Search Marketing Lessons From Nature: Part 1

Since human economics is simply one example of the biological laws of resource flow, we can apply principles of nature to business. For example, nature loves good marketing, from mating displays to bird songs to the shape and color of flower petals. The goal of marketing is to attract mutually beneficial partners to each other with a minimum of resource expenditure.

The discipline of permaculture seeks to apply principles of nature to human design. Here are three permaculture principles you can apply to search marketing:

1. Observe and Interact

If you want to build a garden, a pond, a house, or a city, you’re essentially imposing your will on an environment. When we build without regard for what’s already there, our efforts are frequently wasteful and destructive. When we spend time observing what already exists, we can add to it in ways that improve the whole system in addition to getting our own needs met.

Before writing ads and landing pages, explore the keyword environment that already exists online. Where is the energy flowing now? What is being offered, and what’s missing? How are sellers describing their benefits and attracting prospects? How are prospects gathering information, forming preferences, and making choices?

Observe the existing market to answer the following “action” questions:

  • Are some prospects underserved by existing solution?
  • Are there untapped niches in the marketplace?
  • Is there room for a more robust description of benefits?

If two species try to occupy the same niche, that’s extremely wasteful. Rather than engage in head-to-head competition, the species tend to evolve so that each can fit into its own niche. As business strategists, we can use the “observe and interact” principle to adapt ourselves to the market, rather than engaging in the Herculean and generally futile task of forcing the market to adapt to us.

2. Catch and Store Energy

The natural world is relentlessly efficient at storing energy. Plants store energy in roots, squirrels store energy in buried caches of nuts, and soil and water store solar energy in the form of heat. Humans have lost this knack since we discovered fossil fuels; why bother to store something that appears to exist in infinite quantities just below the surface of the earth?

But as we deplete these ancient reserves and discover the environmental damage caused by our increasingly desperate attempts to wrest them from the ground, we’re starting to wake up to the wisdom of energy storage. We’re creating buildings that store heat during the day and release it at night. With the new Tesla home battery, we’ll be able to power our appliances and cars with stored sunshine. One day, we may achieve sustainable energy usage and no longer need to draw down millions of years of solar savings.

Every marketing campaign represents energy expended: thought, planning, messaging, ad spend, and so on. What’s less obvious is that marketing campaigns also generate energy: interest, discussion, feedback, leads, sales, and referrals. We’re good at paying attention to the returns that can be measured and turned into dollar signs – leads and sales – but we often ignore the less-tangible forms of energy generated, and therefore don’t capture them and return them to the system.

For example, marketing always leads to feedback, either direct or indirect, spoken or silent. Your PPC ads are always telling you something. Perhaps you discover that your bid prices are too low to generate traffic. Rather than a simple “Oh, well” shrug, you can use that insight to discover the underlying cause: an inferior business model.

Hearkening back to the first principle, someone else is able to take better advantage of your niche than you are. And unless you can adapt to this challenge, you will not succeed. See feedback as energy to be harnessed and you’ll improve your search marketing much quicker and more predictably.

3. Obtain a Yield

Permaculturalists like to say, “You can’t work on an empty stomach.” Meaning, even while you build for the long term, make sure you get something back in the short term.

If you’re awash in VC money, you might be tempted to ignore this advice; after all, you’ve got a long runway and don’t have to worry about paying the rent or making payroll this month. The problem with this approach is that it can lead you into long and winding dead ends. If you don’t try to make a dollar this month, how do you know you’re be able to make a million a year from now?

The short-term yields don’t have to be spectacular, but connecting with the second principle, they must be real, they must be motivating, and they must provide feedback to maintain or adjust your course.

In my next column, we’ll look at three more permaculture principles: self-regulation, renewable resources, and zero waste. Until then, have fun growing your business in an elegant, sustainable, and abundant way.

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