Sunday, January 1, 2023

Tribal Branding: Know Like Trust Series

This post is the final installment of the 3-part series on how to get customers to feel that they 'know, like and trust' your brand. The series was motivated by the need to create social media management (SMM) strategic content pillars. I think that, if I applied the 3 target behaviors / feelings to top, middle and bottom funnel positions, each one would apply in that order; ie 'know' will apply to the top, 'like' to the middle and 'trust' to the bottom. ... or depending on market needs, like when an unknown brand faces a huge challenge of gaining trust in expertise regarding a high-stakes problem, 'trust' and 'like' may overlap or be swapped within the cycle (of a month or whatever your expected cycle period towards conversion).

Even if your marketing campaigns have been successful in getting many people to know and perhaps even trust your brand, that does not mean that they will necessarily like your brand. You therefore need to connect emotionally, to have an emotional relationship with your market, ie you need to build brand affinity with customers. Afterall, brand affinity transcends brand awareness (which, as illustrated below, is only the first and most commercially beneficial of 4 levels of brand affinity). If developed successfully, brand affinity can motivate evangelism, the highest of the 4 levels. By such a point, customers make favorable purchase decisions based on emotional bonds with your brand. Needless to say, when measuring levels of affinity, the emotional connection is most important.


Brand affinity levels

Nature of consumer relationship with the brand

1.brand awareness

Consumer seeks to meet basic needs. Any product that does that meets basic needs will do. Won't go out of their way to get the brand.

2. infatuation


Consumer trusts the brand because the brand adds some value to their life. Consumer feels affection, appreciation or even obsession towards the brand.

3. fidelity


The consumer can truly relate to the brand values*. Consequently, the consumer feels an emotional connection and seeks out your brand specifically. 

* Here are examples of core values to which consumers may relate.

  • the style and image provided by a clothing brand
  • very high quality images taken from Apple iPhones

4. evangelism

The consumer believes in your brand to such an extent that they want others to use the brand.


For the sake of making this post on the consumer's 'liking' or 'brand affinity' with a brand as clear as possible, I will discuss it in its extreme application; 'tribal branding'. However, recognize that, depending on the brand, tribal branding exists on a continuum. For instance, on one hand, Apple has applied it to the maximum extreme, while un-branded commodities not at all on the opposite extreme and  finally, most other marketed brands fall in the middle with varying levels of moderate tribalism. The majority of brands are in the center because they know that tribalism is hugely profitable but respond with only lukewarm attempts to tribalize consumers by claiming the most recently trending core values (like eco-friendliness). However, their corporate strategizing never quite achieves the same tribalism as Apple. 

Seth Godin's book 'Tribes' explains how to create tribes. Here is a quick breakdown of the take aways from that book along with some of my ideas on corresponding content pillars.

Lesson 1: Connection

Connection is the sine qua non of successful tribalism. Tribes comprise a group of people connected to each other, a leader and an idea. The idea may be based on anything like religion, politics, racial or other basis of marginalization, sports and so on. The communication is critical because back and forth messaging among members intensifies core values and attracts new like-minded members. Essentially, the communication is a catalyst for growth. Needless to say, social media communication makes tribalism easier than ever. In short, to transform any group of people into a tribe, 2 requirements must be met as follows. 

  1. a shared interest
  2. communication among members

Needless to say, connection is associated with the strategy of growth and tactical content pillars like ''Traction', 'Core Valuesand, if you ask members to support each other and or ask qualification questions (about interests) as a pre-requisite to membership, also 'Ask / Participate'.

Lesson 2: Pull Marketing

Because the interest is so niche, the messaging is tailor-made to narrowly attract only the tribe's members (not everyone). It therefore pulls only those who share the tribe's passion. (See Push & Pull marketing). Needless to say, pull marketing is associated with the tactical content pillar like 'Core Values' with very specialized content. One option is to use specific questions from the consumer's perspective as the titles of your posts, ie rather than write generic titles. Social listening tools can help you to generate questions. For instance, rather than write a title as 'product x [your brand name]', write it was 'Is method a-b-c the best way to resolve problem y? -- or -- solutions for problem y'. Either way, establish the details in your brand voice and tone. 

Lesson 3: Leaders are heretics.

Heresy relates to having beliefs that go contrary to norms that are generally accepted in the broader community (like religion, sexual preferences and so on). In other words, they challenge the status quo. Example(s):

  • When it was generally felt that computers would not be desirable at home, Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple suggested otherwise, likely seeming a little crazy by most who could not imagine his vision. However, Apple's Macintosh computer introduced the world's first home computer and therefore revolutionized the modern world

Lesson 4: Tribes are assembled, NOT created.

Godin explains that, before the formation of a tribe, its eventual members, although still disconnected and scattered somewhere in the world, they lay in wait to be connected. At the sight of a catalyst, they will join and do not need to be schooled on the interest.

  • Black Lives Matter (BLM) and Black Twitter followers were not trained in a class room. Instead, they suffered for while and eagerly awaited their opportunity to be connected. Consequently, when the opportunity arose, they were eager to join.

Lesson 5: The tribe is not for everyone.

This is where I think many businesses fall short of the full tribal glory. I think this failing is due to lack of authenticity. Tribalism is about true believers with a burning desire to connect with other true believers. Their efforts are not staged through corporate strategy (alone) and so they can become cohesive simply because their intrinsic interest in the cause is sufficiently strong to sustain their focus. In other words, the focus is not about vanity metrics such as likes and views. Rather, they are more interested in drawing their members closer (than growing numbers). Wired Magazine's Kevin Kelly suggested that tribes only need 1,000 true members, ie enough for a core group of passionate, deeply 'heretic' members to sustain them. In short, leaders focus on their tribe, ignoring everyone else. This lesson corresponds with the tactical pillars 'Transparency' (Authenticity), 'Values' and 'Beliefs'. The rules for these pillars will suggest unapologetic specificity in content, brand voice and tone, etc. Some might even encourage exclusivity.

  • White supremacist (WS) groups are unapologetic about their zero tolerance policies regarding membership.

As far as possible, managing a corporate tribe should involve having only the right partners, suppliers, employees and so on. 

Lesson 6: Tribes become movements (with the help of leadership)
After membership has reached critical mass, the tribe becomes a movement, ie it can bring about change in the world. Do not take this power lightly. Social media movements have swayed elections. The movement comes into being when the leader does the following.
  1. Tell a story (to people who really want to hear). The story highlights the vision for a better future (whatever that means to the tribe).
  2. Connect the tribe members to each other and themselves
  3. They lead the movement with direction and purpose.
  4. They make change occur in ways that no single member could have done alone.

Lesson 7: Leaders use a combination of the & leadership Cs
Leaders all accept their leadership roles and use a combination of the following elements. They
  1. challenge the status quo.
  2. build a culture
  3. are curious  (about the world, how it works and how their vision can work)
  4. are or become charismatic to attract and motivate followers
  5. facilitate communication among members and themselves
  6. commit to the cause
  7. facilitate connection among members.

Video (above): Tribes by Seth Godin, Animated Book Summary by YouTuber MentalEFit Book Club.

Video (above): 'How the Dogtown Z-Boys changed skateboarding culture (tribal branding)' by YouTuber Intermark Group. 

The Dogtown Z-Boys was a small group of skateboarders in the early 1970s with an intrinsic interest in skateboarding long before the tribe formed. The earliest skaters were outcasts or 'heretics' by nature. The concept of skateboards was an adaptation of ocean surf boards that were adapted to the land. Their membership was exclusive on the basis of psychological characteristics and unique skating styles that evolved naturally into being from their interaction with each other. For instance, given their ocean surfing background, they did things that other land-only skaters did not, like bring their bodies close to the ground, touch the ground and so on (in other words, an aspect of their 'heresy'). They mastered this style inside of empty swimming pools at homes up for sale during a Californian drought. Craig Stecyk of a local newspaper  (Dogtown Chronicles) assumed the leadership role by publishing the group's symbols, images, core values and ideas. (Keep in mind that this occurred several decades before the internet). This leadership brought together like-minded, otherwise disconnected members and established their culture. They also wore uniforms to demonstrate to the world and themselves their cohesiveness. They even had a physical location where they met each other. Ultimately, the tribe transformed the initially basic trends of skateboarding into its current status as a mainstream extreme sport of skating up smooth vertical surfaces of modern day.

Apple has been able to create a loyal tribe that is willing to wait overnight outside of their doors for new releases, with hopes of paying much more than the competition for their products. In keeping with lesson 1 (regarding a shared interest for being outstanding in graphics and creating a space to encourage easy, direct communication), Apple engages heavily with its market over social media platforms. For instance, its Instagram posts have featured very striking images from customers using their latest iPhone model. Starting from their revolutionary 1984 introduction of home computers for personal use, they go out of their way to establish the idea that the brand is different, in an unapologetically superior way. Their tagline 'Think different' reflects this and is somewhat of a call to action for persons wanting to be seen as an outsider, non-conformist and revolutionary like the brand was in 1984.

1. Research and identify your tribe as intimately as possible. To this end, create a target customer profile.

2. Be clear about your unique value proposition / UVP.  The UVP does not need to be only one value. It can be a collection of those values that are most meaningful to your target market.

3. Engage with your tribe, listening closely and responding accordingly.

4. Connect emotionally with your tribe. (This is a must).

5. Create strategic content pillars that incorporate the elements of tribalism. Here is a rough example that incorporates elements of brand tribalism for introducing a new brand whose state of being unknown must overcome sales objections of distrust based on the market not knowing and consequent distrust of the brand's expertise. Notice how the same tactical pillars are applied to each of multiple segment-specific thematic pillar (like plus-sized women's wear, regular-sized women's wear and so on within a single women's line). Those tactical pillars were inspired by the concepts of tribalism and Fastnet's 9 tactiical pillars

ToF lead generation  / Objective(s): to be known (through trust, seek qualify members)
  • Thematic pillar 1 of .. segments
  • Thematic pillar 2 of  .. segments
    • same as above (s/a)
  • Thematic pillar 3 of  .. segments
    • same as above (s/a)
MoF lead nurturing  / Objective(s): to tribalize customer (like, trust)
  • Thematic pillar 1 of .. segments
  • Thematic pillar 2 of  .. segments
    • same as above (s/a)
  • Thematic pillar 3 of  .. segments
    • same as above (s/a)
BoF lead conversion / Objective(s) to sell and retain customer with trust inspiring content)
  • Thematic pillar 1 of .. segments
    • Solution  (Pull title)
    • Ask / Participate (Community communication)
  • Thematic pillar 2 of  .. segments
    • same as above (s/a)
  • Thematic pillar 3 of  .. segments
    • same as above (s/a)