Let's talk about football (very briefly …)
How long is the waiting list for a seat in Juventus's 250,000-capacity practice ground? Nine months. Think about the energy, the passion for the game and the team that this suggests.
OK, let's not talk about football any more.
What really matters to people? The individual passions that define them, their world and their dreams.
What really matters in tribes? Shared concerns or interests? No. It's actually the shared passions, the meaning, of the people that belong to them. 100,000's of them.
What's the real promise of the Internet? Shared information? No again. It's shared passion. In other words, energy. Take a look at any group of people enjoying themselves together. When individual energies combine, they produce tribal, or community energy. Energy shared is energy grown – exponentially and more or less infinitely - to the power of n.
Why isn't this already working for brands?
Instead of taking that energy and supporting it, growing it and serving it, most marketing campaigns (on- or off-line) ignore, dilute, or at worst, try to divert or block that energy. They create entropy.
How to understand tribal meaning
First of all, look around at the tribal activity, the shared meaning that are all around you. Understand that this energy is a resource into which you can plug your brand, to light it up like a huge Xmas tree, to supercharge it in fact.
Recognise that, far from needing to be created, this energy is already there. And it's boundless. (And by the way, you do want it inside your tent, rather than outside …)
Think of enhancement, where before there was dilution. Think of less talking and more listening. Listening to passionate people connecting with each other, ramping up the energy all the time. Think of enabling this process rather than distracting from it. And think of, sometimes, adding value by just getting out of the bloody way.
eBay and Friends Reunited
Both of these poster girls for online success are businesses that have made a success of enabling, or facilitating communities, each of which were, prior to activation, very powerful latent communities that only needed the addition of infrastructure, communications and protocols to come to life and grow exponentially.
Another way of looking at it ... who has in fact grown eBay and FR? Is it Meg Whitman or the Pankhursts?
Not at all...it's the communities that they've enabled, and the connections, the shared meaning produced by those communities. These two visionary success stories have simply ridden the wave they spotted coming into shore, earlier and faster than the competition.
Isn't this just another form of sponsorship?
That's the one thing it isn't. Why? Meaning needs careful nurturing, otherwise it drains away, just like vitamin C. This is an active, non-interruptive nurturing role. Not a parasitic one.
Think beehive …
Think about this little metaphor for a while. When you've finished, you'll understand precisely how brands need to align with tribes.
Why do bees matter here?
1) Because we like honey, we don't know how to make it, and we can only get it from bees.
2) Because when bees get pissed off, they sting: this can also happen in bee teams, if you manage to piss off the whole hive.
3) Because we realise that bees can and do communicate very effectively among themselves, but we don't yet know how to join in.
How do we need to behave then?
4) To get honey, we can only broadly influence bee-haviour, mostly by enabling the beehive and doing it on the bees' own terms, using our very limited understanding of what makes bees happy.
5) Most important of all, when bees go about bee business, they carry bee-type messages to and from the hive ...
6) ... and this is the behaviour brands want to learn to influence, within and between tribes.