Ubiquity Lab

Audience tribes make you money – not personas or marketing demographics

Search and social media are tremendous data sources to build tribes. Learn how to make your marketing more effective by understanding discrete tribe pain points.

It staggers me that brands still try to target people based on marketing tactics targeting personas and demographics; rather than building audience tribes and engaging them based on their interests, wants and needs.


Unless you’re Brad Pitt, it’s unlikely you’re going to meet the partner of your dreams by only talking to them about your household income, the trendy house in a particular postcode you live in, and your demanding social schedule.


Now I’m no matchmaker, but I’m pretty sure that approach equals an instant strikeout.


Instead, you’re more likely to build a connection by focusing on the person you’ve just met, and asking questions about who they are and what drives them.


And when you find out that you’re both into online gaming, cat videos, weekend getaways or hiking with friends, you can make an informed decision about whether your shared interests may be a good match.


Understanding your audience’s psychographics should be even more pronounced for marketers.

When you understand what truly motivates customers, you’re able to cultivate a community of like-minded people. A ‘tribe’ if you will. And you can nurture this tribe and turn them into fierce brand advocates, which you can ultimately monetise.

What are marketing personas?

User personas have been around since 1983 at least. From all reports, they were pioneered within the software development space.


In essence, they’re a combination of lifestyle attributes, demographics and attitudes to create fictional characters for marketing segmentation and ad targeting.


More and more Australian brands are betting a bigger piece of their marketing budget on personas nowadays. But a bet is all it is, because personas only scratch the surface of understanding what motivates your audience.

Should I bother with marketing demographics?

In short, if you’re using them as a standalone, no.


Demographics are useful to help direct a media buy. However, they don’t help you engage with or understand your customer.


And that begs the question why are you investing paid media to a customer you don’t understand. The days of spay and prey are long gone!

The common marketing traps with personas and demographics

A sophisticated target market strategy with proper audience segmentation gives you enough information and insight into your customer’s mind, and it should be underpinned by a mix of first, second and third-party data. The more sources to understand your customer, the better.


How do you create a persona? Most brands default to Roy Morgan Helix Personas or are built based on demographic details.

While this approach is a solid first step, you need to build it out further to capture enough insight into what makes your customer tick.


Once you know that, you are ready to engage with them at a deeper level.

Personas are restrictive at best, short-sighted at worst

While it’s easy to put people in a box, bucketing them believing they will stay within that segment throughout the customer lifecycle is a mistake.


People’s circumstances and needs shift frequently, and too often the personas you’ve created limit you from retaining customers whose situation changes.

Why should you invest in audience tribes?

Seth Godin is the champion of customer-led marketing, and one of the sharpest thinkers of our time.


He’s forgotten more than most of us know about marketing, and his view on tribes is equally salient.


“A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea. For millions of years, human beings have been part of one tribe or another. A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate,” Godin said.


I love his thinking. But with all due respect to Seth, I would extrapolate it out slightly.

Precision is your best friend when it comes to eliciting insight.

I believe that in addition to shared interests, you need to truly diagnose and understand your target market and their intent, passions, pain points and needs. Only then can you know the full spectrum of the consumer mindset, then work to align this with your strategy. 

One of the better examples of how to execute a tribe-based approach is the Nike+ community. They have built a massive army of users, as well as both social and physical advocates and influencers.


And their community drives salience, loyalty, acquisition and retention.

Diagnose business outcome before building audience tribes

Too often, I see organisations focus on tactics upfront.


This is categorically the wrong approach – you must be clear on the commercial and customer outcomes you’re driving before considering how to execute.


I’m biased – because we developed it – but I genuinely believe the best methodology to achieve marketing success is diagnosing your organisation’s ‘three Cs’: commercials, customers and competitors. A summarised version of this approach is:

Use data to determine your target market strategy

Now that we know what we’re doing, why, and who will deliver it, it’s time to start building out your future tribes.

Search and social media are tremendous data sources to build tribes. Overlay this with your first-party data, and you have an unadulterated view of customer intent.

Search is my personal favourite as it is data-driven truth serum – a look into what consumers want at any given time.


You should define each keyword into category clusters that allow you to pinpoint your marketing bullseye: a tribe of like-minded people, not a persona.


Social enables you to understand what it takes to be a tribe leader within an interest.


For example, an Instagram influencer or celebrity within the beauty and cosmetics space has built up a tribe of 4 million people based on the hashtag #ethicalbeauty – which has 1 million posts.

Monetising your tribe

One of my favourite examples of the power of strategically driven tribes comes from a health brand we work with.


Like many organisations, they were grappling with how to increase online product sales. However, their marketing was too general, meaning it didn’t resonate, and their sales weren’t delivering at the level they were after.

To overcome this, we helped them identify what the needs of different tribes were, enabling them to make their marketing message more pointed to discrete tribe(s) pain points. 

Next, the insight was used to develop a suite of content and updates to both their online advertising and content assets, to better engage with the target audience.

Collectively, this delivered a 580% increase in transactions and a revenue increase of 499%. Why was it so successful? Because they followed a data-led methodology that enabled them to truly understand their customers.

The other important point to note around tribes is that this approach works equally well across both B2B and B2C.


So, don’t worry about creating personas based on marketing demographics – don’t rest on your marketing laurels. Instead, become relentlessly focused on, and relevant to, your tribes and connect with them through a nuanced and data-driven approach.


That way, you’ll be able to exceed their expectations and positively impact your bottom line.

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