For a number of years, the economy and consumer tastes have become tribal, meaning that people are banding together, basing purchases and decisions on the preferences of their social peers. In his book Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us, Seth Godin outlines why tribal marketing is so effective today. He contends that the most valuable asset of a company is its ability to reach and connect with customers on a tribal basis. In other words, not just as another branded product or service but as a member of a customer’s inner circle.
In terms of marketing, where everything comes with a spin, the use of an emotionally charged term such as “tribe” is a great way to get our attention; a cool way to wrap up the tried-and-true in a new package. Because really, it’s saying what we already know to be true about marketing–that it’s most successful when it’s word of mouth, and the closer to home the better.
But go a step further and apply the tribal concept to event production—a profession that routinely asks two (or more) established tribes to come together and form a third– and you get an entirely different spin on the concept of connecting. Not only do these groups need to connect super fast, they also need to quickly determine experience levels and work ethics and apply some order to their respective roles on the project.
From what I’ve seen, this all seems to work itself out easily. The biggest hurdle is communication–finding the common language of events. I saw this in action during a site inspection for the Spotlight Awards. In a meeting between myself, lighting designer Ray Thompson of Images by Lighting, and Beth Stephenson, senior account manager at Extraordinary Events and our executive producer for this event, Ray and the techs kept going around in circles, searching for the right words to use to describe certain things. As Beth observed, “They are saying the same things but using different words.” Eventually the right words were found, but not without a lot of back-and-forth on both sides.
Certainly tech and lighting might have more slang phrases than most factions of the industry, but the moment did make it clear–communication is never easy even when you speak the same language. As George Bernard Shaw (or Churchill … it’s not certain who) said of America and Britain, we are two nations divided by a common language.
Just acknowledging our differences, knowing that we are more similar than not, goes a long way in forming new tribes. Happily, a common goal makes it work more often than not and when it does, it’s magic. The time spent together with a new tribe can’t be replaced, or even easily shared with members of other tribes (specifically family and friends). It’s what makes soldiers become bands of brothers, and groups such as film crews and triage doctors bond in a way that can’t be duplicated.
Perhaps the real intoxication with being part of a tribe is how challenging they are to form. By its definition, a tribe is a group that falls somewhere between a “band” and a “state.” In this messy limbo we find common ground, a sense of belonging, and I think, a sense of accomplishment for overcoming differences and making it work. And the satisfaction that comes with belonging. As the journalist and writer Jane Howard said, “Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family: Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.”
Liese Gardner is editorial director of Event Solutions magazine and an industry consultant.
She also writes the blog, Fuel: Passions That Drive Us.