Why brand evolution is not the same as growing brands: How to evolve.

The not-so-secret dream of every brand is to be a commercial success. Subsequently, great effort is placed in developing marketing strategies that are employed for brand evolution or growth.  This cumulative marketing activity results in a sometimes-unpredictable marketplace populated by success and failure, popularity and irrelevance, icons and mavericks.    

However, is evolving a brand the same as growing a brand?  These terms are often used as interchangeable synonyms for the same strategic goal.   When they are used in the same context, they are speaking to the desired momentum behind commercial success.  Who isn’t trying to improve the bottom-line? However, they focus on very different strategic journeys and goals.   Understanding the difference between these goals impacts on how a business successfully gets there.

We’re offering our perspective on brand evolution:

  1. How is brand evolution different from other strategic goals?


  1. How can a brand evolve and what are the benefits?


  1. Discussion of the science of evolution and what light this can shed on branding.


  1. Should you evolve your brand and how?
brand evolution - semiovore 1

However, is evolving a brand the same as growing a brand?  These terms are often used as interchangeable synonyms for the same strategic goal.   When they are used in the same context, they are speaking to the desired momentum behind commercial success.  Who isn’t trying to improve the bottom-line? However, they focus on very different strategic journeys and goals.   Understanding the difference between these goals impacts on how a business successfully gets there.


Part 1. How is brand evolution different from other strategic goals?

Somewhere in your brand management goals will be a descriptive language of strategic intent.   It’s often useful to refresh our understanding of what these common terms mean.

A glossary on how some of these goals are different from each other:

A. Brand Evolution vs Growth
  1. To Grow indicates an increase in size, capability, or value.


  1. To Evolve refers to the continuous evolution and expansion within or across different categories or sectors.
B. Brand Growth vs Development

It’s also possible to say that growth and development are often used interchangeably.   Development is different because it focuses on maturation and being established in a market; it’s a goal rather than the journey.

C. Brand Adaption vs Evolution

Likewise, a business’s ability to adapt and evolve are sometimes analogous:


  1. Adaption is when an existing product or service is changed so it is suitable for different consumers under the conditions of its current environment.


  1. Evolution implies a transformation: new markets, opportunities, and capabilities.
D. Brand Evolution vs Revolution

Another corollary of evolution is brand revolution.  

  1. With Darwinian evolution being understood as a slow and gradual change or development.


  1. Revolution is a sudden, extreme type of dramatic change.

However, contemporary evolutionary science recognises that evolution can happen in rapid leaps.  Revolution is often used in the same context as a re-brand, something that shakes up the status-quo.


Ironically, evolution suggests advancement, whereas with a revolution, you end up where you started. 

Brands don’t evolve in isolation

Semiotic Brand meaning

While we are focusing on a brand’s evolution, we need to be mindful that the context is constantly changing. Culture, society, consumers and the competition are all simultaneously evolving at the same time.


Part 2. What parts of a brand evolve?

To review, Brand Evolution refers to the continuous evolution and expansion within or across different categories or sectors.  It usually implies a business transformation: entering new markets, meeting new opportunities, and developing new capabilities.


Brand Evolution is different from Brand Growth in another substantial way.  A summation of evolution is that it is not a process without a goal, it is a process that solves a new problem.   Brand evolution is insight-driven by market research.  Insights that identify problems that a brand solves and transforms its capabilities and expression.  


Like with all living things, brands don’t evolve all at once or at the same speed.  It’s also beneficial to think of your brand as not being one thing but having many different opportunities to evolve. 

Brand evolution management - semiovore

That benefits of evolving your brand

There are many different benefits of evolving different aspects of your brand.  There are immediate commercial benefits, but today’s consumers are used to a sense of momentum, progress, fashion, and newness.  A brand that doesn’t sit on its laurels is more likely to be identified with as reflecting their own personal journey in life.

Five Benefits of brand evolution

Every brand is unique, so it is usual for more specific and distinctive benefits to be created by an evolving brand.


Part 3. What can brands learn from the science of evolution?

Evolution is a commonly used word, with different levels of understanding of the theory behind the term.  It’s often seen to mean ‘to gradually develop’.  However, a deeper understanding of evolution is a powerful way to understand market dynamics.

Can the word evolution be used in different contexts?

It depends on how you define evolution.   The innovation theorist, Richard Webb, called for the recognition of a ‘special theory of evolution’ to explain Darwinism.  There is also a ‘general theory of evolution’ that can be used to explain non-biological evolution, which covers culture, language, art, religion, and branding.

A contemporary definition of evolution

Without attempting to summarise an entire science, the modern syntheses of evolution runs along the lines of integrating post-Darwinian insight and technological advances.


The standard Twentieth Century model of evolution rests on three pillars: variation, inheritance, and selection.

    1. Variation: Variations arise from genetic mutations, which occur at a DNA level from internal and external stimuli.


    1. Inheritance: Most of these changes are neutral or detrimental to life, some leading to adaptations that are beneficial.


    1. Selection: Natural selection weeds out those less suited to their environment, so fitter organisms survive to pass on their traits.

Summary: So as conditions change, variation, inheritance and selection allow species to adapt.

We see purposeful design in nature, rather than emergent evolution.

It is the randomness of this process that many struggle to understand. Even the word evolution comes from the Latin ‘Evolutio’, the unrolling of a scroll.  Early Darwinian thought promoted the conception of evolution as a linear line.  But evolution doesn’t proceed in a straight line yet it continues to be illustrated in that way.

Evolution never looks ahead. It can't plan the best way to travel from point A to point B. Instead, small changes to existing forms arise (by genetic mutation) and spread within a population to the extent that they help organisms respond more effectively to current conditions.

Can brands evolve? How does biological evolution align with market forces?

In branding, we seek excellence and advancement to be category leaders, the best and most engaged with product in the market.  Brand evolution is often seen as a strategic path to this goal.  


However, biological evolution is not progressive, it doesn’t seek to create the best, it seeks to design adaptations that ‘get the jobs done’.   Therefore, it’s easy to wonder why things evolved the way they have, e.g., why did peacocks evolve feather displays that make them easy prey?  Often features can be trade-offs or leftovers of evolution from unrelated adaptation.  


Furthermore, Richard Dawkins’s, “The Selfish Gene”, took a gene-centric perspective, arguing that evolution is driven by the survival of specific genes rather than species.  So, in marketing terms, the survival of Mustard or Tomato sauce in our pantries is more important than the success of a particular type of brand …

"Evolution is cleverer than you are."

A key element of biological evolution is random variations that are beneficial to change in the environment.  However, brands are not random.  Natural selection is an undirected process, brands have directors.  Brands are consciously created and managed.  Ironically, the alternative explanation of Lamarckism, the principle that physical changes in organisms during their lifetime can be passed on to their offspring, may provide a neater explanation of market forces.  However, market forces can be seen as a system of trial and error in response to a changing environment and competition.

'A copy of a copy is always imperfect, and for that reason alone, evolution is inevitable'.

It’s clear today that a ‘general theory of evolution’ is used outside of biology to explain the ‘evolution’ of a wide variety of what Matt Ridley calls ‘emergent behaviour’, the result of unplanned and undirected behaviour unfolding over time.  This emergence reflects biological evolutionary processes in many ways.


Biological Evolution as a metaphor

It’s an interesting thought-exercise to look at different types of biological evolution to explain market forces.  Through a marketing lens, there are three forces behind evolution that create four main patterns:

  1. Variation: Meaningful differentiation from other brands and innovation


  1. Inheritance: The innate and dominant properties of a product or brand


  1. Selection: Natural selection eliminates what doesn’t work, strengthening the survival of the fittest. Which brands solve problems and engage the best.

Four patterns of evolution

1. Divergent Evolution

Divergent Evolution in Branding

When a feature occurs in different species because of a derivation from a common ancestor with a shared characteristic.  Organisms diverge and accumulate differences that often result in new species.

Example from nature: The limbs of humans, cats, whales, and bats all are built upon the same bone structure, pointing to a shared common ancestor.  

Marketing Examples:


  1. The beer or wine category share a common product origin, that is now highly differentiated into different styles and varieties.


  1. Bayonet and Screw-in lightbulbs are geographically divergent, via the Phoebus Cartel, but share a base technology.


  1. Comparing a Montblanc fountain pen to a Logi Pencil.

2. Convergent Evolution

convergent evolution in Branding

When unrelated species evolve analogous characteristics and functions independently due to their adaptation to a particular environment.

Example from nature: Sharks, dolphins and penguins have similar physical structures adapted to being streamlined underwater but are not directly related.  Likewise, bats and birds have similar ‘wings’ to enable flight.

Marketing Examples:


  1. Butter and Margarine, while fulfilling similar roles in sandwiches, they are made from different ingredients.


  1. VHS and Betamax videotape wars of the late 1970’s and 1980’s.


  1. PC’s and Apple Mac’s are examples here. Noting that the ‘universal computing machine’ – the Turing Machine – was independently created by Alan Turing and Emil Post in 1936. 


3. Parallel Evolution

Parallel Evolution in branding

Where a species from one location diversifies into several distinct forms independently, the same diversification occurs in a different location.

Example from nature: Placentals and Marsupials, e.g. A Ground hog compared to a Wombat; the flying squirrel compared to a Sugar Glider.

Marketing Examples:


  1. Tofu and Cheese are similar in many ways as coagulated pressed products but have different sources. Even though tofu and paneer can look identical.


  1. Tabasco compared to Sriracha come from different cultural hot sauce traditions.  Fermented foods such as kimchi or sauerkraut come from different cultures but are similar in process.


  1. Stringed instruments are found in every culture with very different forms but with a similar function.


4. Co-Evolution

Co-evolution in branding

The reciprocal evolutionary change of two species or groups of species is intimately intertwined.  This implies that interacting species impose selection on each other; one of the main forces behind biodiversity. This can be beneficial or negative for one of the two species, e.g., Parasites and hosts.

Example from nature: E.g., Flowering plants and bees; Man and dogs; African Tickbird and Rhino; to the less appetizing tongue-eating louse.

Marketing Examples:


  1. GoPro and Red Bull are collaboratively created for an extreme adventure lifestyle.


  1. Goodyear, Bridgestone, Michelin, and Continental tyres have all evolved with the demands of transportation innovation.


  1. Apps on the Apple ecosystem.



Part 4: Should you evolve your brand?

When we think of the evolution of marketing, branding and advertising, it easily demonstrates an incredible increase in activity and change over the last 100 years.  With economic, social and technological changes increasing at speed.  


In biology, it is believed that:

‘the more evolution there is, the faster it might become. In fact, evolution might produce ‘evolvability’.

Other marketing terms such as agility, adaptability, innovative, and speed-to-market, do suggest that the era of ‘classic’ brands is at an ebb.    To survive, everything needs to evolve.

Thinking through five key questions can be a useful place to start:

  1. Why do you need to evolve?


  1. What problem are you evolving to solve?


  1. What aspects of your brand are evolving?


  1. What do you expect the key benefits to be for this ROI?


  1. What pattern of evolution are you following, and is this aligned with your strategic vision?

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