In Which Tribes Do Your Customers Roam? Know Your Customers’ Social Media Habits

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Marketers today must be more like anthropologists than advertisers. The light speed pace of customer fragmentation and technology has turned concepts such as circulation, audience share, and readership – words that would easily roll off the tongue of Mad Men’s Don Draper – into outdated terms that have been replaced by engagement, circle of influence, and social tribes, concepts more familiar perhaps to great anthropologists like Claude Levi-Strauss or Jared Diamond.

In fact, even the word fragmentation has been replaced by a more anthropological term: tribalization. And tribalization in marketing is real. Today consumers are grouping themselves into smaller and smaller segments defined more by common political, lifestyle and other interests than by the characteristics that marked their parents’ group dynamics.  The force of tribalization is turning the “global economy,” the clichéd buzzword that speaks to our increasing interconnectedness, into a glocal economyGlocal is an awkward mashup of global and local that declares the economy is both global and local at the same time, a truth that is forcing marketers to embark on journeys to dwell with their customers, so to speak, in their local tribe communities, and to engage, influence and convince each prospective customer therein to prefer and buy their product.

Now, there are rules for such engagement, as we’ll discuss below. But, companies must begin now to identify in which online tribes their best customers’ are spending time. But not identify the generic category of sites where people roughly of their targeted demographic category hang out – after all, measuring for the average delivers average results – but they must identify where the specific, individual “best” customers are engaging online.

Companies can do this by contacting the new breed of research firms that track and monitor online behavior down to the individual consumer level. Foredeus, the predictive analytics and marketing intelligence firm, has deployed the Acxiom Social Media Model Suite, which offers companies metrics on their existing customers’ social media patterns, and measures their use and social impact as measured by activity, social influence, and the size and strength of their social network. With these metrics, companies can identify whom within their customer base or whom within their customers’ circles of influence is what Malcom Gladwell would call a connector, maven or salesperson. Connectors, mavens and salespeople are the special individuals within a tribe who connect people who otherwise might not know each other, are willing to share their expertise on how products and services work, or passionately endorse and advocate products or positions with a unique charisma, respectively.

The top names in research and consulting are trying to figure out this concept. The Society for New Communications Research, along with Deloitte and Beeline Labs, have called this the “Tribalization of Business,” and have launched numerous studies to track the impact of tribalization on commerce in general. IBM and its builders of a smarter planet as well as McKinsey & Co.have also written extensively on tribalization’s impact on business, and shared strategies companies must take to effectively navigate this proliferation of fragmentation.

In order to get into the hearts and minds of consumers, marketers must undertake field observation, not just monitor social mentions. They must identify precisely where and with whom customers are engaging. Extremely relevant, sharable content that adds authentic value, endorsements and other means of engagement are what advance the sales cycle for companies online and that lower the cost of customer acquisition. Nielsen’s recent survey of influential advertising in these new online tribal communities ranks recommendations, endorsements and editorial content as the most persuasive forms of advertising, far more persuasively that old-line media such as TV, Outdoor and radio.

But for every new strategy, there is a caveat and several rules. Any engagement by a marketer must be authentic and add real value as determined by the members of the tribe. Ken Krogue of InsideSales.com wrote on this when he shared a warning that SEO would be dead in 2 years (that is, SEO that games the system and attempts to fool Google with irrelevant content that spams search and the communities that enjoy it). Brad Peppinick’s in his Vancouver TEDx talk said the same thing: Social media and the communities it spawns will retreat to more basic interactions online where valuable content is shared by members of the community — content whose value and relevance is apprent to the tribe members who consume it. Darren Woolley, founder of Trinityp3 and contributor at bizcommunity.com made mention of the same trends.

The first step to engagement is to know precisely which customers are members and participants in which tribes. Knowing that can help companies formulate a winning strategy for 2012 and beyond.

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