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The Importance of Lightning Bugs to Building Your Brand

Updated: Aug 3, 2021

Effectively communicating with your key audiences isn’t about being the loudest voice in the market trying to attract everyone, it’s about being yourself and finding the audiences that are already looking for you.

If you want to stand out and get noticed, you need to be more like the lightning bug Romeos I watched in my Pawpaw’s yard growing up.

The yard would be alive with bursts of lights hovering about three feet off the ground.

On one particular night, in a sea of these lights trying to find a mate, one lightning bug stood out in just the right way to attract the attention of a very specific lady lightning bug hunkered down in a berry bush on the far side of the yard.

The male hovered for a couple of minutes a few feet from the line of bushes at the edge of the yard, synchronizing his light with the other courting fireflies around him in his best Lionel Richie, “Hello, is it me you’re looking for?” flashdance, and when she sent back the consensenting half-second burst from her makeshift love shack among the blackberries, our little lighted Casanova showed bright one last time before disappearing into the bush himself.

And that, brothers and sisters, is all you will ever need to know about branding, marketing, and public relations-- Show up at the right bush, with the right burst of light, to the right bug, and you're going to have the chance at making some magic.

Effective Brand Communication Is All About Doubling Down on Your Strengths

Every species of lightning bugs, which is what we call fireflies, in Northern Appalachia has its own distinct light-up pattern, and even within each species, mating is a highly competitive practice where the hundreds of males in your yard might be vying for the attention of only a handful of local females.

And the females, turns out, are pretty picky, with some females preferring the males with the brightest butts, some preferring the fastest pattern, and others just taking whatever light is closest.

Sound familiar to your experience vying for your own unique audiences?

So, what can you do to be a more remarkable and attractive organization?

The first order of business is honestly assessing what you already do, or have the capacity to do, better than your competition.

For years, Western culture has emphasised the importance of being a renaissance man -- a one stop shop for all knowledge and experience. I believe we’ve seen a shift in the last ten years toward a culture that prioritizes specialization and niched expertise.

With every step that technology takes toward shrinking the marketplace, your insistence on “everyone being your ideal customer” puts you at a greater and exponentially growing disadvantage.

If you’re a lightning bug with a fast blinker, find the partners that prioritize a fast flash. You’ll spend less time trying to convince them (marketing) and more time mating (converting).

A Strong Brand Means a Strong Network

Once you know who your audience is and how you are better positioned to solve their problems and satisfy their wants more than anyone else in the marketplace, I suggest you do what was previously unthinkable in the industrial economy. Make allies of your competitors.

Some species in Appalachia (Photinus Carolinus) coordinate their flashes to optimize the mating of the entire species so they don’t drown each other out in a chaotic confusion of flashing lights. By working together, each firefly actually increases the likelihood of finding a mate. It’s the evolutionary equivalent of “A rising tide lifts all boats.”

Work together, support each other, and find ways to share resources and information. It may seem like a paradox, but I’ve seen it work in action time and time again.

Your Customers Want a Partner, not a Salesperson

I will never understand why we don’t build our sales and marketing strategies from the experiences we have as consumers.

No one wants to be sold. We all want to feel wooed.

Even after a potential pair of lightning bugs match flickers, the male firefly will hover just outside the bush or grass where the female has made her safe harbor and flash again and await her consenting flash-back before approaching to mate.

Sometimes we forget that our audiences need wooed. They want a chance to get to know us. They want to see what we’re about. And even after they sign up for our mailing list, download our free guides, or stop into our stores, it may not be time to pounce. It might be time to get a little closer and see what it is about you that attracted them in the first place and to gauge their readiness to move to the next step.

As a child, there were few things that felt more like summer than watching the daylight drain away among family and seeing the first sporadic flashes of a yard full of lightning bugs and running around with my cousins on those humid evenings to see who could capture the most.

And I’ll admit that as a writer who has focused his professional career on helping nonprofits and social organizations to better communicate with their audience through brand messaging, I sometimes feel that same sense of wonder and excitement when I watch one lightning bug find its perfect match, even if it’s in a crowded marketplace instead of my PawPaw’s back yard. We consulted the article "Blink Twice if You Like Me" by Carl Zimmer when writing this post.

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