The Top 7 Marketing Lessons We Can Learn From Nature

About the show:

The Agency Spark Podcast, hosted by Sara Nay, is a collection of interviews from thought leaders in the marketing consultancy and agency space.

Starting with today’s episode, Sara is challenging her guests to take what they would typically share in about 20-30 minutes and condense it down to the absolute most important valuable and actionable steps so you can get back to your busy day.

Each episode is designed to spark ideas you can put into practice for your agency today.

About the episode:

In this episode of the Agency Spark Podcast, Sara asks Jeremy King what are the top marketing lessons we can learn from nature:

  1. What mantis shrimp can teach us about the customer journey
  2. What forest fires can teach us about being prepared
  3. What angler fish can teach us about being there for our clients
  4. What tiger butterflies can teach us about standing out
  5. What squid orgies can teach us about showing value
  6. What Africa ungulates can teach us about competition
  7. What bowerbirds can teach us about how to reframe problems as opportunities

Jeremy King is CEO and founder of Attest, a fast-scaling, SaaS technology business based in London and New York. Prior to Attest, Jeremy spent 9 years with McKinsey & Company, leading teams across almost every industry sector, in >25 different countries. He also holds an MBA from Harvard Business School.

Originally a scientist focussing on genetics, ecology and animal behavior, Jeremy’s scientific interests include synthetic biology, mathematical simulations and behavioral economics. Jeremy is also the Chair of REAch2 Academy Trust, which helps to support and improve over 60 state primary schools across the UK.

More from Jeremy King:


Sara: Welcome to the agency spark podcast. This is your host, Sarah Nay, and I am officially mixing up the show. As of today, I have challenged my guests to take what they would share in about 20 to 30 minutes and shorten it down to their most impactful points. So you can walk away with actual items and get back to your busy days. First up, I have Jeremy King, who is the CEO and founder of a test. Previously spent nine years leading teams at McKinsey and is originally a scientist focusing on genetics, ecology, and animal behavior. Welcome to the show, Jeremy,

Jeremy: Thank you so much for having me excited to be here.

Sara: Of course. So let's dive into your one key question today. I want to know what are the top marketing lessons we can learn from nature?

Jeremy: I actually got seven lessons we can learn from nature. Seven weird case studies from nature. The natural world has been around for four and a half billion years of infield testing and learning and development and evolution fighting for competition resources, reproduction survival. And I think all of us in marketing can learn from the natural world because the natural world seen everything before. And it's through that lens. I'd like to introduce seven weird examples, maybe what we can learn from it to help unlock ideas and understanding. Cause that's what we do at to test. I love it.

Sara: Let's dive in.

Jeremy: So I'll spend one minute on each. The first is called the peacock mantis shrimp. It's amazing for four reasons. It has. It's incredibly beautiful. It has amazing eyes. It has this huge punching power where harnesses the laws of physics in ways that NASA can't explain. And it's because they're made of this composite material that we're only just barely catching up with two with carbon fiber technology. This mantis shrimp is the size of a candy bar, but yet at the same time, it has these superpowers, that beat pretty much everything in the animal kingdom. And it's got four of them, the coolest one or its eyes where it can see not only the color spectrum, but also plain polarized light like fishing glasses that can see through the surface. It can see ultraviolet like CSI crime scene. It can see infrared light predator. It can see pretty much everything.

Jeremy: And I think in marketing, we often need to look at things from many different perspectives. There's a business here in the UK called wise, formally transfer wise. They look at each tiny bit of their funnel, have a squad and a team looking at every single input and output for that each aspect of the customer journey. And by looking at the entire customer journey in fine detail, but from many perspectives, they unlock all sorts of optimizations for different user types, different cohorts, different buying processes. And that gives them this ability to see things that others don't in their own customer life cycles. And that's a real advantage like the mantis shrimp. I think the second one is really cool is how vegetative succession works. This is how, when you have rocks that get mosses, that term that create a little bit of soil where weeds can grow.

Jeremy: Eventually we turned from bare rocks into whole forests. We call that a climax forest up from nothing, but when there's a forest fire, it's interesting that the first thing that happens after a forest fire is the entire forest looks black like a series of matchsticks, but then immediately a few weeks later, it's completely green, but not with the trees that were there before a whole bunch of different things, tiny firms, tiny saplings. But what's really interesting is there's a whole bunch of different organisms and plants that are just waiting for the fire to happen. And then outpaced sprouts. Many of them actually need their seeds to be burned in order to germinate. So when we think about that in marketing, what are the opportunities where there could be a huge discontinuity or a fire and how can we get our processes, our products, our thinking, ready to take advantage of a big disconnect or a big event, like a fire sweep through a forest.

Jeremy: How will you survive? How will you emerge? What have you got ready and loaded waiting for that opportunity to come out because that's when it's your time to germinate, to bloom and flourish. Really interesting to think ahead about paradigm events, but that happens in forests all the time. The third one is the deep sea anglerfish. Many of us know this as monk fish it's really ugly. We saw it in finding Nemo. It has the law on the end of its head and it has the little flashing lights. They have this big problem where these deeps, the angler fish they're super ugly. They live in the deep ocean and they actually very rarely bump into each other, which is a big problem for reproduction. And the females are really big, like the size of it, American football or bigger like a beach ball. The males are actually really small, like a little tiny goldfish.

Jeremy: So when they meet that, it's really unlikely and they have to take advantage, but it might not be the right time to meet right now. There's some times where we meet new customers in marketing. It's not the right time for them or for us. So we need to make sure that they're there for us when we need them or where we're there for them. So what happens with the angler fish is they actually connect to each other. The males connect to the females and they effectively died. Only two little components of their anatomy remain alive. Sure. You can imagine which ones they are. Reproductive organs. I'll leave the censorship out. And the female keeps sometimes multiple male reproductive organs alive on her body until the moment she needs them. And then she reproduces with them when they've already dead and they're attached to her. And this is a great way of managing fragmentation liquidity, making sure that we can keep interests and assets alive, but only until the moment that we need them.

Jeremy: And there's a great business. Some of the lending businesses do this really nicely. They take pools of capital that are looking to invest in startups or SMEs. And they take them from big banks and pension funds and place them in higher yielding instruments. There was a business in the UK called funding circles. He did this well. The UK government was trying to lend more to small businesses. Funding circle made it possible on a platform. Those two interests aligned for a specific moment in time and lo and behold, the British government and the British business bank used funding circles to deploy capital into the economy at massive scale, much like these deep sea anglerfish do fourth. One tiger complex butterflies. Anyone who studied biology probably already knows about these healer Cooney, Keela conius butterflies. There are big example of mimicry. So there is one butterfly it's yellow and green and sorry, yellow and orange black.

Jeremy: We've probably all seen these butterflies, but there's one of them. That's toxic. We call this a mimicry, the model. There's lots of other butterflies that aren't toxic to predators, which are mainly birds. We call it palatable. That's the mimic. So we have this toxic model and the palatable mimic and there's loads of palatable mics, great news for the mimics because every bird that thinks about eating them questions, whether we should eat them bad news for the model because it's it's toxicity and the impact of his tests, Texas toxicity is being diluted across a whole bunch of different species. And that's a huge problem now because there's loads of butterflies that try to look like this one model and there's that for a whole bunch of mimics, there are entire industries that start to look this way in marketing. So where does convergence and standardization start to turn into systemic risks?

Jeremy: Where does all of the businesses looking the same and doing the same things, advertising in the same channels, using the same acquisition models, looking for the same customers who are buying for the same reasons. When you as a marketer, start to see this happen in your industry or your product or your go to market process, you're, over-relying on normal. And there's a chance here to reframe how you work. Like the model who's toxic. You need, you might need to reframe what poisonous or what attractive or unattractive looks like. But the moment to think about that most like the butterflies is when everyone converters to the same point, that's where something big can happen. Competition is probably at its worst, but opportunity might just be at its best fifth one, naughty squid orgies. But this one is about presenting no downside. So squared to reproduce get together in these big circles.

Jeremy: They, the big all the females at the middle, all of the males on the outside and in a rather sexist way, the biggest males fight their way to the inside to reproduce with the females. But this is really interesting because there's this high interaction cost is really expensive to get to the middle, like a high cuts and acquisition cost, high CAC. There's also extreme fraud. Some of the males actually the smarter younger males, they start to turn half a bit. Bodies look like a female. And that faces to the out of the circle and half the body and that faces the inside of the circle. So it's one of the males. They look like a female trying to get to the middle of that. The in the middle, they look like a smart male. Who's just walking on through, across the club, dance floor, ready for action.

Jeremy: I've made this a bit too explicit now. So I'm going to stop there, but how can you as a marketer guarantee, upside and risk reward and help for your customers sold priorities that are not just your own. So there's a whole bunch of businesses and I'll pick out one called just park. Just park is a parking app where you can discover places to park your car that are privately owned or publicly owned. They realized they had this big problem where not many people are looking for parking apps. But what everyone's looking for is advice on traffic advice on calming tenants. So they became a parking app that could be useful to you every day, not just for parking, but we have a whole bunch of different things and not got them more attention, more traffic. And when you need that parking space, which is when they make their money, it was there for you. And this is how naughty squid RGS can help us defeat problems of upsight and measurement of risk reward and making those trade-offs where acquisition and interaction costs are high and there's fraud, but you can actually sometimes use it in your advantage by being more useful to everyone, showing both sides and showing value to everyone involved just for squid, it's a bit naughty in their giant gorgeous.

Sara: And now a word from our sponsor term. Again, states are proposing laws that will allow consumers to Sue businesses anywhere in the U S for not having a compliant privacy policy. Any website collecting as little as an email address on a contact form should not only have a privacy policy, but also a strategy to keep it up to date. When laws change, learn more about how term mageddon can protect your business at [inaudible] dot com. Now back to the show

Jeremy: And uncle at one number six, African ungulates, so big jumpy deers and the little tiny deer that jump around the Plains of east Africa, looking for food. We've seen Willdabeast migration, but actually there's a whole bunch of different animals. There's big giant Elan's that are huge deer. They almost look like Buffalo or bison. There's little tiny, lesser kudu, which are, they almost look like cats, sometimes jumping around and all of these different animals, not only different sizes, but they have different mouths. And we call this in biology, adaptive herbivorous. When you have a whole succession of Willdabeast, that room through the entire forest and the planes and the Savannah, you might think that all the food is gone, but that's actually a whole succession of animals to follow them. Some of them have longer tongue. Some of them shorter teeth, some of them smaller amounts, and each of them can eat a different part of the grass.

Jeremy: This is about reframing the base of competition. You don't need to compete with the giant Willdabeast. You don't need to compete with the giant Eland. All you need to do is find a way to capture a part of the market and take action where others don't better yet act where they can't over. An interesting example of this in the U S is Benihana. We know this is a teppanyaki restaurant where you can sit down and chefs will flip food and eggs into their hats and onto your plates. But actually they do some amazing things around buffering. How they, the most expensive resource is the chef. And they want to make sure that the chef is always utilized. And so they use the cocktail bar as a buffer to make sure that every table where the chef performs is always full, they at the end of the meal will be clean.

Jeremy: The teppanyaki grill using ammonia until recently they stopped us now, but that smell clears people away from the table and gets them back in the bar where they buy more drinks and the chef can move on and have another set of customers. They do another cool thing, which is for a table of 12. They cook 13 shrimp. Why do they cook 13? Because the person who eats the shrimp fastest gets an extra shrimp. The shrimp is the first core served again. We're just passively communicating to you that eating and moving quickly is going to be rewarded here at Benihana. So Benihana reframed from being a restaurant to being much more like a Toyota factory and using the principles of the Toyota production system as applied to teppanyaki grill, they changed the basis of competition. And that's something we can think about in marketing all the time.

Jeremy: Last one bowerbirds, these are little tiny black birds that live in New Zealand and Australia. They look really boring. The males are black with yellow bills. They look completely boring. The females look like the little sparrows, but they do one really cool thing, which is they form these sort of verticalness on the ground. It looks like a tunnel made out of twigs, often covered with pebbles as well. And even stranger, the bowerbirds collect their currency, which is blue stuff. All the males make that little tunnels in the ground to try to impress the females and then to oppress the females. Even more, you collect more blue stuff and they steal blue stuff from each other blue stuff is their currency. It's like gold to them. And the females fly around and inspectable different Bowers, even more interesting. The scientists started to track how often blue stuff changes hands and how powerful blue stock is in achieving the outcome, which is reproductive success.

Jeremy: And so there's all of these different chances and strategies where you can win and lose it about bird. And a problem is that the Bowers, the bowerbirds will destroy each other's Bowers and steal their blue stuff. But that these moments in time where the bowerbird has the most blue stuff and the best power and how we can think about this as marketers is how can you reframe problems in your journeys as opportunities for you and others to win you? Can you share assets? Where are you wasting customer attention? Others could benefit from it. And examples here like Kleiner or Davido, these buy now pay later products. We get to the till we're trying to pay for a product. And then we realized that we can't quite afford it. That's when the availability of Kleiner Divido other buy. Now pay later products kicks in as a retailer.

Jeremy: We might lose that sale as a lender. That's the point where we're most needed. Put those two things together. That's where two different customer journeys interact. And that's where we can start to share resources and behave, not like the power birds, but like people who can cooperate in our marketing journeys. Again, we're looking for sources of waste sources of competition and trying to figure out what two businesses might add a single moment like retailers and buy. Now pay later providers share an asset and share a part of their journey. So I'm hoping that when we look at all these ideas, where to test, we exist to unlock ideas and understanding of your market, your customers who wins, who's choosing what, why your competitors, what you need to know about your market and how it's shifting. That's why we existed a test. And I hope that for my personal experiences, as a scientist, these seven examples can help us unlock our understanding, ask bigger questions. It's the opportunity maybe where others don't because the natural world has solved everything.

Sara: I love it. That was incredibly entertaining, but also insightful. And honestly, I think you need to write a book on the topic because I would absolutely

Jeremy: Industries that live around this. So there's military organizations in the U S and Europe that look at animals and they look at chameleons to try to figure out how to camouflage soldiers better. They look at the flight of bumblebees to look at how wind tips of fighter planes can make it more agile, but more, also more fuel efficient. So this idea of learning from nature is not new, but applying it to marketing could really show us some new and cool things.

Sara: Yeah, absolutely. Well, thank you so much, Jeremy, for being here and thank you all for listening to the agency spark podcast. We'll see you next time.


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