Tribes: Tribal Warriors

Will targeting tribes remain a relevant strategy, or is it already outdated? Event gathered seven event profs with a passion for knowing their consumers to talk tribal profiling.

A panel of seven event professionals discussed the future of tribal profiling
A panel of seven event professionals discussed the future of tribal profiling

The panel

Doug Hewett, co-founder People-Made
Luke Hodson, founder at Urban Nerds
Celia Forshew, founder at Seed Marketing
Krupali Cescau, head of planning at Amplify
Jonathan Emmins, founder at Amplify
Katy Ellis, account executive at Amplify and gaming vlogger at Superconsole
Carly Hewitt, senior account director at Amplify

Everyone sitting at the table today is experienced in engaging with an audience on behalf of a brand. We've congregated at Amplify's headquarters in London's Shoreditch for an open discussion on the future of tribal profiling, and with a combined client list featuring some of the coolest brands around (Converse, Alexander McQueen, Spotify and Nike to name a few), there's a plethora of case studies to dive into.

But first, Event is keen to understand what a tribe actually is - specifically, is it just east London agency-speak for a demographic? Krupali Cescau, head of planning at Amplify, corrects me: "A demographic is a very 2D picture of somebody," she explains. "It doesn't give you the depth to understand a person.

The tribal way of thinking has added nuance. It has been a good step looking into attitudes, beliefs and behaviours, working out consumer motivations, which, ultimately, is what all brands want to do."

So far, so useful. But Cescau is quick to point out that the tribal way of strategising is not without its pitfalls. "There's still a long way to go," she says. Amplify's founder, Jonathan Emmins, agrees: "There's that lazy segmenting cliche to it, and I can see how it becomes easy for marketeers and brands to simply shuffle around black-and-white boxes to work out who they want to target in the next campaign."

Yet Luke Hodson, founder of Urban Nerds and self-proclaimed mixture of cultural identities, is more scathing of tribes. "We would never use that word," he says. "Today, young people are so fluid in associations that they're not part of 'a' tribe. It's very dated."

His theory is that there are certain points of culture that have gravity throughout social history, which pull in a real mixture of people. He cites Lynx's recent Black Space experiential campaign as an example: "We had grime kids wearing nineties throwback through a new lens, mixed with skater kids with that heroin chic look - there are so many trends going on it's confusing. The mods were around for a decade. There's no movement like that any more. What you have to look at is an attitude."

That last piece of advice resonates strongly throughout the group. Brands should now be targeting attitudes and beliefs, not fashion trends, hobbies or ever-changing crazes.

Core beliefs

"A lot of research we do for brands is a tribal study, it's anthropology," explains Doug Hewett, founder of People-Made. "When you look at any tribe it is based around a belief system - everyone has personalities but they're connected by something at the core. So as a brand you have to say: 'I am supporting this community and this belief system.' Tribes are both permanent because of these core beliefs, and temporary, as people jump on cultural trends."

Carly Hewitt, who specialises in PR and amplification as senior account director at Amplify, believes that not only is this the best way to connect with consumers, it's how they want it to be. "They want to know the brand they're aligning with shares their belief," she says. "If they don't choose to hear from a brand it becomes really hard to reach them. You can't just create a one-off stunt to build fans - you must make sure every single experience you create with consumers comes from the same passion point."

Similarly, Hewett says technology has given consumers - tribespeople - further power to leverage with brands through information: "There's a difference between supporting a tribe and taking from it. Data sharing means there's a value exchange. Consumers are saying: 'I'm going to give you my data, what will you give me in return?'"

Pinpointing belief systems isn't simple - marketeers have to seek out the right mentality that works within the context of the brand in question. The Amplify team say they work with younger agencies - and keep their ear to the ground - to understand arising trends and how they fit within the 21st century's dense cultural patchwork.

Celia Forshew, founder of Seed Marketing, primarily works with students - who, she stresses, are not a tribe. She says a continual dialogue is key to connecting with the right attitudes: "We put a question out on Facebook and test ideas for a brief. The results are always surprising. For instance, we've just run a competition where the entry mechanic was on Twitter, but the feedback was that the students we wanted to target aren't really using Twitter anymore."

So as the speed in which temporary tribes are formed and disbanded rapidly increases, and as the memory of the mod and iPod generations becomes more and more difficult to recall, what does the future hold?

"There's no substitute for going native and working in the field, but on the flip side of that is big data," Hewett points out. "We work with corporates who are sitting on mounds of data - making sense of that and working out how it can become hyper personal is also very important. I can see a future where there's a combination of big data being crunched that will allow you to see a massive trend happening instantly, and seeing real, on-the-ground evidence that something is becoming popular that no data will pick up - micro cultures that are living and thriving, and as soon as they get big, dispersing."

Cescau adds: "Ten years ago, segmenting people might have been a shortcut to knowing what consumers want. But now there's no need for that shortcut - consumers can put across the things they love and the things they are on social. So if they're smart, brands will move away from segmenting people, and instead ask what interests them culturally and where they naturally congregate."

"In ten years' time, who knows?" wonders Emmins. "I think there will still be internal truths and values that remain true, so if a brand holds a position that resonates with an audience, the connection formed will be similar to what it is now. The real question is - how will they be liaising?"

Case study - PlayStation Access

Alongside Dr Marten, Adidas and Vans, PlayStation was held up by the group as a brand that has unashamedly reached out to gamers in order to beat off competition in the market from rival Xbox.

Katy Ellis, account executive at Amplify and an avid gamer, explained how its Access campaign reached out to consumers via an authentic passion point: "PlayStation Access began as a fan site and slowly developed into an all-encompassing social platform that lives mostly on YouTube. It's hosted by three members of the PlayStation team, features interviews and exclusive demos, engages fans and hosts events.

"Because it's hosted by real gamers employed by PlayStation, people relate to the platform. It easily translates into live events - you can meet the presenters and feel like you already know them."

More on Tribes: Knowledge - Who are the next Tribes?

Comment below to let us know what you think.

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