How to Grow Share in the Age of the Customer?


Right now, it seems that everybody in the world of marketing is obsessed with what is changing, what is new, what is different, and are caring less about brand loyalty. Buzzwords like, big data, social@scale, and crowdsourcing fly left and right. But what about what isn’t changing? What is unmovable? What is constant?

The truth is that, despite all the digital cleverness of the last 20 years, we are still a 500,000 year old, tribal race. There are some elements of human hardware that those modern marketers and data scientists cannot rewire. We have found that understanding these fundamental human motivations is the secret to modern marketing success.

OK, first a bit of science.

The human race dominates the planet. We have evolved to succeed by sharing our resources and ideas. For thousands of years we lived in groups of about 150 people (the ideal tribe size) and collaborated to bring in the bacon (or in some cases the mammoth).

The people who were more collaborative did better, lived, and passed on their DNA. The chemicals that drove them to succeed are hardwired into our brains (Cortisol, Serotonin, Dopamine and Oxytocin). Of the four, Oxytocin is the hormone focused on human bonding. It makes us feel good when we “tribe” with others. At our core, we are fundamentally, chemically, driven to be social.

Social is not a media. It is a human imperative.

We see this tribal behavior every day in sports. Wolverines and the Buckeyes, the Musketeers and the Bearcats, we are rabid about our teams. We wear symbols of our alliance on our heads, on our cars, and in our hearts. We rarely think about changing team loyalty because we are so invested in their success.

The same is true with some brands. The Mac fanatics, the MINI culture, the Red Bull adventurers. These brands have transcended their product attributes by adding a layer of tribal connection to their offering. That cultural connection adds value. Just look at the price of a cup of Starbucks drip coffee vs. the same coffee at 7-11. It looks something like this:


In his book Tribes, Seth Godin says:

“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.”

The great thing about the Social Age is not the technology, but the fact that it allows us to connect in meaningful ways to more people more of the time. Instead of an idea being shared among our tribe of 150 people, it can be shared and engaged with globally.

For example, my friend is a windsurfer in Chicago. As you might imagine, there are not a lot of windsurfers in Chicago. When he is looking for suggestions for a new mast he goes to his online tribe and can get ideas from his mates as far apart as Australia and Hawaii.

So the trick in the new age is to combine all the new and wonderful technologies with the fundamental understanding of what makes humans tick. We call that approach Tribal Marketing.

Tribal Marketing includes four elements:

1. Identify and micro-segment the tribes in your category and their passions.

For example in the pickle category, there are tribes of people for which pickles have very special and important roles. Tribes who love making, drinking, cooking, working out, and saving money have all found reasons to be passionate for pickles. Yes, there are pickle tribes! By better understanding these distinct groups, Kraft’s Claussen brand is able to drive innovation, engagement, and market share.

2. Understand where you/your brands sit today.

When hybrid cars first hit the market, manufacturers assumed that automotive tribes would care about high MPG and saving money at the pump. However, it turned out that car tribes were very excited by the car, as much as the ways the role the car could play in save the planet. By connecting with what matters and speaking the tribe’s language, some brands quickly dominated while others languished.

3. Constantly experiment with the best ways to connect to your tribe.

In the new era, the rules of connection are changing. Nike, for example, has reduced traditional TV and print spend by 40% in the last three years. Instead, they are experimenting with investing in ways to be a catalyst for their tribes like Nike+ and FuelBand.

4. Monitor changes in the tribal conversation to find new ways to connect.

Just like understanding your spouse, understanding your tribe takes time and effort. It is important to move beyond shallow research efforts, like brand tracking, that tell you how people feel about your brand and instead look more deeply to understand what matters to the tribe. Understanding and engaging with tribal needs on a regular basis leads to stronger loyalty, advocacy and sales. Measure not just the results what you have done but where you can go tomorrow.

Over ten years of exploring the data, we have seen that humanity has changed very little. The wonder of the newest technologies is not that they have changed us, but that they allow us to express our natural selves in more social and scalable ways.

By starting with an understanding of mankind’s core motivations before focusing on an understanding of the latest technologies, you are more likely to turn your tribal wealth into brand loyalty and growth in share.


David Rabjohns