth, power, and wealth, it’s inevitable that bigger companies with more resources will often outlast others. We’ve witnessed this in every industry. Consider the major advertising holding companies of WPP, Omnicom Group, Publicis and Interpublic Group of Companies that continue to buy out smaller, but similarly-situated, companies. This is classic corporate America. It’s also an exhibition of the competitive dog-eat-dog marketplace from a corporate perspective.

The Link to Consumer Behavior

But let’s step back and consider how the theory of natural selection may play a role in what a consumer purchases and why.

Darwin’s Theory of Evolution holds that by the mechanism of natural selection, over time, small genetic mutations in certain species give that species a competitive advantage in the game of life. Disadvantageous traits eventually weed out inadequate or weaker species. The strong rise; the weak fall.

Today’s world of consumerism is quite similar. For our purposes, let’s consider the way customers serve as the mechanism – the equivalent to natural selection in Darwin’s world – by which some companies succeed and others do not (other factors are at play, too, of course). In general, people buy better products with better features, thus enriching their lives with a superior customer experience.

Not all products are alike. Not all companies are alike. And not all marketing is created equal. Going back to the idea of digital disruption, for a moment – marketing that is executed via the right channels, to the right people, at the right time will have the best combination of allure (a la DNA) to weed out the competition and rise to the top, to capture attention and entice purchase.

Darwin's Lessons for Marketers

This is true in every industry. We can learn two main lessons from Darwin, then, in today’s modern marketing landscape:

  • Minor, but functionally significant, differentiations in products and marketing are the genetic mutations that will propel a brand forward. In a completely commoditized world, almost every product serves some kind of purpose in customers’ lives. The true difference will be how niche one product is compared to another, and how it fits to serve a small purpose in a consumer’s life better than other products. The best marketing will convey that benefit.
  • Customers are in charge. Adopting a customer-centric mentality is critical in today’s world. This means recognizing that your customers control your brand. Your customers aren’t truly yours unless you’ve fully converted them to loyal buyers. They’re constantly seeking the best product or service that fits their lives – it doesn’t necessarily matter where it comes from. Strong brands succeed; weak brands fall.

Okay, so we’re not living in the 19th Century and analyzing animals of the avian variety in the Galápagos Islands. But the insights that Darwin derived from his studies are truly timeless, and offer some valuable perspectives when connecting with customers and growing our businesses.

Driving revenue and change doesn’t necessarily mean changing the world. It means delivering a superior product that fills a small part of your customer’s lives – in a way that no one else can. It means catching the moment at the exact right time and weeding out the competition.

It’s do or die time.

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