Successful marketers spread ideas. Regrettably, some unsuccessful marketers do as well. There is no shortage offalse gurus that gain fame and fortune for themselves while doing very little for any product or service. Bad ideas can spread just as well as good ones.
Memetics can help us understand why. Unfortunately, “meme” is a term that gets thrown around a lot without much thought. People often use it to denote something they think is new and cool, but that misses the point entirely.
Understanding how memes work can help us understand how both good and bad ideas get spread.
What’s a Meme?
The termmeme was originally coined in Richard Dawkins classic book,The Selfish Gene. Simply put, it’s something that replicates information. Just as genes replicate genetic data, memes replicate cultural ideas.
The first four notes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony are a meme as are famous advertising slogans like, “Just Do It” or “Where’s the Beef?” Other memes are longer, like the Magna Carta or the US Constitution and some can be fairly technical, like Google’s PageRank algorithm.
Like genes, some memes are more successful than others. Some, like Google’s algorithm, get copied because they are useful. Others, such as David Beckham’s haircut, hitch a ride with other memes (i.e. playing sports) that they are bundled with.
Understanding how and why memes get replicated is an essential marketing function.
Memes can spread in lots of different ways for lots of different reasons. Susan Blackmore, in her bookThe Meme Machine, describes how altruism can spread memes through a story about two successful primitive hunters, Kev and Gav. Kev, is a nice guy who shares his meat while Gav is a bit more selfish and keeps the proceeds from his hunt to himself.
Blackmore notes that Kev will come into contact with more people and they will be more likely to copy his style of hunting (i.e. type of bow and quiver, etc.). Moreover, other memes of his will be transferred as well, such as the type of feathers he adorns himself with, songs he likes to sing, etc..
Gav’s memes won’t be as successful. He won’t spend as much time with others so, whatever his merits, he won’t get copied as much as Kev. As information gets passed down, future generations will be more likely to adopt Kev’s memes than Gav’s.
This excellent article continues @http://www.digitaltonto.com/2010/marketing-memes/
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