Creative Edge: What constitutes a tribe, and are they still relevant today?

The panel discussed the relevance of tribes in marketing today (Julian Dodd)
The panel discussed the relevance of tribes in marketing today (Julian Dodd)

During the second session of Creative Edge in Brighton today (21 September), agencies and brands discussed the notion of marketing to tribes, and what exactly constitutes a tribe today.

The session, which was moderated by Krupali Cescau, head of planning at agency Amplify, saw contributions from Bexy Cameron, head of insights at Amplify, Luke Hodson, the founder of Urban Nerds Collective, Seed Marketing’s founder Celia Forshew, and Jayson Weston, the marketing and sales director at Indesit Company.

Are tribes important? 

Cescau kicked off the conversation by asking the panel whether tribes are still important. 

In response, Hodson noted that while tribalism is an innate human drive, we don’t have pure subcultures anymore. "Today, people have an affinity with various different subcultures," he said.

"I see tribes as these bubbles where people mass together around a trend or a backbone in culture. It is very fluid – people are constantly moving in and out of different bubbles."

He added the concept of identifying just one tribe is somewhat obsolete. "Tribes to us are quite redundant and old-fashioned. No one wants to be associated as a tribe – it’s not cool.

"We talk a lot about fusing culture – there are groups of people that move around a passion point."

The changing nature of the tribe

Cameron said today's tribes are markedly different from their traditional counterparts. "The tribes that we are seeing coming up are much quicker, shorter and almost ironic."

She explained the online realm allows for more fluidity, and as such, people can belong to multiple tribes. "People are experimenting with their identities via digital media.

"We have now got such fragmented media that its so much easier to be anyone you want to be on a daily basis."

Hodson agreed that the internet is changing up the notion of tribes, and some can be easily missed. "We are noticing at a granular, grass roots level that people are congregating online.

"Unless you are part of an online tribe you don’t see this – a lot of brands are missing virtual tribes or bubbles – they don’t get to see that movement."

Tribes – they are still relevant

Forshew noted it can still be useful to think in the sense of tribes. "Everything we [Seed] do is built around a tribe of people – students – they all have certain itineraries to their year and there is something that unites them all," she explained.

"A student wouldn’t want to consider themselves as made up of one homogenous identity – recognising the multiple things that make up a person is important, and that’s something brands struggle with."

Forshew highlighted how Spotify provided students with the opportunity to appropriate the brand, whether it be for a grime music event or skiing association party.

"We had this real challenge as everyone prefers different types of music, so we created a party kit which students can incorporate into their event."

How can brands keep up with ever changing tribes?

Weston explained that there is a need to stop segmenting people into specific groups. "We try and pigeon hole people into such a tight group that they become impossible to market to.

"You have to be more realistic with your approach and know who your market is. If you’re too tightly segmented you can miss an entire group." 

He added that Indesit focuses in on sport and music, and in many ways people have come to associate the brand with those two things. 

"We do simple things like include sports cycles on our washing machines – we are the only people who do that."

He added that at Camp Bestival, the company had an active launderette where people could drop their clothes off to be washed, and subsequently see that the washing machines offer a specialist sports cycle.

How do we segment, then?

Cameron said marketers can segment their audience through looking at people’s attitudes, psychology, values and how they act and react. "You can understand who they are as people rather than who they are as a consumer," she said. 

"Marketeers like to cut people up into different pieces – I think what we can do with segmentation is actually push people away. Once you dehumanise your consumer, your marketing becomes ineffective."

Weston added it’s important that brands talk to the people who are buying their products. "If you gain a better understanding of who you are marketing to, you can target each group differently.

"Marketers have gotten quite pig headed in that they think they know who is buying their product – we need to go back to basics." 

More: Creative Edge: "Consumers are fine with a branded cultural experience as long as it's good"

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