Humans are risk-averse and are finely attuned to perceive tail-risk events that could lead to death or irreversible catastrophe.
But at the same time, we are biologically and evolutionarily designed to respect risk-taking and risky behaviours. We secretly look up to people who have a spine — the ones who had the courage to break out from the norm, go out exploring, and increase the collective knowledge and boundaries of our civilization — at the risk of losing their lives.
When it comes to our perception and senses, we are designed to seek and prize novelty. Being risk-averse, we are tuned to pay attention to stuff that breaks the pattern and stands out.
And this pattern-interrupt strategy is something we now consciously leverage for aims far more trivial than survival: like marketing and gaining attention.
Today, we are inundated with information. Most of it fits the ordinary pattern and doesn’t manage to grab our attention. Hence, doing something novel and different is always a winning strategy — provided that you can build trust after hacking consumer perception and stopping their scroll.
“Over time, all marketing strategies result in shitty clickthrough rates.”
— Andrew Chen
This is quite obvious considering that we, as a species, abhor conventional and boring formulae when deciding what deserves our attention. The moment we are exposed to a novel experience, we quickly adapt to it and turn immune.
And once we have adapted, what we initially found surprising and thrilling now feels insipid and stale.
In marketing, you cannot use the same blueprint for very long.
To stay relevant, you need to evolve your approach by tweaking some aspect/s of your communication to maintain novelty.
This is why first-movers may not always have a clear advantage in building businesses, but they do have a clear advantage in building distribution.
In 2003, Amazon was able to drive traffic through Google AdWords at 5 cents a click on every keyword.
In 2008, when the iPhone App Store launched, indie developers were able to get top-10 positions with little to no marketing.
Facebook and Instagram advertising in its initial days was super-lucrative for many D2C brands who could market their business and amass distribution at dirt-cheap rates.
In fact, some might say that it is really hard to build a D2C business today simply because distribution platforms have now become super-saturated and fiercely competitive. D2C brands — who were initially marketed as having no middlemen — now have Facebook and Google acting like middlemen, eating into most of their profits.
Consequently, if you discover a new marketing channel today or some new viral hacks that cut through the clutter and stand out in some meaningful way, you will have a huge first-mover advantage.
Signals once novel, soon get boring.
All social media engagement hacks come with an expiry date. To stay ahead of the competition, you have to keep reinventing your signals so that they don’t get lost in the noise.
“Every moment in business happens only once. The next Bill Gates will not build an operating system. The next Larry Page or Sergey Brin won't make a search engine. And the next Mark Zuckerberg won't create a social network. If you are copying these guys, you aren't learning from them.”
— Peter Thiel
This may not be true for all businesses, but only those that are zero-to-one and disrupt an entire industry. But it is definitely true for all marketing.
In the world of marketing and distribution, the early bird takes the risk of being creative, breaks the rules, and often gets the worm.