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How e-commerce is helping brands build new ‘tribes’ online

At a time in history when physical human connection is increasingly difficult, the need to feel ‘connected’ to others is more prevalent than ever before.

This year has been a tough year, for consumers and retailers alike, and people are feeling isolated and alone. Consumers are, in many instances, confined to their homes, without the normal interactions they expect from work, socialising – and shopping.

Retailers are recognising that in order to connect with their customers in deeper, meaningful and more impactful ways, they need to do more than just ‘sell products online’, but create an experience beyond the product, and build new virtual ‘tribes’ that bring like-minded people together with a common purpose in mind.

Tribes versus communities

A retailer ‘community’ is a large group of consumers who may or may not have things in common with each other, or share a connection. A ‘tribe’, however, is a connected group of consumers who share common interests, behaviours and a wider purpose.

In the words of marketing guru, Seth Godin, “A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea.”

The history of tribes and being hard-wired for belonging

Human beings are wired for belonging. Our brains literally seek it out as a survival mechanism. This goes back to our earliest evolution, where being a part of a tribe increased the likelihood of survival. 

When analysed this way, tribes also have a benefit to humanity because they innately epitomise a sense of deeper belonging. This was true before Covid-19 and is even more so now, with more people craving real connections outside of the confusing world of the pandemic.

The benefits of cultivating tribes

There are many benefits for e-commerce retailers to cultivate and encourage tribes in their online communities. Tribes are a fantastic way to reach and communicate with microcosms of targeted consumers and help online retailers communicate with consumers in a social ‘context’.

Online tribes are also a powerful way to help people feel connected during a time of physical isolation. 

‘Context’ is also emerging as the best way to target consumers with programmatic advertising, after the death of the cookie. Purchase intent, brand perception, and word of mouth, can all increase when brands serve up an offering in the right consumer environment or context.

So in many ways, retailers can think of tribes as ‘little pockets of the right context.’ Shared behaviours and interests, make it easy to communicate with tribes in an authentic, connected, and meaningful way. If done well, these little pockets of consumers can become your biggest advocates and help a business grow – because you know exactly who they are and exactly what they want.

Who is getting it right?

In today’s mobile-first, social media environment, retailers have a plethora of powerful tools and resources to help cultivate a tribe for their brand and bring customers together at scale. E-commerce solutions, integrated with social media, can give customers a seamless ability to engage with their favourite brand and share their experiences with like-minded individuals in a highly tactile, interactive environment. At the same time, retailers can engage with their tribes, celebrating their stories and purchase experiences, while continuing to strengthen their influencer pool and ‘raving fans’.

One example is Australian-born cosmetic tooth-whitening mega brand HiSmile, which scaled its online tribe by leveraging social selling integrated with Shopify Plus, which linked social media information directly tied to its sales funnel, which helped ensure its information was ready to be transferred and communicated across all apps in its e-commerce ecosystem.

As a result, social selling and influencer marketing propelled HiSmile from kitchen table dream to a worldwide force with an incredible tribe of ‘raving fans’. Its Instagram campaign with Conor McGregor alone scored five times the return on ad spend – the popular Irish fighter helping HiSmile reach a whopping 14 million 18- to 24-year-olds in its campaign — plus an additional 90-per-cent increase in total male customers captured.

To date, HiSmile can claim more than 3 million social-media followers, 5.5 billion social-media impressions, and more than 1.5 billion views of its social videos. Those numbers suggested HiSmile was reaching an audience far and wide, and its global sales numbers further proved the point, without dispute.

Building a deeper, more authentic connection with your customers

Humans identify with each other through shared interests. By identifying and nurturing these tribes, retailers have an opportunity to connect authentically with their customers, while facilitating much needed human connection at a time when customers desperately crave interaction and engagement. By cultivating and encouraging tribes, e-commerce retailers are benefiting both themselves and consumers now, and beyond the pandemic.

Find out more about tribes and how they can help your brand. 


About the Author: ShopifyPlus simplifies the complex with commerce technology that’s both powerful and easy to use. We make the tools you need to evolve, scale and thrive – fast. We give you the freedom to experiment and expand your brand in game-changing ways. 

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