Posted by Kate Phizackerley on 01:31

10 years ago I said the skill people needed when entering the business market was design ability. The new PC publishing packages had placed content publication into the hands of all but most lacked the design skills to differentiate their message.

That remains the case. Those instinctively capable of putting together the best visual presentation or advert are natural winners. It's something seen every week on TV's Apprentice.

I was wrong in part, however. Since few people possess great design skills, incumbents protected themselves by making design a specialist, backroom activity. In that way assistance could be hired but bounds set so those assistants couldn't out-compete existing leaders. The change I predicted will happen and is continuing to happen, but more slowly As the next generation takes over, I believe that those with superior design and presentation skills will have a material advantage.

Since the 50's the marketing psychologists have dominated. It perhaps reached it's zenith in the 90's in a world of spin, house-staging by realtors, and supermarkets using the choice of background music and even olfactory clues to influence buying behaviour.

I see a new skill set coming to the fore and supplanting marketing psychology. It's the skill right now I'd recommend to those entering business in the way I recommended design skills a decade ago. What is that skill? Anthropology.

There's been talk of tribes, or more properly neo-tribes, within marketing for a couple of years now It was popularised by Seth Godin but the ideas had been circulating well before Seth's book, Tribes. I've instinctively been using those skills. My News from the Valley of the Kings blog has encouraged reader contributions and comment and, rather than merely being a single voice (mine), has taken on some attributes of a neo-tribe. A friend and I are intending to take the concept further and build a whole online magazine supported by a tribe.  (See  It seems totally natural. As editors we'll set some boundaries (essentially defining quality threshold s) to maintain community cohesion and enrol volunteer support. Within that platform it'll evolve flexibly around the dynamics of the tribe.

In a business sense, flexible evolution of products, brands and projects is the stuff of nightmares in cultures where the emphasis has been on control. Allowing the customer base to participate in, and even direct, the evolution of commercial offerings is challenging. It appears to be unwanted, and hard to control, democratisation.

In a commercial setting it cannot be, of course. That evolution must be shaped. Understanding and controlling, or at least influencing, the evolution requires the application of anthropological principles and theories, what I would dub neo-anthropology.

There is more, of course. Right now the hot new thinking is about creating and unleashing the power of tribes. But what happens once your competitors have built tribes? How should your tribe compete with them?

America will be seeing such a battle on TV in the next year when Simon Cowell brings X Factor to American screens to compete against the incumbent American Idol. I predict the winner is clear. Reality TV competitions succeed by fostering viewer engagement in a tribal effect. Simply put, X Factor deepens that level of engagement. In the UK, X Factor has become that must-know show for social engagement. While screened, a very common opening social gambit when networking were questions like, "Do you hate Jedward?" (Jedward referred to twins taking part in the 2009 season.)

More controversially, is it possible to subvert your competitors' tribes? Suppose a radio station has built itself around a tribal following - as many radio stations have. The tribe may have an expected style of both music and commentary. In traditional marketing, a competing radio station would attempt to offer something alternative. But what if a competitor's tribe could be manipulated, maybe to change the socio-economic background of the tribe to emphasise a less affluent membership? For instance could the base be manipulated towards school students and away from young wage earners?

I believe unleashing and manipulating the power of tribes will be the differentiator in marketing over the next couple of decades.


Lord Andrew of Goulding said...

While all logic says you're correct,I'd have to disagree. Your prediction is based upon a linear perception whereas Human Culture is always mapped as a curve.

Do you remember in the late 1980s, when Japan was expected to be the #1 power globally?

It didn't happen!

Nor will China rise to the heights its expected to - it will be hampered by the 1-child policy and an Aging population,inherent Racism,the destruction of Confucianism as a result of a rapidly changing Chinese world, the secession of Shanghai, Obesity & the killer combo of nicotine & Obesity etc.

Simply put,the X Factor will go out of fashion. Pundits are already saying that Britain's NOT Got Talent and I believe that the "talent" Reality TV genre will certainly wither and probably die.
Here's hoping.


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