If you follow enough brands on Instagram, it’s clear that most don’t have that much new to say. It was different at launch—a time when their value proposition was unheard of. But especially for brands launching today into crowded product categories, sometimes even the first value prop falls flat.

Bonobos was one of the first digitally-native brands to launch in 2007 and its value prop was to create better-fitting men’s pants. At Warby Parker’s 2010 launch, it was one of the first companies to sell similar-quality eyewear at a fraction of the industry’s standard. Everlane, which debuted in 2011, was one of the first brands to promote the ideal of radical transparency. The list goes on and on, but the initial resonance these brands achieved grew out of the fact that the product they were selling and the brand they were building was positioned relative to a supposedly inferior or more expensive option.

But living in a world of intense competition, a differentiated value prop today will be indiscriminate by tomorrow. Fast forward a few years and Warby Parker, Everlane and its ilk don’t sound as unique, although they did come first—many other brands launching today aim to deliver the same value as their predecessors.

As they compete with their own copycats, some of the original brands have tried to evolve—Warby Parker, for instance, is now attempting to become a one-stop shop for eyewear and eyecare—but most continue to stand still. One can see this most vividly on Instagram and in these brands’ emails, their two primary communication channels. The messages there are often facsimiles of what came before, save for small tweaks and adjustments that update messaging based on featured products or seasonal colors. But when the overarching message is the same, it risks evaporating into the ether, home to tens of thousands of brands.  

A main catalyst for this deteriorating value prop is increased focus on aesthetics, rather than messaging and positioning—often to brands’ own detriment. Brands are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars (and often giving up equity) before launch to hire branding and marketing firms, which are very talented when it comes to curating how a brand looks on a range of device surfaces, but much less skilled in how a company vocalizes its brand. Subsequently, many of these brands still talk like they did on launch day and they need to push themselves to continue evolving their value proposition.

Stale rhetoric is also visible in the way many of these digitally-native brands have selectively embraced social causes, which often uses “doing good” as a marketing driver. While some brands surely are using their audience to genuinely promote and enact good deeds, it’s too convenient to ignore the purpose behind aligning with a cause: the opportunity for a brand to talk about something new while still talking about its products.

Believers in the concept of effective frequency—the number of times it takes someone to see something before they buy it—may find logic grounding in this strategy. There is plenty of debate about the number of times it takes to cross this threshold (is it seven or 13 or 193 times?), but it’s clear that repetition works. The question, then, is how frequently does a brand need to evolve its messaging, and how does this evolution tie into product-market fit? If the messaging is working, there is less incentive to evolve it, but evolving it too quickly risks not waiting long enough for the positioning to sink in. Brands, like people, are just looking for someone to talk to. The real question is if anyone is listening.