By: Brianna Valleskey
Marketing is much older than we think.
Some people argue that the discipline emerged after the standardization of quality products halfway through the 20th century forced companies to find other ways to distinguish themselves from competitors (see: brand management). Others note that market research was first identified as a business activity in the early 1900s. A few even assert that marketing has been around since Gutenberg’s moveable type enabled the earliest print advertisements.
These claims, however, depend highly on one’s definition of marketing.
The American Marketing Association describes it as “the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.” Quite a mouthful.
Investopedia provides a more clean-cut explanation, where marketing is “everything a company does to acquire customers and maintain a relationship with them.”
But my favorite comes from researchers and textbook authors Philip Kotler and Gary Armstrong: “Marketing is the social process by which individuals and organizations obtain what they need and want through creating and exchanging value with others."
In this sense, marketing began millions of years ago. Hundreds of millions. With plants.
The Ancient Origins of Marketing
As Hope Jahren explains in her book “Lab Girl,” the primary purpose of sex on planet earth exists is to mix the genes of two separate beings and produce a new individual with a gene code identical to neither parent.
“Within this new mix of genes are unprecedented possibilities, old weaknesses eliminated, and new weaknesses that might even turn out to be strengths. This is the mechanism by which the wheels of evolution turn,” Jahren writes (poetically, I might add, which is a difficult feat in the realm of science writing).
She goes on to describe that sex requires touch, where the living tissues of two separate individuals must come into contact and then attach. This is a problem for plants.
Since they cannot move, many plants can (and still do) scatter their pollen on the wind in hopes that any amount will land on a female flower -- an incredibly inefficient process. So nature came up with a solution about 135 million years ago, biologist Dave Goulson describes in his book, “A Sting in the Tale: My Adventures with Bumblebees.”
“Pollen is very nutritious. Some winged insects now began to feed upon it and before long some became specialists in eating pollen. Flying from plant to plant in search of their food, these insects accidentally carried pollen grains upon their bodies, trapped amongst hairs or in the joints between their segments. When the occasional pollen grain fell off the insect on to the female parts of a flower, that flower was pollinated, and so insects became the first pollinators, sex facilitators, for plants,” Goulson writes. “A mutualistic relationship had begun which was to change the appearance of the earth. Although much of the pollen was consumed by the insects, this was still a vast improvement for the plants compared to scattering their pollen to the wind.”
A mutualistic relationship? That sounds like individuals and groups obtaining what they need and want through creating and exchanging value with others.
Evolution & Adaptation
Goulson offers even more: “Insects had to seek out the unimpressive brown or green flowers amongst the surrounding foliage. It was now to the advantage of plants to advertise the location of their flowers, so that they could be more quickly found and to attract insects away from their competitors. So began the longest marketing campaign in history, with the early water lilies and magnolias the first plants to evolve petals, conspicuously white against the forests of green.”
Plants began marketing themselves millions of years before our first ancestors walked the planet. Our verdant, immobile fellow beings were the earth’s first marketers! It’s no wonder that studies show interacting with nature can increase creativity. And I’m sure there’s much more we could learn from nature.
So the next time you need a little creative inspiration, talk a walk through a nearby park or conservatory. The fresh air, quick exercise and presence of the world’s most experienced marketers will surely spark something inside your mind.
I also highly recommend you check out this excerpt of Goulson’s book that was published in Scientific American a few years back.
Save the bees.
Fearless Thoughts are my insights on marketing, entrepreneurship, startups, business growth, creativity and whatever else comes to mind on any given day. Writing is how I make sense of the world.