How Nature’s Recipes Can Solve Your Marketing Problems – Part 1

In 1941, Swiss engineer, George de Mestral invented Velcro after he got the idea for the fastener after examining the burrs that stubbornly stuck to the fur of his dog.

Velcro is a practical application of biomimicry – a new science which studies nature’s ingenious solutions and then copies these ‘recipes’ to solve human problems. (Rock your world. Watch the TED video that accompanies this blog post.)

See, nature has already solved many of the challenges we humans face. Now here’s the thing … as a Main Street business builder, you face countless challenges you must overcome, right?

So let’s apply biomimicry to YOUR business …

Main Street business builder’s problem:
How do you advertise your business and guarantee that your message will be heard given that we live in a noisy, over-communicated society? What’s more, how do you convince skeptical shoppers to BELIEVE every claim you make?

Nature’s solution:
Send an “honest” signal – one that’s difficult to fake due to the extreme cost required to send it.

Example of honest signaling in nature:

The Gazelle and the Cheetah:
Swift and darting, the gazelle can quickly change directions and run over long distances at a top speed of 50mph. But before we declare the gazelle a wonder of nature, you should know that its main predator – the cheetah – sprints at an eye-blazing 70mph.

Stotting GazelleFaced with an overwhelming disadvantage in speed, it becomes obvious why most gazelles twitch and run at the slightest hint of danger. But hold on a second. Not all gazelles bolt for safety upon noticing a stalking cheetah. Occasionally, a small number of emboldened gazelles actually begin stotting when standing face-to-face with the deadly cheetah. Stotting is the act of leaping up and down repeatedly while stiffening all four legs. That’s right. Lock. Leap. Repeat.

So why would a gazelle stot? What would prompt such unthinkable, energy-zapping, risky behavior … instead of spending its resources to escape the cheetah’s lightning-fast attack?

Stotting – a display of athleticism and endurance – sends a distinct, direct message that the gazelle can outrun and outlast the cheetah. Because the gazelle squanders precious time and energy, the signal reverberates with a high degree of believability.

But what about the cheetah?

Knowing several weeks could pass before it finds another opportunity to wrangle some grub, the cheetah will ignore the stotting gazelle, instead turning its attention to those gazelles that immediately ran for safety. Here’s why: The cheetah is hunting for the biggest meal it can find, while spending as little of its limited energy as possible. And, above all else, the cheetah seeks to avoid a pointless and exhausting chase.

But here’s one important question that demands an answer: If stotting is so convincing – equating to a “Get Out of Jail Free” card – then why don’t all gazelles stot?
Because stotting demands an investment not all gazelles can afford. For the vast majority of gazelles, the cost of stotting outweighs the benefit. And survival doesn’t require one to be the herd’s fastest. It simply requires being faster than the herd’s slowest. Most gazelles don’t stot because they’re instinctively aware that any display of inferior athleticism would be painfully obvious next to superior stotters. That’s not a healthy position to be in when you’ve just depleted all the resources needed to outrun the cheetah. 

Here’s another way to look at it: For gazelles of inferior athletic ability, the cost of signaling is too high. Why waste time and energy stotting – attempting to fool the cheetah while appearing weak among the herd? If you can’t support what you’re signaling, then don’t send that particular signal. Redirect your resources.

Strong, believable signals have the following defining characteristics:

1.) Relevancy. Your signal must be relevant to the message you’re communicating.

2.) Boldness. The more you risk or spend, the more believable your message becomes. In other words, some actions speak more loudly than others.

3.) Distinctiveness. Your signal must help you stand out. Remember, all signals … all messages are frequency dependent. That is, the value of your message declines as it becomes more common in the marketplace. Once all competitors signal the same message, no one owns the edge. The arms race continues.

4.) Affordability. If you cannot afford the signal that you’re sending, then don’t send that particular signal. Redirect your resources. You should also “budget” for the signal that you send. That’s right. Build the signal cost right into your marketing budget.

Next week, we’ll take a look at practical applications of honest signals in marketing. Stay tuned!

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