Which tribe are you?

How the lockdown has changed  our relationships and what it means for the future of marketing

Over the last couple of months we’ve seen significant changes in our tribes – the groups of people we identify, communicate, collaborate, share with and belong to.

During lockdown, most of our existing connections have strengthened and few new ones have been made. We have become closer to our neighbours, our work teams and our dearest friends.

But some connections have been broken beyond repair.

This period has tested everyone’s values – personal, professional and political – and not all have come up smiling. Some relationships, already strained by the Brexit debate, found the pressures and divisiveness of Covid-19 to be terminal. People have been thinking deeply about their role in society during this time too, and they will come out the other side of this with a different mindset, whatever that may be. This means they will likely emerge from lockdown identifying with a different tribe.

To help us understand how the way we need to engage with the market has changed, this month we reread Seth Godin’s 2008 book, Tribes. It is very insightful and gave us clarity on a few things we’d been thinking about and how best to move forward from here.

While demographics undoubtedly have a role to play in understanding your target market, we have long known that peoples’ values and beliefs have far more influence over their decisions. This is especially true right now.

But what does this mean from a marketing point of view?

“The easiest thing is to react. The second easiest thing is to respond. But the hardest thing is to initiate” – Seth Godin

How has your target audience evolved?

The lockdown has accelerated numerous changes that were already underway. Here, we are only examining one change but it’s an important one, because how you respond to it matters greatly.

Purchasers of goods and services are hyper-sensitive at the moment. They have a laser eye on costs, value, reliability and results, as they protect their businesses’ revenue and reputation.

Through good communication and transparency, the suppliers with strong values and good business ethics have moved closer to their client base. They have protected their own businesses by looking after their staff and customers. Trust has grown and relationships have flourished.

On the other hand, the folk who have withdrawn during this time – whether that’s withdrawal of services, withdrawal of funds or withdrawal from the market entirely – will struggle to regain their footing.

“The organisations that need innovation the most are the ones that do the most to stop it from happening” – Seth Godin

Marketing messages

This crystallisation of tribes is having a deep impact on how we, as marketers, communicate with our audiences.

A straightforward sales message will no longer suffice. We must now lead with empathy first, then engagement (belief), and action (come with us – join our tribe).

Marketing and communications activities now have one of three goals:

Moving a person’s interest into a shared goal, a shared desire for change.

Bringing people closer to us. For example, by being one of their core tools for sharpening their activity. Or being the only advisor they trust. Relationships, not transactions.

Growing our tribe. Come with us. It’s nice over here – we’re all working together. Become one of us.

Understanding our audience has always been key. But now that understanding is less about demographics or market segments and more about what our target customer believes in.

We’ve always said it – “every purchase decision is an emotional decision”.

Tribes are about faith

A tribe is simply a group of people connected by an idea. It needs only two things: a shared interest and a way to communicate.

Tribes are about movements and beliefs, not age, ethnicity, class, education or earnings. A tribe is a group of people turning a belief into something that changes our world.

Everyone believes in something, but not everyone makes something out of their beliefs.

As business leaders, we cannot afford to ignore the development of tribes and their movements in the marketplace.

If your client is a cyclist and supports the Walk Ride GM movement, the worst thing you can do is turn up to a meeting in your Range Rover Evoque and bemoan the cost of petrol. If your collaborators have declared their support for the ClimateCrisis, expect to be challenged on the embedded carbon of your city centre development. And if your investors have a female CEO or an active D&I programme, expect them to refuse to participate in your all-male panel or shooting party.

Greenwashing is deceptive and does more harm than good. How you act matters just as much as the words you use to describe yourself. It’s important that they match up.

“An invasion of armies can be resisted, but not an idea whose time has come” – Victor Hugo

People belong to many tribes

Everyone belongs to many different tribes but most identify strongly with a few distinct ones.

Their neighbourhood.

Their position on climate change.

Their political affiliations (left, right, feminist, fascist)

The way they choose to travel. Cycle, public transport, car, short hop flights.

People’s beliefs inform every decision they make: their choice of employer, suppliers, projects, lunch time restaurants, the list goes on. And those tribes are moving further apart from one another. You may also note that none of those groups have a set demographic.

This is a change that began with the evolving attitude of millennials, who dominate the internet, and is now firmly in place.

Some thoughts on tribal leaders

That’s leaders, not managers. Leaders are driven. Charismatic. They have earned (or sometimes bought) an audience’s trust. They don’t wait for permission. They state their position and take people with them. They take risks. The status quo is a hurdle to be overcome.

“Leaders lead when they take positions, when they connect with their tribes, and when they help the tribe connect to itself” – Seth Godin

People either choose to follow, support, and engage. Or they don’t.

Think about Greta Thunberg, Donald Trump, Helen Pidd (Walk Ride GM), Al Gore, Michelle Obama, Frances Scott (50:50 Parliament), Gina Miller, Simone Roche (Northern Power Women) and Jimmy Wales (co-founder of Wikipedia).

Like them or not, they are all leaders. You just may not belong to their tribe.

Change doesn’t come about through processes and efficient management, as useful as those things are. Change comes about through the inexorable growth of a tribe.

What tribes do you align with?

As Seth says, “Our culture works hard to prevent change.” But the Covid-19 lockdown forced change upon us all. This pattern interrupt has left many of us in a state of heightened awareness, conscious of the fact that we can choose which tribes we belong to as we move out of lockdown.

In the world of property and development, we talk about yields, communities, units, place and connection. None can exist without the others.

But some tribes put units and yields at the forefront of their business, believing that communities, places and connection will happen automatically. Others think first about their place and community, understanding that getting this right will lead to the right mix of units with steady financial returns in the long term. It’s time to choose – which is your tribe?

Are you looking for what you can give back or for what you can hold back?




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