Squirrels = Brand Consumers. Am I NUTS???

From the branding-obsessed mind of Kevin Flores, Chief Creative Fella

Squirrels = Brand Consumers. Am I NUTS???  While propped about 20 feet up in a tree stand on a recent deer hunting trip*, I found myself surrounded and fascinated by dozens of grey squirrels working tirelessly throughout the day —  consuming and burying as many acorns as possible. While taking occasional breaks for playful games of chase with fellow bushy-tailed co-workers, they would quickly (and with much discipline) refrain back to the tasks at hand — searching, eating, digging and burying the fruits (or in this case, “nuts”) of their labor.

Having a bird’s eye view of the four-legged work-a-holics, and no deer in sight, I had nothing but time to sit and watch them. I thought about how their tireless work might relate to mine as a brand marketer. In my strange brain, I concocted a scenario where the squirrels were the consumers we try to reach and the acorn was our brand product or service. The squirrel actually eating the acorn (a.k.a. – consuming our product) represented a marketer’s end goal — a profitable sale.

The more I thought about it,the more parallels I was able to concoct. So after my camouflaged excursion in the woods, I decided to do my own kind of ‘digging’ — on the interwebs.

I searched terms on squirrel feeding patterns and found an article written by Anne Raver for The New York Times called “All About Squirrels And Nuts.” Apparently, Anne had also taken note of these hard-working varmints (only, her observations took place in a park in Brooklyn) and it sounded like she may have had some of the same questions I did:

“Is there rhyme or reason to which acorns they eat and which ones they bury?”

“Will they actually remember where they buried each acorn?”

“How many of those acorns will they actually find?!”

Before writing the NYT article, she found Dr. Peter Smallwood at Bryn Mawr College in Pensylvania. (SIDE NOTE: As it turns out, Dr. Smallwood is now a professor in my own back yard at the University of Richmond! Small world!)

Anyway, Dr. Smallwood studied squirrels with Michael Steele—a biologist at Wilkes College. In 1994, the pair wrote an article called “What Are Squirrels Hiding?” for Natural History Magazine which Anne used as the foundation for her article.

While reading her article, I realized that there are many parallels that we [marketers] can use if we imagine our target consumer is a squirrel, and our brand’s product, an acorn. I’ll use a few quotes from Anne Raver’s article to illustrate my point. (Then you can tell me whether or not I’m nuts!)

Anne wrote: Scientists have long thought that gray squirrels, can not only remember where they dug their holes, but also smell the nuts they have buried. (But they must not be too good at either skill, since studies show they fail to recover about 74 percent of the nuts they bury.)

Okay, let’s break this down.

In a forrest full of oaks, how many thousands of acorns do you think the average squirrel has the potential to see a day? Would you think that 3,000 might be a conceivable number? If so, that would be comparable to the number of marketing messages that the average consumer will see or hear in a day according to Fast Company.

While we may be exposed to 3,000 marketing messages a day, most of them flick in-and-out so quickly that they don’t actually seep past our subconscious. So, let’s say, for the sake of this article (and hopefully the restoration of my reputation as a “sane” person), that the acorns the squirrels actually pickup are equivalent to the brands or products that consciously register with us on a given day.

Once the squirrel makes the conscious connection with an acorn, he has a choice to make:

“Do I toss it away?”

“Do I consume it right now?”

“Do I store it away and try to find it later?”

This is a similar thought process a consumer has each time she comes in contact with your brand’s product or service. The nuts that are immediately eaten (a.k.a. – sold) are wins in our parallel! The ones that are tossed away were not enticing enough to keep the consumer’s…uh…squirrel’s attention. The ones that were buried made some kind of impression. BUT…let’s not forget, squirrels only recover TWENTY-SIX PERCENT of the acorns they bury! So the chances of that “squirrel/consumer” coming back for your “acorn/product” are decreased significantly if it’s not immediately consumed. Admittedly, I don’t have numbers to support this, but my guess is that the human consumer may (at times) be even more forgetful than the squirrel!

On to another quote from the article…

Anne wrote: They are also highly discriminating when it comes to deciding which nuts to eat immediately and which to store. …Naturalists have also noticed that squirrels don’t bury acorns infected with larvae, but eat these high-protein treats immediately.

This one struck a chord with me. It says that it’s not enough to just get the squirrel/consumer to pickup your acorn/product. While it interests them enough to pick it up, there has to be something more that makes them want to consume it immediately.

When the squirrel sees the added bonus of a larvae inside of an acorn, he thinks, “SCORE!” and devours the acorn without any thoughts of tossing it away or saving it for a later date.

Let’s face it, for most consumers, larvae in a product probably wouldn’t be very enticing. But the parallel in a consumer’s world could be having your acorn/product catch their eye and then realizing that it’s being sold at an unexpectedly affordable price! Or being surprised by how great the acorn/product feels in their hands once they’re interested enough to pick it up. Or maybe it’s another added benefit that nudges the squirrel/consumer to consume your product immediately — rather than toss it away or bury it in hopes of finding it again later.

So, here’s the breakdown:

Squirrel = Your Ideal Consumer

Acorn = Your Brand Product

Larvae = That Extra “Something” That Ensures Your Brand Product Is Consumed Immediately

Now, ask yourself:

Who are your squirrels?

Is your acorn attracting them?

Is there a larvae in your acorn once your squirrels find it?

What are the squirrels doing with your acorn?

Tossing it?

Burying it in hopes of finding it later?

Or consuming it immediately?

I hope the answers to these questions help you to better understand your brand’s appeal to your audience.


*Not one freaking deer was harmed while concepting this story.
(Maybe I should have paid less attention to the squirrels.)

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