Extinction Risk: How Homogeneous Design Can Sink Your Business

It’s not a secret that getting in front of the right customers with the right experience is a top priority for today’s marketers. The problem is that most design is “homogeneous.” Marketers typically offer one creative treatment to a defined audience – and though it may aim to appeal to lots of different people, it is homogenized into one single output for everyone, regardless of individual preference.

Sticking to a homogenous approach to experience design, whether it’s design for entire audiences or segments, is a problem and can put brands in jeopardy. Seriously. By presenting the best average experience instead of a truly personalized output, marketers expose their brands to extinction risk. Extinction risk is when a business, like an animal species, becomes vulnerable to change to such a degree that it might not be able to survive large (or even small) environmental fluctuations.

Extinction risk is often masked by things that could be indicators of a healthy business, like great revenue and a connection with a seemingly loyal customer base. Because of this, it’s vital for marketers to recognize the signs early on and make sure their strategies are setting marketers up for long-term growth. The key to this is diversity in design, audience and business.

Diversity in Design

Due to the nature of personal preference, if marketers present a creative offering to a group, people will inevitably have different reactions. A “good” design will appeal to a certain audience, though even an incredibly successful campaign will miss the mark for some. By keeping design homogeneous, marketers don’t have the ability to learn from that distribution of responses.

When the performance of a design is assessed using average revenue or conversion rate, the nuanced range of reactions is flattened, hidden behind a single metric. That lost information could have been a great resource – telling marketers more about their customers and how to better reach them.

By giving people only one creative option and measuring whether it did well or poorly, marketers are using blunt tools that can only produce blunt insights that don’t do a good job of informing future campaigns. Producing and using multiple creative designs can provide a number of benefits, including better serving an audience in real-time as well as gaining insights that will help marketers make better decisions in the future.

Diversity in Audience 

Even though marketers are often challenged by the differences within their customer base, diversity isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it has the potential to give organizations a strong advantage. Homogeneous design treats the inherent diversity of a group of customers as a problem to be solved: by serving singular creative options to an audience, marketers will endear those that resemble the average while alienating those outside it.

While this may strengthen the loyalty of the core customer, that group likely won’t grow any larger. By targeting and understanding relative outliers, marketers can grow their customer base by attracting new people.

This process activates a positive feedback loop between homogeneous design and homogeneous audience, in which designs tailored toward the average encourage customers to conform more to the average of the group. If marketers continue to iterate on that, eventually all customers will start to look alike. And if something happens to said group, it could mean disaster.
This is not unlike extinction as we know it in the biological world. If a core audience shares many of the same characteristics, any major change in the environment, such as a disease, habitat destruction or major economic changes is likely to affect all of them at once. It goes without saying that change is inevitable – so why would marketers risk it all on one group?

If marketers did stick with a homogeneous design, the group that did not respond to the singular design is long gone. For those that take a heterogeneous approach, the inevitable changes that come along will have much less potential to drastically upend a market in a short period of time. And this approach will likely help marketers more effectively reach a larger audience and grow a business in the long run.

Diversity in Business

As the positive feedback loop of homogeneous design and homogeneous audience becomes more extreme, it’s inevitable that a business will adapt and follow suit – becoming prone to extinction risk.
In the animal kingdom, cheetahs have developed a high level of specialization: they can run faster than any other animal and they are fierce predators. Yet despite these specialized skills, they are vulnerable to extinction. This risk often affects those who over-specialize and become dependent on the conditions that enabled them to thrive in the first place.
If another species finds that they can easily rely on one food source, they might sharpen their hunting abilities for that type of prey instead of diversifying their skills. While it might seem like an appealing option, as it provides the most immediate rewards, it poses a great risk. If something comes along that wipes out that food source, the elite predator goes along with it. The same is true in marketing – when marketers focus only on improving design for the central population of their customer base, they run the risk of losing that base when the – often unavoidable – change occurs.
Homogeneous design forces a constant narrowing of marketers’ audiences, in both size and diversity, iteration by iteration. Marketers should rethink what constitutes successful targeting and good design, and instead choose heterogeneous design to expand their reach and appeal in order to build loyalty among the greatest number of people.

Maribeth Ross is the SVP of Marketing for Monetate

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