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What The World’s Oldest Tribal Cultures Can Teach Us About Marketing

shama kabani with tribe from Africa

When was the last time you woke up to the sound of baboons? For most of us, this morning wake-up call is one we would never hear in our tech-driven homes and communities, but in Windhoek, Namibia, the sound is not all that uncommon. I am here speaking at the World Indigenous Business Forum, where global leaders, tribesmen, and even kings and queens are present to learn about modern-day marketing. As I spoke to them about how technology is changing the landscape and how to use it to preserve their heritage, I am struck by how much the values inherent to an indigenous culture can teach us about marketing and branding – even in the digital age.

1) Storytelling is at the heart of it all. As humans, we are born storytellers. Synonymous with the idea of storytelling is the ritual of the native circle in which tribe members sit around the fire listening keenly to stories passed down verbally from generation to generation. Today’s platforms afford us the luxury of having our story heard by millions of people. However, the medium is not a substitute for the message. Your story still has to be powerful. It has to engage people, capture their attention, and move them to share it with others. Is your story worth sharing?

2) Inclusion and identity matter. In indigenous cultures, a tribe provides a home. It is an extension of one’s family, and most important of all, it provides the individual with an identity. When I studied social networking in graduate school, my research led me to believe that that the number one reason people use social networking sites is to showcase their own personality. While at first glance that may sound narcissistic, it is actually anything but what we typically recognize as narcissism. As humans we have an innate desire to express who we are, as it is only through that expression and feedback that we connect with others. Technology has only created accessible and meaningful mediums to enable us to connect – and meet our need for expression and connection.

3) Ritual is a key part of community building. Rituals have power because they serve as symbols for something greater. They can unite and build loyalty. Whether that ritual is one chief presenting another tribe’s chief with a sash representing bravery or inviting friends to “grab some Starbucks” or standing in line for the pleasure of being one of the first to have the latest Apple gadget. Brands which create and support customer rituals are the ones winning today’s market share. What rituals are you helping create with your clients and community?

Finish reading the last two tips on Forbes.