A Thought Experiment

Imagine for a moment, you’ve just been hired as the new Digital Marketing Manager for a growing internet-based startup with an online advertising business model. On the surface, revenue is strong and the user base is ever-growing, yet the investors are unsatisfied as they look for that elusive hockey stick growth and profitability. Since advertising won’t work given your CLV:CAC target, you know inbound marketing is the path forward.

Fortunately for you, traffic is booming and users are generating their own unique content on the site. In light of the already satisfying customer experience, after brainstorming, you decide that SEO will be the engine, gasoline and the tires to accelerate your new marketing vehicle.

Don't suffer from Digital Darwinism
Don’t suffer from Digital Darwinism

As you gain traction and start to accelerate, the pressure you felt from the investors becomes the same pressure you put on the firm hired to do your SEO. They’re a respectable firm that follows best practices, but the external pressure for quick results causes them to stray into the grey areas of SEO. Link building becomes a linking scheme, and the positive impact recorded enables more risky behavior that unwittingly sacrifices long term value for short.

Not surprisingly, a few months later a Google Penalty is placed on your site. Try as you might to correct the “optimization” mistakes, it’s too little too late. Traffic to your site drops 90% overnight and your company goes under three months later. Your marketing failed to adapt properly and you’ve become another victim in the fight to combat Digital Darwinism, or “the evolution of consumer behavior when society and technology evolve faster than our ability to adapt.”

What Can We Learn?

This story above was an example of poor marketing strategies where adaptive marketing wasn’t utilized to combat the symptoms Digital Darwinism. While the thought experiment was a bit specific and dramatized for impact, something similar happened to Rap Genius, and we’re all vulnerable.


Like a jungle in the early stages of evolution, the volatile digital landscape is a simple reality of the fierce competition in the business world. As soon as your value-adding product or service is out there, you’re essentially fighting for attention and market share on a global scale. In this competition, if you’re using yesterday tactics to attract yesterday’s customers, you’ll wind up running yesterday’s business.

However, unlike our evolutionary predecessors, today we have a say in the survival of the fittest. Today we can choose to adapt and overcome.

Prescribing Adaptive Marketing

Whether you’re in the midst of a Google penalty or an inbound marketing powerhouse, you can benefit from the concept of adaptive marketing. In a nutshell, what adaptive marketing means is being forward thinking and willing to experiment in an omnichannel marketing approach aimed at building customer awareness, loyalty, and perhaps most importantly, building a system that can defend against Digital Darwinism.

Adaptive Marketing is the only defense against Digital Darwinism
Adaptive Marketing is the only defense against Digital Darwinism

Like evolution, Digital Darwinism doesn’t happen overnight, and there are many leading indicators that suggest a shift in consumer behavior is occurring. In the example given, that shift in consumer behavior was directed by a 3rd party, Google, which Rap Genius was heavily reliant on. The leading indicators to the relationship breakdown were the actions of Rap Genius, which clearly flew in the face of Google’s stern warnings about abusing their search algorithm for gain. When overreliance on a channel of communication meets a leading indication of Digital Darwinism, it’s a recipe for imminent failure.  

Over reliance on any one channel of communication leaves companies vulnerable. Like creating a stock “portfolio” around one or two companies, any short terms gains are outweighed by the inherent risk of a collapse in one of the two core pillars. It’s the same reason why brokers created hedge funds and have portfolios with 20 or more companies. Had Rap Genius realized their vulnerability beforehand, they would have actively worked to correct it and hedge against it before Google hit their Achilles heel.

To broaden this perspective, consider areas where your company is currently vulnerable to Digital Darwinism, and how you can strengthen your core foundation and build bridges to new channels. Perhaps your brand is losing voice and sentiment in the social landscape, being outshined in content marketing, or those legacy advertising campaigns aren’t as cost effective as they use to be. These are all massively important problems, that left unchecked, can unfortunately destroy a company.

It’s a problem important enough to warrant recurring critical thinking. Seeing as we can’t stop the evolution around us, it’s time to adapt. 

What steps can you take to help your business adapt? Let’s share ideas in the comments section below.

image via flickr, BlueWire Media and flickr 

Originally posted at Mr Ryan Connors blog.

Read more: 3 World Class Practitioners of Successful Adaptive Marketing