The concept of tribes has been used in marketing for years. Build a tribe, create a successful business. Seth Godin famously described a tribe in a marketing context in his book (coincidentally entitled, Tribes: We Need You To Lead Us) as “a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea”. For years marketeers have considered audiences to the tribe that gathers around a powerful brand, whether it’s an individual or a company. Tribe marketing hinges on a focus on creating a powerful community that is highly valuable, welcoming, and inclusive to its members. This engenders trust and dedication, ensuring your business grows a highly valuable audience that can be leveraged to create great profit and receive exceptionally high value from you in return.

It’s a win-win. You create a lucrative business, and your audience gains a brand that goes above and beyond to fulfill their needs. The only slight hitch is the term ‘tribe’. I’ll get into why shortly, but for now, suffice to say it’s outdated and should be dropped. 

Unfortunately, the SEO gods aren’t quite clever enough to understand that ‘tribe marketing’ and ‘clan marketing’ are the same thing. (Not yet, at least. Hopefully, this post will help enlighten them.) So I will be using both terms for the purpose of this blog so that those searching for things like ‘how to build a tribe’ and ‘what is tribe marketing’ will not only find the answer but also get an explanation of why it’s a term they shouldn’t be using.

But I digress.

Here’s how to build a tribe to market your business. Or as i prefer to say (now) how to build a clan, and why you need to…

What Does It Mean To Build Your Tribe (Or Clan)?

Building a tribe is the act of attracting a following of like-minded people who believe in you, respect your expertise, and stand with your principles. They trust your judgement, support you, and genuinely want you to succeed. More than that, they want to see everything you stand for succeed, because they stand for the same things. 

So how do you build your tribe (or clan)?

Have A Clear Purpose And Ethos

You should focus on two things when building a clan around your business. The first is taking care of its members, and the second is ensuring you have clarity around your purpose and ethos. Communities need a clear purpose to remain a community. Without a common cause – which could be as simple as ensuring success in a key area or as complex as fighting climate change – the group will devolve into little more than an exclusive club. The focus becomes a fanatical obsession with the brand or leader they were built around rather than a community for the benefit of its members.

Why is that a problem? Well, for one thing, business growth becomes a lot harder when new members of your audience have to be attracted to the fan club rather than a space that will benefit, support and understand them. For another, should that leader or brand ever choose to shift direction or do something different, watch out – those fans won’t take kindly to the change. When your focus is on communal benefit rather than individual fame, shifts in direction are welcomed so long as they contribute to the cause everyone signed up for. 

How To Build A Tribe, Why You Need To And Why We Need To Drop The Term

Create An Inspiring Culture

All that being said, there is a vital leadership role you need to fullfill within your clan as you build it. While it’s important to create that shared space full of individuals working towards a common goal or for a common cause, they need motivation. They need inspiration. They need whoever stands at the helm to have already been where they are going so they have confidence in the journey. And they need to feel safe in sharing their stories, trials, and tribulations along the way. A culture that inspires members to move forward by painting a picture of what lies ahead, supporting them as they move towards it, and steering them back to on track if they lose their way is essential. 

Creating that culture is a deliberate act. Someone needs to step up, lead, and actively create the space for other members to do the same. Remember, it’s a community, not a fan club. While leadership is needed to get the ball rolling, stepping aside and letting other members lead in their own right is key.

For example, if you have veteran members who have been around a while, let them answer the questions of other members. It shows the whole process works, allows them a clear purpose, and rewards them for learning so well. At the same time, it ensures that the spotlight is shared across the community.

At the same time, everyone wants to be heard. So ensure that all members, regardless of their experience of success, have an equal opportunity to speak and be recognised. 

Build with purpose and a firm vision, but hold it lightly once it’s a reality. Give it space and independence. 

Tell A Powerful Story

Stories sell. There’s no disputing that. Using storytelling in your marketing is a powerful way to engage your audience. There’s a reason powerful communities develop around specific books and TV shows. Fandoms are drawn to the power of the story. They come together to share their love of that story, discuss the story, speculate on various elements of the plot, its development, where it may go in the future, and so much more.

When you are creating a space or your clan to occupy and wondering what you can do to attract them to it, a story is the answer. Yes, you need to know your purpose and have a clear vision. And you need to focus on them and how you can empower and benefit the individuals and the whole. All while inspiring them to believe they can be, do and have more.

A compelling, powerful story will do all that while attracting other like-minded people to join your clan. Having a great story also leads to your community doing your work for you, as people love sharing a great story. If yours is strong enough, your audience will share it and tell it to others, spreading your message far faster than you’d manage yourself.

How To Build A Tribe, Why You Need To And Why We Need To Drop The Term

Empower Your People

Ensuring your people have a voice and feel heard is a great first step, but you will also need to go further. When your people achieve key milestones, make progress, overcome hurdles, and smash through their internal blocks and fears, ensure you reward them.

Acknowledging your clan’s progress is key to empowering them to continue and empowering noobs to start. Positive affirmation is easily given, yet it’s such a confidence booster. It creates a sense of comfort and safety within your clan while validating individual presence and reassuring them, yes; you’re in the right place, you’re going to go far. 

The confidence gained from communal approval is also a great way to help individual members of your audience break through and find their true authentic selves. It gives them the belief that not only can they do this, they don’t need to wear a mask or put on a front to achieve great things. They can simply be themselves.

Few things are more powerful at bonding an audience to you than empowering them with permission to be themselves. Then showing them that they have value exactly as they are. That they are enough.

Be A Connection Hub

Rember, your clan may form around you, but it’s about the community. Creating a space that enables people to connect with you, your brand, or your business is relatively easy. But creating something that gives them a connection to each other, as well as you, and by extension, the resources and connections you have outside that community (i.e. your network) is considerably more powerful.

In business spheres, this may facilitate your community to meet other business owners who may prove helpful. Perhaps they offer services they need. Perhaps they need services your audience members offer. Connection is key. 

This element of clan building has nothing to do with benefiting you or your business. It’s purely about facilitating the members of your audience to improve theirs.

And it doesn’t need to be a business-based connection. You may connect them with others in similar situations, close locations, or with skills and interests that complement their own. 

Humans are social creatures; we thrive on connection. The more you can facilitate connections while you build your tribe, the better.

And since that word has come up again, as a final point, I shall address the proverbial elephant…

Why We Should No Longer Use The Term Tribe In Marketing. We Should Use Clan Instead.

Why The Term Tribe Is Problematic

In the wake of political movements in recent years, most notably (for me, personally, at least) Black Lives Matter, there is a growing awareness of the impact and implications of our word choices. As a wordsmith, I take this very seriously, and while many may roll their eyes and huff at ‘political correctness gone mad’ this is one case where I do not believe that is the case.

The term ‘tribe’ carries certain unavoidable connotations and antiquated notions of social theory. To use the term in marketing parlance may seem innocent enough – especially given it’s been a popular buzzword for years and is very much ‘the norm’. Yet many things we take for granted as part of the status quo are, in retrospect, doing a fundamental disservice to members of our communities.

That a term used to describe a community could, by its very nature, harm members of that community is a particularly nasty kind of irony.

We may all accept it as a normal term in everyday conversation. But as with another word that was once accepted as such (it begins with an N, and I shall not voice it), just because something has been accepted as normal doesn’t make it right.

Slavery was once a normal part of life. Racism, homophobia, religious bigotry, sexism, you name it, all horribly discriminatory practices humans have found for each other were once accepted as normal.

It is only through enlightened debate, open minds, and a willingness to quash the status quo and break the norm that society makes progress against discrimination.

While ‘tribe’ may be a powerful term in the marketing world to describe the creation of a loyal community, there is no escaping the fact the word originates in colonial parlance and was used to describe groups seen as savage, under-developed societies purely because they were different.

The world may not have entirely moved on from such vulgarities, but we should certainly hope it someday will. And to make that change a reality, it starts with the small things.

Like using a different term for tribe marketing. I’m currently favouring ‘clan marketing’ as ‘clan’ describes a close-knit group of people with a common interest, a family, or a group of families. It’s Scottish in origin, and since much of my own clan hails from Scotland, it feels apt.

I hope it lacks any of the negative connotations that come with the use of ‘tribe’. If, however, there is a subtle nuance to the term that I’m overlooking, I genuinely welcome a conversation with anyone who can further enlighten me.

So. To successfully market our businesses, we want to be building tribes. But to not suck as human beings, we need to stop calling them tribes and start calling them clans.

And if you’ve realised in reading this that clan-building is a time-consuming process that requires a lot of planning and content creation, you’d be right. I am, of course, at your disposal to help in any way needed. Just get in touch…