For most of human history, culture was built on proximity. We spent time with people who lived like us, looked like us and talked like us…quite literally, we were made up tribes. 

Which must have made the jobs of early marketers much easier. All you had to do was carve a hieroglyph into the biggest rock on the block or post a flyer in the neighborhood or tell the town gossip, and word would spread to the only people you really needed to reach – the people around you.

But with globalization, urban sprawl and advancements in technology, audiences are more fragmented, with your best customers often scattered all around the world, plus countless ways to reach them. It can make marketing more overwhelming, costly and, in the case of blanket techniques, ineffective.

The good news is that people still congregate in tribes; they just look a little different than they used to. These tribes are philosophical, interests-based, values-based, and behavioral in nature. They congregate in forums, at coffee shops, in the corners of the Internet and in meet ups – both virtual and tangible – all around the world. All it takes is one visit to Reddit or stumbling across a group of LARPers in your local city park to realize there really is someone out there for everyone.

In fact, these tribes – the tribes we get to choose for ourselves – might be even more meaningful than the tribes life prescribes for us. Unlike groups based on geography, age or socioeconomic status, the tribes we form today are personal, affinity-based and full of passionate advocates – giving your brand the opportunity to connect and build loyalty among a niche of people who are highly engaged with what you have to offer.

Here are four simple steps to finding your tribe:

  1. Figure out what type of tribe you appeal to. As we discussed in our lifestyle brand series, tribes are typically formed around interests, opinions, values, identities, aspirations and affinities – and the brands that can speak to these emotions win the game. In order to identify your tribe, you first have to understand what type of tribe you reach. Perhaps the easiest to spot are interest-based tribes, centered on hobbies or activities such as outdoor enthusiasts or book nerds or film buffs. Others are behavioral, such as people who belong to country clubs or college students or professional associations. Still others are philosophical in nature, such as homeschooling families, tiny house owners and people who choose to live off the grid – all behaviors that are inspired by philosophical values. Your brand might connect on multiple levels, but often, your product, service or offering speaks specifically into an interest, behavior or philosophy around which your tribes congregate.
  2. Determine your tribe’s markers. Most tribes have markers beyond just their obvious traits, such as other values and behaviors that members of that tribe collectively share. For example, most outdoor enthusiasts have a deep respect for nature and value things such as preservation, preparation, environmental initiatives and fitness. Many homeschooling families share traditional and religious values that inform their educational choices. You get the picture. Understanding your tribe’s markers allows you to speak more comprehensively into their lives, emotions, pain points and needs beyond just “you like to run” or “you like to shop”.
  3. Speak their language. Respect their customs. To gain access and speak relevantly to a tribe, you have to connect with them emotionally and do this authentically. Any hint of insincerity or values that don’t align with the tribe’s values, and you’ll quickly be voted off the island.
  4. When it’s time to grow, find other tribes like yours. Most organizations reach a point in their life cycle where they must reach new audiences and grow their base. Rather than taking a blanket marketing approach or marketing to broad demographics (such as “women” or “Christians”), expand marketing within your current tribes or subcultures or look for subcultures that share similar philosophical or behavioral characteristics to the tribes you know. For example, if you reach people who are into nutrition, you might also be able to speak to people who are into alternative medicine, fitness and general health and wellness. Within these tribes, you’ll find subcultures such as paleo eaters and Crossfitters and other niches your brand can reach. When seeking to expand your reach, begin with the “lookalike audience” approach – both online and offline.

And finally, don’t be afraid to be a big fish in a little pond. Technology has allowed people who could have never found each other before to connect and form tribes, and it allows marketers to find and reach them. There is no longer a need to tell the world about your organization with the hopes you’ll reach a few when you can reach the people who truly care through targeted, cost-effective marketing tactics. Rather than trying to be all things to all people, find your tribe and be fiercely loyal to them. They will reward you for it.

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