Mastering Tribe Marketing


In part one of this series, Tribes in Today’s Marketing, we established a foundational understanding of what tribes are, how and why they form, how they’ve evolved and how this has redefined the marketplace.

Now we turn our attention to how business growth is achieved today by identifying, understanding, joining and, in due time, leading the tribes that are relevant to your business and your bottom line.

Identify your tribe

When you are marketing your product or service, you strive to understand your target audience. Certainly you can map out the usual demographic variables – age, gender, income and location. These are easy to understand, but to participate and ascend to leadership in your tribe, you need more.

Chances are, your tribe doesn’t exist around your direct offering in and of itself – either specifically around your brand or even your product or service in the generic sense.

More than likely, your tribe will coalesce around an idea or value that surrounds your product – whether it’s the convenience it provides or the aspect of a lifestyle that it affords.

If you sell golf clubs, the task of identifying your tribe is fairly straightforward. Your tribe is passionate about golf, about improving their game and about having the latest in golfing technology.

Perhaps you’re an organic grocer. Your tribe is comprised of people who are conscientious about good health and nutrition and about supporting farmers who grow more natural, healthful foods. These are the people that are ready to take your message and set it on fire.

However, many times the tribes that drive organizations and their products operate at a different level.

If you own the corner coffee shop, you most certainly have something to offer the tribe of people who appreciate good coffee. But perhaps the atmosphere of your shop taps into the passions of a tribe that aspires to lead a cosmopolitan lifestyle. If you sell fair trade coffee, your products might appeal to an entirely different tribe – one that is sensitive to geopolitical issues.

Many times, tribes are about a state of mind. They are comprised of people who live a certain way and who care about certain things. In this way, the challenge is not so much about analyzing demographics but identifying those whose shared passions align with yours.

Locate your tribe

Tribes are never static. They exist with purpose. They are living life and solving problems. In order to continue being relevant to and meeting the needs of their members, they must evolve. This requires a platform – if not multiple platforms – where they can meet, discuss and debate ideas, share news and continue the ongoing conversation around their passions.

They’re on message boards; they’re talking in forums; they’re in the blogosphere; they’re connecting with each other on Twitter. In some cases, they’re even gathering and meeting in person.

Most of the time the communities that you are looking for are not centered in one place, and there’s rarely an obvious sign that reads, “This community lives here.” If you sell coffee, you can’t just go to and find people who are talking about how much they love coffee. However, if you’ve identified your tribe as well as their passions, needs, wants and fears, it’s a lot easier to find them.

Interest-based tribes vs. relationship-based tribes

So far our focus has been primarily on interest-based tribes, which form when people connect around a shared passion. However, social media allows for a new type of connection and thus a new type of tribe – one that forms based on how its members know each other, whether through work, family or location.

These organically created tribes are not bound by any one common interest but rather by the shared goals and interests of life that are relevant to us all. We turn to these tribes for help getting things done, for solutions to everyday problems and for guidance to improve the quality of our lives and the lives of those around us.

Relationship-based tribes and local business

The power of these types of tribes is fairly significant when you consider the nearly limitless aspects of life that we all have in common. Most of us get haircuts, wear shoes, do laundry, watch TV, pay utility bills, buy groceries, own cars, improve our homes, raise children – the list goes on almost indefinitely.

For all of these things, we rely on our tribes of family, co-workers and neighbors for helpful advice and recommendations. As a result, small businesses have a tremendous opportunity to thrive within these tribes if they know where and how to find them. The answer is social media.

For example, if someone has a wonderful experience with a local mechanic, they don’t log in to and evangelize for Mike the Mechanic. They do, however, tweet about the great service they received. They might even take this one step further and make Mike a member of their online community by connecting themselves with his business page on Facebook and sharing his website with friends living nearby.

In fact, it is not uncommon for the genesis of an interest-based tribe to start with relationship-based tribes talking about a brand and sharing its message.

In other words, if you connect with members of 50 family-based tribes, inevitably these people will connect to form their own community, and your message will begin to spread virally, feeding off of its own momentum to foster the growth of an interest-based tribe.

Become a member of the tribe

Membership doesn’t begin the day you start participating in the conversation. You must earn the respect of the tribe in order to become one of them.

Don’t come in and immediately start selling, or you’ll be ousted swiftly and permanently. Better yet, don’t even start by speaking. Listen first and gain insight into the culture within.

Most tribes have evolved over many years and have developed their own rules, perspectives and goals, and building credibility requires an appreciation of these nuances. Read through past conversations to understand the history and the passion surrounding the issues. Learn what’s funny, what’s serious, what’s cliché, what’s typical, what people want and what turns them off.

When you do start participating, the one and only rule that applies is to be real. Don’t approach the conversation as a self-motivated, faceless corporate salesperson. Come to serve the tribe and its goals. Be yourself – a person with a budget, family, needs, problems and passions just like everyone else.

If you are in the business of doing what you love and you believe in what you do, then talk about it honestly when the time is right without bias or agenda. You must become a trusted member of the tribe before you can begin leading it.

Rule the tribe

The process and path to tribe leadership is unique for each community. However, all tribe leaders posses certain qualities that allow them to ascend to the top.

They are fearless. They are innovators. They challenge the status quo. But, above all, they have built a consistent reputation on standing for the tribe.

As time goes on, after you have proven that you are driven first and foremost by the advancement of the tribe, you’ll gain footing as more than just another trusted, non-biased member. The tribe wants to know that you’re listening and leading. They want to know that someone is there who genuinely cares about meeting their needs. If you can earn that level of trust with them, they will not only buy from you every time, they will spread your message like no marketing campaign ever could.

This is where tribe leadership truly runs contrary to business models rooted in decades of traditional marketing.

Today, it is more important to be trusted than to sell. Tribes are founded on trust, and trust cannot be achieved with the tactics of old marketing. It is true that tribe leadership and direct selling can both generate sales revenue – at least in the short term. However, while gaining the trust of your tribe is the more indirect path, in the end, the organization that makes a long-term investment in tribe leadership will ultimately achieve the greatest number of sales and claim ownership of the market.

In part three of this series, we’ll cover how the influence of tribes extends beyond promotion and actually shapes how business itself evolves around the tribe.

Source by Sharon Lane

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