Adapt to the Now – the mutual benefits of businesses and communities working together


Only last month, someone forwarded me an article with the title Only the Strongest Brands Will Survive. While I appreciated the author’s energy, I couldn’t help but think they were heading in the wrong direction.

The idea that only the strong survive – be they brands, people, or anything else for that matter – is an example of something important being lost in translation. The theory of natural selection, from which this phrase almost certainly takes its cue, has nothing to do with strength – and everything to do with adaptation. You only have to think back over the last ten years to recall a handful of once ‘strong’ brands that are no longer with us; I suspect more than one CEO has recently been woken in the night by a spectral Blockbuster logo ratting its chains and warning them of dark times to come if they fail to change their ways.

For an encouraging example of adaptation under pressure, take a look at the UK’s community sector. When Coronavirus first reached our shores, it was the grassroots community projects, the mutual aid groups, the local networks of volunteers who sprang most inspiringly into action. They adapted because they had to, doing whatever was needed to keep people safe and to hold communities together. Not only were they first to respond at the time; in many cases they continue to provide essential means of support. As often as not, they do all of these things with precious little in the way of funding or resources.

Some businesses, too, showed themselves remarkably adept at adaptation. As early as April, Brompton Bike Hire (the sister company of Brompton Bicycle) launched ‘Wheels for Heroes’, a scheme that has now donated more than 500 Brompton bikes to UK hospitals, helping NHS staff get to work safely. Craft beer company Brewdog adapted some of their production facilities in order to manufacture hand sanitiser, donating much of this to health care charities, key frontline workers and hospitals.

Other businesses seemed less willing or able to adapt, and opted instead to double-down on their advertising spend. The result? A plethora of expensive, identical and alarmingly unoriginal TV campaigns to inform us that Brand X (along with Brand Y, Brand Z and many others) would always be there for us. Such advertising campaigns can cost eye-watering sums of money, and in an age of an increasingly savvy public – the adverts were widely lampooned on social media – many appeared to backfire. As we compare these two sets of examples, it seems evident that significantly more (impact) can be achieved with far less (expenditure).

As communities continue to adapt, so too must businesses. We therefore have two options. Under the first option we carry on as we are, with businesses and communities going it alone; the former adjusting their marketing spend and trying to ‘innovate’ their way out of a crisis, the latter trying their best to provide vital services on a shoestring budget.

 The second option is more appealing: to help forward-thinking businesses connect to and support communities, let them solve problems together and collectively build back. For the community projects, this means receiving the support they need to thrive – in the form of funding, volunteers, resources and expertise. For the businesses, it offers a chance to connect with communities, create a two-way dialogue, and establish a legacy as a brand that meaningfully responded to the crisis.

At Semble, we work with businesses to design and deliver community campaigns. We have an extensive network of community projects all around the UK – currently 3,700-strong and growing every day – delivering services in anything and everything you can imagine, from education to environment to emotional wellbeing. The magic happens when we bring the two together.

Of all the many things we can learn from evolution in the natural world, perhaps the most inspiring is the power and beauty of mutualism: the process whereby two species interact to the benefit of one another. You need only think of bees and plants; the bee sustained by the sweet and nutrient-rich nectar, the plant harnessing the bee’s pollen exchange services. And in fact, such cooperation often brings benefits to the far wider ‘community’ – such as the bounty of delicious fruits yielded by bee-pollinated crops.

We think it’s time for businesses and communities to support one another; to work together for mutual benefit. If you feel the same, we’d love to hear from you.

To find out more about the campaigns we run and contact us head over here.

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