Easter is a funny clash of traditions and cultures. At its core is a Christian religious festival celebrating the death and resurrection of Christ, but somehow that has now collided with the mystical Easter Bunny, a fluffy confectioner intent on driving up childhood diabetes. As a child, I remember trying (with no great success) to work out why a bunny rabbit laid and delivered chocolate eggs (seriously, that makes NO sense!), and what all that had to do with Jesus emerging from his tomb. Perhaps it was the bunny who rolled back the stone and the Kinder surprise was born? Who knows?
Easter of course dates back to well before Christianity decided to ‘borrow’ it. Many religions, including the pagan beliefs of old, always celebrated the beginning of Spring. This was a time to praise the wonder of nature, of re-birth, fertility and growth. A new season was upon us and the future looked bright. I think therefore that there is much our brands and business could also learn from this season, Jesus and the Easter Bunny:
Learnings from the Humble Egg
You get the chicken by hatching the egg, not by smashing it
Firstly, the Egg has always been a symbol of the future, of hope, of re-birth, of the potential inside. Inside this tiny fragile shell is the potential for life, for the continuance of the species. Birds make intricate nests to house their eggs, snakes and turtles elaborately bury theirs. The eggs are guarded, incubated, turned, and cared for until they hatch. The Emperor penguin sits on its eggs for an impressive 67 days. It is no surprise that the egg became the key symbol for Spring.
As a metaphor for business, it is no different. The future defines our success, not what we have achieved in the past. You can have all the brand heritage and history you want, but the brands that are succeeding with today’s new consumer are those that are looking to the future. Heritage might give you the ‘permission to speak’ but as a brand, you still need something relevant to say. And that is always about the future, what consumers want, how their needs are changing and how you can change your business to suit. Both Google and Facebook are great examples of huge companies who still recognise that the future lies, not in their current products, but in their innovation funnel. They are continuously buying and investing in start-up ventures to future-proof their businesses.
I still meet brand teams intent on placing their bets on things that have worked in the past. To me that is not a winning strategy. It is like placing your chips on ‘23 RED’ on a roulette wheel, as that is the number that came up on the last spin. What worked in the past has no guarantee of working in the future, not with our new consumer and new economy.
The second thing of interest about an Egg is its strength. While incredibly fragile, its shape is no accident. Nature has crafted an object that is incredibly strong. If it was square (apart from being incredibly sore to lay!) it’s structure would mean any significant weight would result in collapse. End to end, an egg is unbelievably strong. In fact, it is so strong you cannot crush it between your hands. Go on. Try it when you can. Get a normal hen’s egg and place it end to end between the fleshy parts of your thumb/palm. Squeeze as HARD as you can, really go for it. Nothing, not even a hairline crack. Structurally this is where the strength is, in the curved ‘egg shape’. It is tougher than you could ever imagine.
In business and brands, it is the same. We all have 2 (or more) key strengths, things that the entire business rests upon. A magnificent R&D funnel, an outstanding customer experience culture, or a deep market knowledge. Your strengths hold your business together, they make it what it is. Capitalise on them. Learn to lean on them. See how much you can ‘squeeze’ out of them. Uber realised their strength was their network of instant connection they had built, leading to the development of Uber Eats, Uber Rush and ultimately the Uber Everything team.
Lastly, I think we can also learn from the Chocolate Egg itself. This Easter, millions of children will rush to see what chocolate delights the Easter Bunny has delivered. When I was a child, my favourite moment was opening the large hollow chocolate eggs to see what was inside. Sadly, today the mainstream confectionery brands no longer put anything inside, the additional bars or candies are packed in the outer box. It makes sense commercially of course (cheaper to produce) but it takes away the mystery. What will be inside? Small chocolates, mini-bars, candies? How many? As brands, we need to make sure we are still delighting and exciting our shoppers, at every opportunity. Deliver above a shoppers’ expectation and you achieve ‘shopper delight’. Try and build some mystery and delight into what you do.
A childhood friend of mine had a sister who would keep her chocolate eggs in their boxes for many weeks after Easter, teasing her brother with what she still had, long after he had eaten his. But a chocolate egg in a box is just, well, an egg in a box. There is no pleasure or joy and you can’t eat a chocolate egg without breaking it. Similarly, you can’t bake a cake without cracking the egg. Even the little chick has to break out of the shell. Too many businesses recognise their strengths, but then continue to ‘sit on their eggs’. To realise your potential as a business or brand you have to be willing to take risks, to break open some of your eggs and peer inside. To roll up your sleeves and ‘crack some shells’. Sometimes you will make a mess, but other times you will discover something that might completely change the nature of your business. If you leave the egg in the box, you will never know.
Learnings from the Easter Bunny
Why does a rabbit deliver these eggs? Well the hare (which was later morphed to the more media friendly ‘bunny’) has always been a symbol of fertility, perhaps for obvious reasons (Well, they have a reputation for ‘enjoying themselves’ in full view at this time of year). When fertile, the female hare takes off across the countryside, with all the male suitors in hot pursuit (sound familiar?). Only when one is left (the fittest with the most stamina) will she stop to copulate.
What is really interesting about fertility and the natural kingdom is that procreation generally relies on finding a partner. While there are exceptions of course, most rely on ‘getting it on’ with others to create life. In nature, Easter and springtime is when ‘the sap rises’ in more than just the trees. In every hedgerow and forest, right now, creatures are singing Barry White’s ‘Let’s Get it On’ (probably).
In business, success today similarly relies on choosing the right partners. Consumer needs are moving at such pace there is simply no way you can do it all on your own. Choosing the right B2B partners in technology, CX provision, or aligning yourself with similar businesses is critical. To grow you are going to need to partner up with the right players. Developing all this in-house takes too much time, which is something we no longer have the luxury of if we are to meet new consumer needs as they emerge.
Out-sourced partnerships also allows you to remain agile and flexible in a way that in-house does not. The hare is a fast and agile creature, mating aside. You need this kind of speed and agility to survive today, not to mind grow. Learn from the bunnies. Partner hard, partner often and stay agile.
Learnings from the Resurrection
Lastly, the Pagan spring festival timing perfectly suited the resurrection story and so the Christian church segwayed their celebration in here too. A festival that was already celebrating new life, growth and re-birth was a perfect match for the resurrection. Easter is about new opportunities, new life, about reengineering what you had and what you want to be.
There are many parallels we can draw from the resurrection story and business success. The obvious one is reinventing your brand or business. Sometimes you have to let things ‘die’ to emerge anew. In business, we need to learn to be better at letting go of what you ‘know’ and face the unknown to succeed. If you keep holding on to the shape of what you have, how will you ever know what the business could become? Death and re-birth is at the heart of any brand or business succession.
The second parallel here is about having the conviction in your beliefs, about being true to yourself. Pepsi have recently felt the backlash of getting this wrong with their Kendall Jenner campaign, pulled less than 24 hours after release (link to article here). Today’s consumer demands authentic and genuine brand connections. They want their brands to stand for something, but to be authentic in so doing. To be clear in what they stand for and to deliver on it.
Lastly, the resurrection story of course remains an actual mystery. A 2000-year-old story that is told in many different ways, the truth less certain. Did the man enter a state of near death to recover later, was his body stolen from the tomb by supporters, or perhaps he was never buried in the tomb in the first place, his ‘missing body’ becoming the resurrection story told today? There are hundreds of theories and theses on the subject. But one thing is very clear. The story is the story because of the customers that tell it. What actually happened no longer matters, as it is in the retelling of the story that the ‘brand’ comes to life.
Every business can learn from this. Your customers are your biggest strategic asset. Getting them to tell your brand story for you inside their peer network is critical for modern day consumer connections. You are nothing unless your customers are talking about you, telling your story, keeping your brand alive.
So, this week, despite the chocolate eggs, the nocturnal visit from a human sized bunny rabbit and the resurrection, remember that Easter, at its core, is about new beginnings, future potential, fertility and growth. Now might be a good time to get the team together and inject some of that into your own business.
But also remember, a balanced diet this Easter is having an equal amount of chocolate in both hands!
Ken Hughes is one of the worlds leading Shopper and Consumer Behaviouralists, blending his vast expertise in consumer psychology, social & digital anthropology, behavioural economics and neuromarketing to answer the question to which he has dedicated most of his career: Why do shoppers buy and how can we make them buy more? Click here to read more
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