Action and Reaction: Responsiveness in Nature and Brands

By Doug Studer, CEO and Biomimicry 3.8 Specialist, Deskey Branding

In our last post, we talked about following nature’s lead in responding to a crisis using resilience from the three Rs of survival: resilience, responsiveness and regeneration. We highlighted resilient species and brands that have weathered this current storm by virtue of what they already do.

Today, we are talking about responsiveness and focusing on species that have certain behaviors to adapt to their surroundings and changes in their environments. And we’ll see how some brands are responding to changes as well.

As the environment around us changes, our needs change. The natural world is filled with examples of plants and animals poised to respond to environmental changes, as is the world of brands. Plants and animals respond to maintain their place within the ecosystem. Brands respond to meet the ever-shifting needs of their consumers and serve the well-being of their communities. 

In our friend, the California redwood, we see an extreme version of responsiveness. Redwoods are not only resilient to fires, but in the Sierra Nevada, the giant sequoias actually depend on fires for their species’ survival. Heat from the flames causes the sequoia’s cones, which are normally tightly closed up with resin, to open and release seeds onto the burned ground. This combination of bare soil, increased sunlight and water from snowmelt make the burned forest floor perfect for sequoia seedlings to grow.

That’s pretty extreme. Most brands don’t have a product or service that is activated by disaster, so let’s consider some more common tactics for inspiration.

Matching the needs of the new environment
Cephalopods, most notably octopi and squids, take camouflage to an entirely new level. Think coat of many colors on steroids. They can change their skin color and texture in real-time to respond to their surroundings. If they want to hide by a bumpy rock, they change to look like the rock. If they’re going to hide in plain sight on the ocean floor, they take on the look of sand. They are shape-shifters in the truest sense.

In the world of brands, some have also been experiencing dramatic shifts in response to changing need states. With attention to personal hygiene at an all-time high, the rush to stockpile hand sanitizer has left shelves empty and communities in need. Like the octopi shift colors to meet their needs, distilleries all over the country are shifting their production away from spirits to hand sanitizer to help ease the shortage. When the pandemic broke, Anheuser-Busch announced it would begin producing and distributing bottles of hand sanitizer to accommodate growing needs across the United States. The company is working with non-profits like the American Red Cross and using its vast supply and logistics network to get the sanitizer into the hands of those who need it most.

Sometimes doing less is the right response
Or, as nature would say, hibernate. While bears might be the first animal that comes to mind when you think “hibernation,” bears don’t hibernate in the true sense of the word. They go into a state of torpor, which lowers their heart rate, breathing rate and body temperature. In that state, they can go for days with no food, water or bathroom breaks. They can and do wake up easily and, just as easily, return to blissful dreamland until they emerge from their winter dens in response to signals of springtime.

While many brand's responsiveness comes in the form of augmenting or amplifying their services to serve their communities better, others achieve that goal by responding like a bear. Some brands have done their part during this pandemic by temporarily shutting down. Outdoor apparel retailer Patagonia temporarily closed not only its stores and offices but also its e-commerce operation and distribution centers for three weeks for the health and safety of employees and customers.

In our BluEarth Practice, we look at how nature responds to shifts in the ecosystem for solutions that can be adapted to fit today’s business challenges. As you respond to this health crisis, remember, no single practice is best for every brand. Keep imaging the best response for your brand. For some of you, it’s a full-scale change in product or offerings. For others, it’s going fallow so that when the time is right, you can re-emerge and thrive again.

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