Seth Godin : Channelling the power of consumer tribes

03 : 11 : 2008 Culture : Marketing : Seth Godin

Seth Godin turns traditional marketing on its head in his latest tome, Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us. Brands should forget about increasing profits and instead focus on enriching the lives of their existing customers, says the bestselling author and marketing guru. ‘The instinct to market to the largest number of people is wrong,’ Godin told LS:NGlobal recently. ‘Market to the tribe instead.’

Talking to the tribe

Tribes, or groups of likeminded people, are an essential component of human behaviour: ‘We’ve always been a tribal animal,’ Godin says. But today’s far-reaching media landscape is enabling these tribes to form with greater rapidity and strength than in the past. Where once consumers put up with top-down branding messages, today they want it from the grassroots – direct from other members of their tribe.

‘Old media doesn’t work anymore,’ Godin says. ‘Without those channels, brands can’t get their message out – but the tribe can.’ So if the tribe becomes the primary marketing tool, it is essential to carefully groom and feed that tribe. The web has enabled an explosion of all kinds of tribes, but also created a shortage of people to lead them, according to Godin. His book therefore explains the importance of the tribe and explains how to lead it. ‘The book is about leadership,’ he says, ‘not marketing.’

The Godin touch

Always one to practice what he preaches, Godin publicised this latest book by setting up his own online tribe. ‘What better way to demonstrate the power of the tribe than to create a tribe?’ he says. Membership to, the ‘followers of Godin’ network, was given to all those who pre-ordered Godin’s book and then sent in the receipt as proof. ‘Only a diehard would put the money in up front,’ he says. His tribe is made up of 3,000 people who believe strongly in the Godin way of marketing. The influence of his tribe is so powerful that his book became a bestseller within an hour and a half of its pre-launch.

Membership to is now closed because it’s not about the size of the tribe, it’s about the conviction of that tribe, Godin says. He is now busy feeding and grooming that community by providing it with an online space in which members can talk to one another, exchange ideas, maintain blogs and get connected. ‘It’s not about making the tribe bigger,’ he says, ‘it’s about tightening the tribe.’

How to market to the tribe

As part of this drawing in of his tribe, Godin has asked all members to write case studies of tribes they know or have come into contact with. These could include Red Sox or Yankees supporters, consumers, churchgoers, Apple customers or Google fans. (Notice how many of these brands have never spent a cent on advertising – another financial driver for understanding tribe marketing.) The key, Godin says, is to approach a particular tribe and help its members in some way. ‘Consumers don’t want the brand to care about itself – they want the brand to care about them,’ he says. And it’s by helping consumers socialise with one another and feel they belong to a pack that this can be achieved.

The take-out

Brands can either form tribes as Godin is doing with his online community of marketers, or they can enter into an existing tribe, such as one composed of young mothers, and further facilitate its members’ actions. But brand involvement with the tribe must be authentic, not bandwagon-jumping. Brands must take an active lead with the functions and future of a chosen tribe, and help its members connect with one another. US car brand Scion, for instance, got involved with car-modders from the start and has cultivated a passionate, creative tribe of consumers. ‘Once you start leading,’ Godin says, ‘they will find you.’