Think Like a Host to Understand Your Tribe

Erika Anderson
Pillar of Trust
Know your tribe

How can you truly understand your tribe when their environment, behaviours and attitudes are in a state of constant flux?

It’s a Sisyphean task.
No wonder some brands took it too far.
Target used invasive data mining to guess when women were pregnant, delivering marketing materials before they’d broken the news to family.
Pepsi famously misread the room with its attempted co-opting of a political movement.
McDonald's tried to forge an emotional connection with viewers through exploiting the grief of a young boy on a UK TV spot last year.
How can these heavyweights be getting it so badly wrong?

They shifted from broadcaster to best friend in the blink of a well-intentioned eye.

If consumers today reject brands that act like broadcasters.
And don’t believe brands that act like a best friend.
How should your brand behave?
If that sounds like a challenge, it is.

The answer isn’t pressing in closer.
There's a middle ground to be won.
And it can be won through striking the right balance. How?

We believe brands need to act like the host of a party.

Think about it…

As the host, you plan carefully, decorating the space just so.
Is your brand’s space considered across every environment and touchpoint?
You set the music, lights and temperature just right.
Do you spend more time facilitating conversations or controlling them?
You balance the guest list meticulously, and ensure everyone had a plus one.
Are you open about the things they’re most interested to know?
You spend the evening gliding from group to group.
Can they rely on you to be consistent, or are you yet another thing they can’t depend on?
You make introductions, and steer awkward or dull conversation on a different course.
How do you listen?
You ensure your guests are comfortable: a drink in one hand and a full plate in the other.
What small gestures do you make?
You provide entertainment that gets gasps, laughter, applause.
You steal the car keys when a guest has too much to drink.
You call taxis, and help gather their belongings and their partners.

Adopting the mindset of a host roots you to your reason for existing: your tribe. It allows you to understand them in deeper, more meaningful ways than ever before. But it also allows responsibility and influence.
It’s still your party, after all.

Become the host of your party with 4 simple principles.

1. Get the Vibe Right

Find what’s familiar to your tribe and work hard at empathy - it’s the only thing that will uncover their needs.

Nike created an AR scavenger hunt to launch its PSNY x Air Jordan 12s. By using a technology space its youthful, tech-savvy consumers are familiar with, it drew powerful tribe-defining borders.

Communities become stronger by highlighting, not erasing, the boundaries that define them.

Sara Fournier & Lara Lee, ‘Getting Brand Communities Right’,
Harvard Business Review

Alibaba identified their lack of empathy, and in a solid substance over style move, hired a wave of over 60s in order to better understand China’s growing elderly population.

Empathy fuels connection.

Dr Brené Brown

2. Put Guests at Ease

Be open and consistent to get openness and consistency in return.

Brands using honesty and vulnerability because of genuine desire to connect stand apart from those using it as a marketing tactic. This might be as simple as admitting a basic mistake, such as Online fashion retailer ASOS nailing it with their relatable faux pas of printing 17,000 plastic bags with a spelling mistake. Openness isn’t always fessing up, either. Sometimes it’s explaining why you simply can’t do something your tribe is asking for. Glossier is a young beauty brand that grew its tribe organically out of its Into the Gloss community blog. Through the blog, Glossier posts questions, invites comments, and when needs aren’t met, explains why, such as this post about their popular moisturiser:

A lot of you wrote to us asking for anything but [a jar]. And we heard you! We really did. And we tried everything… Let's just say that there's a reason so many heavy creams come in jars.

Into the Gloss blog

We’re watching Iceland - brand, not country- who recently pledged to go plastic free by 2020. Will they open up that journey? Will they share their trials and triumphs? A bold claim in a time when such initiatives are under the microscope more than ever before.

3. Never an Empty Glass

Watch and listen before you start to talk. And when you do talk, make sure it’s a conversation - in their language.

It’s desperately difficult hard for brands to connect with their tribes when, according to advertising icon Dave Trott, 89% of advertising in the UK goes unnoticed even though we’re exposed to 1,000 messages a day. 73% of FMCG brands engage with less than 1% of their audience with their average Facebook post. Less than 1%. Listening before speaking to them gives you relevance. It betters your odds of being heard.

Yes, theoretically there’s more data, more knowledge, more information about brands that you could Google, but we still don’t have any more time.

Richard Shotton, author of The Choice Factory

McDonald’s got this wrong in their Breakfast Bae campaign, one of a host of brands latching onto youth-speak in a misguided attempt to connect with their tribes. And they’re not the only ones... @BrandsSayingBae names and shames a long list of perpetrators on twitter. Pepperidge Farm was far ahead in 2008 when they took a step back from its unsuccessful brand-centric merchandise attempts to listen to where families really needed help. The result was, an online community that uses research about failure, frustration, hopefulness, and emotional awareness to develop resilience-building activities and discussion tools.

4. Help them on with Their Coats

Deep insight lives in the small gestures you make.

It’s time to sacrifice progress by leaps and bound for the incremental. Like trust, understanding is never instant. There is no lightning flash. So when a brand makes grand gestures in attempts or claims to get closer to their tribe, how could consumers help but feel wary? There is power in the small; in the nonchalant.

A brand is a living entity, enriched cumulatively over time, the product of a thousand small gestures.

Michael Eisman,
Former Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of The Walt Disney Company

And as the makeup and identity of a brand is made up of small gestures, so are its relationships. Virgin Atlantic lives this with their wholly authentic PR. To them, public relations is exactly that - relationships with the public.

Selling a product through social media doesn’t work – it’s better to simply communicate with your customers in an authentic way and have fun.

Richard Branson,
Founder of the Virgin Group

A handwritten note from radically transparent American clothing brand Everlane. Heineken’s twitter-tool suggesting buzzing nightlife recommendations based on popularity in real time. A football club’s precisely timed message of condolence after a heavy loss. These small gestures develop understanding through inviting insight to enter through an open door.

We believe adopting the mindset of a host gives brands a framework for understanding their tribe in an ongoing, meaningful way.

We’re testing the idea of Brand as Host across numerous sectors and contexts, exploring what this balance looks like when it works - and where it might not. Part of this exploration was to imagine what this idea could look like for a beauty brand. Our response speaks customers’ language using something other than words…