– Aaron Keller, Managing Principal, Capsule

Modern brands are not built on the creative genius of campaigns by ad agencies.  This may be new to you, and if so, sorry for the spoiler, but while we’re at it, Santa doesn’t exist either.

So, how are they built?

Memes.

A meme (/ˈmiːm/; meem) [1] is “an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.” [2] A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols, or practices that can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals, or other imitable phenomena.

Meme’s are designed by artists, thinkers, entrepreneurs or other odd characters, or they exist and brands attach themselves.

You might simplify this idea to this point, movements are designed. Movements already exist, attach your brand and discover tremendous growth opportunity — or you can design your own. Here are some examples to help clarify.

Brand: Starbucks.

Behavior Meme: going out for a cup of coffee.

The behavior existed here in the US, but Starbucks amplified it to their advantage and now for some reason we are unable to make our own coffee at home. The experience Starbucks designed has aspects they could trademark, but the meme was not, therefore others took advantage as well. Now we have an entire industry of coffee houses.

Today’s example.

Brand: Duck Dynasty.

Style Meme: “Everything looks better in camo.” by Jase

There are hundreds, perhaps even thousands of camo patterns and growing. In 2011 there are 13.7 million people who went hunting and the number is growing. And, perhaps more important, the use of camo as everyday wear is common place, but not yet common. Duck Dynasty comes along and camo isn’t just common fashion, its hip fashion. If the Robertson Dynasty had their own pattern of camo — it would be an interesting fashion item to protect.

Brand: Nyan Cat.

Style Meme: repetition, cats and rainbows

This one is here to make you wonder what just happened to your world. Warning — this article contains some rather odd videos about Nyan Cat. Be sure to note the 100 million views of this meme — certainly worthy of noting.

Design your own meme and own something. Attach to someone else’s meme, but be sure you’re not stepping on intellectual property. Either way, modern brands are built on the design of cultural memes, find one or many and connect your brand with a growing meme.

  • chasporter

    This is a great way to think about branding. Thanks. I’ll add it to my toolbox.

  • Thanks for highlighting Dawkins’ meme concept, but I’m not sure “going out for a cup of coffee” would qualify. Memes are analogous to genes, and that means that the reproduce, that they mutate and that they spread.

    In that respect, “camo” qualifies in my book, because you can see the lineage, the idea can spread on visual contact and it’s easy to see how it would mutate. Going out for coffee seems to be an age old physical idea (even elephants go out for water), turned slightly commercial.

    You could probably say that “expensive caffeine as a social rite” is a meme, one that inevitably spreads to high end indie coffee shops, but even there, I’m not really buying it.

    I wrote a book about this, called Unleashing the Ideavirus. It’s free online.

    • Well, well, well, I was just pulling together a snarky response, then I recognized your name. Hello Sir Godin, your books have been great reads. Thank you for all the contributions to our modern culture.

      On your comment, perhaps it is an older meme, as we know the coffee shop experience is far from going out for water. But, I get your edit, perhaps the behavior is about the social rite or about making something mundane more luxurious.

      Thank you for the thoughts.

      And, if you ever get to meet the Duck Dynasty family, please send a photo — that’ll be a good one for an old fashion frame.