The Rhino and The Oxpecker, Marketing & Advertising News, ET BrandEquity

Strategygram – The Rhinoceros and the Oxpecker

ET BrandEquity.com brings the thirty-fifth part of the Strategygram series.

This Strategygram titled ‘The Rhino and The Oxpecker’ is part of the series created by brand strategy consultant Sattar Khan. Each Strategygram condenses a strategic thought into a single image. The collectible series is a visual guide to strategic thinking and provides handy image prompts for your branding workouts.

When different biological species occupy the same territory, we witness one of four symbiotic relationships: competition (where one species kills or consumes another), parasitism (where one species, the parasite, lives on or in a another species as a host), commensalism (where one species benefits from its association with another without harming or helping it), and mutualism (where both species benefit from each other) – and it makes us think about the relationship between an organization’s culture and its brands: what it is and what it should be.

We’ve all seen serene images of cute little birds – red-billed or yellow-billed oxpeckers – sitting on the backs of rhinos in sub-Saharan Africa and smiling in what appears to be mutualistic behavior. In exchange for the safe habitat an oxpecker gets on the rhino’s back, it eats ticks, flies, and insects that bother the rhino. Additionally, since rhinos are myopic, the bird also acts as an alarm system, creating a hissing agitation when the woodpecker spots an approaching threat such as a lion, hyena, or human poacher. The Swahili name for the oxpecker honors this relationship: askari wa kifaru means “the guardian of the rhinoceros”.

And yet, when we take a close look at this iconic interaction, we notice there’s more: a rhino’s skin is thick but sensitive, with lots of blood just underneath. When an oxpecker pecks at the skin of a rhino to eat fly larvae and other parasites, it removes scabs from the rhino’s back, which slows wound healing.

The woodpecker also sucks blood from the rhinoceros through open wounds.

When we look at the relationship between an organization’s culture and its brands, what do we see, at first glance, yes, but also on closer inspection?

We know that a differentiated and superior brand experience doesn’t start with a brand; it starts further, in the organizational culture that gives birth to the brand and then acts as the main filter of what a brand perceives and practices.

There’s an irony in the situation, of course: the people who are usually tasked with steering a brand’s fortunes — the people of marketing departments — have little or no control over the culture of the brand. organization. Brand managers can have some influence on an organization’s culture, but certainly not control.

Nevertheless, market success depends on a relationship that is symbiotically productive: the culture of the organization feeds the brand, while the brand provides information about the realities of the outside world so that the organization can adapt and evolve. with institutional intelligence and imagination.

The culture of an organization – the way the organization behaves, based on its self-image derived from what it believes, cherishes and intends – impacts the purpose, the point of distinction and brand personality. And this is where the alignment between the organization’s culture and its brand (or brand portfolio) becomes intriguing.

Consider, for example, the ability of an organization’s culture to exclude opportunities for its brand.

When the world’s largest maker of computer semiconductor chips was approached in 2007 by a Cupertino-based company to manufacture chips for the launch of its category-redefining product, a smartphone, the chipmaker declined. They saw themselves as a high-volume, high-margin business and didn’t think mobile devices would give them the volumes they needed; instead, manufacturing these chips would reduce the company’s vaunted profitability.

In an interview published in The Atlantic on May 16, 2013, the company’s then-CEO admitted, “We ended up not winning or passing on [the contract to make chips for the smartphone], depending on how you want to display it. And the world would have been very different if we had. The thing you need to remember is that this was before the introduction of the iPhone and no one knew what the iPhone would do… In the end there was a chip they were.

interested that they wanted to pay a certain price not a nickel more and that price was below our expected cost. I couldn’t see it. It wasn’t one of those things you can catch up on volume. And in hindsight, the projected cost was wrong and the volume was 100 times greater than everyone thought. The lesson I learned from that is that while we love to talk with data here, so many times in my career I ended up making decisions with my gut, and I should have followed my gut. My instinct told me to say yes.

In fact, the problem was not cost forecasting, the problem was the lack of institutional foresight. Even when the company made the fateful decision, hundreds of millions of feature phones were being sold worldwide. So the inquisitive mind asks: has corporate foresight been short-circuited by corporate culture and self-image?

The company tried to catch up, but it was too late; between the iOS and Android operating systems, the market not only for smartphones, but also for tablets thereafter, was excluded for the brand. As a technical publication asked in December 2020: “How [this company] manage to spend up to $10 billion and have so little to show for it?

You know it’s much easier for a competitor to copy your strategy than it is to copy your company culture. Your company culture is a stronger and more resilient element of your competitive advantage. But it must be organized with this in mind because although all organizations have unique cultures, not all cultures are special.

What interests us in this discussion, however, is organizational culture and its alignment with a brand’s purpose, point of distinction and personality.

Let’s say you are a company that manufactures athletic footwear and equipment and your mission is to serve the athlete in us. What if you, as a sports brand, were looking to only hire people who are into athletics and sports, thinking that if a person doesn’t fit the philosophy and intent of the company, then that no one would be better off working elsewhere.

That sounds reasonable, but consider the implications: should you turn down a top-notch accountant just because she’s not a sports fanatic? Should we refuse a disabled person because he cannot practice a sporting activity? When does the emphasis on hiring “our type of people” turn into a rejection of “the other, not our type”?

In an organization, you don’t need like-minded people; you need people who can work through and despite their differences. Contrast and collaboration trump consistency and conformity. A brand must have focus, it’s true, but that focus must come from transmuted and cohesive diversity, or the brand will lack the resilience to adapt and evolve in fulfilling its purpose.

Take a look at the world’s first e-commerce company, whose brand maintains low prices as a major aspect of its point of distinction. Frugality is listed as one of its core values: “We try not to spend money on things that don’t matter to customers.”

A former employee said: “When I was working [there], no one flew first class. Everyone stayed in budget hotels. The company didn’t pay anyone’s cell phone bill. More importantly, this low-cost culture was executed consistently from top to bottom. »

A story is told – is it apocryphal? — about a person who joined the company as a vice president at its US headquarters. On his first day in the office, he was about to sign some papers, when he noticed that there was no ballpoint pen on his desk as part of his stationery supplies. So he asked his secretary to order ballpoint pens.

The secretary returned to his office a little later and said that the finance manager had refused to approve the order.

The VP burst into the CFO’s cabin and confronted him, “Am I not allowed to order ballpoint pens?”

“Yes, you are,” replied the CFO calmly. “I can sign the order for you right away, but then you should expect a phone call from [the company’s founder-CEO] asking you to explain why the company had to buy you a ballpoint pen.

The vice president decided he didn’t really want ballpoint pens after all.

You can characterize the culture of this company as frugal or thrifty, but what is indisputable is that the culture of the organization has reinforced the brand value proposition of lower prices for customers without any avoidable cost in the organization.

Take the case of a corporate group founded by a flamboyant British multi-billionaire, where more than 400 companies, spanning a hugely diverse range of industries, operate under a single umbrella brand.

The challenge of having an organizational culture that supports a cohesive brand personality across a plethora of businesses – from trains and planes to hotels and bank branches, from wines and condoms to space tourism and stem cell vaults bloodlines – growing over five decades and across five continents is a herculean task, and yet it has been accomplished, not least by the founder, who embodies the brand’s exciting, fun and iconoclastic personality.

The mission of this brand is to give customers a fairer offer than what they get in each category. As part of this brand purpose and brand persona, employees are instilled in brand ethics through a weeks-long training program and then, as one report puts it, “given the freedom to own , to inhabit and express the values ​​of the brand through their own individual personalities.

A brand will always aim to be functionally superior to its competitors, but even when a brand is obviously not better in terms of performance, it can be evocatively better at pleasing the customer and thus becoming their preferred choice. Personality creates preference.

By supporting these three aspects of a brand – its purpose, its point of distinction and its personality – an organization’s culture makes a brand relevant, remarkable and relatable. Who could ask for a better symbiotic relationship?

Check out previous Strategygrams here.

-Sattar Khan can be contacted at [email protected]

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