The Tribe is Right


Kahlia Pyle

Director, New York

Categories News

Pen Portraits. You know what I mean. Type-A Tina, Bargain-hunter Bob, Simplicity Sandy…


Those Word docs, peppered with demographics, a couple of stock pictures and a handful of attitudinal statements hiding in a dusty corner of your server.

The intention behind Pen Portraits (or indeed segmentations or consumer typologies) is solid. To help brand teams better understand their target consumer. No brand wants to alienate their users when it comes to brand strategy.

But how do you avoid designing in a vacuum? How do you avoid ideating only for the people who are already your consumers. How do you future proof your brand to new audiences, who may arguably be more demanding? And may not even be your consumer at all…

The answer?  Identify and design for your tribe.

Your tribe are a group of people united by a certain set of values, motivations & activities – not by demographics or by consumption – that share a certain magnetic quality, making them influential to others.

Unlike Pen Portraits, your tribe are real, not fabricated 2D personas. They have fascinating flaws and tensions that your brand team can delight in solving for. And you can actually find them at meet-ups.

Fundamentally – and this is the crux – your tribe is not necessarily your consumption target. But they are an inspiration for your consumption target. If you design for your tribe, you’re designing for your consumer’s aspirational self.


The right tribe presents a strategic opportunity for your brand because there is an inherent archetypal synergy between the two; and because tribes are forward-focussed, the leaders have a call-to-action to recruit others.

Why do we know all this? Because when we vividly present a tribe to our clients, one which we believe can be the beacon for their brand, the whole room lights up. And whether it’s a global company needing to resolve the tension of staying relevant to both the masses and one person’s needs, or a start-up that hasn’t ironed out its product offer, every function of the brand has a purpose: design for the tribe.

Designing for your tribe is a different approach, one that feels a little uncomfortable. By actively choosing not to design for your consumption target, it flips yesteryear models of brand planning. Don’t get us wrong, we still believe there is value in understanding your consumer, though we think there’s a better way of bringing them to life than Pen Portraits. But we think brands should avoid designing in an echo chamber and start to be more future focussed. Start to design for their tribe.