Why Don’t Ants Screw Up? Branding & Being Yourself.

So much of nature, ants included, relies solely on inner identity—on genes—to explain how to grow and what to do—there isn’t an alternative. Humans often put a lot of wasted effort into being “themselves,” only to find that they’ve become anything but. Make sure you’re creating a brand that is YOU.


What if Cheerios started offering a ride share service?

What if Apple started offering organic produce delivery?

What if Tylenol hosted a black metal music festival in Iceland?


Maybe these fictional ventures would take off, but I wouldn’t bet on any of them. What they all share is they are a radical departure from the brand. These are funny, but there are plenty of real-life examples of businesses “mixing it up,” only to meet with failure. I instantly think of Coca-Cola changing its formula in 1985, laughably called Coke II—or Frito-Lay deciding to sell lemonade (that one’s almost as funny as a Tylenol black metal festival). Why do humans do this? If you’re in Orange County, branding in a way to avoid these kinds of mishaps is key.

There’s a parallel for this kind of “brand departure” in nature, too. More often than not when an organism deviates from who it is—also called a mutation—that individual is put at a serious disadvantage. Sometimes a mutation offers an advantage and sticks around, but these are the exception, not the rule, and they happen over long periods of time. If you want to look at established brand identity in nature, take ants. It’s known that most types of ants have trudged on without much change for something like 65 million years, and, by some definitions, they are the most successful species on Earth, except for humans. They’ve got an incredibly solid sense of self, which would be extremely difficult to go against.

Who are You?

Taken in general, ants don’t screw up. What would happen, though, if the ants and their colony didn’t have that sense of self—that set genetic code to follow as they grew? Every ant in the colony wouldn’t have a clear idea of its work to do. The colony couldn’t survive with mutant ants running around.

To extend our metaphor to the business world, the “Who are we?” question that has motivated scientists to map the human genome, and now the genomes of ants and other life, should motivate business owners to map out their brand: Who are you?

Be Real

Obviously, when creating a brand, your business matters to your message; not every message can be used for every business. Suppose you make prepackaged microwave dinners, which use a lot of plastic packaging. If you start promoting a brand identity that says, “We do the most for the environment,” it won’t take long for your audience to catch on because your product doesn’t back that up. Rather, you have to express the DNA of your product, your brand. For your TV dinner company, lead off with why people want it: “Satisfying food, ready when you are.” Now you’re tuning into your brand’s DNA.

Grow from Who You Are

If you put a seed in the ground, under the right conditions it will grow without much further help from you. In the same way, creating a brand intuitively means there isn’t much branding to do. In a sense, it’s looking into the DNA of your company and discovering who you are—it’s discovery, not invention.

Acting with this knowledge means that you’re acting with integrity, and your Orange County branding efforts will resonate with your customers because it’s solid—and most importantly, you won’t confuse them like Coke II did.

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