Great Brands Build Tribes. Is Yours Worth Joining?

Everyone craves to be part of something greater than themselves, to belong to a tribe we identify with, are passionate about, and to which we feel a deep connection. What is a tribe? I’m not talking about Native Americans; I’m talking about the group of people your business attracts; your staff, your loyal patrons, your investors, and even you. Is your business cultivating a tribal connection?

We wear the symbols of tribal membership – like the BMW emblem on our cars, the image printed on the side of our coffee mugs, the iPods in our pockets, and the T-shirt imprinted with the logos and messages of the movements we support. These all reflect the beliefs and allegiances of the tribes to which we belong.

The Internet is transforming us from Brand Managers to Tribal Managers as marketers have less control over what is said about their brands and we have to build a connected community with shared values and beliefs that identify with your company’s values. Loyal tribe member are adamantly supporting and defending those businesses they identify with; at the same time those in opposing tribes may be advocating against your business. Brand managers have less control or influence over what is said about them and cannot as easily leverage or control media as they once did.

This shift from brand management into tribal management requires managing an increasing level of communication between parties, not just between you and the members, but amongst the members themselves. Your members or guests are speaking to one another online, in the grocery store, on yelp, etc… How does your business connect with its tribe? How are you enabling tribe members to connect with each other through your business? Do they talk about your business on food websites or through your own website? Are you up front about your tribe’s beliefs? Are you facilitating the connection between people (staff and guests)?

Can you identify a tribe of people (guests, staff, and investors) that….

· Identify themselves with the beliefs and vision of your business?

People are drawn to a tribe because of share beliefs, lifestyle, and affiliations. Brand choices are mirror reflections to how individuals see themselves. What do people want to see in the mirror? What do the people who identify with your tribe think about themselves? Does your business stand for or represent something that people will want to be a part of? Does your staff feel proud to identify with your brand’s values?

· Crave to be part of it?

Member of your brand or tribe crave more than simply your product; they crave to be part of something. Tribal members want to connect with others who share their interests be it organic food and BMWs or gourmet burgers and Harley Davidson’s.

· Do people feel like they belong?

People are constantly seeking to belong. Is your brand in its entirety (experience, passion, mission, and way of doing business) worth belonging to? Does your business represent something you can get passionate about? Do patrons and employees feel like they are an essential part of this tribe? Do your patrons act like they own the place? Does your staff stay for a long time? Do they brag to their friends that they work there or pretend they work somewhere else? Do they have a compelling story to tell about the company they work for?

· Passionate about it?

Are you still passionate about your business? Do the people around you identifying with the same passion? Is there something so compelling about it that others get passionate about it as well? Are people excited and engaged? Do staff and patrons care enough that they speak about it, defend it, and even evangelize membership? Impassioned tribe members will fight for the reputation of the tribe, trying to convince others that their tribe is better than others.

· Are they finding a connection through your business?

People connect with people, not organizations. They connect through shared beliefs, common interests, and by sharing ideas and experiences. Does your business express a point of view? Does it have a reason for being beyond simply making money? What does your Brand stand for and how does that help people connect with each other through your business?

Are your customers haphazardly frequenting your business or are they drawn there because they feel it is a place they belong, a place at which they feel a connection with the tribe that your business is designed to cultivate? I would love to hear how you’re not simply building a brand but fostering a tribal community through the process.

The Cultivation Corps helps restaurants and hotels build their brands to the next level by planning and designing their vision of the future, making well-informed decisions, and brining strategy to life through the people and operations.

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Tags: branding, concept, consulting, development, marketing, restaurant

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Comment by Michael Biesemeyer on August 2, 2010 at 1:04pm
Seth Godin argues the Internet has ended mass marketing and revived a human social unit from the distant past: tribes. Founded on shared ideas and values, tribes give ordinary people the power to lead and make big change. He urges us to do so.


Comment by Chef Len Elias CEC on August 1, 2010 at 11:09am
Great blog David. I cannot agree with you more on all concepts.

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