Modern Tribes: Why Demographics No Longer Define Us

Charlotte Evans

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Emily James

    Traditionally speaking, demographics lay the foundations for analysing samples of people. In essence, it sounds simple, but the complexity of this analysis across every market is a challenge insight professionals battle to navigate every day. I was reminded of this complex minefield during a recent trip to London where I passed, to name a few, self-professed foodies, vloggers, backpackers, and iPhone loyalists all expressing signals of their membership to cultural tribes. With this observation, it led me to think, is there any logical way of analysing groups of people in market research, other than demographically?

    I’m aware, as I’m sure you are too, of traditional demographics commonly used to form profiles of a sample: age, gender, occupation and marital status amongst the many. It’s true these, demographic dimensions, can be viewed as a useful variable for understanding generational divides and for characterising segments of a sample. However, in the modern era traditional demographics no longer define us as well as market research needs them to. Instead, due to an abundance of factors magnifying the presence of different consumer groups, traditional demographics lack more dimension than any dimension they do add to sample analysis.

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    Due to an abundance of factors magnifying the presence of different consumer groups, traditional demographics now lack the depth to add as much value to sample analysis in comparison to tribal segmentation.

    Since the publication of FlexMR’s research report on the connection between Tribes and Loyalty, I’ve been itching to explore this theme even more with you, so let’s propel ourselves into the adoption of an alternative dimension for sample analysis, modern consumer tribes.

    Modern Consumer Tribes

    Firstly, let’s begin by understanding a little more about modern tribes! – Modern tribes are essentially formed by groups of consumers who share a common interest/passion which induces a collective sense of belonging. I’m sure you can relate to this by thinking about your own tribal memberships; maybe you’re a marketer by day but gamer by night! While you consider all of your tribal memberships, start thinking, also, about the demographics of other members of your tribe – you might begin to notice the unique differences in members from the mix of ages, genders, nationalities, etc.

    To illustrate, ‘minimalists’ are one tribe whose members are individually linked to a mix of demographics, but nonetheless, each have a collective interest in living minimally; due predominantly to influences such as visual aesthetics and the likes of Marie Kondo. It’s these heterogeneous characteristics of modern tribes that have led traditional demographic stereotypes to become largely irrelevant, instead, as highlighted by David Allison, tribe members can all be viewed as the same age. From a researcher’s perspective, this means consumers no longer form their identity as much around their personal demographic data, but instead more through their tribal memberships. I know by now, the combination of modern tribes and unique demographic differences might make sample analysis seem like a daunting endeavour but, let’s delve a little further.

    The Growth in Modern Consumer Tribes

    Having become familiar with constructs of modern tribes, let’s start looking into some of the factors that have proliferated their presence. One element, which continues to grow the number of tribal memberships, is the consumers’ increased ability (and freedom) to self-express. It’s this self-expression that has allowed consumers to construct identities regardless of their personal demographics; essentially this means a 60-year-old consumer could share the same consumption/lifestyle interests as a 16-year-old. Recognising this, Netflix is just one of many brands that has led the way with the abandoning of demographics, mainly due to the view that they were an unreliable metric for determining their audience’s behaviour. As a result, Netflix have adopted to approach their audience analysis through the identification of around 1,300 different consumer tribes! By doing so, it has enabled Netflix to avoid analysing samples based on stereotypical behaviours of a consumer’s demographics and instead consider the behaviours of each unique tribe.

    As another contributor to the increase in consumer tribes, the omnipresence of technology has empowered consumers. Platforms such as Twitter, Pinterest and YouTube have facilitated the sharing of content which has enabled tribal memberships to be expressed. ‘Foodies’ are just one tribe which have conquered platforms such as Instagram; achieved through the sharing of aesthetic photos of food, made discoverable through the use of hashtags such as #InstaFood and #Foodie. With 1 billion monthly active users on Instagram, it’s no surprise, other tribal members have helped sustain the tribe’s growth through likes, comments and follows. With all of these interactions, content creators are encouraged to continue advocating their tribal membership and therefore, a constant stream of visual content is readily available. As a highly inclusive and collective tribe which has a low cost involvement, ‘Foodies’ can be viewed as a very heterogeneous tribe!

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    Consumer affiliation with a modern Tribe is not defined by traditional demographics, and thus provides a sample based on tribal behaviours with an informed contextual background for tailored insights.

    It’s also worth pointing out that an influx of extremely diverse consumer tribes has occurred due to the internationalisation of consumer goods, entertainment and cultural trends. To elaborate, consumer tribes that might have traditionally been viewed as culturally specific have emerged in unsuspecting markets. This can be recognised from tribes that have dispersed from Asian to Western markets and vice versa. As a prime example, the Korean Wave, known as the spread of Korean pop music and drama TV from Korea to other countries, has globalised the formation of Hallyu tribes. As the Korean Wave has reached Western markets such as England, Germany and France, it continues to attract extremely diverse and global tribe members. This observation, further demonstrates how a consumer’s affiliation to a tribe isn’t defined by their nationality/cultural origins.

    Concluding Thoughts

    While that brings our whistle stop tour of modern consumer tribes to an end, your potential to provide strategic insight continues! I’m sure at this point demographic-loyalists will be keen to argue the relevancy of demographics in research - and I agree demographics still contribute towards the foundations of sample analysis, I’m certainly not encouraging you to fully abandon this dimension. However, with a magnified understanding of how self-expression, technology and internationalisation have driven the formation of consumer tribes, insight professionals can continue to accelerate their strategic sample analysis.

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