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Ignore crowds. Focus on tribes.


If you listen to most marketing experts today, you could be easily forgiven for getting lost in the vast number of social media channels and options. The most popular tactic of late has involved harnessing the power of crowds, often called ‘crowdsourcing’.

But consider the merits, or limits, of a crowd – defined by most dictionaries as “a collection of people.”

Communicating to the ‘crowd’

While the logic behind communicating to a large volume of people is clear, it’s perhaps not the best strategy when your objective is to create change  (I mean real change – like the stuff that wins you big markets).

Crowds are not binded by a collective cause, nor are they led by any individual member. So, in fact, the crowd simply has a location and one interest which brings its participants together. It’s like attending a major sporting event where you’ll see families, teenagers, professionals and more, all cheering for the same team.  Now, would you assume they will listen to the same message?  Would you assume they are all communicating regularly with each other?

Now, consider a very close friend of the crowd.

The tribe.

Communicating to the ‘tribe’

The word tribe immediately invokes a sense of pride, commitment and influence. A tribe has a leader. It has a common cause and a sense of purpose.

Tribes can also be very big, just like crowds – in fact some are likely to be bigger.

The challenge a marketer tackles is this:

“How can you align your objectives with a tribe to create a connection?”

Organisations invest in new markets all the time, such as the AFL’s expansion into Greater Western Sydney and the Gold Coast, Major League Baseball’s expansion through China and the NFL’s commitment to a Latino market in the United States.

Each comes with a dedicated commitment to entrench a new sport into a populous market. Those markets usually have existing (and successful) alternative sporting codes already in place, most likely with a history embedded in popular culture. So, in fact, it’s not a matter of offering a product to sell. The promoters are assigned the task of creating a movement for long-term adoption and change.

What wins acceptance

A clear communication message is critical to winning acceptance and an open sense of mind.

The former USA senator Bill Bradley defines a movement as having the following basic elements:

  1. A story that tells what you are and the future you are trying to build
  2. A connection between and among the leader and the tribe (community)
  3. A reason for its members to participate (with fewer limits the better)

Crowds can become tribes, and tribes can become connected to your movement. To ensure you are well equipped to support such a movement you, at a minimum, must have the following in play:

  • A shared interest – with your organisation and the tribe
  • An effective way for members to communicate (hence community websites)

I am a big fan of Seth Godin, who comments how your organisation can increase the effectiveness of the tribe and its members by:

  • Transforming the shared interest into a passionate goal and desire for change;
  • Providing tools to allow members to tighten their communications; and
  • Leveraging the tribe to allow it to grow and gain new members.

Typically organisations focus on the third outcome – which, although it may bring short-lived success, will remain distant from creating any real change unless the first two outcomes are pursued together with it.

How much of your communication strategy is focused winning over tribes in your key markets? Or are are you simply bleating to the crowd?

Andrew Collins is CEO of Mailman Group a unique digital agency specialising in  online communities for brands wishing to connect with a global Chinese audience.

This article originally appeared online at The Mailman Group.

Image by Rodrigo Favera