Our Marketing Tribe – Part 1

By William Flanagan
Modified July 6, 2021, Posted in ,

Understand your marketing tribe and improve your marketing outreach, and ultimately, your customer engagement.

It sounds so easy, but there are hidden pitfalls.

Let’s begin by digging into the term ‘marketing tribe’.

Who is your marketing tribe?

The definition of marketing tribe

Your marketing tribe is the people that are in your same garden. In your field. In your industry. Your market. Your niche.

But beware, your marketing tribe does not just consist of your perfect buyers, your general customers, distributors, enthusiasts, influencers, partners and suppliers, etc.

No, Your marketing tribe also includes your competitors and potential distracters.

You must know who they are, and how they affect your efforts to be successful.

How do you find your marketing tribe?

At least for me, I didn’t understand what the marketing tribe was for a long time. Not truly. Not completely.

It took me quite a while to arrive at the definition of marketing tribe that I posted above.

There were a number of pesky questions that I kept mulling over:

First and foremost: What or who is the marketing tribe?

But also: How does a tribe change our marketing efforts? How do we leverage it to make ourselves more effective as marketers? And, what’s the difference between a market and a tribe?

There were swatches of my marketing tribe that I kept leaving out. To my detriment. Because I did not realize at first that all is part of a marketing tribe, my marketing efforts were not as successful as I had hoped. And how could they?

Until the lightning bolt hit. Then things started to make sense.

My realization? The people that take part in the same market as you do, friends, foes, and buyers are part of your tribe.

How to distinguish between your perfect buyer and your marketing tribe

Given the definition of marketing tribe, there are a few core differences between your perfect buyer and the tribe that are important to understand.

  • Your perfect buyer will be entertained by you, but your marketing tribe will converse with you.
  • Your perfect buyer can be bought, but your marketing tribe’s trust must be earned.
  • Your perfect buyer follows trends, but your marketing tribe leads discussions and makes trends.
  • Your perfect buyer invests dollars, your marketing tribe invests emotionally.
  • Your perfect buyer will be fickle, but your marketing tribe, once gained, will be loyal.

The opinions of the tribe drive a lot of the decision-making of the perfect buyers. So, you must engage with the marketing tribe as a whole to gain their trust. This, in turn, will aid you in gaining the trust of the perfect buyer.

Democracy rules

marketing tribe leadership type

It was also confusing to me how to leverage my marketing tribe. Even once I knew what and who constituted my tribe.

There’s a lot of “advice” that says that your tribe is the people that follow you. Your goal, as a tribal leader and expert, is then to grow your group to the biggest you can, as fast as you can.

From a strategy perspective, I’ve realized that this is 100% the wrong way to think about the tribe.

Why?

Because a leader of a tribe that focuses exclusively on getting the tribe to follow you is bound to fail. Because these efforts are misplaced and guided by misunderstandings.

Think of a company that is product-centric. Such a company is bound to fail. Why? Because a product-centric company is all focused on the product and by extension on how great the founder is, and it is not focused on helping the customer with his problem or need or job to be done.

Similarly, growing your marketing tribe and focusing on your tribe following you above all else is misguided. Such efforts are narcissistic. Entitled. And, ultimately do harm to both your own efforts and the marketplace. Do you want to be a leader in the tribe? Yes. Do you want to be the tribe’s autocrat?

Absolutely not. You want to be in service to your perfect buyer.

The tribe and the marketplace

If you think about marketplaces as an example, they’re places of the common good. They are a common garden.

You, as a seller, set up your shop to help people with the things you provide. Others do as well. There are other vendors there that provide related goods and services.

There are norms (standards) that define how people keep the paths clear. How things stay clean. Why? So people can come through and buy your (collective) wares. There are norms about security. Norms about how one vendor treats another vendor.

In this idealized marketplace, vendors push back against “perverse incentives.” One person can’t have an unfair advantage. Everyone must compete cleanly and fairly. There are norms around times that people can come to the market. There are norms about how and what people pay. There’s information on the vendors themselves, and the “low” and “high” cost of things.

The marketplace creates predictability—and humans love predictability.

Think about Farmer’s markets. There may be 5 stands that sell tomatoes. Does any of the farm stand directly “compete” with each other? Yes and no. Yes, in that they all sell tomatoes. But, NO, in that the best way for everyone to make money is for more people to come to the farmer’s market.

In the case of the farmer’s market, the vendors do best when they make the place itself a great place to be. The vendors do best when it’s easy to get there. When it’s easy to find what you want. When there’s a choice, but not TOO much choice. One vendor may talk to a buyer and educate them on how to tell if tomatoes are ripe. And then, they come to your stand and buy them (because yours are riper). You compete, but may the best product win—and may all of us continue to have the marketplace.

The 8 groups that populate the marketplace… and form your tribe

In markets today, it doesn’t matter the industry, there is a common breakdown of people in the marketing tribe. Competitors, Suppliers, Distributors, Strategic Partners, Enthusiasts, Influencers, Buyers, and Customers.

Let’s review these in turn.

  • Competitors— most people think of competitors as bad. This is not true. Too much competition and your market will see price erosion or increased costs. But, a market needs a couple of choices. Good differentiation. Relatively equal business sizes. It helps everyone because all vendors educate the market. It also helps you clarify what is unique and valuable about what you provide. Your value comes not from how you are the same, but how you are different.
  • Suppliers—they provide the things (inputs) that you transform and sell. Depending on your inputs, and the control they have, they can potentially impact the business. You want a lot of suppliers, with acceptable substitutions. This keeps your supply costs low.
  • Distributors—they take your output (products & services) and help them get to the market. In some markets, they will be your buyers. But, they are never the “Solution Realizer.” If you use distributors to go to market, their value comes from having access to deal flow. A distributor with no deal flow is worthless. Their primary value is education of the tribe and alternatives.
  • Strategic Partners—they help you grow your market. There are a few types:
    • Horizontal (competitors that collaborate)
    • Vertical (businesses collaborating within the supply chain),
    • Intersectional (businesses in tangential, but other markets, work together to grow both markets),
    • Joint venture (2 businesses form a new company together),
    • Equity (one company acquires a stake in another business in exchange for a monetary investment, aka investors).
  • Enthusiasts—people that talk a lot about your marketplace. They are “micro-influencers”, or they might become buyers.
  • Influencers—people that talk about your industry that have more influence and credibility. They can be traditional media, social media, or other types of influencers. A common list of names is:
    • journalists
    • industry analysts
    • authors
    • podcasters
    • academic researchers
    • event producers
    • bloggers
    • blog editors
    • social media influencers
    • celebrities.
  • Buyers—people that spend money on your product or service. They create the value chain.
  • Customers—the people to whom you provide your products and services. They MIGHT be buyers, or they might be independent. The customer makes the purchasing decision, but he might not be the finance person who pays for the purchase, that would be the buyer.

These people, and their roles, are critical to your market. Some markets are simple. Some are complex. But, each role plays a part in how your market works.

And, if you don’t understand how your market works, you can’t capture your share of the marketplace pie.

Figuring out my role in the marketplace

The thing you have to remember is that the Job Need is everything.

Your job is to be in service to your customer. What do I mean by that?

Your customer has something that they have determined they need to get done. Something they want to accomplish. A problem they have defined for which they need a solution. These are your jobs to be done. Let me reiterate again: you are in service to your customer’s needs. You are helping him accomplish his goals as he has determined them to be.

How can I be in service to my customer?

A marketing tribe participates in a marketplace. This marketplace is the intersection of jobs-to-be-done (JTBD) and the people-to-make-progress (PTMP).

Your customers determine the jobs to be done, you are the one that is helping them get the job done. You are the people to make progress.

Let’s go back to our analogy of the Farmer’s markets. At a Farmer’s market, people need to buy food. But, they also need to do the emotional job of buying more “local.” Buying fresher, greener, and healthier. They believe that smaller is better, that local is better. And, thus want to make progress on this. So, they buy from farmer’s markets.

If you’ve taken any economic theory, you know that there’s supply and demand. But, supply and demand only describe how a marketplace balances itself.

If you have more demand than supply, the supply will raise prices in the short term. Then, people build more products, and this will flood the market. Then, the price will drop. Or, if the demand drops, there will be an oversupply, and the price will drop.

But, that’s not where most of us live.

We live in a world where there are farmer’s markets. People pay a premium for the same produce they can get in the supermarket. Why? Because they have social and emotional jobs to do.

And, this, my friends, is the answer to why we exist. We have to figure out to help them get their jobs done. And that includes the emotional and social job they want to make progress on. The underlying reason that they shop at the farmer’s market.

Moving away from the farmer’s market analogy. We help the customer do the job they need to do. The social and emotional jobs. The culture. The ethos. These are just as, if not more important, than the physical good.

The job is everything. Fulfilling it is our business—and it’s the innovation that people buy.

Competition in the marketplace

You have no competition. The battle is within.

This might sound counter-intuitive and overly dramatic at the same time. But, it is based on my realization that I don’t really compete with anyone. Except for my own ability to meet the job needs of the buyer.

The ‘winning’ in the marketplace is based on the fit of our innovation with the perfect buyer’s job to be done.

This is where your focus should be: on your customers and your fit to them.

People have needs. They have jobs to do. They have limited capital to spend on solving problems and making progress. They make choices based on what they believe will most likely make progress. And, when enough buyers choose something, this solution becomes the leader.

So, you don’t compete with anyone else. You fit your innovation to the needs of your buyer. And, you don’t control how your competitors fit themselves to your buyer. The one that fits the buyer best, wins.

It really is that simple.

So, the marketplace makes the choice of who wins and loses not based on competition, but rather based on fit.

The idea of no competition is a challenging thing to get behind. I understand that. And I do not mean to say that you do not pay attention to your competitors. You need to pay attention to them–they are a part of the marketing tribe.

But, when you define yourself based on your competitors, you lose. It’s product-centric thinking. It’s self-centered. It doesn’t look at the social and emotional components of the job. It makes your market a commodity. It makes you the same, not different.

And, you must be different to succeed.

Because it’s not the job of the buyer to figure out why you’re the right fit. It’s yours.

If you and your competitor both sell tomatoes, what’s the job-to-be-done? How are your tomatoes better for your perfect buyer?

The one that fits is the one that wins.

Becoming a leader among your marketing tribe

You go to the market. The market doesn’t come to you.

To be a leader, you have to lead people. To lead people, you have to be where the people are. You need to be where your marketing tribe is. You need to take part where your tribe’s attention already is. You have to meet them where they are at, in order to take them where you want to take them.

This is not a case of ‘if you build it, they will come’.

Think back to the Pareto Principle we discussed in an earlier blog post. It states that 80% of the output results from 20% of the causes (inputs). This means most of your productivity comes from 20% of your work.

Now think about your tribe. There are likely less than 100 places & people (the 20%) that account for the majority (the 80%) of your market’s information. These conversations provide the market information and drive the sales. And, those sales are already happening.

So, given this, it’s not the right question ever to say “How do I drive more traffic?” Instead, you should think this: “how do I make myself visible where the attention already is?”

My suggestion? We want to build a “tribe attention map.”

A tribe attention map

What is a marketing tribe attention map? This kind of map feeds most of the primary strategies we use to get attention in our marketplace.

These strategies are:

  • running ads at them based on their interests
  • producing free content that we distribute to these people in the seeking channels they gather information through
  • building relationships with the people behind places
  • leveraging partnerships for joint promotion.

We can’t do any of that until we have a map of where the attention is.

So, let’s build it.

More in part 2.

IMAGE courtesy of http://onhech.blogspot.com/2013/10/laissez-faire-leadership-is-less-more.html

10+ years of marketing agency experience. 10+ years (4 exits) of VC-funded startup experience. Dad. Musician. Coffee-lover. E-bike aficionado.

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