Response to Erik
Erik posted some excellent questions in response to my post: Tribal quest for authenticity. They were so good that I decided to reply to them in a separate blog post.
Erik: I enjoy the analogy, but how is this different than the Izod preppy trend of the late 70's, or the gothic fashion movement.
Tribes are more liquid than subcultures. In a subculture identity is unified and fixed. It is seen as static, as members permanently carry one mask. However nowaday people belong to many tribes, and move effortlessly between them. They switch masks, as they assume temporary roles and identities.
Erik: How do you identify tribal leaders?
You can identify tribal leaders through research. Tribal roles can be identified as members, participants, practitioners and sympathisers. You need to understand what motivates each of these groups, and how, when and where they interact with the tribe. Influencing leaders - viral marketing - is far from the only way to support a tribe. (It can be down-right dangerous to "only" operate on the fad-cycle which lasts at best 1-2 years.)
Erik: Are iPhone users a single tribe? I would say they cross a wide spectrum. How would you identify tribal overlaps?
Let's not forget that the concept of tribes help us define a group of people that share a common passion or strong emotion. In reality the boundaries are fluid, and not that evident. Tribes naturally consist of smaller groups of people, which in turn consist of smaller groups of people (sub-tribes).
What is important is that the definition of your tribe is meaningful, and share a set of characteristics. Muniz & O'Guinn characteristics for brand communities are helpful: consciousness of kind, evidence of rituals and traditions, and a sense of obligation to the community and its members.
Erik: What do Doctors and convenience clerks have in common when they both drive a Honda?
Exactly. Their passion for Honda is the common denominator. Not necessarily traditional markers such as age, sex, nationality, and job. These markers are becoming less important as tribes to a larger extent shape our identity.
Erik: The new means of social networking has created new possibilities. Are there any practical ways to manipulate these mediums?
People are people even in social mediums. But in order to understand people we need to need stop treating people as isolated individuals. People share things in social mediums which they find "meaningful". Meaningful needs to be understood in a social context. That is why this is not only "a new way to describe marketing". It is a new way of doing marketing that acknowledges that consumption is driven, not only by individuals, but by groups. Old school marketing leans heavily on psychology, which has a lot to say about the individual. To better understand groups we also need to season our plates with anthropology, sociology and ethnography.
To sum up the largest difference I would say a switch in focus from company/customer relationships to customer/customer relationships.
Yet again, thanks Erik for providing these questions which cut-to-the-chase.