Tribal Analytics

More than ever, marketers need to understand consumers. They are as demanding as a paying audience—and we need to show them what they want, not what we want them to see.

A growing body of research confirms what most of us know instinctively. Loneliness is bad for you—so bad, in fact, that it raises your risk of death. Humans are social creatures, and like water droplets, we coalesce into groups united by place or beliefs, by language or custom, and sometimes by hatred. We call our groups tribes, nations, religions, or people, and until just a few years ago, geography determined social destiny.

Then along came social media and geography disappeared. We are starting to understand the changes brought by the digital revolution, but social media isn’t nearly done remaking our society. We are in the midst of a great reorganization in which, for the first time in human history, we can choose our tribe. We don’t have to be limited by geography or demographic similarities in forming our network of compatriots. Instead, we seek out a complex web of competing values, multi-dimensional interests, common needs to survive, and similar personalities. These are our new tribes.

Market and opinion researchers have been engaged in probing and segmenting humans into groups for decades. Traditional segmentation studies group people according to attitudes, needs and behaviors that relate to a specific product category. Tribal analytics complements segmentation studies, adding a layer of richness and dimension to them, by illuminating how people naturally self-organize into "tribes" based on shared values, interests, preferences and behaviors that transcend categories. It sheds light on our essential natures and identifies the cultural tribes, not just category consumers, that gravitate toward brands and why.

Tribal analytics was built on the premise that people aren’t fixed nodes. They evolve within a larger social ecosystem. Their values, preferences and behaviors shift as social and cultural norms do. It is a way to classify people into groups that reflect the ever-changing world around them. We capture emerging tribes and push aside those that are diminishing.

Tribal Analytics was developed over the course of four years. We built it from survey after survey of open-ended questions designed to elicit responses revealing the underlying forces behind social bonding—what attracts people to and repels them from each other. The questions, crafted in collaboration with social and behavioral scientists, probed everything from life mission and meaning to ways we choose our friends. As the tribes emerged, we validated them in a series of quantitative studies. In total, we surveyed a nationally representative sample of more than six thousand U.S. adults in order to discover seven neo-tribes organized around shared interests and common aspirations.

  • The God Squad – this large group is principally, but not exclusively, defined by it faith and belief in God.
  • Land of the Free – they are an amalgam of the most traditional values of duty and responsibility, perseverance, simplicity, and optimism.
  • The Happy Hedonists – optimistic and adventurous, this small but mighty tribe is chiefly characterized by its focus on material possessions.
  • The Adventurists—rebellious and adventurous, members of this tribe love new challenges and energetic activities.
  • Go With the Flow – Zen, balance, and leading a personally fulfilling life are their top priorities.
  • The Dutifuls – this tribe includes people who are, above all, modest in everything they do. They place extra value on authenticity, honor, compassion, and trustworthiness.
  • The Persistents – tribal members see themselves through the prism of dealing with life’s struggles, perseverance, the determination to move on, even against all odds.

The tribes we identified represent dominant values and world views in American culture while being demographically diverse. The membership of these tribes is complex and multidimensional. They are real people, and Tribal Analytics reveals the richness and fullness of their identities, not just the barriers and drivers to their shopping behavior. We found grey areas between tribes—tribal border crossings—where members of markedly different tribes find common ground and coalesce. There are also cases of tribal dissonance where the differences in values and priorities are too profound to reconcile.

The degree of overlap among the 7 Neo-Tribes

Tribal Analytics reflects the complexity and multidimensionality of human nature. Allowing people to describe how they organize themselves and who they see as their peers, opens the doors to new levels of segmentation and empowers marketers to find language and symbols that speak to people as members of tribes that reflect our natural social order not just consumers of products part of a marketplace order.


John Zogby is founder of the Zogby Poll. He is known for the accuracy of his polls and his knack for spotting emerging trends and is co-author (with Joan Snyder Kuhl) of the forthcoming e-book First Globals: Understanding, Managing, and Unleashing Our Millennial Generation.

Dayna Dion is a journalist and Cultural Strategy Director for Ogilvy & Mather.

[Red Flowers: Nailia Schwarz via Shutterstock]

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2 Comments

  • karlhavard

    It'd be good to understand the dynamics of these segments. Surely they're not static? Doesn't the type of behaviours you outline depend upon where people are in their life stage, or experiences they have encountered. eg. I've just had my first child, so I move from adventurists to dutiful. Are you also suggesting people only fit into one segment?

  • Dayna Dion

    Good question. Yes, the tribes are dynamic. Tribal analytics was build on the premise that people aren't "fixed nodes." They do migrate from tribe to tribe based on life stage as well as shifts within the broader social and cultural landscapes. There are also tribal "border crossings" — areas in which the tribes overlap. 
    We continuously monitor the tribes to determine how they're evolving and monitor the broader cultural landscape to identify emerging tribes. Would be happy to talk more about this if you're interested in learning more. You can reach me at dayna.dion@ogilvy.com.