Elephants are my spirit animal. There’s absolutely no doubt about it.
You’ll read in another post, “The Age of Authenticity, Why Brands Need to Get Real,” why it’s absolutely essential for brands to maintain their true authenticity at all times. In an era where consumer trust has plummeted across industries due to in-your-face advertising and constant digital input, honesty and authenticity have emerged as one of the key attributes customers value the most.
I kept this top of mind when I was developing the brand for Sohuis, as I wanted to choose an iconography that truly represented the essence of what makes Sohuis unique. Firstly, Sohuis is a digital communications company managed by a female founder, a similar quality in elephant herds I have come to admire greatly as I work and mentor other female founders in their pursuit of greatness. Humans have long understood and accepted that many kinds of animals maintain their position of leadership based on dominance and aggression. It’s a fact of the animal kingdom and is true of almost every living creature on the planet (humans included).
Contrary to this typical societal structure, elephant herds are led by an alpha-female, a matriarch, and she is not chosen by her ability to be the most aggressive or assertive. She is chosen by the group, collectively, because of her ability to demonstrate leadership through her wisdom, strength and extraordinary skills in problem solving, social intelligence, openness, ability to communicate, decisiveness, patience, confidence, and compassion. The strength of the elephant would seem to be manly physically-defining standing at eight to thirteen feet tall and weighing up 5,000 to 14,000 lbs. However, her emotional intelligence is what helps her live up to seventy years old; mentoring, training and passing down her wisdom to keep her herd safe and thriving. Below are the five traits of elephant leadership that radiate from my core and are the driving philosophies behind Sohuis and my approach to building brands and developing communication strategies.
The Five Traits of Elephant Leadership
1. Problem Solving
“The female elephant leader tends to be the most popular among the herd. She is well-respected for her ability to solicit input and communicate problems and avoid mistakes. Elephants are very intelligent and have been known to have exceptional long-term memory. Matriarchs carry crucial information such as where the water holes and food resources are and will lead the herd to them.”
It goes without saying that the ability to solve complex and intricate problems is absolutely crucial when building a brand or launching a new product to market. Communications is tricky business, and there’s so much to consider. Some common problems my clients have shared with me are:
- “What social media channels should I be on? I know that I’m supposed to use social, but how do I actually leverage these platforms to make money and build my business? How often do I post, what do I post…which form of content receives better engagement? What about video content? How come that person’s cat video went viral with over 500K+ views and I can’t get anybody but my grandma to care about my posts?” The list goes on.
- “I definitely need a website. How much should I spend on building it? How do I know what platform to build it on? What should actually go on my website? How do I know if it’s a “good” site? How do I track analytics? SEO……..”
- “I know I need a logo, what else do I need? How do you build an entire brand?”
- And about branding: “How do I keep my brand consistent? What’s our mission statement? How do I get people to not only buy from us, but become brand ambassadors and share it with everyone they know?”
These questions just touch the tip of the iceberg. The truth of the matter is that you need someone, or a group of people, who intimately understands these processes and the implications of each stage in between. Like the female matriarch, you need a strategic leader who has the unique ability and foresight to solicit input when needed, communicate your problems effectively, apply some seriously unique problem-solving skills that will eventually lead to fewer mistakes and a successful output.
2. Social Intelligence
“Young female elephants stay with their mother for life while young males may strike out on their own or join another herd. The matriarch spends sociable and playful time with her members and maintains a closely-tied social network with her extended family as well as her own.”
Elephants are credited with the four following components of social intelligence: self-awareness, managing emotions, social skills, and empathy.
I love this concept of social intelligence because it is so pertinent in the marketplace and relates intimately to developing solid communication/brand strategies. While this concept of social intelligence does have a direct tie to social media, it runs deeper than just social media. In this scenario, female elephants maintain authentic relationships with everyone in their herd in a closely-tied social network; the herd trusts her because of the strong relationships and bond she’s been able to create over time. The same thing is true for your company. Building authentic relationships across a multitude of channels and disciplines is critical for your company’s expansion and brand authority.
It’s no longer good enough for you to just have the best or cheapest product on the market. The days of selling your product to gazillions of buyers based on being the cheapest or undercutting your competition is long gone. It is now a requirement for brands for be socially intelligent, and responsible, across all platforms. This means that you need to not only understand your customers, but you need to understand how they think, how they shop, how they communicate, how they like to consume content, and how they make decisions. You need to understand how your product/service/mission contributes to your customer’s daily life and understand how your company makes a difference to them (no matter how large or small). I’m sorry to say, it’s no longer about you, it’s about them – your customer. Your company must be socially intelligent or it’ll get lost among the sea of other companies who are doing it right.
“It is a mystery how elephants communicate with one another and share information. Successful matriarchs earn respect through their wisdom and ability to connect with other elephants and overcome the challenge of their authority which may at times, come from younger elephants. Matriarchs are the final decision-maker: they are open to suggestions of others even when faced with critical matters and times of crisis.”
Openness is a vital brand philosophy to Sohuis. I have managed many teams, been in countless board and strategic planning meetings, and have been astounded by the variety of communication styles that are in direct opposition to the idea of openness. Team dynamics are tricky, especially when there are sensitive partners, constituents and funders to consider as you navigate the ins-and-outs of building your brand/project. It’s important to understand this because you cannot do it alone. You, alone, cannot build an impactful brand without collaboration from others who possess different skills sets and resources than you. In fact, it’s critical that you build a team of people of who are better than you in certain areas. No leader is perfect, but I constantly strive to create an environment where the teams I work with feel empowered and free to creatively think outside-of-the-box. When you empower the people around you (while maintaining authority through leadership), incredibly innovative ideas emerge and you’re better equipped to pivot your business into an area you otherwise couldn’t have imagined by yourself.
“Matriarchs are trusted and respected because of their ability to make wise decisions. Any members of the herd may offer a suggestion and contribute to the decision. However, many years of experience and wisdom in making crucial decisions to avoid danger, contribute to the ultimate decisiveness of the good matriarch.”
Decisiveness and openness, not surprisingly, go hand-in-hand. Decisiveness also strongly relates to the first elephant trait, Problem Solving. I can proudly say that years of experience and countless lessons learned from my set backs and roadblocks will come in extremely handy as we anticipate the next steps of your project. The proverbial “marketplace” is sometimes a scary and volatile space with a ton of uncertainties and unknowns. Sometimes, it’s just better to let someone else make the hard decisions for you – especially when those decisions do not fall into an area of your expertise. By having a strategic lead accompany your team who is open to hear suggestions and contributions from others, while making decisive decisions when it’s crunch time, you’ll cut through a lot of the noise and avoid wasting precious resources and human capital. A good matriarch relies on her wisdom to get her through uncertainty, and she ultimately will makes the best decision to support the herd, and her team.
“Patience is one of the main attributes of elephant leaders. Although its size does not equal its speed, the elephant relies on consciousness and patience to meet its needs. Patience makes it easier for the elephant leader to think things through and respond to all situations in a calm and confident manner.”
Patience – this is a hard one for some to digest. In the frantic digital landscape that is ever-evolving and growing at an exponential rate, patience is an essential virtue to all teams, and all brands. In my first post, “Welcome to Sohuis! If you’re new, start here.” I talk about something called the “muddy middle.” This is a crippling phenomenon I have come across an endless amount of times with large and small teams. The muddy middle is that state of uncertainty between points A and B; whereby there is a clear starting point and an end goal in mind. But then, everything in between gets glazed over and pushed to the side. When in fact, all of the muddiness in between are the details that will make or break your project. One thing is required to make your way through the muddle middle – and that is patience. Here are four common scenarios I have personally dealt with that are must-haves and that, just simply, take time. Marketers are applauding at this very moment.
- “Build it and they will come” is a myth. You cannot build a brand by osmosis, it takes strategic planning, value proposition design, customer discovery, and an array of other steps to get you where you need to be.
- See: “Build it and they will come is a myth.” You cannot build a (good and conversion-driven) website in under 4 weeks and less than $500. Seriously, user-experience design is something that is meticulously calculated, mapped and programmed, and you cannot build it yourself on a shoestring budget. If budget is no issue for you, it also doesn’t matter if you pay your developer 5K or 50K, the development time is the same and you will not get it any faster.
- SEO takes time: approximately 6 – 9 months to be exact if you’re focused on organic SEO. There is no magic potion or secret formula. The ingredients are: consistent + engaging + authentic + relative content over a sustained amount of time. Yes there are technologies to help, but that’s the essence of it.
- Acquiring high-value customers takes time; simply because you have to identify and learn about them. You must first understand how to identify your ideal customer, intimately empathize with their pain points and then design a unique solution that serves them. After you’ve done that, then you have to learn how (and where) they consume content on and off-line, figure out how many steps are needed for them to purchase your product or get on board with your message, and then put together a customer journey that turns them from leads to buyers to brand ambassadors. It’s a patient, but necessary, process!
There are so many more elements we could dive in to, so I’ll save those for another post. What’s most important is that I set the stage for why these five traits of elephant leadership are so important to Sohuis; and also, why they should be important to you. Problem solving, social intelligence, openness, decisiveness and patience are key company and team elements critical to navigating through the tumultuous phases of brand and project development. If you embrace these concepts, you’ll be sure to come out of the other side victorious!