Building a brand tribe is not easy. It requires a clear understand of what motivates tribe members to share content with each other and it requires a vigilance to ensure the tribe is supported and the connection between members are maintained.

Brand Tribes are created around shared values and passions where the connection to the brand is strong, but the connection of tribe members to each other is even stronger.


Download Welcome to the World of Brand Tribes


For marketers it is important to recognise the difference between consumers who simply like a brand and members of a brand tribe.  It is not the formal step of joining a membership or loyalty scheme that makes a tribe. Rather it is the way people feel about others in the tribe and their willingness to share their passion for the brand and what it stands for that makes the magic happen.

Brands that encourage this and manage and sustain their tribes reap the rewards of sustained and favorable returns if done correctly.

To get you started we asked leading proponents of brand tribes to outline their dos and don’ts.

While the experts have a solid mix of suggestions (see breakout box) they also have a commonality about where to begin: you must start with the product. All the talk of tribes and influencers and word-of-mouth is meaningless unless the proposition you offer has value for the fans or the customers.

“You have to have a good product in the first place. The customers always work out that your product is not a quality product and it will burn you,” says Kirsty Muddle, Owner/Founding Partner and Chief Information Officer at Cummins & Partners.

No matter the product, the people you are engaging are all fans, and they are committed to that product. For many, it is a strong emotional commitment. But the experts all warn that tribe members do not see themselves as agents of your agenda. So, while a digital social-media-driven campaign can produce a successful outcome, it can turn on you just as easily.

“When you give consumers ownership, they rightfully demand more as custodians,” says Jules Lund, founder of TRIBE, a self-serve marketplace connecting social media influencers with leading brands. “If you don’t maintain that relationship, they can actually take it extremely personally and get offended.”

Maintenance is a vital because “tribes can very quickly create a negative network effect and have just as much influence when they drop the pompoms and pick up the pitchforks. When they have ownership of your brand, they demand a different level of attention.”

Lund emphasises how important community is in the equation and also stresses that once you create a fan page and start to ignite and identify advocates and start to invite them in (because of the power of their influence) you have to be cautious about how you keep that up. “Once you have given birth to them, you then have to raise them,” he says.

Daniel Flynn, co-founder and Managing Director of Thankyou, is part of one of the great success stories in leveraging brand tribes. Since 2008, the not-for-profit start-up (it gives 100 percent of the profits from its products to helping people in need) has used brand tribes to do a lot of the heavy lifting to get those products to reach goals many thought unattainable.

“Be authentic,” Flynn says. “Authentic, as in transparent, as in what people see is what people get. The smoke and mirrors, the hiding behind stuff doesn’t work. And don’t sell! You can’t sell to a tribe, or a movement. We don’t sell — we invite people to join us. We say to our sales team, we aren’t sales people, we’re storytellers,” — a notion echoed by Kirsty Muddle — “and we’re inviting people to write with us.

“You also have to be able to show the community clearly the difference they’re making, by being associated with each other. It has to be clear to people that they are part of something bigger than themselves, and by being part of that collective, they can see the impact.”

Cameron Honey, General Manager Commercial Development at Football Federation Australia, deals with tribes on multiple levels — from grassroots football to the A-League, Socceroos and Matildas. For Honey, it is about taking the tribes which sit around that participation base and converting them. He focuses on recognising the different segments of tribes and then understanding what drives the passion of each one. But he stresses it is vital, no matter the product, to align stakeholders around a single message and a single call to action. Don’t muddle the message.

“When we’re talking about feeding people’s passion, it’s around feeding the reason they have become part of that tribe — not trying to fulfil what they do day-to-day as part of that tribe,” Honey says. Also, don’t assume you know what each individual tribe wants, because “if you serve them up something that’s going to disengage them, then it’s all over.”

 

Simple Checklist: Dos and Don’ts of building a Brand Tribe

DO’S

  1. Brand Tribes must be planned, funded and resourced – it takes focus
  2. Understand the key drivers of your Tribe members – use these insights to drive your plans
  3. On-going two-way engagement to keep them connected, sharing and informed through relevant & unique content (a combination of branded content and UGC) and via experiences
  4. Amplify positive engagements through digital channels – constantly drive recruitment
  5. Invite members to co-create – ensure they feel like they are part of something special
  6. Always be authentic and stay true to your brand values – this is what attracted your Tribe in the first place
  7. Track your brand tribe against key KPIs and course-correct if necessary

DON’TS

  1. Be salespeople when you should be storytellers
  2. Be overly controlling – your tribe members will see through this in seconds
  3. Assume you know what your tribe members want or that they want the same thing
  4. Pay tribe members if there is a risk of creating a welfare mentality

Mike Gee is a writer for the Which-50 Digital Intelligence Unit. RhythmOne , which produced “Welcome to the World of Brand Tribes ” is a corporate member of the DIU. Members provide their insights and expertise for the benefit of our readers. Membership fees apply .

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