Swedish Startup Space

Tribal Marketing for Startups

Written by on July 5, 2013

In an earlier post we explored how startups and tribes share a lot in common. We are now going to explore the basics of tribal marketing, but let’s first revisit the concept of tribes. In ages past we belonged to one tribe, were loyal to one chieftain, defended one domain and were bound by blood. We now witness a new form of tribalism where we belong to many tribes that are not restricted to one physical domain and chieftain. Rather than being related by blood, we now connect with our tribes through shared passions and emotions.


Studies show that our tribal identities are more important to us that our age, sex, nationality and social class. Yet many companies insist on defining their customers as masses sharing these common characteristics. Defining audiences as tribes makes much more sense, because they are a better representation of our social networks.

Contrary to common belief tribal marketing is less about leading tribes,than partnering with them. Startups are in a better place, than traditional organizations, because they can be more authentic, personal and carry less baggage. You can use the logics of tribal marketing to build your own tribe, but it’s often more effective to support existing ones. The remainder of this post will focus on the latter.


A cornerstone of tribal marketing is the realization that people value products and brands for their abilities to link them to others. Tribal marketing is about helping people establish and reinforce that link. The power of your brand to accomplish this is defined as it’s linking value (or social value).

While the bulk of marketing focus on building company<->customer relationships, tribal marketing accomplishes this indirectly by supporting customer<->customer relations. Tribal marketing is customer-centric and more about sharing, partnering, and enabling than exploiting and extracting.


myoTribes are everywhere, like birds, but it can take some practice to spot them and tell them apart. As a startup you are looking for tribes that value your product. The obvious value is practical, but it can also be symbolic.

You have to spot the potential for your brand to become a symbol for a tribe, and what they value. When people use your product, or share stories about it, they are using your brand as a bridge to connect with others. This is the linking value we talked about.

Drinking a Red Bull can quench your thirst and re-affirm your connection with your snowboard tribe. Using your MYO can help you control your digital apparatus and connect with your sic-fi tribe. Using Hippflow can help you connect with investors and connect you with your startup tribe. It can both be about utility and expressing yourself and feeling connected to others.

When people use your product what tribe(s) does that connect them to?


tribal-mapOnce you have narrowed your list of potential tribes it’s important to understand the tribal identity and code. You should near tribes with the same curiosity that you have one you visit foreign countries and cultures. Each tribe has their own language, leaders, spaces, artifacts, experiences and stories.

Learning about tribal culture will help you connect with tribes as a member, rather than a salesman. You want to be as a relevant and native as possible for your tribal activities to be effective.


Tribal marketing is less about extracting and exploiting, than it is exchanging and sharing. As a startup you want to partner with tribes to share their values, beliefs and experiences. You can collaborate with tribal leaders to evaluate your product, invite them as speakers to your events or welcome them as guest bloggers.

Think about what you have to offer tribes, but do not lump them all together. The power of tribal marketing is to be as relevant as possible, by sharing and developing their tribal culture. For example you may want to have different landing pages for different tribes.

Good luck with your tribaling efforts! The new world of tribalism awaits you.

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