by Greg Verdino
In the well-known race scene in Lewis Carroll’s classic Through the Looking-Glass, the Red Queen tells Alice, “It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.”
Given the pace and pervasiveness of change happening everywhere around us — in technology, in culture, in business, in consumer behaviors and expectations, in media and more — I’d imagine that many marketers feel like they’re racing alongside the Red Queen in Looking-Glass world. Writing and rewriting marketing plans in a constant state of flux. Favoring near term wins over long term value. Adopting agile approaches from IT brethren. Darting from shiny object to shiny object. Whipping around flavor-of-the-moment blind spots only to stumble over competitors also turning the same corner. Jumping through hoops thrown across their paths by customers and by their own C-suite executives. Busy busy busy. It’s exhausting work and ultimately gets you nowhere. Fast.
I’m late! I’m late! For a very important date! You chase the White Rabbit and then — fwoop! — just like that, you’re tumbling head-over-heels down a very dark hole. (Yes, I know — that’s the otherAlice book. Work with me, people.)
You could hardly be blamed for feeling a bit like a befuddled Alice who, having grown up in a world where doing “all the running you can do” generally gets you “to somewhere else,” can’t quite wrap her mind around this paradox. You’re doing all the things you’ve been told to do — social and mobile, video and apps, deals and gamification, this and that — but still you find yourself more or less exactly where you started. At the starting block and on par with just about everyone else. Panting from exertion as you stare quizzically at the Red Queen.
If an incident from literature frames the challenge, a theory from the world of evolutionary biology — inspired by the very same race scene, of course — may help shed some light on why it is a challenge. Dubbed the Red Queen’s Hypothesis or Red Queen Effect (those evolutionary biologists are a clever lot), this theory essentially states that “continuing adaptation is needed in order for a species to maintain its relative fitness amongst the systems being co-evolved with.”