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Thought Experiment: What Happens If You Combine Marketing Concepts and Evolution

Posted on September 5, 2012 and read 1,532 times

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mark bardsley Thought Experiment: What Happens If You Combine Marketing Concepts and EvolutionMark Bardsley
Interaction Design Director
Blast Radius

I’m an interaction designer for a digital agency so concepts from biology rarely make an appearance at work. And yet, I’ve harbored an obsession with evolutionary biology since high school, so when I get a chance to think about how it applies to my work, I take hold of it greedily.

There are interesting biological forays such as skin conductance (or GSR) but that’s just an Orwellian method for testing concepts based on physiological responses to stimulus. I’m not sure if anyone has used fMRI for marketing but it wouldn’t surprise me. Either way I want to consider something much more conceptual and abstract. Ultimately, this may turn out to be a fruitless exercise, but when the idea first stuck me it seemed to be a novel and interesting way of looking at concept iteration.

To start, we have to get past some rudimentary evolutionary biology. First let’s consider the concept upon which I will base this idea for market concept iteration. It has the unfortunately dry title “unit of selection,” which I think belies the intrigue surrounding the concept. The idea was first popularized of course by Charles Darwin who didn’t have the foggiest notion what a gene was. So in his seminal book, On the Origin of Species, he made the mostly correct assumption that an individual within a habitat either succeeds or fails in a competitive environment to reproduce, and thus passes on its likeness to progeny. Many years later, after much debate and research which continues to this day, scientists think that evolutionary selective pressure happens not just with individuals but possibly with lower levels of complexity and order such as cells and genes, and possibly at higher levels such as groups and species.

This unit of selection rooted in the various stages of complexity within an ecosystem is where I think we can draw an analogy to marketing and maybe, just maybe, learn something from evolutionary biologists.

Let’s line up the analogy like this:

Genes = words, phrases or images

Cells = functional marketing concept comprised of words, phrases or images (print or digital/interactive)

Individuals = instances in which humans experience marketing concepts

Groups = localized instances in which humans experience marketing concepts

Species = global collections of instances in which humans experience marketing concepts

With the analogy made, we can use the evolutionary principle ‘unit of selection’ to create marketing concepts. For example, let’s use a phrase “Even your friends don’t like us” as a slogan or central theme of a marketing concept (the gene). Now let’s take that concept and turn it into a Facebook app that lets users compete to see who can get the most people to unfriend them (the cell). When the app launches we watch and listen as the users engage with the experience (the individuals) first in a test a market (the group) and then collectively in all markets (the species).

If you break it down this way, and consider there is evolutionary pressure applied at all levels to help decide whether the concept is a success, then you can iterate or evolve the concept at the various levels as well. For instance, if the concept doesn’t work, look at the different levels to find where it’s failing. If it does work well, consider iteratively evolving one or many of the levels to make further improvements or to add value.

Like all analogies it’s not perfect but I often find it useful to break things down into component pieces with the hope that the big picture actually becomes clearer once the pieces are put back together again.






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