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The Tribe Has Spoken, Are You Listening?

I met Marty Neumeier (renown speaker and author of Zag, Brand Gap) when he was conducting a workshop at the Design Exchange. In conversation, Marty shared that he began his career implementing brand strategies only to realize there were a lot of flawed strategies that execution couldn’t fix. This prompted Marty to focus his effort on brand differentiation – the #1 strategy of a successful brand in Marty’s eyes.

If you’re looking for verification of the power of differentiation think IPOD. 4th to market in the MP3 player category, Apple has 72% market share, a price point that is 2 to 5 times higher than the competitors….well I think you get the idea. High performance brands are way out in front in terms of loyalty, profitability and they’re tough to beat – unless of course you find your own unique way of differentiating.

One of the first rules is you can’t be all things to all people. In the session Marty talked about knowing your “tribe”. I caught up with Marty to get further clarity on why the tribe matters.

“You have said the emphasis today needs to be on the Unique Buying Tribe rather than the Unique Selling Proposition. Can you explain that?”

Marty Neumeier:

The Unique Selling Proposition was the brain child of Rosser Reeves, an advertising genius from the “Mad Men” days. He worked for the Ted Bates agency and wrote a bestseller called, “Reality in Advertising.” His thesis was simple: Advertisers need to focus all their energy on one strong claim or one strong concept. In a time when the industry believed “the more you tell, the more you sell,” this was a refreshing idea that caught on almost immediately. It was so powerful, in fact, that to this day advertisers search high and low for “the big idea” to hang their campaigns on.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this inclination, as far as it goes. Without a unique value proposition, your campaign—and your business—will lose focus and have no compelling point of differentiation. The problem is that the principle now seems dated. Customers today don’t like to be sold. What they like to do is buy, and they buy in tribes. Every brand has a tribe that supports it. If you talk WITH your tribe, they may well continue to support it. If you talk AT your tribe – using manipulative one-way conversations – they’ll tune out in a New York second.

So rather than focusing on a Unique Selling Proposition, focus on a Unique Buying Tribe. If you find the right tribe and give it the right stuff, you’ll get enough love to sustain your brand. People crave tribal identity. What they want to know is, “If I buy this product, what will this make me?”

Thanks Marty for sharing your insights. Marty is currently Director of Transformation at Liquid Agency.

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