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Friday, March 14, 2008

Marketing symbiosis

This Wikipedia image of relationship between Ocellaris clownfish that dwell among the tentacles of Ritteri sea anemones may seem distant this blog's theme, but if you delve more deeply into symbiosis, you will find perhaps the most valuable marketing insights for your business. Looking for business-related examples of symbiosis, I came across The Empty Whitecoat: Customer Innovation and Co-Creation Blog by Chris Lawyer.

As I rested on a hammock at Monterrey Beach Bungalows near Peurto Vallarta, I thought of the powerful importance of symbiosis in nature -- and marketing. Earlier in the day, our guide had taken us into the semi-jungle forest in a controlled nature walk where we were reminded of the amazing bio diversity and integration of different life forms. The tour with Vallarta Adventures promised a concluding experience at a secluded private beach where we could have lunch and rest before returning to our accommodations, and so we headed down a steep dirt road to this little resort, with just six suites, but with industrial catering facilities for hundreds.

We asked our guide about the ownership of this unusual and quaint location, and he tore off a one page marketing flyer from Monterrey Beach Bungalows. Turns out Vallarta Adventures and the resort have a rather intriguing relationship. Visitors to the bungalows can enjoy privacy, meal service, and seclusion at a truly reasonable cost -- subject to a two to three hour afternoon block when the trucks from Vallarta Adventures descend on the beach.

I didn't ask how much Vallarta Adventures pays for its use of the facility; I can imagine, enough to be helpful but not much overall -- becuase of course Monterrey Beach Bungalows receives a free marketing ride -- of the hundreds of people visiting the beach every day, a few undoubtedly express interest in the location, and you don't need many of that 'few' to decide to inquire more, and sign on for the rooms, meal service, and corporate or family retreat at prices far below conventional accommodations. No need to advertise widely, just a simple one page info sheet and a decent website. A symbiotic relationship, indeed.

In marketing, frankly, these mutually dependent and creative relationships are undoubtedly the most valuable and effective -- and your business success will likely depend on your ability to structure similar relationships. Done right, the great symbiotic relationships can last decades, and almost operate on auto-pilot; requiring virtually no management energy and seemingly so much in the background that you almost forget they are there (until you appreciate their business value for the participants.)

To be successful, a truly symbiotic relationship needs these qualities:
  • The businesses are distinctive and independent, but in some important respects provide something that the other needs; which, when fulfilled, serves your own needs.
  • The relationship is of ongoing continuous value; strong enough to withstand changing technology, ownership, and time. (The symbiosis is of such great value to both businesses that it effectively embeds within the respective operations of both businesses.)
  • The symbiosis is comfortable, but not a trap -- you don't want to get in a situation where you are dead in the water without it -- but equally, if both businesses stand much more to lose than to gain by ending the relationship, you don't need to worry that much about any traps.

In our own business, we enjoy certain symbiotic relationships that are essential to our sustainability and continued success; I am not going to dwell on them publicly here out of respect for the quality of the relationship and the association with our symbiotic colleagues. (I would ask permission ahead of time before publicizing these relationships, reflecting the symbiosis, but this blog is written on a much shorter deadline cycle.)

Of course, great organizations are built as well on the symbiosis between employees and the business -- If symbiotic needs are met in a truly satisfactory manner, then we've achieved balance, security, and respect -- and mutual success.

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