“Tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea”
– Seth Godin, acclaimed marketing guru, entrepreneur and author of Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us (Portfolio Hardcover, 2008).
Tribal Marketing is, in this context, defined as a marketing strategy that attempts to create social groups or communities centered around a product or service. The logic behind tribal marketing is that post-modern individuals are looking for products and services that not only enable them to be freer, but can also link them to others: to a community, or a tribe.
Ostensibly, according to the author Sam Hill, we are in the midst of the ‘Re-Tribing’ of humans. It’s a phenomenon simultaneously spawned and fed by several forces:
- Near-universal connectivity as a result of technological developments that have rendered geographic distances and boundaries insignificant.
- Craving to belong to a group or institution that reflects, and thus validates true self-expression
- Willingness to embrace the worlds of aesthetics and feeling as legitimate areas of serious discourse and economic value
- Realization that successful brands reside in the Amygdala, the brain’s frontal lobe, where emotion, visual memory and pleasure dominate. That is to say, the understanding that purchase behaviour is not rational.
- Desire for rituals and orchestrated experiences that reflect the deepest values of the tribes to which people belong.
In effect, people seek out others with not just similar interests or minds, but who are also kindred spirits. Godin’s advice to marketers is that,
People don’t believe what you tell them. They rarely believe what you show them. But they often believe what their friends tell them. And they always believe what they tell themselves.
Faith Popcorn, America’s leading futurist and author of several marketing books, predicted in 2004 that
Consumers would become disillusioned by the old authorities and unable to know everything themselves; people [will] turn to their friends to tell them what, and who, to trust.
Meg Columbia-Walsh, managing director of Faith Popcorn’s Brain Reserve, the aforementioned guru’s consulting firm, wrote in the December issue of Pharmaceutical Executive about trust.
Consumers don’t want glitzy marketing messages, they want advice they can trust. By associating brands with real life leaders, not just celebrities but consumers too will see the brand as trustworthy.
A list of some well known tribes:
- EPL club loyalists eg. Man U, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool
- Star Warriors
- Hobbit and Harry Potter Fanatics
- Apple/Macintosh community
- LINUX and GNU zealots
- Wikipedia user community
- Harley Davidson’s HOGS (Harley Owner Groups)
- Ducati’s DOC (Desmo Owners Club)
The members of these tribes share a passion that transcends the product or service. The notion of “tribe” is borrowed from anthropology, describing groups of people who are brought together not around something concrete, such as a job, but around deeper, more profound ‘tribal needs’ such as kinship and passion.
There have always been fanatics, but the factors listed above have changed fanaticism from a fringe group phenomenon to a tribal tidal wave, and smart businesses are paying attention. What used to be seen as niche markets are now being seen as organically grown collectives.
Thus, this strong connection between the tribe and the product or brand can be leveraged by the marketer to generate long term profits. What sustains and nurtures tribes is the connectivity, communal passion, ongoing conversations and shared experiences (both real and virtual). With tribes come rituals, and with rituals comes selling opportunities that offer a value beyond the product or service itself.
The market segmentation in tribal marketing is not bound by geographic and demographic limitations, but rather by a marketer’s insight into the shared passion across group members. These consumer tribes, defined or created by the marketer, then provide the basis for developing marketing strategies appropriate to their needs.
A brand or product that speaks to a tribe’s core passion will translate to consumption of the product or brand with very high levels of loyalty. High levels of loyalty can then translate to higher profit margins as, traditionally, customer affinity is directly correlated to a willingness to pay higher prices.
Another important aspect for a marketer is that tribe members talk, both with each other and with potential members. If given the opportunity to interact, tribe members can be effective advocates of a product or brand, both to existing members and to potential recruits. In this sense, a tribe is a self-perpetuating marketing strategy.
By participating in and/or observing tribal “rituals” and “gatherings,” marketers can collect important information to help develop future products or strategies and tactics to better serve tribes. As a result of receiving input directly from the end consumer, product development cycles may shorten with quality offerings.
The way tribes think, act and decide greatly influence the way business is done today. Gone are the days when the marketer just had to spread an awareness of the product, service, or idea in order to increase business.
Now, with the emergence of tribes, the success of the product/brand or business depends on whether or not it speaks to those people who are most passionate about the idea, and leads them towards achieving a common goal. Hard sales pitches and loud advertisements no longer work.
Marketers need to genuinely relate to customers, form the Tribe and act as Tribal leaders. Quintessentially, in Seth Godin’s words
Marketing management is now Tribal Leadership.