Brand tribes have been a buzz concept in marketing circles for a few years now.
From a marketing perspective, tribes – or customer communities made up of like-minded people who gather together based on shared interests and brands and the values those brands project – represent an opportunity to efficiently engage and motivate a large group of people beyond simple demographics.
Nike has a tribe.
Harley Davidson motorcycles has a tribe.
Apple has a tribe.
Most every significant marketing guru today affirms the importance of appealing to and building a tribe. Mel Carson has presented on marketing to tribes. Countless blogs have been written on the value of marketing to tribes.
Seth Godin wrote a whole book about tribes.
According to these experts, if you aren’t trying to build or capture the attention of “your tribe,” you are missing a fundamental key of marketing success in today’s world.
But should we, in the nonprofit world, be thinking of our donors and potential donors (and marketing to them) as members of a tribe? According to some, building and sustaining a tribe around your cause is smart nonprofit marketing strategy.
I’m not so sure.
The nonprofit missions we serve focus our efforts on caring for something bigger than ourselves and our families. At the nonprofit core, the mission is to help others.
Through education. Through healthcare. Through social services. Through spiritual means. Through financial means. Through practical means. Through helping animals. Through helping our environment. Etc.
Each of our institutional missions is different, but we all seek to help others in some meaningful way.
To become compelling (and effective from a marketing standpoint), consumer or brand tribes utilize an “us vs. them” mechanism. An “our beliefs and values are better than your beliefs and values,” membership posture.
If tribes are communities of people who come together to celebrate the value of their common interests, nonprofits are communities of people who come together to celebrate the value of the common good.
Our aim is not to highlight differences among beliefs, values, or interests. Our aim is not to reinforce the rightness of a particular tribe.
Our aim is to reinforce the goodness of the broader ecosystem in which all tribes live.
Our world doesn’t need more marketing-based tribes. Our world needs more people who understand that everyone is better off when we support missions to help others – regardless of their tribe.