Lessons from nature about occupying a niche to stand out

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In the 1960s Bernie Krause was one of the first people to master the Moog synthesiser. Working out of Hollywood, he was in demand with musicians who wanted to create new soundscapes – including the Doors, the Beach Boys and George Harrison.

In 1968, while visiting Warner Brothers Studios, it was suggested he make an album blending electronic sounds with sounds from the natural world.

Krause was not keen on the idea. As a child growing up in Detroit he had been allergic to many animals. But good money was on offer. So, armed with a reel-to-reel recorder and a microphone, Krause agreed to head into Muir Woods, just over the Golden Gate Bridge.

“When I turned on that recorder and heard the sound of space open up for the first time, it’s magical. The effect of breeze in the canopy of the redwoods,” Krause told NPR recently.

Krause decided to leave behind his life of music and partying, and devote his life to capturing the natural world.

“I just kept going and going, you know, in the Colorado Rockies, down in the Southwest Desert,” he explains.

By the late-seventies, if you visited a zoo, aquarium or museum, it is likely the sounds you heard there would have been captured by Krause, often in exotic locations.

It was during one of these trips, to Kenya, in 1983, that Krause – now with a PhD – had a revelation.

As he lay in his tent by a stream he listened to the different creatures nearby.

“I was very tired. And I had my headphones on and my microphone outside the tent because I was recording all the nighttime sounds. I heard the hyenas yowling. I heard the frogs. I think there were some bats. And it occurred to me, in my half-sleep state, that what I was hearing was kind of like an orchestration.”

With a scientist colleague, Krause developed the acoustic niche hypothesis, that creatures sharing an ecosystem evolve to make sounds in different rhythms and pitches so they don’t get in each other’s way.

“They’re trying to find that niche which is a clear channel of communication so that their voices can be heard,” says Krause.

This is, I think, a brilliant metaphor for how brands must find a unique voice to stand out in the marketplace.

In a world where we are distracted and overwhelmed with information, the only way to cut through is to find a niche.

A version of this article was published as part of a weekly column by Guy Cookson on marketing, design, trends and strategy in the Lancaster Guardian, Blackpool Gazette, Lancashire Post and other titles. See our brand, web design and marketing recent projects.
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