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April 29, 2004

The Biology of Branding

Al & Laura Reis’ latest marketing book, The Origin of Brands, is a deeper dive into a conversation about how divergence trumps convergence in the development of brands. This time, Al & Laura approach divergence from the angle of biology.

A pdf summary of The Origin of Brands can be found here.

Some of what they say will no doubt stir debate between brand creationists and brand evolutionists. Don't believe me? Just read the excerpts below.

********** EXCERPT ONE **********

What has happened in nature is also happening in the world of products and services. Every category will eventually diverge and become two or more categories, creating endless opportunities to build new brands.

The interplay of evolution and divergence provides a model for understanding both the Universe and the universe of brands.

Evolution has received all the publicity, but evolution alone cannot account for the millions of diverse and unusual species that inhabit the Earth. If it weren’t for the force of divergence, evolution by itself would have created a world populated by millions of single-cell prokaryotes the size of dinosaurs.

So, too, it is in the world of brands. Brands evolve to become stronger and more dominant. But it’s divergence that generates the conditions that allow the introduction of new categories and new brands.

Comparing branding with biology might seem far-fetched, but we could think of no other analogy that so clearly and simply explains the branding process.

********** EXCERPT TWO **********

Branding opportunities do not lie in the pursuit of existing markets. Branding opportunities lie in the creation of new markets.

A new brand is like a new species. A new species does not evolve from an existing species. If the “lion” is a brand, you can’t create a new brand by improving the lion. No matter how much you improve the breed, a lion is still a lion.

New species are created by divergence of an existing species. Somewhere in the distant past, the ancestor of the lion (panthera) diverged and a new species was created called a “leopard.” In the same way, the panthera diverged a number of times creating the jaguar, the tiger and other species. That’s the way nature works.

That’s also the way branding works. If you want to create a powerful new brand, you should look for ways that your product or service can diverge from an existing category. In other words, the best way to build a brand is not by going after an existing category, but by creating a new category you can be first in.

********** EXCERPT THREE **********

Survival of the firstest.

But how did the first seedling become the fittest seedling? In the forest or in the marketplace, the battle is usually won by the first contestant to occupy the space.

Being first doesn’t automatically mean your brand will become the leader in a new category. It only gives you the opportunity to do so. If you’re first, your brand starts off as the leader since there are no other brands that are trying to occupy the same branch.

Here’s where evolution comes in. Your brand needs to continue to evolve to maintain your leadership. In this respect, you need to be protective of your brand and be especially vigilant when competitors threaten your position.

********** EXCERPT FOUR **********

Survival of the secondest.

Three seeds fall onto the forest floor. Two land close together, the other lands some distance away.

In the struggle for life, the two seeds that are close together will fight an epic battle until one dominates the other. From that point on, it will be survival of the firstest.

But suppose your brand was not first, suppose your brand has no chance of being first, suppose that your seed is the one that fell some distance away from the leader. You’re exactly in the right position to survive. Your brand will benefit from another principle derived from Darwin. Survival of the secondest.

It doesn’t matter what the leader’s strategy is, whether it makes sense or not, it’s always better to be the opposite of the leader in some fundamental way, than it is to emulate the leader.


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