Every entrepreneur would love to see people standing in lines to buy his or her product. The first and obvious step towards this is, of course, offering a product or service people would love. Bear in mind that I did not write a high-quality product. Quality is a subjective term, it means different things to different people. A product people love simply keeps the promise of fulfilling one’s needs. The ice cream sold by a walking salesman at the beach doesn’t have to be top-notch — as long as they chill, people will stand in lines to buy them. There is one more thing company owners often forget. They think that having a great product and telling about it is enough. Yet there is something much stronger than advertising a product: it’s a product that advertises itself. The one that infects others with its mere existence. How do you make a product more memorable?
I want that too!
The ice cream on the beach is a great example. You can, of course, see the seller from very far, you can hear him screaming “Cold ice cream!” but there is a greater chance that before he reaches you, you’ll see people eating ice cream. And when you do, you’ll want ice cream for yourself, too, right? When you walk through a park full of people, you might get infected by plenty of product-related ideas: frisbee, running, a new model of a bike… Such need creation is far more effective than traditional advertising. Especially in groups characterized by strong peer influence, such as teenagers. Producers have long been aware of that fact and have been modifying their products slightly so that everybody knows when someone is using their product. When Apple produced first iPods, they faced a problem: when you’re using your iPod, it stays in your pocket. But all it took was adding characteristic white ear-buds and you have yourself a viral idea. Nikon One or Beats use a similar strategy.
Ideas like viruses
Fashion or trend is an idea that spreads. It’s a dream of nearly all producers: to create a fashionable product increases the number of customers exponentially. But how do you go about it? Can you program fashionable? The science behind infectious ideas is called memetics.
The term meme describing an idea that replicates itself by infecting others was coined by Richard Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist at Oxford University. In 1976 his book, The Selfish Gene popularized memetics. Just like genes store the information on our appearance, eye color, height and so on, the memes store cultural information: behaviors, fashion, clothes… And just like we are trying to modify genes in order to achieve certain goals, we can also try to modify memes to influence behaviors. The latter is especially interesting for marketers.
Memetics claims that different memes compete for the finite amount of our attention, there are only so many ideas we can consume. The fashion is created from the strongest memes, the ones that won the race for attention. This means there’s no definite way of creating a successful meme, as its success depends not only on its strength but is also dependent on the strength of competition. Though we can take some measures to ensure our meme is stronger. What can we do?
Show, teach, connect
In his book Virus of the Mind the author, Richard Brodie, defines three kinds of memes. If you’re doing any kind of marketing, you should familiarize yourself with them.
- Distinction — when you teach a person to tell a difference between one earphone and the other, he will be more likely to notice what he’s learned to distinct. Sociologists are perfectly aware of this phenomenon: a pregnant woman starts seeing other pregnant women around her. The owners of Alfa Romeo start to realize the streets are full of similar cars. Advertising explains to the masses, why a product is better, but the product should be easy to recognize by itself.
- Strategy — a strategic meme programs us to take a certain action. We keep quiet when in a library, we buy popcorn when in a movie theater, we wear a baseball cap to the stadium. When building a brand, we program things we call brand rituals — like wearing Beats around your neck and not in the bag when you’re not listening to them. Earphones are treated as an element of clothing, thus becoming more visible.
- Association — an association meme binds two things creating something new. When you put two known, positive ideas in close proximity and then put another, unfamiliar idea next to them, proximity association is formed. If I had a photo with George W. Bush and Barack Obama in my Facebook profile you would assume I mingle in American politics. We create similar associations by placing a product next to an attractive person or a star. Beats by Dr Dre, right?
Memetic products and services
If you start looking at your products using memetic point of view you’ll soon realize you can make them better by trying to win the attention race. Advertising and marketing strategists are aware of this fact. So next time you plan a product or service, consider using one of those winning strategies:
- Tradition — if a product or service has always been around, there’s a greater chance people will try to promote this tradition. That’s why Coca-Cola tries to convince us that even your grandfather had it at his dinner table.
- Evangelism – a product that creates a ritual of inviting others to join stands a much better chance of prevailing on the market. That’s why most social networks begin with invite your friends or see who’s already here ritual.
- Familiarity — products that are compatible with what’s already in your head, wallet or house. The language barrier is a great example of overcoming this barrier. If you’re reading this but English is not your mother tongue, the same content would stand a better chance of going viral if it was translated into your own language.
- Explanation — products that explain the way they work in a meaningful way sell better than the ones full of abstract or technobabble. The explanation does not have to be precise, it just has to make sense. That’s why stories or spatial metaphors are so powerful. See the painkillers that precisely target the source of your pain. It’s not how painkillers work, but it’s easy to believe in a targeting pill.
Memetics will not replace traditional marketing or brand building strategy, but adding this knowledge to your arsenal will let you take over the competition. Because the brand happens in the head. Well? Will you share this post now? Even your grandparents knew that Facebook and Twitter have always been the best way of spreading knowledge.