Seth Godin and a bunch of others have produced a free book of questions and answers all about "Tribes" and based on his latest book:, called Tribes.
While I really like the thought that we all belong to a tribe led by a leader of some sort I really think that we’re in danger of over complicating life.
If you look at the compact Oxford English dictionary definition of "tribe" you get the following:
noun 1 a social division in a traditional society consisting of linked families or communities with a common culture and dialect. 2 derogatory a distinctive close-knit social or political group. 3 (tribes) informal large numbers of people. 4 (in ancient Rome) each of several (originally three) political divisions. 5 Biology a taxonomic category that ranks above genus and below family or subfamily.
The common theme for tribes appears to be that they’re closely linked by common bonds, either social, political or biological.
The problem with using the tribes to express a market segment or niche is that it’s quite possible to be part of a market segment without close bonds to anyone else in that niche.
In addition, when you belong to a tribe you are fiercely loyal to that tribe. You wouldn’t belong to any other tribe. And yet people swap between market segments, or tribes, as they mature or have different experiences. Maybe the company that had their loyalty goes bust or commits a major marketing mistake.
The danger of thinking in a tribal analogy is that you are assuming a tribes complete unswerving loyalty to its leader, aka company. You’re also assuming the tribe is made up of people with similar attitudes and culture.
Both those assumptions would be wrong. American students have a different culture to British students who have a different culture to Australian students who have a different one to Japanese students who are in turn different to Indian students or French students.
So whilst I liked the tribes analogy I do think if it’s carried too far companies may become complacent and rely on their "tribe" to buy whatever they produce regardless of quality or fitness for purpose.