What do馃尮 Flowers Know About Marketing that Weeds 鈽橈笍 Don鈥檛? Lessons from Sexual Selection

Why is efficiency & marketing a pair that doesn鈥檛 go well together and might even be antonyms?

Let鈥檚 look at the world of nature to explain this phenomenon.

Even though there are different kinds of weeds, you call them all鈥 鈥淲eed鈥.

Flowers, on the other hand, you distinguish into different kinds: lavender, rose鈥ulip, etc. (unless you鈥檙e completely clueless like many men about colors 馃槀)

Why is that?

Because all flowers are different, and the majority of weeds are mostly the same.

Each flower has a different color, different smell, shape & even taste.

But wait鈥

What are these flowers doing by having those wonderful smells and beautiful colors? Isn鈥檛 that completely聽_inefficient_?

**They鈥檙e marketing to bees.

On the one hand, it increases the chance of being eaten by an animal or picked by pesky humans.

Conversely, it makes it more likely that a bee will come and pollinate it.

Weeds blend-in. Flowers STAND OUT.

But how do you signal that you鈥檙e an attractive flower?

First, for the signal to be honest, it has to be聽costly. (Sahavian signal)

A quote from Rory, to further illustrate the point:

Yes, costly signaling can lead to economic inefficiency, but such inefficiencies are also necessary to establish valuable social qualities such as trustworthiness and commitment鈥攁nd perhaps altruism. Politeness and good manners are, after all, simply costly signaling in face-to-face form.

鈥撀燬exual Selection by Rory Sutherland

Don鈥檛 confuse costly with cost.

The slight difference between nature and humans is that a weed cannot fake being a flower. It simply is or isn鈥檛.

We, humans, can talk and possess this unique ability to say one thing and do another. Also called lying, cheating, and faking.

We can聽pretend聽to be a flower.

This is why聽costly signaling聽plays an even bigger role.

But another crucial point is鈥 on the inside, flowers & weeds, are not very different from each other. If you analyzed them from an engineering point of view, they shouldn鈥檛 be valued much differently.

Yet,聽we DO value them differently.

Similarly, we humans don鈥檛 buy 鈥渟ervices鈥 or 鈥減roducts鈥 by comparing the ingredients used. We often buy based on 鈥減ackaging鈥 more than the 鈥渢hing鈥 in itself.

Eg. the last time you went to a store for a beer, given the crazy number of possible choices, you likely made the choice based on how “cool” the etiquette was.

(Guilty is charged here.)

Think of marketing/branding as 鈥減ackaging鈥 for whatever you鈥檙e selling.

A flower is a weed with a marketing budget.

What Are the Practical Implications of This Grand Theory?


  • That focus on聽**digital**聽marketing, instead of marketing in general, might be a鈥 dumb idea.
  • Marketing is聽**not**聽a necessary evil and a cost to be reduced, but (as Peter Drucker put it) one of only two sources of value in business (the other being Innovation).
  • That IMPACT precedes Persuasion. You first have to get noticed and remembered.
  • Engaging multiple senses catches more attention, builds more trust, and stays longer in your memory: flower smells, looks attractive, can be touched鈥
  • Costly, can mean 鈥撀**you鈥檙e willing to make enemies, put out challenging ideas, have strong opinions**, etc.
  • That 鈥淭he customer is not a moron. She鈥檚 your wife鈥. Meaning that we humans use many subconscious mechanisms to tell the fake from the real deal.
  • That you鈥檙e either one of the weeds or a flower鈥inary, there鈥檚 no in-between.

A Few Business/Marketing Examples to Drive the Point Home

Big brands invest in TV ads, billboards, and other kinds of insanely costly advertising.

While I don鈥檛 believe that much of it is any good, it’s also a strategy. Small guys can鈥檛 simply play in those arenas, so it鈥檚 a selection mechanism. In your head, you鈥檙e thinking, 鈥淚f these guys are on XYZ channel or giant billboard in my city, it means they are an established business with money鈥hus I can trust them鈥.

Most of it is probably a waste of money, but it builds subconscious trust and elevates that brand鈥檚 prestige.

Marketing examples:

  • eBook Vs. Signed hard copies sent to your door.

It may cost more to create & send hardcopies or direct mail letters鈥ut how many people are going to open, read, respond to, and remember one versus the other?

  • Webinars vs Live Events

Is doing webinars more 鈥榮calable鈥 than doing live events? Does it work better?

How Do You Turn Your Ugly Weed into the Sexiest Flower of the Bunch?

  • Be more whacky, audacious, and bold.
  • Break the pattern.
  • Share your best. (altruism is costly)
  • Do the unscalable.
  • Forget digital鈥 think about what will have an impact first.
  • Stand for/against something. (skin in the game)
  • Spice things up a bit. (color, smell, touch, sounds)

Some questions to spark the inner marketing rebel in you and/or your team:

  • How might we drive category awareness/consideration like no one else?_
  • Which channel/medium is underutilized (not trendy) but could effectively reach your ideal customers?
  • What are we NOT doing because it鈥檚 not scalable/simple/easy/fast?
  • Where are we trying to 鈥渙ptimize鈥 our marketing 鈥 reduce its costs, ship it faster, or scale it 鈥 even if none of it gets neither noticed or remembered?
  • What could we do instead?
  • What if we suspended so-called 鈥渂est practices鈥, formulas, and other gimmicks and instead tried to bend (or even break) the rules slightly?

Creativity might be the last unfair advantage, we鈥檙e legally allowed to have over our competition.Bill Bernbach

I invite you to bring some magic back to your marketing rather than treat it like a car-part factory.

Just like flowers stand out in nature, your business needs to stand out in the market. So, don鈥檛 be a weed; be a flower with a marketing budget.

Report back your failures/successes, so we can all learn from each other.

Sapere Aude and Let Yerba Mate Be With You 馃


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