Online communities: What marketers can learn from Jeremy Clarkson & DriveTribe

By: Chris Middleton

September 15, 2016


Content Marketing - Data Marketing - Featured -

Love him or loathe him – few leave themselves in neutral about him – Jeremy Clarkson is clever, as are his colleagues Richard Hammond and James May. The trio of eternal 1970s schoolboys will soon be bickering on our screens once again with their new show; The Grand Tour for Amazon.

They’ve been up to something else too – creating a new online community.

Many of us will proclaim that we aren’t fans of Clarkson, but at the same time can recognise his genius ability to communicate. An authentic, original voice is something to treasure, even if it has the potential to split opinion.

And as the reborn Top Gear recently proved, there’s no mileage in trying to imitate an authentic voice: to copy it is to miss the point. However flawed, prejudiced, overbearing, or idiotic he may portray to be, a real Clarkson is better than a fake Clarkson. New Top Gear should be about showing a real love for cars, not a love affair with its former presenters.

But what has all this got to do with marketing?

What Clarkson and co have always been brilliant at is recognising the value in the real communities that form around niche interests – James May’s recent programmes about toys, planes, or taking things apart and rebuilding them are good examples of this.

The word ‘enthusiast’ is often used to damn people with faint praise, but in our networked, socially connected age, enthusiasts and self-made experts stand out like landmarks in an otherwise flat and featureless world. Geeks, nerds, and anoraks save the internet from being a billion channels of static and social noise, and to be labelled as one should be a badge of pride.

Enthusiasts can be of any age, social group, gender, ethnicity, or orientation, what they all share is a devotion to something niche and, for them, exciting.

And’s that’s what marketers dream of.

Networks and communities are what marketing is really about, and Clarkson recognises that while brands like Ferrari, Lamborghini, Aston Martin, Bugatti, and Porsche all have their devotees, so too do Alfa Romeo, Triumph, Volvo, Jeep, Rover, Caterham, and Dacia. Some people love Jensens or Saabs, just as others love Maseratis.

To love something isn’t just about the brash superstar brands that pour millions of dollars into self-promotion and aspiration-building. People love the smaller, pluckier marques just as much – sometimes more – because they have a real emotional connection with them. Flaws and foibles are part of their enthusiasm: it’s not about perfection. And that’s something that can’t be faked.

Aficionados and enthusiasts can spot a fake a mile off, and this is useful insight for marketers. People crave authenticity, and building an authentic community around stuff that people genuinely love is surely the best that any marketer can hope for. (It’s not enough just to say, “We’re passionate about…” your brand – hackneyed words that marketers should avoid at all costs.)

This is the thinking behind a new online brand that Clarkson, Hammond, and May have created: DriveTribe, which aims to be “the world’s first digital hub for motoring”.

Hammond explained:

“Gamers have got Twitch, travellers have got Trip Advisor, and fashion fans have got, oh, something or other too. But people who are into cars have got nowhere. There’s no grand-scale motoring community where people can meet and share video, comments, information, and opinion. DriveTribe will change that, and then some.”

Clarkson added:

“I didn’t understand DriveTribe until Richard Hammond said it was like YouPorn, only with cars.”

The platform launches this autumn. Core to the community will be the concept of ‘tribes’: areas where people who adore, say, the Morris Marina can share their love and content alongside their more obviously glamorous peers.

May explained:

“This is pure digital inclusivity. Some of the world’s most endangered tribes – Volvo enthusiasts, for example – will have a voice as loud as everyone else’s.”

That’s a great idea. And like most great ideas, it seems obvious with hindsight.

In an age in which so much marketing is about fostering exclusivity – a good strategy in a digital culture that’s focused on speed, surface, and mass availability – it’s easy to overlook the need for inclusivity too. The point is to allow people to be exclusive in their own way – whichever way says something about who they really are as people.

And with the Clarkson/May/Hammond/ brand being more valuable now than ever, who would bet against them succeeding?

Image (c) DriveTribe