Small Is the New Big: Define Your Tribe

Being the biggest on the block is no longer an automatic win. Think craft beer, small-budget documentaries and Zara – the independent-minded fashion boutique so popular that its owner had a brief moment recently in which he was wealthier than Bill Gates. How is this happening? Small is the new big. In just a few weeks, shoppers will come together for Small Business Saturday – an event created by American Express to promote small businesses during the first weekend of the holiday shopping season. What began as a bit of a lark inspired 88 million shoppers to spend $14.3 billion in their local communities last year. And the individualism isn’t limited to a single day: Independent labels, artisanal goods, cause-driven businesses – these are all having a moment as consumers look to connect around products, services and values they share. This is a potential win for any organization that doesn’t represent big business, but success depends on finding the connecting points that create affiliation. How do you accomplish this? It’s not a small question. In an earlier THINK exercise, we suggested ways to identify your target personas – people who might be ideal members of your credit union. If you were successful in pinpointing people who might like to belong to your credit union, the next step is figuring out how to bring those people together as a collective whole. By definition, there’s no one size fits all answer. But consider these tips when you brainstorm: Be action-driven. FutureCast’s Jeff Fromm, author of Marketing to Millennials, notes that younger consumers value products, services and businesses that offer emotional, functional and participative benefits. That is to say, your member tribe wants the opportunity to do something – better themselves, master their money, promote community values. Rally around a cause. In his famous 2009 TED Talk “The Tribes We Lead,” marketing guru Seth Godin suggests asking three questions when defining your tribe:
  1. Who exactly are you upsetting? Because if you’re not upsetting anyone, you’re not changing the status quo.
  2. Who are you connecting? For a lot of people, that’s what they’re in it for: the connections that are being made.
  3. Who are you leading? Because focusing on that part of it – not the mechanics of what you’re building, but the who and the leading part – is where change comes.
Find your narrative. Marketing isn’t becoming more cohesive. With the advent of digital communication and analytics, it’s becoming more fragmented. Bring your message together with powerful narrative. What unites your members? If the answer no longer lies in a single employer or field of work, consider creating a unique through line. Instead of finding the message that sells your whole organization, find an individual cause, interest, experience or message that members can rally behind. “Defeat Student Debt” may be more inspiring than “Lower Your Interest Rate.” Creating affiliation among members is not a new tactic for credit unions. For many, this is the reason they exist in the first place. But finding the new connection points for a new era is a whole new challenge – and the secret to unlocking the power behind individual/collective cachet.