Forget consumer insights. Connect with your tribe.

There are so many things wrong with consumer insights.

No, I’m not talking about the concept of understanding what people who are passionate about your brand think.

I’m just done with the term consumer insights. Because I’m done with the term consumers.  We live in a world that, for better or worse, is becoming more tribal. And while there are plenty of examples of how tribalism can go awry (hello, anti-vaxxers), there’s much to celebrate. Because instead of the soul-destroying notion of producing products for people to consume, we now have a world where people rally around a shared belief and have a say in how that belief evolves and is communicated.

Your product is less a product than a belief, a set of values, a story. And if you haven’t begun building a tribe around it, it’s time to start.

What is a tribe, anyway?

The term tribe gets bandied about far too much. It’s a catch-all phrase like culture, used indiscriminately and without much thought.

If you look at Seth Godin’s book Tribes, however, you see that a tribe (in the social as well as business sense) comes about because you have four easy-to-understand conditions:

marc stoiber brand strategy
  1. An idea,
  2. A charismatic leader who believes strongly in that idea,
  3. A group of people who also believe in that idea,
  4. A way for everyone to connect and share thoughts on that idea.

The world of brands is evolving towards a tribal model. In the past, we followed a factory thinking approach: a product is made, the boss dictates the vision, and everyone else either falls in line or simply consumes. Today’s successful brands are definitely proponents of active listening, shared values, and everyone – regardless if you’re the CEO, the shopkeeper, or the customer – having a say in what the brand is, and is becoming.

If you consider the Great Resignation, there’s more at play here than simply leaving for higher wages. People want to feel good about where they work. They want to be heard, and know their ideas aren’t simply dumped in a suggestion box. They want to feel part of a tribe, and have a say in the tribe’s destiny.

Your brand can be tribal

You have the ability to build a tribe around your brand. But how?

I’m a big believer in making things simple. So I’ll offer up an incredibly simple first step. You ask.

A tribe is a bit like a group of people sitting around a bonfire. Swapping stories, talking back and forth. Conceivably, they may be there because they share a common love of your brand.

The problem is, business owners have been conditioned to think of these followers as we used to think of consumers – they’re just there to buy, or work. They aren’t there to have their opinion listened to, with the exception of the occasional poll or focus group.

This is a phenomenal waste of their brains. If you want to build a successful brand, incorporating your tribe’s thoughts on how to make it richer, and more personal for them, is an easy low hanging fruit opportunity.

So back to the idea of asking.

Building a bonfire and gathering friends around it for a chat is easy.

Some would have us believe that doing the same thing in business requires building a sophisticated community around social media. While there’s an element of truth to that, it isn’t the only way. And, I’d argue, not even the best for getting really deep insights.

I’d offer up a more primitive, but also effective model. Call the members of your tribe and have a conversation.

Consumer insights the tribal way. Talk, but listen more.

It always surprises me that business owners don’t speak directly with their tribe. Or if they do, it’s with a megaphone – a one-way conversation.

Even worse, they reach out and simply ask people what they think of the product. This is nothing more than a passive aggressive sell. You’re putting people on the spot, making them think about the product in isolation.

Far more productive is to ask about their lives. Find out how your product fits into it. Instead of chatting from the perspective of your product dictating behaviour, unearth the tribal behaviour your product has become a part of.

From there, it’s a relatively easy transition to ask if your product might be able to make that tribal behaviour any easier, more productive, or enjoyable.

What you’ll undoubtedly learn is that your product isn’t unique in its function. But something in the personality, story or values of your product just fits with the tribe.

Dig into that, and you begin to understand what makes your product as irreplaceable as the Little Prince’s beloved rose.

Before I sign off, let me leave you with a wonderful side benefit of this compassionate, authentic interest in your tribe.

The more you show yourself willing to involve those around you in shaping the destiny of your brand, the more you build the reputation of a charismatic leader worth following.

A very big deal. And to think… it’s there for the asking.

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