An argument needs to be made for marketing. First of all, not to defined as what is marketing, but rather, what isn’t. Marketing is not
Many of these are used in marketing, and it is important to know how they are used; some should not be. But that is not marketing. A marketer should not be a promoter or blogger or designer only. A marketer should be a social scientist. A marketer should be a creator (not just a creative).
Marketing is not the steps you take to sell a product, it is not how to always try to extract a premium from customers by having the best brand, it is not positioning a product to hold a new place in a customer’s mind.
Marketing is about creation. Marketing is about people.
Tribes, or brand communities, or evangelists are closer to what marketing is to be about, but these are simply descriptions of a something far deeper. A contrarian Laura Ries was convinced last year that she was predicting the demise of the iPhone. After being woefully mistaken, her risk-taking ended as she covered herself this year by saying because of the added functionality of GPS and 3G access, the phone would actually be a success. Her stumbling statements are indicative of the narrow-minded and not cross-applicable viewpoints that she inherited from her “marketing heritage”. These and like theories pervade the marketing field. If this happens, do this; it worked for Starbucks. Until we realize that the world doesn’t work for us like it works for Starbucks. How about Apple…
Whether by luck or thought, the really great brands are successful because of something more primitive, more tribal. It has to do with communities. Star Trek fan boy organizations get it more than Starbucks (obviously with their recent mistakes and flailing strategies). The iPhone’s success had much less to do with whether the phone was a convergence or divergence product and more to do with the cult-like allegiance to the brand. And the allegiance has little to do with coolness as much as it has to do with connectivity and exclusivity. It has to do with how a community is formed. They have their figurehead and their artifacts. In fact, the worst thing that can happen to Apple is not necessarily bad customer service (which can disconnect the community and cause them to reform elsewhere); it is if more Zunemeister-types start trying to encroach on their space. I am mostly serious; look at the comments about him on the referenced posting. It is one of the reasons Triiibes is so popular: exclusivity, connectivity, and membership.
It’s not about demographics or psychographics; it’s about studying how people work with people to communicate, move objects, and start movements. It’s more anthropology than financial analysis or sales pitches. If you want to learn how to talk to a group, you will learn more by watching them in their personal and social environments than you will through surveys and focus groups.
If we want marketing to be where art and science meet, we need to stop acting like hucksters and charlatans.
The question has arisen to what is a tribe. Seth Godin remarked:
Crowds are pretty common. Facebook is a crowd, so is parking lot at the Dragon Boat festival in Queens. A tribe on the other hand, has a mission (or at least an engaging topic), a leader (usually) and an identity. There are conventions and relationships and a bias to give the other guy a hand. Tribes are not connected to tactics. Tribes live offline and on. They are secret societies and public phenomena. Some tribes live for just a short time, while others last for generations. Tribes have insiders and outsiders. By definition. If everyone is in a tribe, it ceases to be one.
image by Dom Dada on flickr.com
This is something I heartily agree with. As I mentioned in Manifesto 01, marketing is about people, about tribes, and not (as Seth also points out) about tactics. It’s about reaching and joining that community (the difference between a tribe and community is academic) in such a way that you are part of the culture. But leading a tribe should not necessarily requisite for success in a particular market.
Sure there are some brands that act as leaders, for example Apple and Disney (not necessarily for you, but who said you are included?). The leadership is powerfully effective when successful (and amazingly catastrophic when once gained and lost), but it is a tough proposition and not all companies have the ability to be in that position, nor should they. Whether a leader or a member, the key is to be included. The key is to be a part of the culture.
Imperfect as it may be, the concept of a Net Promoter Score is a simple concept to see how accepted you are within a particular group. Disagree as you may with this quick measure, it is the simplest test for this example.
One brand that gets a lot of positive press about it’s community is Southwest Airlines. They may or may not be a leader of their community, which is not necessarily important, but their score is included for comparative purposes: 51% (higher is better). That score is pretty good (33% means for every one detractor against your brand, you have two promoters). eBay, who I think can easily be argued as a tribal leader, has a net promoter score of 71% (all figures from 2006). Harley-Davidson, who in many respects is the typification of a tribal brand, has an amazingly high score of 81%. USAA, who definitely is not a leader of any tribal-type crowd, has a net promoter score of 82%.
I speak from the experience as a customer when I talk of USAA. They have never tried to be a leader or gathering place or anything other than a great service to their customers. But the secret is, they understand their consumer community. The understand this community in ways which most other companies have never even considered. They are not leaders, but they are an integral part of the tribe and, as a result, their brand and offering flourishes.
Among the more community-heading-type leaders in Net Promoter top-scorers: Vanguard, Harley, eBay, Amazon—are the not so leader-focused organizations: USAA, HomeBanc, Costco, Chick-Fil-A. Wolff-Olins separates services companies into four categories, and it’s generally correct to view the organizations in the bottom-left area of the matrix, such as London Underground’s Oyster Card, as not really being in the business of being tribal leaders. As a result, they need to determine their place in the appropriate community and, if they truly add value there, they become nearly as essential as the community head to the members (think PayPal and eBay). But don’t allow commodification; the secret is to add value and continually innovate in such a way that your deepened strong position makes you become irreplaceable.
It’s at that point that you become disruptive; at that point you become remarkable.
You probably have already heard about Patrick Pogan. Three weeks on the job as a third-generation member of NYPD and he makes a mistake that he will feel the brunt of for some time. According to Newsday, during Critical Mass, Pogan stopped a cyclist, Christopher Long, and arrested him for:
… attempted assault, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct. Long, court papers said, wove his bicycle in and out of the center lane on Seventh Avenue, disrupting traffic, then drove right into Pogan’s body. […]
Officer Pogan also said he suffered cuts on his forearms as he fell to the ground.
Perhaps in attempt to stymie Critical Mass, and definitely in an effort to restrain this rider, Pogan made a split-second decision; a split-second decision that landed Long in jail but soon after came to bite Pogan and the NYPD after more information surfaced. And, with the wonders of YouTube, you can see for yourself a different viewpoint.
Pogan was able to stop the cyclist, but can he stop the spread of information in a well-connected world? Doing a quick search on Google News reveals with polyglot illumination that this is proving to be quite difficult, whether in Dutch;
De NYPD heeft agent Patrick Pogan op non-actief gesteld. De 22-jarige New Yorkse agent is degene die vrijdag op Times Square tijdens een Critical Mass ride een van de deelnemers een forse bodycheck gaf. Pogan heeft zijn penning en pistool moeten inleveren, en moet bureaudienst doen zolang de NYPD een intern onderzoek doet naar het incident. De fietser blijkt ene Christopher Long te zijn. Hij heeft nog niet gereageerd, maar zijn advocaat zegt dat het filmpje ‘voor zich spreekt’.
Un policier new-yorkais se retrouve dans l’eau chaude en raison d’une vidéo publiée sur YouTube le montrant alors qu’il plaque violemment un cycliste vers la chaîne de trottoir afin de l’interpeller. La vidéo a été tournée vendredi dernier par un touriste lors de l’événement Critical Mass, une randonnée de vélos organisée chaque mois dont l’objectif est de célébrer et de promouvoir les droits des cyclistes.
A New York City police officer was stripped of his gun and badge on Monday after an amateur video surfaced on the Internet showing him pushing a bicyclist to the ground in Times Square during a group ride on Friday evening.
More and more organizations, governments, and individuals who used to be in power are facing more and more the reality that there has never been a time that the common people have held as much power. And that power to communicate is increasingly becoming more difficult to stop. Perhaps those in power need to take some old advice. As I mentioned in another discussion here at Triiibes, Ron Chernow recorded in his biography of Alexander Hamilton (p 340) Hamilton’s words of advice that members of the newly formed Coast Guard should
always keep in mind that their countrymen are free men and as such are impatient of everything that bears the least mark of a domineering spirit. [You] will therefore refrain . . . from whatever has the semblance of haughtiness, rudeness, or insult.
This “domineering spirit” is increasingly finding itself of odds with the freedom of informational movement. Communication through the press was the linchpin of Gandhi’s movement, this free press drastically damaged the perception of China to the West with the indelible images of Tienanmen Square, and over two centuries ago, through pamphlets and protests the seeds were sown for revolution in the United States.
And today, that power is more than ever in the hands of the common person, and it is more than just a freedom to communicate. It is a power to activate, such as James Karl Buck’s well known Twittering story. It is the power to create, such as seen with Wikipedia, and blogs, and YouTube. It is the power to chose, such as with iTunes, or Firefox. Ultimately, it is the power to have a true voice in politics, in consumption, and how you live your life. It is a power that takes each individual, as if one tiny droplet at a time, and combines another and another until they rush forth together in synchronized movement like a mighty wave.
Now, let’s see if they can stop a force like that.
Networks are powerful.
On April 30, 2008, three students at Ridgewater College, a small technical school in Minnesota, posted the following on Facebook:
For our final project we need to do a networking experiment. We decided to see how far 3 average college students could reach out to within one week on facebook. We are begging you to join our group and then ask all your friends to join as well. This is only a one week experiment so you can just delete this after a week or so if you wish to.
Exactly one week later, the group had nearly 700,000 members.
I was asked to join from a friend that I had last seen some 8 or 9 years ago, and I did so and invited others. In the end I was asked probably 5 times to join this group. Many businesses would have to pay tens to hundreds of millions of dollars to get a like response from a similar audience. This trio did it with a few hours of work. I could find no news release or other types of promotion. It simply was passed from individual to individual as evidenced with the invitations to me and I would assume others. In the end, this experiment became a powerful example of weak ties in action.
Years ago, Everett Rogers discussed the concept of weak ties when he mentioned,
The informational strength of dyadic communication relationships is inversely related to the degree of homophily (and the strength of attraction) between the source and the receiver [ . . . ] This homophily and close attraction facilitate effective communication, but they act as a barrier preventing new ideas from entering the network. An innovation is diffused to a larger number of individuals and traverses a greater social distance when passed through weak ties rather than strong.*
Rogers could not have seen the strength and speed of how the networks of our day have influenced the speed of adoption. Of course, many organizations have used viral marketing to some success, but the approach is lacking if it just focuses on this one aspect of networks. The end understanding shouldn’t be surrounding “viral” marketing. It is in understanding the culture within which a product or (more especially) a service exists. As I, and others, have talked before—marketing is not about simply selling “delight” or “solutions”, it is about sitting a product or service within a society as a tool for exchange, expression, and ultimately, identity. Understanding that role is the key to successful branding. We marketers need to understand better that product or service adoption has much to do with an individual’s place in society. Some have got it for some time; over 35 years ago Frank Bass wrote:
Apart from innovators, adopters are influenced in the timing of adoption by the pressures of the social system.**
As we truly understand how demographic groups communicate and how weak ties are connected, then success in marketing will not as much guesswork. Strategy and creativity will be able to truly mesh as we use these insights to access these networks—whether they be 20-something Facebook members or 60-something classic car restorers.
*Rogers, Everett M.; “New Product Adoption and Diffusion,” The Journal of Consumer Research, Mar 1976, Vol. 2, No. 4, p 290 – 301.
**Bass, Frank M.; “A New Product Growth for Model Consumer Durables,” Management Science, Jan 1969, Vol. 15, No. 5, p 215 – 227