What Tribal Intelligence Says About Our Motivation for Acceptance, Reputation and What We Buy

What decisions do we make solely by and for ourselves? It’s an important question when considering  marketing segmentation strategies and the best ways to appeal to either business customers or consumers.

Personas are widely used as a valuable form of behavioral segmentation. I’m a big fan of David Meerman Scott, an advocate of the persona methodology. But what about the influence of communities and cohorts on purchase decisions and other behavioral motivations? Nielsen’s Claritas Prizm offers an approach that uses neighborhood communities to organize segments. The model focuses on likely socioeconomic motivators, but stops short of a direct discussion of behavior.

Social groups and subcultures today are not bound by socioeconomics as sharply as they once were. We need new behavioral constructs to help us understand what influences and motivates decision-making and purchasing.

Tribal Intelligence® is just such a concept. This is my firm’s unique approach to segmentation that looks at customer tribes as groups. We look at the behavior and motivation of buyers in the context of the social communities where they make those decisions.

A consumer example:  The golf buddy bunch: recreational golfers buying golf balls (and other golf products) have a strong awareness of what their golfing buddies play. The selection of a golf product brand is a reflection of their self perception of skill and how they want to fit into the group (or distinguish themselves from other groups). Golf courses are a macrocosm of the same tribal community behaviors.

A B2B example: middle manager modulators. The common business phrase for procurement, “buying IBM,” is obviously a reference to choosing the safe leader in the category. Afraid of making a choice that results in poor outcomes, a business buyer makes the perceived “safe choice.” Emotion is perhaps even more important in B2B purchase decisions, as the buyer’s job is on the line and her performance is in the spotlight with big decisions. These are natural motivations, to consider the reactions of their tribe and "modulate" their decisions based on perceived risk.

How do we perform Tribal Intelligence segmentation studies? First, Tribal Intelligence is an approach, rather than a product or methodology. We frame and interpret informal discoveries, interviews and reviews of existing research with a tribal perspective. On a larger scale, formal research mechanisms include both qualitative and quantitative research in the form of surveys, focus groups, interviews and other market data studies. Not all of our research is primary. We spend a great deal of time studying existing data, trends and research reports. The proprietary work is in the synthesis and analysis.

We also discover valuable insights about tribal communities by studying trends. For example, volunteerism and charitable giving communities are changing the way the world gets things done, from church group donation activity to corporate social responsibility initiatives. Giving is motivated by many different causes. Although some givers operate anonymously, many groups and individuals define their identities on the basis of their commitments to give. These identities are deeply emotional, therefore deeply tribal.

How valuable are insights about tribes? Tribal Intelligence came into being in response to countless sterile, data-driven studies about markets, with which my firm was expected to work by translating into marketing programs and content. So often, when the research was complete, there was still a huge gap between the data and developing the big creative ideas and concepts needed to make business decisions, messages and communication themes. We found that in the development of the marketing program, we could introduce a tribal profile or community personality, to breath life, realism and tangibility into the work. That human touch also gave our client organization as well as outside collaborators a shared vocabulary as to whom, and how they’re trying to communicate.

Tribal Intelligence keeps us and our clients from falling comfortably into the belief that people make rational, logical and conscious decisions. It helps us keep our minds open to the invisible motivations beneath the surface. It presences the dynamic, that the great mass of the iceberg known as the human subconscious, is highly socialized, primal...and tribal.

Looking for other places to to discover tribes? These authors have contributed provocative thinking:

In his book Microtrends, Mark Penn Looks at 100 trends in America and around the world, and builds in behavioral context.

Martin Linsdrom is well known for his analysis of the senses, neurology and their influence on behavior. His book Buy-ology is a candid look at both accepted and denied causal motivations behind purchase behavior.

Paco Underhill is the granddaddy of behavioral consumer shopping, which he first introduced in his book:  Why We Buy

Clotaire Rapaille presents a frank and spot-on tribal view in his book, The Culture Code: An Ingenious Way to Understand Why People Around the World Live and Buy as They Do.

Daniel Pink looks at behaviors in the context of both business executives as well as consumers. If you pick just one thing to read, I suggest his latest book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.