• 2018-10-30

Drumbeat of the Tribal Narrative

What separates ordinary slogans and taglines from those few, carefully selected words and phrases that anchor legendary brands?

Consider the following. 

“Think Different”.

“Just Do It”.

“A Diamond is Forever”.

Each example reflects the gold standard for any brand strategy to make a meaningful connection with the people they most want to reach. In each case, a deliberate choice of 2-6 words has the potential to strike an emotional chord with deeper meanings that transcend the actual product, service or cause being represented. And it doesn’t matter whether you are selling smartphones, shoes or shiny rocks.  

Photo by Samuel Fyfe on Unsplash

What if your enterprise could also create similar soul-stirring reactions with the skillful crafting of an original Tribal Narrative? 

In other words, what if you took a page from what some of the best brands do to make a human connection and tell a story in as few words as possible? By now, you have likely noticed the vast majority of slogans or taglines are bone-dry boring; totally devoid of any drama, mystery, intrigue, suspense, comedy or surprise. It’s easy to spot boiler-plate slogans and taglines with recycled re-heated, regurgitated platitudes that merely points out the painfully obvious. With nothing left to the imagination, any low-level marketing hack could recommend any of the following for any insurance brokerage:

JONES & SMITH-   "Reliable Insurance and Advice"

JONES & SMITH - “Insurance Protection You Can Trust"

JONES & SMITH - “Locally-Owned, Insurance Experts"

And while the marketing types who peddle this flavorless porridge won’t get criticized or fired (but, perhaps be paid a handsome sum by clients like Jones & Smith), neither of these sluggish slogans or tepid taglines have a chance to even remotely register on the public radar. Not only are they completely interchangeable and devoid of anything a real person cares about, there is zero chance to achieve any level of differentiation from the other 12,000 brokers in the province or state they compete in. 

But, what if Jones & Smith wanted to make a bold decision to stand out from everybody else? What if they wanted to zag and express who they really are – beyond the products and services they sell? What if Jones & Smith wanted to communicate their character, ideals and values in such a way that they would never be confused with any other firm within a 500-mile radius? 


Photo by Robert F. on Unsplash

Let's suppose for a moment you discover that the principals of Jones & Smith were either one of the following:

Let’s suppose for a moment you discovered that the principals of Jones & Smith were either one of the following:

  1. a) Avid golfers
  2. b) Whiskey enthusiasts
  3. c) Dog lovers 

In either case – and assuming that both Jones & Smith are hard core in their passion for any of these three pursuits - it’s more than possible to craft a personalized Tribal Narrative that reflects who they really are in such a way that distinguishes them from everybody else in their competitive space. In other words, they could replicate the same brand philosophies employed by the greats like Apple, NIKE and DeBeers and develop a verbal anchor that gets buried forever in the mind of the market. 

JONES & SMITH- "The Masters of Insurance”

JONES & SMITH - "Insurance Protection Blended to Perfection”

JONES & SMITH - "Insurance Packed With Pawsitivity”

Whether any of those potential narratives suit your personal taste is not the point. Like anything that dares to break with convention there will be those who both love or hate any form of creative expression. The larger point being made is the strategic advantage of creating differentiation and separation and swimming away from everybody else who treads water in the sea of similarity. Granted, these are overly simplified examples, but it speaks to the fact that anyone with a little spark of imagination and determination can find a story within themselves that speaks to something more that just the standard “products, services, features, advantages, benefits”.

Developing a Tribal Narrative is well within the grasp of anyone dedicated to building a brand designed to outperform and outlast the rest of the pack.

Long-term brand strategy is a marathon, not a sprint and there is an alternative to typical marketing slogans and taglines which are common as dirt. Sure, it requires some digging and a little more thought, but there are practical ways to discover branding diamonds once you make the executive decision to march to the drumbeat of your own Tribal Narrative.

The secret lies in first recognizing and appreciating how humans have responded to timeless, universal forces can be traced back to the drumming practices of the Mandinka tribes in ancient Africa.

Unlike western societies where drumming tends to be associated with entertainment; there is a deeper symbolic and historical meaning with African drums. For centuries, drums have been integral to African forms of story-telling: passing on important historical, religious and cultural information to future generations or as a rallying call to arms for tribal warriors. The most skilled of these drummers are known to Africans as one who "can make the djembe talk", meaning the player can tell an emotional story.

A Tribal Narrative Becomes a Rallying Point

Unlike a typical slogan, tagline (or as they call it in the U.K. “a strapline”), a Tribal Narrative is a powerful catchphrase designed to communicate a story that inspires action, belief and participation - to more than one audience. In other words, it serves a broader, more meaningful purpose than the pedestrian functions of sales and marketing, and becomes a rallying point for all actions and decisions made by an organization truly committed to building a brand with the potential to be legendary. 

Besides, the aforementioned Apple, NIKE and DeBeers, some of the best examples of a Tribal Narrative include:

AVIS: “We Try Harder”

ZAPPOS: “Powered by Service”

JIM GILBERT’S: “Canada’s Huggable Car Dealer”

USMC: “The Few. The Proud. The Marines”

POOL TROOPERS: “America’s Backyard Heroes” 

TED TALKS: “Ideas Worth Spreading”

CAROLINA PANTHERS: “Keep Pounding”

The NFL’s Carolina Panthers brand story is a perfect example of how a narrative must be grounded in timeless, emotional truth. It is the classic example of building a brand on a foundation of a story that actually happened with no beginning, middle or end. It’s still one of the very best examples I’ve shared at executive branding bootcamps over the past number of years and this video just might get you think about your own origin story and the possibilities for your brand.

It’s still one of the very best examples I’ve shared at executive branding bootcamps over the past number of years and this video just might get you think about your own origin story and the possibilities for your brand.

Two simple words from a locker room speech delivered by an assistant coach dying from cancer still lives with that franchise to this day. “Keep Pounding” still echoes among the Panther faithful and speaks to timeless, universal human values that transcend wins, losses and anything else that happens on the football field.

A properly crafted Tribal Narrative captures the essence of “Who You Are” as opposed to just “What Product or Service You Offer”

That’s why anyone who works at Jim Gilbert’s Wheels & Deals, “Canada’s Huggable Car Dealer” implicitly understands their role extends into all aspects of customer care – before, during and after the sale – as well as the leadership role they play in their community. Once Jim and Dawna Gilbert made a strategic decision in 2006 (with the help of Wizard Academy and my Texas amigo Ray Seggern) to brand the business as "huggable" that one word detonated an explosion of imagination; impacting every aspect of the company; from hiring and training practices to extended warranty programs and community causes they support.

How could your Tribal Narrative be the catalyst that knits the whole organization together?

In the case of “Canada’s Huggable Car Dealer” there is now more a dozen years of market evidence that indicate this narrative was a key element in creating an unrivalled “Category of One”. After humble origins from a small corner lot, Jim and Dawna have presided over the spectacular growth of what is now the largest independent used-car dealer in all four Atlantic Canadian provinces; with stunning year-over-year growth. 

The choice of the correct Tribal Narrative for your brand will demand that you discover poetic and emotional truths that reflect what you, your company and its customers care about most. What are the principles and ideals you value most and how can that be packed into a 2-6-word narrative that reflect who you really are – beyond the cookie cutter clichés employed throughout the category you compete in? 

Not the easiest thing to discover and not without a certain amount of soul-searching and self-reflection, your Tribal Narrative could be the most valuable piece of real estate your brand ever acquires in the best neighborhood of all.

Or you can just play it safe.

Stay exactly where you are. Stuck in the same-old, same-old marketing slogan mosh pit, spewing mouldy, verbal vanilla pudding that everyone addicted to their smartphone ignores. 

The next move is yours. 


     "It doesn’t matter how many people you offend, as long as you’re getting          your message to your consumers. I say to those people who do not want to offend anybody: You are going to have a very, very difficult time having meaningful advertising”

PHILLIP KNIGHT - CEO & Founder, NIKE

A Few Additional Thoughts...


p.s… This post marks the final installment, the swan song for The Reinvention Chronicles. Launched in July of 2015, these postings were a way to share stories about disruptive change and journeys of self-discovery, but as 2018 winds down, we are now taking some of our own advice. 


It’s time for a rest to allow our team to refresh and pivot in an entirely new direction. Earlier this year, it became apparent to me that another subject besides “reinvention” was worth exploring for the benefit of faithful readers and viewers from all over the world. We’re now at the point where it’s time to go on hiatus until 2019 and return with material that we believe will resonate with anyone who is fascinated by leaders, legends and what makes certain products, services or places simply irresistible. 


Our new publishing schedule with a fresh focus and direction will launch Wednesday, January 9, 2019 with original (mostly video-based) stories posted every two weeks. And with the help of Josh Parlee and his top-notch team at CREO Visuals there are also plans to produce our own YouTube mini-series. In that spirit everyone of us at home base in London, Ontario appreciates your continued support and we will be back in your inbox before you know it on a consistent basis early in the New Year. 


p.p.s... the aforementioned Wizard Academy is a 21st century business school that features an array of on-site programs like no other. Nestled on a 30-acre campus outside of Austin, TX, Wizard Academy can likely lay claim to offering the only classes of its kind which have been known to feature actual Djembe drums for its students as the multi-talented "Croatian Sensation" and my favorite partner-in-crime Dana Zilic can readily attest to.