searching for a different tribe

“The fact is, we need divisions as much as we need ways to transcend them.” —Marty Neumeier

The recent recession has only led credence to the idea that we now live in a global economy. A few dominoes topple over in America’s economy, and the chain reaction is felt around the world. But does a global economy also mean that we live in a global village?

Not if “global village” means we are headed to a society with no economic, cultural or national barriers, branding author Marty Neumeier argues. According to him, as soon as globalism removes barriers, people will erect new ones. They need a sense of belonging he says, and he calls the barriers they build “tribes.”

Internet search engines are, of course, a big business. Google has done so well at this business, that in 2006 its brand name was added to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary as a verb. Even so, Microsoft has seen enough potential that it will soon launch its re-branded search service as “Bing.”

The lessons that Microsoft needs to apply to be successful are the same for any company. People align themselves with tribes because they are familiar, and they feel like they belong. Simply trying to “out-Google” Google will not work.

For instance, Ad Age recently reported that Google had conducted internal tests where it branded other Internet search results with their logo and layout. They found that users preferred results with the Google branding, even if the results were not Google’s.

What is the lesson here? The key is to differentiate. It is important to have a good product, or in our example, search engines. But it’s also much more than that. The reason people unite with the Nike, Apple, and Harley Davidson tribes is because they are different. What if these tribes used their branding on someone else’s product? Would it produce similar results to Google?

Without an obvious means to identify, we would say yes. It’s likely because, similar to Google, these brands have personalities, and joining their tribes is more than just buying their products or services. It also speaks to who a person is and what they value.