How to Build a Tribal Following
September 30, 2021
Pause and imagine Steve Jobs. A man in a black turtleneck unveils a new gadget, perhaps the new iPhone. He speaks to you intimately, as if he knows you personally. He tells you a story about the phone, but the true meaning of his words is: “we share the same values and lifestyle: we are a community.” The people who bought Apple when Jobs was alive saw themselves as part of a community, to the extent that the phones were less important than the lifestyle they represented. How could Jobs appeal to their emotions so powerfully?
So, What is a Tribal Following Anyways?
Steve Jobs was an early pioneer in what we at Duco Consulting, along with similar firms such as Wistia, call a “tribal following.” A “tribe” in advertising is a tightly knit community united by behaviours, values, and lifestyles associated with a particular brand. This tribe is also a “following” because it emerges online, through social media, message boards, blogs, video content, and similar outlets that connect people across demographic groups. Members of the tribe do not buy your product once or twice. They buy it repeatedly—but they also share your content, send you feedback, and recommend you to friends and family, because they identify with you and believe in your mission. Today, a tribal following is the difference between a failing brand and a business as iconic as Apple.
Why You Need a Tribal Following
The main reason you need a tribal following today is that, despite the great leaps we have taken in digital advertising, it is very easy to be generic and boring online. More than 25% of internet users in the United States alone use ad blocking software, and it is not hard to imagine why. Most internet ads grab your attention, but they are not interesting enough to keep it. The root cause of the problem is that most advertising agencies use similar strategies to advertise brands. These agencies often specialize in only one aspect of advertising, such as B2B or B2C, Facebook or Google, SEO or Branding, etc., and they present their narrow specialty as the silver bullet for all your problems. They promise to improve your advertising in a vanity metric, often couched in marketing jargon: “improve your lead conversions,” “increase brand awareness,” “drive organic traffic,” “find new channels for paid traffic,” etc. Admittedly, we at Duco sometimes fall into this trap.
If you have tried these methods, you probably had to deal either with recurring pricing, which ties you into a contract you can’t leave, or hidden fees and hourly rates. But the most damaging effect is not the money. It is the fact that your brand will look the same as all other brands using the methods. The real question today is not what will give you a short-term traffic boost, but what will make your brand stand out from thousands of others bombarding internet users each minute. What will pull someone in—and bring them back, again and again?
To differentiate yourself from the pack and sell online, to create an audience who will buy from you and eventually recommend you to their friends and family, you need to make your brand resonate powerfully and emotionally with your target audience or ideal client profile. This “tribe” is based on a genuine sense of community. The process of building it almost always begins with a person who is passionate about the brand and exudes clear brand identity, often organized around the founder of the company or a representative who tells the story of what the brand stands for and what its values are. You must engage your tribe directly, and through multiple channels. Instead of paying lip service, you must emphasize the values that are built into the DNA of the business.
The values can be very diverse and are often quite simple. Amazon, for example, values fast delivery, efficiency, and low prices. Those who align with these values think of Amazon when they need to buy something—as more than 200 million people did last year! Whatever your values are, you need to speak to the audience that shares them.
Keep reading to find out how we at Duco are building our tribe, and how we will help you build your own.
When we began to build our tribe, we began by thinking about why we are in marketing in the first place. Obviously the job is fun, but what makes Duco unique? We soon realized that we are motivated by sincerity and community, and we want to enshrine these values by creating the kind of content that connects people on an emotional level.
For us, amazing content is not always the slickest video or social post from a design perspective. Rather, we define success by reaching the right people and tailoring the content to them, so that they will be interested in it and want to watch it, and read it, and share it.
We want to create binge worthy content for a handful of people who will develop into a tribe – as elegantly described by Wistia in this recent article. This is how we at Duco first became interested in the concept of a tribal following, and we made it our mission to build tightly knit groups that are connected around shared stories in a real and genuine way.
At the same time, we noticed that there was a need in the market for this approach because internet advertising has not yet matured. For example, big business social ads are almost always poorly done because they are based on converted TV ads played over the internet, with little change in the medium. Advertisers do not yet consider the unique tools available to us in internet marketing.
This insight allowed us to build brands from scratch because we understood how social media works, and what people on social media were looking for in a brand when it was presented to them.
We soon realized that our mission to build communities and tribes was the solution for this general problem in advertising. The internet is ideal for building tribes: it is so effective that social media can even make people a bit too loyal to a particular group. While that might be dangerous in other parts of life, it is great for business. As we began to build the brands of our customers, we found that we particularly loved giving the smaller brands a voice by helping them reach a targeted, tight-knit audience. Thanks to our experience in digital ads and analytics, we found that we could often help a small brand reach the same audience as a big business at a more affordable price, and yet have an even greater impact due to the edge given by digital media.
Finally, we found through experience that we have some preferences about who we like to work with. Although we rarely say no to business, we especially like promoting businesses with ethical goals, and who care about sustainability, their employees, and the general ecosystem in which they operate.
This is who we are, but how will you build your tribe?
Building Your Tribe
The key concept in building your tribe is “affinity branding,” which is a strategy for branding which builds “affinity” or connection between brands and their customers. We all have emotional, rational, and behavioural patterns that influence our decision-making. Affinity branding is based on understanding those patterns and hacking them to align brands with the customers that share their values. For example, if a particular business cares about sustainability and reflects this value in its day-to-day practices, then affinity branding would mean emphasizing this value in the content that is published, and seeking audiences that value sustainability and make decisions based on it. In practice, affinity branding requires a cycle of creativity, marketing, and feedback.
We have captured this in our “affinity branding wheel”: The cycle begins with identifying your mission and values and outlining how your content would look if you wanted to highlight your brand. But that’s not enough. You must then research and understand the values of your ideal client profile (ICP) by cracking their habits and decision-making.
Then you create the binge-worthy content that aligns your values with their way of understanding and acting on those values, followed by retargeting campaigns that offer a product or service. You should then optimize your ad budgets using machine learning algorithms or advanced statistics. There is finally an evaluation and review phase in which you look at the data of what worked and what did not, and tailor future content to align with your ICP further. This last step is very important, because it involves intensive research of your client’s response that ultimately leads to the tailored messaging that underpins a tribe.
As you can see, this process requires a great deal of research and interpretation of data in order to arrive at a clear picture of how you and your client come into alignment in a profound way. This is where our special skillset at Duco can help you bridge these steps.
First, we offer our clients a diversity of experienced content creators who make the brand’s key values stand out in a unique way. These creators get to the heart of who you are as a business, and then they give your brand its unique story.
Second, our analysts then take over in order to adapt your message to the right audience by hacking the habits and values of your ICP. The client profile is built on objective data that gives us a solid bedrock on which to build affinity branding for your business.
Third, we are developing a secret weapon: our proprietary software, Duco Analytics, which will walk you through each step of the affinity branding process. This tool is in an alpha testing mode and currently under rigorous development. When it is complete, our analysts will use this software to organize data about your ICP and the content that is reaching them.
It is particularly important in the evaluation and review step, because our software will offer the necessary technology to consider all the variables that made an advertisement work or not work, from time of day and location to the writing style, the visual design, and beyond. This technology will revolutionize how we pursue affinity branding, and your ads will reach to the limits of your imagination and ambition.
A tribal following is the holy grail of modern branding, but achieving it requires a great deal of training.