February 2, 2024

What Nature Can Teach Us About Brand Vitality

By: Sara Dotterer

Brands are living, breathing organisms — constantly evolving with changes from within while also adapting to the world surrounding it. That is why as strategists and marketers, it is critical we treat brands as such so they can stand the test of time, even as the company scales. 

In her recent co-written article Sara Dotterer, Director of Brand Strategy at RG, breaks down the concept of brand vitality by examining what living organisms that exist in nature can teach us about building strong brands through the interdependence between individuals, organizations and communities.

Mitochondria: the powerhouse of the cell

For example — take Mitochondria. You may be wondering what this powerhouse of most plant, animal, and human cells can teach us about brand building…. Mitochondrial health is essential to a vital healthy life- converting the food we eat and the air we breathe to store and release energy, helping our cells grow, repair, divide and operate. Working well – we are energized, vibrant, growing. Imbalanced – either from excess growth or insufficient repair, we face systemic fatigue, inflammation and larger health issues. 

How does this help us think about a brand’s vitality?

  1. Self (Founder, employee, etc.): Where might you be prioritizing excess growth over sufficient repair?
  2. Brand/Organization (as a whole): How effectively are energy and resources distributed within your organization? Are the parts that require the most energy sufficiently supported to maintain the growth and repair process? Where might your organization be ‘inflamed’ (growth without repair, prioritizing short-termism, hoarding resources, etc.)?
  3. Community (stakeholders, community members, environment): How is your vitality or lack thereof impacting the energy you give to those around you? What external influences might be negatively impacting your energy?

Let’s use a current real world example to illustrate the power of mitochondrial thinking:

Short Termism” is impacting many brands today, but evidence shows it’s unhealthy for business and the larger economy. McKinsey & Company found that “the revenue of firms with a long-term mindset cumulatively grew on average 47% more than other firms, and their earnings grew 36% more.” In the financial services world, short-termism can reveal itself in many different ways – from the vision of a leader to the way a firm approaches marketing and reporting. BlackRock’s CEO, Larry Fink, frequently points out that companies are “too focused on quarterly results.” Why do company leaders feel pressure to do this? An obsessive pressure from stakeholders for quarterly earnings and reporting in hopes of seeing short-term gains. To fix this imbalance, there will have to be alignment from stakeholders and companies in emphasizing long-term health over short-term gain. 

Fractals: Self-Similar Structures

Another natural structure we can look to for inspiration is fractals. Fractals are present everywhere in nature. Imagine noticing the branches of a tree on a morning walk. The branches start from the trunk and move outwards. As they branch, they get smaller in size but remain the same in architecture. In nature, this is called a self-similar structure; in other words, the smallest unit is the “same” as the biggest, repeating endlessly through the organism at different scales.

If fractals are the structure itself, emergence is the outcome of fractals. It is the realization that interdependent parts create a larger and more complex whole. Adrienne Maree Brown writes, “Emergence notices the way small actions and connections create complex systems, patterns that become ecosystems and societies.” Emergence means realizing we cannot exist in a silo. We are part of a complex web of interactions and relationships – interpersonal and environmental. The patterns in the smallest fractal impact the structure of the whole organism. In this way, fractals can be used to understand and predict future outcomes.

Reimagine the tree we already discussed. Consider that one of the smaller branches is now infected. Even though this is a single, small piece of the tree, it is likely that the whole tree will soon be sick. We may try to silo things, but the odds are that the good, the bad, and the ugly present in one part of an organism, organization, or individual will eventually show up in the whole.

How does this help us think about a brand’s vitality?

  1. Self (Founder, employee, etc): What parts of who you are (the good and the bad), are being knowingly and unknowingly infused into your business (and brand!)? How are these same characteristics impacting your leadership? 
  2. Brand/Organization (as a whole): What patterns are showing up in various parts of your organization and how can those be seen as indicators of organizational connectivity (or lack thereof)? Can we use this information to make small changes that will reverberate across the whole organization?
  3. Community (stakeholders, community members, environment): When a need or shift arises in the culture, many organizations pop up as a response. How might you see brands similar to yours as individual fractals of the same problem, and harness that collective power to collaborate rather than compete?

Let’s use a current real world example to illustrate the power of fractal thinking:

Consider the partnerships arising between traditional finance brands and fintech companies as fractals of the same cultural need. Fintech’s rapid emergence has significantly impacted the traditional banking sector, driving a larger desire for digital transformation in finance. This partnership benefits both parties: fintech gains access to traditional finance’s client base, compliance, and capital, while traditional finance benefits from innovation and improved service. In 2023, Mastercard and Agoda, a Singapore-based digital travel platform, partnered to make B2B payments in the travel industry smoother and more secure, focusing on increasing customer loyalty while tackling fraud. This collaboration unifies fractals of the same challenges in the travel sector, showcasing the two industries’ move towards digital and customer-oriented approaches.


Read more about what vitality in nature can teach us about building resilient brands in the article here, originally co-written by Sara Dotterer and Lori Abichandani, founder of branding agency a big idea.


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