Updated from original 9/16/2015 article.
A fractal is a never-ending pattern. Due to nature or mathematics, a set can show a repeating pattern at every scale. No matter how close or how far you get, the pattern is still there. A fractal pattern can be self-similar where the pattern at every scale is identical, or the pattern can change slightly at each level.
A tree is the most common and simple example of a fractal. Starting with the trunk, the tree has a pattern of branches sprouting out from a source and then each consecutive new branch sprouts more. No matter what level you look at on the tree you see the same pattern. The fractal idea starts at the level of the universe. In fractal cosmology there is a theory that the universe’s mass distribution at every level has a fractal pattern. In the fractal-holographic universe there is unification between the macro and micro scale of physics. Scaling way down to earth we see fractals in social systems, nature, our own biology (down to a molecular level), and marketing.
Fractals in Marketing
Natural and mathematical systems tend to lend themselves to marketing. We have posted before on the chaos theory in marketing. Fractals also have a place in marketing. The modern definition of fractal marketing is a process by which a brand promotes a message, typically with digital media, and it is scattered by potential consumers in a fractal pattern. Digital media is the perfect landscape for this. As one example of many possibilities, picture a Facebook post to one consumer. Then they share the post with all their friends, and then all those friends share with their friends, and so on and so on. Do you see the fractal? Fractal marketing will not typically be self-similar. The most successful campaigns make the message customizable at each level of consumer. Content that has functionality built into it so that users can create new viral content based on the original idea will spread.
There are many successful examples of fractal marketing. At the close of 2019 Spotify ran the Wrapped Campaign. Users could look back at their most listened to songs over the past year or decade. In 2019 the “wrapped” data was given in very shareable Instagram and Stories graphics. Users were excited to share their 2019, and previous decade, favorite tracks. This content was still controlled by Spotify, but slightly personalized based on each user. That made consumers want to share it, and it sparked discussion everywhere!
5 Tips for Applying Fractal Marketing
How should brands think about how fractal marketing can work for them? Any marketing that comes from the source, or brand itself, is just starting a new fractal branch. Brands can be smart about who they talk to, but ultimately, starting a fractal pattern rests with the consumers. They can perpetuate the message to others who will keep the pattern up, or they can let it die. When making a marketing plan, it is important to think past the initial message to the consumer. Think bigger. Where does the content go next? On what medium? Keep the following five tips in mind as you plan.
- Use data to talk to the right people in the first place. A fractal pattern cannot emerge unless a brand connects with someone who is a fit. Take the time to run data-based campaigns. If a brand talks to the right five people, and a message perpetuates in a fractal pattern, it can eventually reach thousands. Or a brand can talk to 100 of the wrong people, and the message does not go any further. Talking to the right five was worth the extra time and investment.
- Make content that is easy to share. For example, a food brand that has recipes on their website should have buttons with each recipe to make it shareable across social platforms, printable, and emailable. A brand should never make a consumer work to share content. Potentially the most obvious point is to make content worth sharing! The biggest marketing budget in the world, and the smartest targeting plan, can still fail with bad creative.
- Design ways for users to personalize pieces of content. Everyone wants to have their own personal touch on a message. Allowing personalization can be tricky, because it is important for brands to not lose control of the message. A great example of allowing customization of a branded message is Warby Parker. With their home try-on options, they invite customers to share pictures of their glasses on social media. Warby Parker even weighs in on these digital conversations to help customers pick their frames. To get Warby Parker to jump in, consumers had to use the hashtag #warbyhometryon. Now that Warby has AR try-on capabilities, sharing digitally will just get easier. The brand controls the message but creates a great platform for consumers to continue sharing the message.
- Be quick to jump on topics while they are still relevant. A great example here was Dunkin posting pictures of donuts with blue/black and white/gold icing while everyone was talking about “the dress.” The message was about it not mattering what color the icing was, donuts are all still delicious!
- It may be old-fashioned, but rewards work! Brands that find ways to give back to customers who help spread the message do find success. Reward programs and loyalty programs exist for a reason. Some brands find huge success with user generated content. Any time a brand supports user-generated content, it entices brand enthusiasts to create more!
Don’t Let the System Spin Out of Control
Marketing is a field of ideas perpetuated by man, so it is only natural that it perpetuates in patterns also found in nature and mathematics. Fractal mathematics are at the base of chaos theory, which means fractals can be uncontrollable. Fractal marketing should be approached with caution and guidance. This is a marketing branch (no pun intended) where marketing professionals serve as crucial guides. From coming up with the right content, making it adaptable, finding the starting point, the medium, methods of control, and where it fits in the overall marketing strategy, certain questions need to be answered before moving forward. The marketing strategists at Warren Douglas Advertising can answer all of those questions.