The “Ramsey effect” and the next wave of tribes


Twelve years ago, Seth Godin in his book “Tribes,” taught us how groups of people create movements and lead change. Godin showed that “assembling a tribe and leading it” is the new marketing.

America’s debt free guru, Dave Ramsey has proved this well. The “Ramsey Tribe” has transformed shared interests of a group to a passionate goal.

Every day, tribe members visit Ramsey in his studio to give out their visceral “debt free scream,” a testimonial that keeps the cult stronger together. Over $50 million worth of “debt free screams” happen annually through in-person visits or through his talk shows.

This led Ciorstan Smark, faculty at the University of Wollongong to analyze the “Ramsey Tribe” and the criteria used by Godin in “Tribes” to find out their relationship. Smark’s article “Tribes in personal finance? The Dave Ramsey Phenomenon,” in Social & Behavioral Research in Business (2012), found that “Ramsey’s Tribe” relies on his rigid, no-nonsense process urging people to first be debt free and to stay focused on building wealth through self discipline.

While screams make money for Ramsey, from her kitchen in upstate New York, Indian homemaker, Mia has created a different tribe. “Mia’s Tribe” are addicted to her spicy cooking shows and simple renderings of her daily life. They are so attached to her that they can’t miss seeing her for a day.

Marketing built on empathy and trust will help you lead tribes. You will create movements and here are my predictions for the next wave of tribes:

  1. Greater connections and loose leadership structures- Newly formed tribes will have greater communications among members and the outside world. Marketing will build stronger connections among tribe members despite loose leadership structures. Promote self discipline among members if you are leading a tribe.
  2. Trust – Marketing shared interests among tribal members is key but trust will play an important role. Grow your tribe with empathy.
  3. Tips and clues: Your days as a leader offering tips and clues are numbered. Meaningful, valuable content is necessary to keep your tribe together.
  4. Shorter attention spans and longevity: Shorter attention spans will dominate tribes of the future. Market content that energizes the group, builds togetherness and sustains engagement.
  5. Meaningful social cohesion : Greater social cohesion will build your tribe faster than just subject matter expertise. “Ramsey’s Tribe” meets regularly at churches with their Financial Planning University and shares stories of why they got broke and why they have to live on rice and beans.
  6. Lack of transparency equals harsher punishments: Tribes are global movements that can take on powerful corporations like Boeing. When you fail, admit mistakes quicker and be transparent. The Boeing saga and the Iranian fiasco show why it’s difficult to build tribes that will stand by you during a crisis.
  7. Idea sharing is the norm: Tribes are sharing ideas of resistance across a dozen capitals from New Delhi to Hong Kong every day. This is creating headaches for governments trying to find solutions.
  8. The death of monarchies and huge corporations: Marketing will help the growth of internal tribes that will bring the downfall of monarchies and huge corporations around the world. Tyrants and greedy corporate leaders will fall to tribes who want to create a better future for their people.

When Gillette failed its tribes


What was the purpose behind Gillette’s recent video? I felt it was a takedown on toxic masculinity, a kiss up to the Me Too movement and an attempt to take sides and get invited into a national conversation.

Why did Gillette need a video to stir controversy, gauge metrics and have people forget the message in a few days? Gillette’s primary purpose is to make real good blades and thwart attempts by Harry’s and Dollar General from eroding its market share. Why did Gillette do this self-inflicting exercise? Is there a loss in brand equity?

According to Peter Horst in his book, “Marketing in the fake news era,” more and more companies are trying not to stand in the sidelines. Instead, they want to take a stand on issues. Perhaps Gillette felt that shying away from toxic masculinity and embracing the Me Too movement with an anti-bullying social message could help it improve its image among men. Unfortunately, Gillette didn’t analyze if there was any social need for it to join this conversation.

I believe Gillette misjudged several subcultures that exist under a diverse tribe called men in the US. The company chose a few personas hoping they would help it convey the message better and sadly got a lot of backlash but earned great viewership.

In an era of fake news, before a business takes sides, they should clearly ask if they need to be in that space. For one who makes blades, it might be better to stick to making better blades instead of sending out patronizing social media messages.

After all, how long does a shave last?