Seth Godin’s Tribes, Who’s Leading Your Tribe (Industry)?

Posted on February 25, 2010


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I know, I am little late on this one but just became a member of Seth Godin’s Tribe, literally.

With that said: the book is a bit thin on substance and lofty in idea – which I don’t mind. It took me less than 45 minutes to read and is not as sophisticated as I had hoped. Ironically, it stirs thought without ‘leading’ readers to a soap box-like platform and for that I give the quick-read 4-stars.

Godin uses quick examples to discuss marketing and industry in an internet-driven society. He claims the most substantive change will come from tribes; a group of people connected to a leader and an idea. He touches on industry adjustments, triumphs and failure to lead, event and evolve. Through internet’s global reach and social connectivity, ordinary individuals can influence large communities and emerge a leader. However, anyone and everyone won’t become a leader; most are kept from realizing their potential by fear of criticism and frankly, fear of being fired. This especially rings true in corporations. Although, I found few critics of the book, some argue that in a weaken economy, Godin’s ideas could be a formula for firing, consequently proving his point. Godin’s Tribes drives home one fundamental principle, that change isn’t made by asking permission, change is made by asking forgiveness, later. Should be handled with care, many companies are not supportive of true risk – reward initiatives.

With that said: calling all visionaries, industry strategist, marketing trailblazers and even the charismatic, idea-maker from the cube next door. See, traditionally marketers led business strategy but lately many lack vision. Many marketer’s are still categorizing consumers into tidy boxes like “general market” – based on stereotypes and surface demographics. This is dusty brand management marketing. Godin argues that mass marketing is dead and any person can significantly move a crowd, share ideas and influence behaviors. It takes c-level support to run inventive risk.

In some instances, the lack of change will not only impact big business but devastate entire industries. Godin references the record industry; they hurried along, day-to-day, business as usual with a few minor adjustments. A decade flew by, the music industry held tight their last big idea – music videos. And then one night, while all the execs lay sleep in Manhattan, Steve Job rallied the tribesman and armed them with Ipods. The rest is recent history. Well, Seth didn’t quite put it that way…but you get the picture.

With that example, I was forced to reflect on my professional experience in branded entertainment. My primary focus has been radio. Now, I wouldn’t refer to my role as a tribe leader (by any stretch of the imagination) but I love the challenge of identifying a trend, collaborating with development and delivering “new” on a calculated-risk platter. Exciting! Still far from tribe-leadership. More often than not, those characteristics allowed me to carve out a successful niche. So, I love change and innovation, that’s where the passion dwells – regardless of industry.

People are attracted to change and seek tribe-leadership from those who promote new beginnings, ask President Barack Obama. However, some industries fight change to death; usually due to lack of vision and tribe leadership.

The Record and Radio industry rely on each other’s success. Radio is scrambling to compete with new media, instead of invent. Invention is much harder than competition and far more rewarding. It requires mammoth change to industry-mindset, management, even ownership and sometimes existence. From my own experience, I’ve seen a nation of radio stations attempt to fill their internet slice with poorly branded websites, wonder widgets, lack-luster content and plain-old streaming. All completely void of any inventive thought. I have seen a few examples of clever contesting, clever not inventive.

disclaimer one: Because of my closeness to the industry i feel the need to say, no single radio owner/operator, regardless of size, deserves the weight of an entire industry’s flub. Let’s face it, most industry’s are not making the cut. No tribe leader. WHO IS LEADING THE TRIBE?

Meanwhile, corporate radio has switched from community-driven focus to corporate programmed templates, where city-to-city there are no defined tribe characteristics. Each city holds the same formatted stations, same songs, and same identity. No tribe distinctions and no tribe membership or loyalty. The programming strategy is strictly limited to targeting simple demographics (age, race and income). Radio’s defining characteristic and touted capability is its “community connection”, it would be hard to find someone to disagree, that radio spent the last decade de-connecting from its following (community connections). This is not news. Many choose to sheepwalk through their remaining years in radio. Those inventive, will simply find another space to tribe.

Disclaimer two: Syndication, in concept is NOT a diluting factor or the cause. Many of those syndicated show hold a significant place in radio as community connectors. Nor do I believe simple programming fixes can evolve the industry. Radio has to change the way we do business and invest in creative minds, allow risks and promote inventive-thinking.

Community can be local or global, shared ideas, beliefs and experiences etc… Radio the self-proclaimed champion of community has lost its tribe. The definition of community evolved, radio didn’t and lost connectivity. In that space, an opportunity arose, web 2.0 tribe.

Unfortunately, radio like its record industry sister is crumbling. Right now the lack of tribe leadership has forced the industry, to only focus on the next ‘spot and dot’ media buy. In attempt, to keep lights on – bankruptcy at bay, imagination and risk sink to the bottom of priorities.

In the words of Seth Godin, Who’s leading your tribe?

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