Understanding modern tribes makes ideas travel far and wide

Mindsets and attitude are more useful targets than a mere demographic - and data goes a long, long way.

If you were to thumb through the well-worn pages of my passport, you would quickly sense that I’m no stranger to the travelling life: Amsterdam is my fifth international posting in ten years. During this time, I have worked with many global clients at agencies both big and small and, along the way, have witnessed a unique creative nuance that is particular to each city.

Here in Amsterdam, it is no secret that we are an open-minded international community driven by the challenge of finding new ways to build brand relevance in this multimedia world, delivering engaging experiences and new ways to tell our clients’ stories. And our multi-lens world view and way of life make us better-placed than ever to build meaningful connections for brands.

No doubt since the dawn of international advertising, brands have used what we now coin as "universal truths" to create ideas that would cross borders. And working against broad segments has always been a way to reduce cultural differences to common denominators and create efficient communications you can run everywhere. 

We know that business travellers are short of time, the wealthy like status symbols and teenagers are rebelling on the inside even if they aren’t on the outside. However, the trouble with lowest-common-denominator insights is they can be undifferentiating for brands and uninspiring to creatives, leading to ho-hum work.

Traditionally, differentiation lay in qualitative research on an imperial scale across the globe, but not all clients can afford that.

The world may have changed, but some simple truths remain: relevant ideas have more impact.
Consumers have no tolerance for poor ideas and can vote with a click – in seconds deciding whether to leave your site, click through your ad or share a post. They are intuitive and confident, following the threads of ideas that resonate, wandering around online – from a coffee shop on one side of the world and into a community on the other side.

For a marketer, it can feel like an impossible task – trying to catch small fish in a fast-moving stream. But the exciting thing is that we can identify tribes and know them quicker – and better – than ever before. And, in knowing them, we can create ideas they will share with each other – and use them to expand the tribe.

The simple human truth is that people will share only the things they like. Often it’s to ridicule, or is something just plain daft (Gangnam Style). 

For most brands, the answer isn’t to play in silly spaces – though fortune can favour the brave (see Mercedes-Benz’s funky chickens) – but to be more open-minded about the multiple tribes that operate within their overall target audience.

In our work for Emirates, our target is a mindset and an attitude, not a demographic. "Globalistas" are people inspired to travel; who define the richness of their lives in the experiences of the world that they collect. In reality, this can be anything from a backpacker to an entrepreneur to a 90-year-old who has sold his belongings and is travelling first class until the end of his days.

At a higher level, we can target the tribe around their beliefs and inspire them. Then, at a more detailed level, we can identify the strata in the tribe that has a common passion.

All tribes have levels: leaders, followers, active and passive members.  Individuals can be members of multiple tribes and shift from tribe to tribe.  Getting to a tribal granularity is often a challenge for brands used to a top-down approach and without a tradition of consumer "data-up" analysis.

Today, many of the conversations we have with clients and prospects focus on how we can help them shift the supertanker into a new way of marketing that defines, seeks out, talks to and engages tribes. Of course, for direct marketers, none of this is new; defining segments, identifying the best customers and finding more look-a-likes has been a holy grail for many years.

‘The world may have changed, but some simple truths remain’

The wonders of modern technology mean that the cycle of creating relevant, segmented communications, sending them out, waiting for results, doing analysis and then revising them can all happen in seconds.

With a global client, multiply that cycle by millions of consumers in multiple languages and you have enough bits of data to sink a fleet of supertankers.

The geographical location of you, or your client, does not alter the level of thinking you need to do, the bravery it takes or the long-term commitment needed to bring about change. And with the scale of transformation overwhelming, it is important to stay calm, be organised and let innovation bubble up.

Which circumnavigates me back to the benefits of working from Amsterdam. Keeping calm is nothing to do with the soporific influence of the coffee shops. Hundreds of years holding back the sea means the Dutch are fiendish engineers; masters at rolling up their sleeves and tackling problems.

There is also a long tradition of a small nation (and tiny city – the whole of Amsterdam’s population could fit into Lower Manhattan) punching above its weight. Nothing much fazes the Amsterdam crowd.  From our fifth-floor offices, you can see supertankers glide through the landscape of rooftops as they come into port, and no-one bats an eyelid.

In the same way, a large global client can glide into town, be inspired and challenged, and leave laden both with ideas and solutions.

The Dutch are happy to trade goods – and good ideas. And they have a legacy tech industry resulting in a bevy of talented technologists and developers. The city’s liberalism also means it is a magnet for open-minded and creative people prepared to embrace all kinds of ideas from everywhere.

All this makes it a great place for ideas that turn global tribes into happy campers.


Jon Haywood is the head of strategy at Nomads Amsterdam


See more of Adland in Amsterdam 2013

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