Tribal Marketing: Putting on Your WarpaintNo, I’m not talking about going native, I’m talking using tribal marketing; creating collaborations that benefit individual members more than competitive tactics.

Benefits of Tribes

Tribes are groups formed for mutual support. Tribes increase your chance of survival and provide companionship. In earlier times, tribes helped protect members from competitors, formed a collective to distribute the work load, and offered social engagement to help find a mate, nurture children, and celebrate milestones.

Tribes also reflect a subgroup sharing similar values, needs, beliefs, and lifestyles. Together, they create rules of governance, rituals, and symbols, including language, easing coordination. In a tribe, individuals benefit by helping expand the pie, making everyone’s share bigger, rather than competing against each other for a larger piece of an established pie.

Over the years, tribes were replaced by less collectivist forms of governance — first city states, then nations. These instituted laws and institutions to provide for the needs of individuals, while allowing unequal distribution of resources. Exit cooperation and enter competition and a world where adversaries fight for a bigger share rather than combining to expand everyone’s share.

Tribal Marketing

The notion of modern tribal marketing emerged in multiple places — the IMP group in Europe where they recognized the role of cooptition and in consumer behavior where they recognized sub-groups of consumption such as the HOGs (Harley Owners Group). Both reflect a return to mutual assistance, support, and shared ritual.

Like more primitive tribes, modern tribes help individuals grow beyond their own resources by helping each other. Tribes help members survive by defending each other from competitors. And modern tribes are more egalitarian because they reflect voluntary associations.

Modern tribes, or communities of consumption, may be formed purposefully by businesses — like the HOGs and Jeep Owners Group or self-directed by user, such as Burning Man, a celebration of anti-consumerism.

Tribal Marketing in Social Media

Seth Godin may have been the first person to bring the notion of tribal marketing into social media. But, I think his notion of tribes is subtly different from my own (and that of many other marketers).

Tribal marketing implies bringing together a group for everyone’s benefit and this concept should underpin all your social media marketing efforts. In effect, you’re building your tribal marketing to help everyone involved. Understanding what a tribe is and what people get out of a tribe is the first step in creating a marketing tribe.

Putting on Your Warpaint

Make sure everyone benefits – So, look for ways to help others as a way of creating a tribe. This can be great content, but usually goes beyond such amorphous benefits. Here are some ways to help others:

  • mention them – people crave seeing their name in print
  • thank them – if they share your posts, comment on your blog, +1 your updates, RT you.
  • RT, reshare, +1, etc generously.
  • Offer help – if they’re putting on an event, offer help even if that means checking folks in rather than speaking. Guy Kawasaki shows a picture of Richard Branson shining his shoes to make an impression.

Provide social support and engagement – get to know folks you’d like in your tribe and treat them as you would friends. Share personal stuff and ask them about things important in their lives. Remember birthdays (Facebook helps). Know about your tribe — when the earthquake hit here, my tribe reached out to see how I was.

Find ways to share the work-load – offer to guest blog on their website or share an app with them that makes their lives easier. If you find links they may find useful, send them out.

Understand their rituals, language, and symbols – don’t expect them to acculturate to your way of doing things. Don’t make judgements regarding the superiority of YOUR way of doing things. Learn what symbols they use and what they mean.

Defend them – if someone attacks a tribal member, defend them. If you find something negative, share it with them so they can be prepared for the attack. Help them find holes in their defenses and help plug them up. For instance, if you find their website is down or has dead links, let them know and maybe suggest solutions to detect problems or reduce the impact of failures.

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