Marketing to digital tribes requires a different mindset and a more nuanced approach than the blunt instrument of segmenting customers by demographics, geography, and income levels.


Over the last decade, the social media landscape has changed in quiet but dramatic ways that many brands have not kept pace with. Consequently, their marketing is based on techniques that are a decade out of date.

Traditionally, brands have marketed themselves using demographic-based methods that target people in socioeconomic groupings and cluster them by age, gender, and economic status. This data is used to target and drive people back to the brand's website to build customer loyalty.

This demographic-based method will become increasingly unproductive for brands and businesses, given the changes that have occurred and the rise of digital tribes. Marketing to digital tribes requires a different mindset and a more nuanced approach than the blunt instrument of segmenting customers by demographics, geography, and income levels.

What is a digital tribe?

A digital tribe refers to a group of people who share a common interest and for whom that interest results in common behaviour and values. These shared characteristics go beyond demographics because they cross age, gender and income boundaries and are about people's choices and preferences.

An example of a digital tribe is the gamer's community. Traditionally, gamers were teenage males who played video games. However, this stereotype failed to consider the wide range of ages, genders and groups of people who desired to play online games. The gaming community is united by people's shared interests in gaming across the demographic spectrum. Game development companies recognised this shift in the gamer's tribe and capitalised on it, making 130 billion dollars in 2020.

What is driving the creation of digital tribes?

Two drivers for this growing trend of digital tribes are the human desire for connection and how Gen Zs understand themselves.

Desire for human connection

Social media, like most technology, is not neutral; it is how it is used that determines its positive or negative qualities. For some people, social media isolates them and can lead to increased anxiety and depression. However, for many people, social media provides an opportunity to connect with others across income brackets and geographical locations.

The ability to connect with other people around interests is helping drive the growth of digital tribalism.

Qualities of Gen Z

The other factor concerns how Gen Zs view themselves and their relationships.

A 2020 report from Vice Media Group on the relationship status of GenZs makes, among many points, the following two that relate to digital tribes and brands:

·       Relationships with others are built in multiple ways to enhance one’s life in different ways and

·       A deep connection is built with brands that reflect their values. However, Gen Zs are quite happy to buy other brands “on the side” depending on functional and time requirements.

In other words, how young people view themselves and their romantic relationships has a flow-through effect on their relationships with brands.

The traditional demographic approach brands use to get to know their customers, such as age, gender, and location, may have worked in the first decade of social media. However, it will not work in the second decade. Young people, and people in general, do not want to be defined by fixed characteristics such as their age or race but rather by their personality, values, and hobbies, i.e., their interests.

Young people are also more polyamorous. According to the report from Vice, 1 in 2 want to keep their options open even when in a committed relationship. This is reflected in the second point above, where loyalty to a brand does not mean exclusivity, for they will buy other brands on the side.

Hence, two of the main drivers for the growth of digital tribalism are:

1.     The desire for connection. This desire has always been present in people. However, the growth of social media and the impact of COVID means that connections can occur digitally more easily than previously.

2.     Connections occur in interest groups sparked by the desire to enhance life in different ways and have different experiences.

This growth in digital tribalism has ramifications for brands and businesses and emphasises the importance for brands to consider how they can market to tribes.

For many people, social media provides an opportunity to connect with others across income brackets and geographical locations.

Tribal Marketing

What are some things brands and businesses should consider when considering tribal marketing?

1. Understanding the tribes

Understanding a digital tribe is about knowing who knows who and what connects them. In other words, who is connected and what connects them? To understand this, brands and businesses need to:

       Interrogate their data to uncover and identify digital tribes and

       Fine-tune their social listening skills.

Data may show groups; however, it will not necessarily show what connects people in that group. To understand connections, brands and businesses must participate in the digital tribe and develop good listening skills.

One of the mistakes brands and businesses can easily fall into is trying to position themselves as a leader or an expert. This is a mistake when interacting with digital tribes.

In tribal marketing, people are accepted and integrated into an existing group of interested consumers or clients. Within digital tribes, the brand or business is not the expert; therefore, they must be humble enough to accept their assigned place.

As a participating member, it is essential to be open to relating and adding value by sharing tips and resources and valuing all tribe members, even if they are not within the brand demographics.

2.  The importance of collaboration

This point arises from the importance of sharing and adding value to the digital tribe. Tribal marketing leverages the strength and collective intelligence of the group. In other words, the brand or business collaborates with the tribe rather than taking the position of the expert.

An example of collaboration would be for a brand that produces healthy snacks to encourage other tribe members to share their recipes and brand recipes.

3.  Meeting members where they are

In traditional marketing, the aim is to drive the potential client back to the brand’s website. Tribal marketing is about meeting individuals where they are rather than trying to drive them back to websites.

Websites remain essential; however, as Instagram, TikTok, and other social media platforms add shopping facilities to their platforms, brands that insist on driving potential customers back to their websites will increasingly miss out on client engagement.

4.  Leveraging the long tail of content

The “long tail” concept in marketing and content strategy is powerful as it enables businesses and brands to tap into a vast array of niche opportunities that go beyond the most popular and competitive areas that are generally used.

There are several ways brands and businesses can do this. For example;

a.   Optimise for many keywords.

Instead of using SEO to focus solely on high-volume, competitive keywords, it is important to include less common keywords and long-tail phrases that can attract qualified leads who are looking for precise solutions or information.


b.   Creating a wide variety of content.

This is about thinking outside “the box” and diversifying the content your brand or business usually produces to cater to different interests and needs.


c.    Invest in link-building.

This is an extension of the collaboration mentioned above. Reach out to other content creators, collaborate, build partnerships, and provide opportunities for guest posts. These are all ways brands can leverage long-tail content.


d.   Maximise the website’s footprint.

As mentioned, the website is important. It is essential that visitors to the website discover related content without having to click through numerous pages. Relevant content should be no more than a maximum of three clicks.


The more accessible visitors find the relevant information, the more likely they will increase their time on the website. The longer a person spends on the website, the more likely the person will continue to engage with the brand or business.

Long tail strategy with tribal marketing is about both quantity and precision.


Digital tribes are a fascinating phenomenon that has emerged in the digital world and are changing the traditional way of demographic marketing.

Brands and businesses that rely on demographic marketing such as age, gender and location will ultimately find themselves at a disadvantage to brands and businesses that are using tribal marketing to understand:

a)   The different tribes that exist within their brand community and

b)   What are the shared beliefs and values that unite these communities?

The shift from demographic marketing to tribal marketing may be challenging. However, it is essential for several reasons.

Digital tribes

     are self-sustaining.

     can survive without strong incentivisation or leadership.

     are loyal and, in many cases, long-lasting.


For these reasons alone, brands and businesses need to change their marketing strategy to address the complexities of digital tribalism.