As defined by Market Business News, “A winner-takes-all economy is one where the top players capture a disproportionately large share” of the market—where a product or service that is just 1% better than the competing ones may get as much as 90% of the revenue.
Facebook and Google are great examples. After all, is Facebook really that much different than MySpace? And is Google that much different than Bing?
That’s what evolutionary branding is all about. In Darwin’s theory of evolution, competition is viewed as a major part of the struggle for survival. Competition becomes even more severe the more alike the competitors are because they are all going after the same resources.
This is why the cornerstone of evolutionary branding is identifying what you do differently and better than your competition. You see, successful brands think strategically rather than just visually.
I stumbled upon the theory of evolutionary branding a few years back when I designed and built e-commerce websites for Fortune 500 companies and major brands. One evening, I read an article by James Fowler and Nicholas Christakis of Harvard University about how they had scientifically proven that kindness was contagious. As a marketer, this blew me away. This was a time—like now—where I felt the world could use a little more kindness. So I decided to use the resources at my disposal to produce a feature-length documentary based on their findings with the goal of unleashing a tsunami of kindness upon the world.
While filming, my crew and I interviewed nonprofits, startups and healthcare organizations. And I was shocked at how bad their marketing and branding was. I was also jealous of these people whose day jobs were making the world a better place and wondered how I could make my day job be making the world a better place too. Then it hit me: Maybe my role would be to bring them these principles that the big brands used to make tons of money. I saw my role as an enabler.
But the challenge was: How do we bring the techniques that massive corporations with massive marketing budgets use to these tiny organizations with minuscule budgets? We didn’t have to do it all at once; we could package branding techniques into bite-sized bits and apply them as resources permitted where they were needed most.
Here’s how it works: We take the basic elements of a brand and break them down into seven affordable “sprints.” Before we start a project, we assess a company and its budget/resources and pick the best combination and order of these sprints for maximum impact.
Here they are:
1. Know your competition. Do not underestimate this. It’s not who you think your competition is, or other people who do something similar. Your competition is who your customers think your competition is. And this is anyone, in any field, taking business away from you. The best way to do this, of course, is to ask your customers who they looked at before choosing to do business with you. Questionnaires are also an effective way to get this kind of information and you can use that with Facebook ads and giveaways.
2. Define your value proposition. What do you do, and what do you do better and different than your competitors? You should be able to say this in a few sentences and walk away with business. Some people separate the value proposition from the unique selling point, but in a winner-take-all economy, I’d say it’s the same thing.
3. Create a catchy name. This is how you make people remember you. In a perfect world, this should support your value proposition. Most people try to come up with a name that is meaningful to them. This is a mistake; you need a name that is meaningful to your customers. My favorite example is Apple. Taking a bite from the tree of knowledge. But to the horror of my art school classmates, I also love Best Buy and Costco. Their names are catchy and perfectly encapsulate their value propositions.
4. Create an engaging slogan. This is an abbreviated form of your value proposition. Your name makes people remember you; your slogan does the selling. Like coming up with a great name, this is way easier said than done, but for tips on how to make a slogan sticky, I’d recommend reading Chip and Dan Heath’s book, Made to Stick.
5. Design a memorable logo. Even the greatest logo in the world will not increase sales. But a great value proposition can. The logo is still important. Along with your name, your logo is how people remember you.
6. Define the look and feel of your brand. This includes the fonts, colors, image treatment. A big mistake most agencies make is they ask clients what their favorite colors are, what fonts they like, whose brand identity inspires them. What is more important is what their customers’ favorite colors are, what fonts their customers like, whose brand identity inspires their customer.
7. Document it all in a brand manual. This is not just the encapsulation of the previous six steps. The brand manual is your strategic road map, a guidebook for the execution of your brand vision. Brand manuals should be actionable and outline not only strategy, but a complete strategic road map. Include things like messaging and graphics for your website, metadata and tags for search engines, headlines for ads, and social media hashtags—and instructions for implementing them.
If anyone tells you your industry is immune to the winner-take-all economy, run for the hills. I’ve been in marketing for more than 20 years in almost every capacity—art director, fashion photographer, filmmaker, agency owner—and I can tell you, the winner-take-all economy is coming for all of us if we don’t evolve.