The Sledgehammer

From Competitors to Collaborators

May 24, 2021

This clip of a coyote and badger’s Disney-esque camaraderie raised eyebrows (and solicited “awwws!”) across the web last year, but for naturalists, it was just the latest example of an intriguing natural phenomenon with increasing documentation.

Why was this cartoon-come-to-life unsurprising for real Darwin heads? Because coyotes and badgers are both on the prowl for the same prey: small burrowing animals like squirrels and prairie dogs. But each predator has a unique problem.

Coyotes are lightning fast (45-MPH-level fast, to be precise), but when an animal it’s chasing burrows underground, a coyote in pursuit is sh*t outta luck. And badgers, while small and squishy enough to fit in those tiny burrows, simply don’t have the horsepower to keep up with fleeing prey above ground. What’s a famished carnivore to do?

Enter Mother Nature, the O.G. Challenger and expert mutually beneficial matchmaker. Turns out that if coyotes and badgers, who’d otherwise be competitors, team up, they can catch a lot more food.

The speedy coyote chases the target ‘til it tires and makes its way underground, at which point the burrowing badger roots it out—and then it’s bon appétit for everyone (except the unfortunate rodent). Together, the coyote and badger are both much more successful than they would be working alone.

This unlikely partnership works so well because they both bring something unique to the table and benefit from the other’s specialty.

Sound familiar?

While a little less red in tooth and claw, the best marketing partnerships do exactly the same thing. Sometimes, unlikely bedfellows actually create the most value for both the partnering companies and their customers alike.

To find the badger to our figurative coyote, we need to expand beyond the usual suspects when thinking about partnership opportunities. For example:

Competitors. Clients often take a solely adversarial view of others in their category. But collaborating with business “enemies” can create opportunity for all. For example, in automotive manufacturing, self-driving cars are the widely accepted way of the future, leading carmakers to each invest in their own R&D to achieve this goal. Honda was historically behind the rest of the industry, so in 2018, they committed to investing $2B over 12 years and providing engineering expertise to GM’s Cruise self-driving unit. This strategic move will give Honda access to the tech to manufacture their own autonomous cars while infusing GM’s Cruise with funding and expertise—a win for all.

Companies with similar challenges. The cardiology, aerospace, and oil & gas industries may seem to have nothing in common on the surface. But, at their core, they’re all in the “flow assurance” business—turns out there are distinct similarities between operating three inches deep in someone’s chest and operating three miles deep in the earth (or 300 miles up in the air). This is the basis of Pumps & Pipes, a cross-industry collaboration that seeks to solve common problems around flow.

Companies with similar audiences and goals. Back in 2012, the TV show Entourage completed its 4th season and took a relatively long hiatus—nearly a year, which is an eternity in the constantly content-churning TV industry. Wanting to rebuild the buzz prior to the 5th season’s debut, HBO had a splashy idea. Instead of doing the advance press screening at a theatre, they wanted to hold it in an unconventional (but show-related!) location: on an airplane. HBO approached Virgin America, the airline they thought the worldly, well-heeled, and hard-partying characters on the show would choose. Turns out both brands had two important things in common: they both shared a target audience of young, tech-savvy businesspeople, and they both had big announcements to make. And thus, the perfect partnership was created.

How can we apply the lessons of the coyote and the badger in pharma? Here are a few ideas:

  • In categories where diagnosis is a challenge, brands can partner with their competitors in advocacy campaigns to drive awareness and understanding for all patients.
  • Across categories, in situations when a single target audience might be affected by multiple comorbid conditions, brands with products treating these comorbidities could partner to improve screening or treatment for one another’s conditions.
  • In rural America, access to health and access to high-speed internet are both serious problems. Imagine a pharma company, a telehealth company, and a broadband company all partnering to help give more remote communities reliable access to the internet and to telehealth resources at the same time.
  • A prescription treatment for a GI disorder could partner with a food or packaged-meals company to share prepared products or meal plans that are recommended to help control GI symptoms, working in tandem with a patient’s medication regimen.

So when you’re looking for creative strategies to advance your brand and deliver even greater value to your customers, consider the way of the coyote and the badger. Mutually beneficial arrangements may make for strange bedfellows, but in the end these unexpected collaborations mean more squirrels—or, in our case, more patients served, more NRx written, and brand awareness advanced—for all!

At any given time, there are hundreds of actual sledgehammers present in the Heartbeat office. To celebrate their first year on the team, each HB’er receives their very own sledge—a nod to our daily pursuit of tearing down tiresome healthcare marketing. To determine what is built in its place, we often turn to outside industries, cultural forces, and personal experiences. We eagerly share them with one another, and now we’re sharing them with you. Clear the way—here comes The Sledgehammer.