As a brand manager, it is your responsibility to make people of different demographics, geographical locations, and socioeconomic statuses feel like members of one collective whole--your brand tribe.
Brands need values that hold their community together, and as a smart tribe builder, you must show these values through both words and actions.
By identifying the interests and values that your ideal customers share and demonstrating that your brand shares those values through the conversations you start, join, and share, you bring about stability and growth for your brand.
Richard Branson provides a great example of digital tribal leadership. When you go to the Virgin website, instead of finding goods and marketing slogans, you find a regularly updated blog with Branson’s environmental initiatives, startup tips, political commentary, and more. There’s virtually nothing about what Virgin sells--in fact, linking from www.virgin.com to anywhere you can buy stuff is challenging. You get the impression that Branson is trying to save the world rather than convincing you to buy something.
By spreading awareness of Virgin’s values, beliefs, and actions, Branson allows people to identify with Virgin and feel like part of the imagined community.
IT’S NOT ALWAYS ABOUT SAVING THE WORLD
Enter The Dollar Shave Club. Whoever is behind the posts and tweets, they sound like guys that other guys would want to have a beer with, and this allows them to sell without making them feel like you’re being sold to.
Their clever Father’s Day campaign reminded followers of all the silly things that Dad purchased: “Dad, thanks for financing my week-long goal of becoming a rockstar.” The message was about good reasons to get dad a gift, not good reasons to buy him Dollar Shave Club.
Yelling “20% off sale!” on social media is not identifying or claiming a value. Rather, values go beyond your product, humanize your brand, and allow people to identify.
LISTEN AND CONTRIBUTE
Before you waste time churning out unwanted content, spend time figuring out what your ideal customer wants. Otherwise, you’re going to feel like that outsider in a group of friends who doesn’t know the inside jokes and stories.
As a tribe leader, you should be the guy creating and sharing those jokes and stories with content, events, and other experiences. You can stay tuned to what your tribe members are thinking by identifying them and listening to them on Facebook, Twitter, and other networks with social listening software.
In her excellent book, Monster Loyalty: How Lady Gaga Turns Followers Into Fanatics, online marketer Jackie Huba provides an example of what it means to listen and contribute. It turns out that Mini drivers aren’t really interested in car performance and customization. On social media, the company found that the members of their tribes talk about clubs, Meetups, and social gatherings. In fact, there are over 60 Mini clubs that were started independently.
Mini learned that the company just has to support the clubs to contribute to the community. Mini links to each club on its “Why Mini” web page and hosts the annual “Mini Takes the States,” a cross-country drive, and thousands of Mini owners participate. Rather than spending their marketing dollars on the hard sell, they focus on helping Mini enthusiasts connect with each other. Mini fans had already begun to form imagined communities, so Mini just had to recognize and support them.
IT’S ABOUT THEM, NOT US
People share common interests, values, and hobbies, but imagined tribes still demand conscious creation. In the same way that nations could only arise when the printing press pointed out and invented culture that so many people shared, brand tribes have to bring commonalities out of hiding.
Just like Benedict Anderson’s nations--many of which begin with an epic tale in which people join together for a common struggle--the bond between tribe members and your brand is enabled by the relationships between members and their experiences with your brand. To grow your brand tribe and be an effective guide, you must contribute content and experiences that are in sync with the values of your tribe members. Instead of focusing on bringing people closer to your brand, achieve advocacy by bringing people closer to each other.
It’s up to marketers to align themselves with consumers, not the other way around. When we identify and claim values to help people distinguish themselves as a community distinct from others--when we listen and help that community strengthen its bonds--members talk to each other. Giving to your digital tribe motivates them to discuss and share what matters to them. That’s the most powerful form of marketing.