One cannot spend even a day in Yellowstone National Park and not be moved by the many lessons learned from nature that apply to so many aspects of our lives, including sustainable sales — as the title implies. For me, two days at this spectacular park just this week did not disappoint or leave me not pondering the amazing wisdom animals of nature share with us. It was the American Buffalo that moved me the most.
Just a few miles into the wilderness toward Lamar Valley, we encountered a Buffalo — AKA, Bison Jam. A herd of about 200 head decided to cross the highway, and take their sweet time standing in the road staring at us humans as they ate sagebrush and rounded up their families. It was hard not to notice “couples” together, grunting as they nudged the same young ones and then crossed together as a group and stayed together on the other side of the road.
And it was not hard to see how the herd was all very much aware of all of the others and what they were doing and where they were going — once they decided to get off of the road. And then we heard stories of how a few months earlier, a herd circled a young calf that was not able to walk well, and fought off a pack of wolves trying to get to it.
And beyond the Buffalo, the herds of elk all running together toward safety, and then learning how they communicate with each other about where to move and when to assure their “community’ is safe. Even trees that share a root system know when one of them is in need and when it’s time to share their nutrients to keep others in their woods or “tribe” alive.
Nature is wired to be part of a community, to help others, and to stay together; in order to thrive as one, or as a tribe. Like the buffalo, elk and all species of life that share this world with us, we need others. We need to be with others who are like us. It is what makes us safe, secure, and makes us confident to try something new, different and be bold.
Studying human psychology, not just animals in nature, we discover just how inherent “community” is in our psyche, and our survival DNA. We need to be with others — whether being with others gives us power, resources, security, socialization or love; we cannot thrive when alone.
We saw lone buffalo that left the herd, and these were those that were injured and just didn’t appear to be thriving. These buffalo were those that were left vulnerable to the threats of wolves and lions that share their same landscape.
And Yes, There Is a Marketing Lesson About Sustainable Sales in All of This
Brands traditionally treat customers as individuals. And that is what we have spent millions learning how to master with our data modeling and segmentation strategies and technology. We personalized for personas and down to individual transactions and preferences. And we marketers are excited and proud of just how 1:1 we can get.
But wait a minute. Instead of stopping and being proud of how “individual” we make our customers feel, what if we put just as much effort into making them feel a part of “tribe,” a “herd” or a “flock”? The same formations that we observe in nature that help animals not just survive in the wild, but thrive? What if we found a way to bring customers together in communities based on what we know about them individually and enabled them to the power, confidence, excitement and joy of belonging?
I remain amazed at how many brands do not build “community” into their marketing programs and instead focus only on “individualization” which, trite as it is to say, is so “last decade.”
We marketers need to build programs beyond our products that bring customers together and make them feel safe, secure, valued, recognized, and part of something bigger and more rewarding than their ability to make a purchase — whether it be $100,000 luxury car that puts them in the VIP “clubs” for Jaguar, Lexus and more, or a smartphone that makes them seem more “cool” and artistic than perhaps they really are.
Automobile companies have done this for years, and it has always paid off, even when the quality of their machines was poor. Saturn, now in the dead brand graveyard, rallied 30,000 or more customers to events to celebrate the Saturn and meet others in their “tribe.” Harley Davidson’s HOGS — Harley Owners Group — has around 1 million members who get together with friends and strangers, for a ride organized by Harley, and ride some of nature’s best highways and byways, reveling in the joy of riding their beautiful bikes and building friendships that have only one thing in common: They love their bikes, and love talking about the experiences they have with these bikes with others who have the same bikes and similar stories. They bond with each other and they bond even more strongly with the brand that brought them together. That’s even when the joke about Harley’s quality was that you had to have two bikes: One to ride and one for spare parts.
Regardless of your business — whether it’s selling B2B SaaS software to marketing companies, healthcare products or pharmaceuticals, children’s clothing, commodity goods from a corner store, or apps to keep us more addicted to our smartphones — you, too, can build a community.
Here are just a few things to think about:
- Online: Use your website to create forums for discussion so customers can exchange “fish” stories or battle stories that make them proud to be part of your brand.
- Offline: Bring customers together for good time and important times. Throw block parties, like Samsung did at Times Square to introduce its latest phone (smaller scale parties work for smaller budgets), or invite customers to join you for neighborhood clean ups, or game hour at the senior center.
- Referral Networks: Encourage customers to bring others to your herd by offering discounts for friends and discounts or other rewards for those they being to your brand.
These are just a few things you can do to bring people together to share their passions about your brand, and gain the strength and power of numbers, while bonding with each other in ways that keep each other close to your brand.
Marketing to individuals is of course the right path for today’s high-maintenance customers who expect everything to “be all about me.”
Yet when you fail to build communities among your customers, you fail to safeguard your revenue from the threats of competitors. Like tribes in nature, consumers and customers feel secure and powerful when among others just like us, whether we realize it or not.
When you keep customers together through communities that share stories or do good together, you minimize the risk of customers wandering off like lone buffalo, becoming at-risk customers, out of network, where competitors can prey on them and forever take them away. And besides building communities, you’re building sustainable sales.