What can marketers learn from the amazing mantis shrimp?

Say hello to Attest Investigates! A series where I use the Attest platform to test popular hypotheses and answer your burning questions.

As a trained scientist, I am obsessed with experimentation, empiricism and using data to make decisions. We’ll delve into all things consumer research, using a scientific analysis style to lift the lid on the most important unknowns for brands, as requested by you!

What can marketers learn from the amazing mantis shrimp? 

Please bear with me as I share why we’re even talking about crazy highlighter attack shrimp. I promise we stand to learn a lot.

You might not have ever heard of the mantis shrimp before but, in my view, it’s the most amazing creature in the entire animal kingdom.

The mantis shrimp has a series of incredible features that, despite its small size, enable it to dominate its ecosystem. And this is exactly what the best challenger brands are doing today to win within their categories – brands like Wise (formerly TransferWise), Little Moons and Bloom & Wild are dominating the incumbent competition; punching above their weight and generating disproportionate success!

Let me share a little more about the top three mantis shrimp traits that I see reflected in the best and brightest companies…

1. Branding: Stunning promises, immediate appeal

I believe the mantis shrimp to be the most beautiful creature on the coral reef. It’s a tiny little invertebrate, about the size of a Mars bar, and looks like a colouring book prawn that’s been attacked with a full array of kids’ highlighter pens. It has all sorts of crazy appendages and pretty much uses every colour in the rainbow in order to find ways to appeal to anyone. It’s fascinating to study, delicious to eat, and harnesses many mysterious forces to amaze onlookers. It has instant intrigue, universal appeal, and plays to many interests.

Brands can learn from this – although I don’t mean they should throw all their energy into the prettiest logo or best website design. It’s about positioning yourself to be the most attractive to many people, often in different ways, using different traits and strengths to maximum effect, to create appeal and deliver promises. 

And this is a bit like Wise, which has recently undergone a celebrated rebrand. Wise determined that their offering no longer matched the money-moving centricity that ‘Transferwise’ suggested, and needed a change to match its wider range of banking products and services. Wise used Attest to understand how to localize what they’re doing, how to make sure that they can customise what Wise means and measure what Wise does for each of their audiences, making the brand appeal to anyone. It’s beautiful, measured and appealing in many different ways, unlocking all sorts of new possibilities and growth – just like the mantis shrimp.

No alt text provided for this image
The amazing mantis shrimp

2. Power: Harnessing your best assets, to punch far above your weight

The mantis shrimp is also one of the most powerful animals on the coral reef, combining the raw energy of the Silvertip Shark, speed of the Hairy Frogfish, and accuracy of a Navy SEAL sniper. Pound for pound, it’s the most powerful puncher in the animal kingdom. Underneath its crazy claws it has huge hammers, and powers-up these hammers by storing energy in its exoskeleton. It releases that energy all in one go to strike, and – for a moment, at the point of impact – it creates a temperature hotter than the surface of the sun. 

The mantis shrimp harnesses laws of physics that NASA can barely understand. Just one highlight: its quick-release hammers cavitate the water behind the rapid movement, creating a bubble of potential energy, which the mantis shrimp then collapses onto the target to amplify the sheer force of hammering impact onto anything it can hit. And that means that even this tiny, Mars bar-sized shrimp can just walk around and do whatever it wants because it’s so powerful, and other reef creatures quake in fear! The mantis shrimp destroys assumptions and breaks everyday physics to achieve its goals. Much like Little Moons. 

Little Moons makes mochi ice cream balls. Thanks to unexpected TikTok coverage in January, they sold out everywhere, and stayed hot throughout Q1 2021 (yes, this ice cream was so hot it sent TikTok into meltdown). Little Moons could see a very evident path where social media was their primary channel and route towards massive growth. But consumer profiling research they undertook showed who their most valuable customers really were – and it wasn’t the TikTokers. Completely different demographics and buyers were there to drive growth for Little Moons into the long-term. And using that information, with confidence and precision, is what gave Little Moons disproportionate advantages to break the rules, and give them incredible punching power.

That insight has driven their growth over 7x year-on-year – they’ve achieved this just by understanding how to apply the forces and assets they have to maximum effect. Everything said ‘do the obvious thing’, and like the mantis shrimp, Little Moons used Attest to challenge assumptions and choose something else, and the result was amplified to be so much more powerful – mantis shrimp-levels of power and target market control.

No alt text provided for this image
Little Moons followed the mantis’s lead by harnessing their best assets and

3. Insight: Creating unique advantages, to see things that others don’t

Beyond everything else, probably the most remarkable thing that makes the mantis shrimp so clever is its amazing eyes. It has compound eyes like a fly. They should be borderline useless; eyes with real limitations, that should be able to see only a limited set of low-resolution pictures, across a wide field of view. Yet instead, the mantis shrimp can see pretty much everything, and far more than many other animals… in fact more than most other animals in combination. 

While humans can just see plain old boring ‘visible’ colours, the mantis shrimp can also see infrared like Predator, ultraviolet like police-grade forensic blacklights. It can see in pure black and white, which is a brilliant way to detect motion, like night vision. It can see circular and plane-polarized light like professional fishing sunglasses, so that even against a colourful background like a reef, it can see everything that’s hiding, moving, hot, cold, colourful, camouflaged… it’s Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor, all-weather, day/night stealth fighter plane-grade visibility! 

A mantis shrimp sees things that others don’t, just like Bloom & Wild. Using data from Attest, Bloom & Wild chose to stop selling red roses completely this Valentine’s Day. They discovered that women think red roses are terrible gifts, men admit that they’re a last minute choice, and everyone thinks they’re a cliché. They informed their intuition about a potential new move to make, and dissolved doubt about how far to take it.

Bloom & Wild exists to give every celebration a special feeling, and they were able to see that red roses are actually a remarkably bad way to do that. Bloom & Wild were so confident in their data that they stopped selling red roses entirely at Valentine’s Day, leading to 4x year-on-year revenue growth. This is as a result of their clever instinct, remarkable vision and confidence to use that vision to take bold action.

No alt text provided for this image

Do you want to be king of the coral reef?

Brands that learn from the mantis shrimp will quickly discover new approaches, and advantages – and as we’ve seen – can become the true masters of their ecosystem.    

It doesn’t matter what size your brand is, consumer insight can help you start punching well above your weight, appeal to a range of target audiences and take action with remarkable, accurate vision. At Attest, we’re here to help you with that, and most importantly help you:

Be more mantis shrimp!

Jeremy King

CEO 

Jeremy founded Attest in mid-2015, following 9 years leading global teams across industries at McKinsey & Company. He holds an MBA from Harvard Business School, originally trained as a scientist with a focus on genetics, ecology and animal behaviour, and also helps to improve state primary schools with his charity work.

See all articles by Jeremy