Tribes and Territories
Hope Felton-Miller July 16, 2019 No Comments

What does it mean to belong to a tribe?

With the advent of the internet, tribes are again becoming an important part of living in society, and their tribal territories are not geographic but defined by individual identities, values, and culture. As Seth Godin wrote in his book Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us, “A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea. For millions of years, human beings have been part of one tribe or another. A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate.”

Brands have tribes as well. And by understanding those tribes, marketers can drive competitive advantage and increased sales.

  • Apple product users are often referred to as a cult, but it is much more accurate to view them as a tribe. Why do people choose Apple products rather than competing brands of electronics? While Apple aficionados will tell you it’s about ease of use, reliability, and security, others may say it’s about being cool, creative, and even a bit nonconformist. Or perhaps it’s a little of both? The truth is that using a Mac, or an iPhone communicates to others that you belong to that tribe, and projective techniques will help isolate those specific factors that drive this consumer choice.
  • Do you love your Subaru? That legendary marketing campaign did more than sell (a lot of) cars. It helped to define and create connections throughout Tribe Subaru. Built on the company’s deep understanding of its non-conformist, outdoor-loving, and yet highly educated and relatively wealthy consumer segment, the iconic ad campaign helped spread the word about Subaru, and the people who love them. Driving a Subaru definitely makes a statement about the tribe to which the owner belongs.
  • The Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers also each have their own tribes (also called fans). Because of people moving around the country as well as the magic of technology (and television), their tribes no longer have to live in the city where these teams are located. In most large cities, selected sports bars become known as the “Steelers Bar” or the “Packers Bar” or the “pick-any-professional-or-college-team” bar, where you can gather with others from your tribe to watch the game. And even if you can’t gather with your tribe physically, you can still wear your team apparel to let everyone know to which tribe you belong. What is the difference between the Packers tribe and the Steelers tribe? We may not know, but we can dig below the surface of consumer statements to find out.

When a brand understands who its members are, you might not even notice. However, when a brand does not understand its tribe, the result can be miscommunication, lost opportunity, and even wasted resources. For example, the hatch in the PT Cruiser contains an electrical outlet for, or so I’ve been told, when you use the car for tailgating. But how many times have you seen a PT Cruiser used for tailgating? Does the PT Cruiser customer value that electrical outlet, or even use it? And why haven’t more SUV manufacturers put electrical outlets in the back of their cars for tailgating?

Tribe cultures also are not static but must evolve with the changing needs of the tribe members (a.k.a., customers). Nikki Baird, of enterprise solution provider Aptos and writing in Forbes, gives this example: “In the 1980s, video game playing was almost exclusively the province of adolescent boys. But as gaming has evolved, not only have more teen boys been sucked in, but the original boys aged into middle-aged gamers. And girls got in on the action as well … The behavior – playing video games – has become much more important than the demographics.” But has the video-gamer tribe really changed? It is unlikely that demographics alone ever accurately defined the tribe of video-gamers. Rather marketers must look to other factors: Are video gamers the techy people? Or the non-athletic? Or even the introverted? The tribe of video-gamers must be defined by its culture, values, beliefs, and behaviors, and not solely by gender or age.

If marketers do not understand their tribes, their needs, and their values, they cannot effectively position themselves in the marketplace and against competitors. Understanding your tribe means you must go beyond demographics, beyond the numbers, to truly understand what your brand says about your customers to the rest of the world.

Who is your Brand’s Tribe? Where are your Brand’s Territories? Contact Felton Willis to learn more!

 Stay tuned for our next blog for more about the Tribes and Territories technique!

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