See also Manifesto 01.
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. They 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.