Before DancingCats, TidePods, BucketChallenges and other “memes” took over the internet, a branch of social science called Memetics was actually built around the idea of Memes. The term Meme was coined more than 40 years ago in the landmark book by Richard Dawkins “The Selfish Gene“. Dawkins defined a meme as “a unit of human cultural transmission analogous to the gene”, and sees the meme as information that replicates and is passed on. Further developed by others including Dennett in “From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds”, memetics, the study of cultural evolution via the passing of memes from host to host in a society has been bouncing around academic and pop culture circles for decades.
After reading Dennett, I started thinking about how the ideas of memetics applies to Product Category Design and Strategy for my clients. Some quick Google searching convinced me that this is unchartered territory and to a book called “Virus of the Mind – The New Science of the Meme” by Richard Brodie. In this often quirky and new agey book, Brodie offers some basic frameworks on how Memes, what he very pejoratively labels Mind Viruses, spread.
Judgement aside, Brodie’s work is quite interesting when you think of Category Design and Marketing strategies. Brodie says that Mind Viruses work in three phases – Penetration, Faithful Replication and Spreading. What a great roadmap this is to category success.
- Penetration – The Category must enter the mind of market participants
- Faithful Replication – The participants must be able to mirror and replicate the Category idea
- Spreading – The Category needs to spread efficiently and quickly from participant to participant
So, how do we design a Category Meme that can do all of these, in other words, how does the category enter, replicate and spread across the marketplace. That is the $64,000 dollar question, or in many B2B categories, more like the $6.4B dollar one.
I must admit, I am interested and very infected by this idea, but as Mind Viruses go, this is a pretty rich and exciting one to study! In the next series of posts, I will try to unravel the mysteries of Category Design and Success, and how Category Memetics can help us to succeed.
PS – How many Memes can you count in this short post? Let me know your count in the comments – hint, you definitely need at least 2 hands to count them!
wild guess, Ken, is 11. Before the internet meme was Oracle (really Larry himself) proclaiming “the Network is the Computer” which on the upside rallied his whole company around the new category of their products and their importance as the central element in customer consideration and customer experience. On the downside, it required significant definition and explaining for consistent “replication” and “spreading”. It definitely satisfies the “tell me more” test.
I believe it was Sun and Scott McNealy that said “The Network is the Computer” not Larry. And yes, there is no #freeLunch !