Demographics are dead: How to target marketing tribes

Every good marketer understands the importance of their audience and knows that there’s no point in promoting generic content aimed at their whole customer base.

A much better strategy is to specifically target particular subgroups — a process known as demographic segmentation, which divides the market into categories like age, gender, race, income, education and more. These demographics can then be segmented further into multiple markets.

Demographics are incredibly useful for making marketing easier to organise, and helping to obtain, measure and analyse data when customers are divided this way. However, one major problem with this approach is that it often leads to stereotyping and does not take into account attitudes, mindsets and behaviour, which risks alienating potential customers who don’t match the demographic moulds created by brands and missing the aspects which drive buying behaviour.

To make your marketing strategy far more targeted and effective, it’s time to stop relying on demographics, and start embracing tribes — a shift which can be hugely beneficial for your business prospects and can easily inform your campaigns going forward.

What are marketing tribes?

Instead of identifying customers using traditional groupings like age, gender and ethnicity, marketing tribes are instead banded together by mindsets and behaviours. This could apply to demographics who share the same interests, hobbies, goals, occupations, philosophies or politics. Members of these tribes are also likely to know each other, either digitally or in real life, which means connecting with one person could have a domino effect and be very valuable in boosting your brand’s visibility.

What are the benefits of targeting tribes?

Targeting tribes instead of segmented demographics could let you market your brand to a more diverse and relevant audience, and better focus your content to increase overall engagement. For example, Forbes writer Nikki Baird points out that, although video games were predominantly associated with teenage boys in the 1980s, that original market has now “aged into middle-aged gamers”. Girls are also now far more likely to be interested in the industry. Therefore, if gaming brands continue to treat teenage boys as their primary target, they “may be unwittingly locking themselves out of a much larger market”.

Similarly, tribes are the reason Dove’s iconic Campaign for Real Beauty initiative became such an influential marketing campaign, highlighting how photo editing software and society’s view of “the ideal” distorted the very concept of beauty. Dove was able to widen their target audience to include all women from different backgrounds, ages and body shape by honing in on the societal and psychological commonality that many women are unhappy with their looks due to an image of beauty frequently seen in magazines and advertisements. While the beauty brand kept their audience broad by targeting women, they were able to make their marketing efforts more inclusive by promoting ‘real women’ and creating a tribe who backed and agreed with the concept. Dove invited ordinary women to share their physical insecurities on camera so that viewers would be able to identify with fellow customers and the brand itself. Without targeting consumers who shared this particular mindset, Dove would have never cemented its position as a champion of body positivity, and the diversification of beauty standards.

How can you target tribes through your marketing?

1. Find your tribes

Research needs to be undertaken to find out who your brand’s tribes are, what they’re interested in, and where they operate online. This can be conducted by analysing customer data on Google Analytics, disseminating brand surveys, reading customer reviews and paying attention to relevant communities on social media.

Once you’ve identified your tribes, it’s time to connect with them. For instance, make-up mogul Emily Weiss created the Glossier tribe by using a blog to bring together a community of beauty lovers who appreciated her skincare first, make-up second ethos. By identifying her audience, appealing to their passion, and posting valuable content on a platform that would reach and appeal to her target users, “she was able to position her brand as the leader of various tribes”.

2. Flaunt your values

Almost two-thirds of consumers want to buy from brands sharing their values and beliefs. And when it comes to finding consumers with the same mindset as you, it’s especially important to be clear about what you stand for.

This can be a daunting notion, as you may fear alienating customers with different views. However, statistics have shown that the benefits tend to outweigh the risks. A survey by Sprout Social revealed that 28% of consumers will publicly praise a company that responds to social issues, compared to just 20% who will criticize a brand for not feeling the same. Furthermore, the three most common emotional reactions to brands expressing an opinion were intrigued, impressed and engaged.

However, it’s important to be honest about your brand values, and avoid simply presenting what you think tribes want to hear. In fact, respondents claim you are most credible if you engage with issues which directly impact your customers, employees or business operations.

3. Create crossover content

No matter what industry you work in, you can always target tribes which you might not expect your brand to resonate with. Writer Lyndon Antcliff has suggested segmenting members of a tribe even further and took MAMIL (middle-aged men in lycra) group as an example. This sub-tribe is united by expensive bikes, an interest in health and, of course, lycra. Antcliff noticed that members could be interested in everything from fitness clothing and cycling holidays, to cycle, life and travel insurance, concluding that “Each tribe has a potential to overlap with the subject you are working on.” Adopting this approach can broaden your outlook, and show you that far more tribes may be interested in your services than you first thought.