The psychology of tribes: find and grow your brand tribe
Seth Godin is one of the writers that brought back the power of influence and tribes into marketing strategy. In the era when mass market is almost dead, the key to consumer valuable engagement is finding and growing your brand-tribes.
A tribe is any group of people, large or small, who are connected to one another, a leader, and an idea. For millions of years, humans have been seeking out tribes, be they religious, ethnic, economic, political, or even musical (think of the Deadheads). It’s our nature.
Now the Internet has eliminated the barriers of geography, cost, and time. All those blogs and social networking sites are helping existing tribes get bigger. But more important, they’re enabling countless new tribes to be born—groups of ten or ten thousand or ten million who care about their iPhones, or a political campaign, or a new way to fight global warming. And so the key question: Who is going to lead us?
The Web can do amazing things, but it can’t provide leadership. That still has to come from individuals—people just like you who have passion about something. The explosion in tribes means that anyone who wants to make a difference now has the tools at her fingertips.
If you think leadership is for other people, think again—leaders come in surprising packages. Consider Joel Spolsky and his international tribe of scary-smart software engineers. Or Gary Vaynerhuck, a wine expert with a devoted following of enthusiasts. Chris Sharma leads a tribe of rock climbers up impossible cliff faces, while Mich Mathews, a VP at Microsoft, runs her internal tribe of marketers from her cube in Seattle. All they have in common is the desire to change things, the ability to connect a tribe, and the willingness to lead.
If you ignore this opportunity, you risk turning into a “sheepwalker”—someone who fights to protect the status quo at all costs, never asking if obedience is doing you (or your organization) any good. Sheepwalkers don’t do very well these days.
Tribes will make you think (really think) about the opportunities in leading your fellow employees, customers, investors, believers, hobbyists, or readers. . . . It’s not easy, but it’s easier than you think.
It is possible and desirable to move forward and grow together with your brand’s group of fans and followers. What it takes is a solid strategy to move up the 5 tribal stages and a deep, clear understanding of the idea, purpose and motivation that keeps the tribe unite, around your brand.
In this TEDx video by David Logan he talks about the five tribal stages. Dave along with King and Haleee have also written a book titled “Tribal Leadership” which summarizes their research, their tribal leadership model and how corporates and other organizations can move from one tribal stage to another.
As their theoretical background they have rhetorics, organizational theory and chaos theory and they view ‘culture as a self-correcting system of language’. This needs a bit of elaboration. What they mean is that the day to day language we use in our workplace or tribes and our relationships with other members of the tribes (behavior) is indicative of the stage at which the tribe is functioning. They explicitly dismiss all ‘cognitions, beliefs, attitudes, or other factors we cannot directly observe’ and in doing so and thus focusing solely on language and behavior are more in the behavioristic tradition, than grounding their tribes in a cognitive framework. Despite the resistance to cognitive framework, they do take recourse to developmental theory and Ken Wilbur’s spiral dynamics .
The 5 tribal stages
- stage 1: Despairing Hostility :“Life sucks”: If people at Stage One had T-shirts, they would read “life sucks,” and what comes out of their mouths support this adage. People at this stage are despairingly hostile, and they band together to get ahead in a violent and unfair world.
- stage 2: Apathetic Victim: “My life sucks”: People in this cultural stage are passively antagonistic; they cross their arms in judgment yet never really get interested enough to spark any passion. Their laughter is quietly sarcastic and resigned. The Stage Two talk is that they’ve seen it all before and watched it all fail. A person at Stage Two will often try to protect his or her people from the intrusion of management. The mood that results from Stage Two’s theme, “my life sucks,” is a cluster of apathetic victims.
- stage 3: Lone Warrior: “I’m great (and you’re not)”: People at Stage Three have to win, and for them winning is personal. They’ll outwork and outthink their competitors on an individual basis. The mood that results is a collection of “lone warriors,” wanting help and support and being continually disappointed that others don’t have their ambition or skill. Because they have to do the tough work (remembering that others just aren’t as savvy), their complaint is that they don’t have enough time or competent support.
- stage 4 : Tribal Pride :“We’re great (and they’re not)”: A “we’re great” tribe always has an adversary— the need for it is hardwired into the DNA of this cultural stage. In fact, the full expression of the theme is “we’re great, and they’re not.” For USC football, the “you’re not” is usually UCLA (and in good years, whichever team is contending for the national championship). For Apple’s operating systems engineers, it’s Microsoft (although this is changing as Apple has moved to using Intel processors). Often, it’s another group within the company. A tribe will seek its own competitor, and the only one who has influence over the target is the Tribal Leader.The rule for Stage Four is this: the bigger the foe, the more powerful the tribe.
- stage 5 :Innocent Wonderment: “Life is great”: Stage Five’s T-shirt would read “life is great,” and they haven’t been doing illicit substances. Their language revolves around infinite potential and how the group is going to make history—not to beat a competitor, but because doing so will make a global impact. This group’s mood is “innocent wonderment,” with people in competition with what’s possible, not with another tribe.