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To Build a Brand, Build a Tribe

For nonprofit leaders, the work of building a loyal, engaged audience is a critical part of long-term success. To grow an audience that embraces your cause as its own, it’s important to prioritize meaning over marketing.

"It's not a movement unless it moves without you." - Seth Godin


Choice Overload

Americans today are awash in choices, from which car to buy to which causes to support.

There are so many competing brands that we no longer need to choose based on features, benefits or experiences. We’ve moved beyond choosing brands based upon what they are or do.

To build brands that thrive long term, it’s important to understand what else is driving our choices.


We Don’t Buy Brands; We Join Them

More and more, we are choosing brands based upon the meaning they provide—how they help us build our identities. We join and support organizations that express how we see ourselves and who we want to become.

Tapping into this powerful meaning building aspect of brands is key to building and growing your brand tribe.


What’s a Brand Tribe?

A brand tribe is an interest group that forms around a product, service or organization. The strongest brands stand for something. Their core purpose is clearly defined and articulated. They know who they are, why they exist, and what they offer to the world.

When a brand builds an audience that shares its beliefs, dreams and vision—that’s a tribe. And few things are more valuable to a brand.


Tribes Aren’t Market Segments

Marketing has always sorted customers into groups by demographics, income, location, etc. There's a time for this—but it’s not the place to start, because it prioritizes attributes over beliefs and meaning. It misses what actually motivates people.

To build strong, charismatic brands, we need to think beyond marketing. We need to go deeper to connect with people based upon their goals, dreams and worries—and what they believe is worth fighting for.

This is where marketing falls short. Tribes aren’t market segments. You don’t target a tribe. You support it, grow it, and partner with it. Rather than selling to your audience, focus on connecting with and inspiring them. If your purpose, vision and values resonate with people, they’ll join you.


Start a Movement

Your brand tribe's members are more than ‘fans’ or ‘followers’. They're true believers and evangelists for your cause. They see themselves as part of a movement. They share your vision of the future and are willing to work with you to achieve it.

This shared mission is what makes brand tribes so powerful. Individuals gain leverage as members of a tribe. And the camaraderie, friendships, and loyalty that develop help drive organic growth.


What Does This Mean for Your Organization?

When you’re beginning to build your tribe, it can feel daunting. But it’s a process, and everyone starts from the same place.

The first step is getting crystal-clear on who you are and what you stand for. If you do that and paint a compelling picture of the future, you’ll find others who share your vision and will follow you.

In part 2 of this article, I’ll discuss some things to keep in mind when getting started.



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Was this helpful? What challenges are you facing in building and growing your audience? Let me know in the comments or send me an email at hello@shanestarr.com.