What A Tribe in Kenya Taught Us About Marketing

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“The best marketing strategy is to care.” — Gary Vee

While earning her master’s degree, conservation biologist Dr. Leelah Hazzah lived in Kenya, where she began to witness the rapid decline of African lions. In the last six decades, their numbers had nosedived from over half a million to less than 30,000 in Africa.

One reason for this was the tradition of killing lions among warriors of the Maasai tribe.

Dr. Hazzah lived among the Maasai for a year. The tribe’s warriors visited her place because it was the only one with a radio. Slowly, they started opening up and telling her stories, and she understood why they killed lions.

For one, killing a lion was a rite of passage for an adolescent male to turn into a man.

Another reason was the tribe’s pastoral life. Livestock was their main source of livelihood and a status symbol. When they lost their cows, they didn’t have anything left. So they retaliated by killing lions.

But the Maasai, Hazzah discovered, also had a love-hate relationship with lions. While they dislike them because they eat their livestock, they also admire the magnificence of these beautiful creatures.

The Maasai also found it unfair that though they knew the bush well, all wildlife conservation jobs went to older, educated people.

That’s when it clicked. Hazzah realized the Maasai leaders, warriors, and protectors would make the best ambassadors for lions.

She educated them on the benefits of protecting lions with an emphasis on preserving their culture and creating jobs. These lessons rippled throughout the tribe.

Today, the Maasai warriors find, track, and name their lions, and use radio telemetry to conduct a census. If a guardian hears about a lion hunt, he intervenes and helps the individuals understand the importance of keeping lions alive. Working as a Lion Guardian is a full-time job that earns them around $100 a month.

Guardians also help farmers strengthen the bomas—the thornbush corrals that hold their livestock. They help find and safely return lost livestock. Such measures prevent livestock deaths and retaliatory lion killings.

The Lion Guardians program didn’t just solve the Maasai tribe’s pressing problems. They also worked with and within the tribe’s cultural systems to create new beliefs that continued giving the warriors the feeling of prestige.

What can we learn about marketing from this? That we cannot use rational explanations and arguments (or money) to change a made-up mind or to shake deep-seated beliefs.

Companies try to “influence” their customers’ by spending millions (and billions) of dollars in marketing strategy and advertising or “bribing” them with deep discounts.

But all this money can’t save mediocre products from failing. Customers stick stubbornly to their beliefs. “More money is wasted in marketing,” Al Reis wrote, “than any other human activity (outside government activities, of course).”

The effective way to change people’s minds is to care—about their pressing problems and their hidden needs solving them.

Find out what your customers do and why. Step down from your pedestal, see the world through their eyes, and empathize.

When you listen to their stories, you’ll create remarkable marketing content without hiring expensive copywriters.

When you make them feel a sense of prestige for owning something novel or contributing to something meaningful, or both, they’ll turn into your advocates. You’ll onboard customers without “burning” precious cash because your customers will do the selling for you.

When you keep your customers’ needs at the center, they’ll turn into a powerful wind that’ll loft your company towards the sky.

Dr. Hazzah couldn’t hear lions roaring when she first moved to Kenya. Two years later, she and her team heard them all the time. Protecting lions became as much a rite of passage as killing one used to be. And Lion Guardians has expanded to several countries from its humble beginning in Amboseli in Kenya.

You too can make an impact. You don’t need deep pockets and a comprehensive marketing strategy for it. All you have to do is care.

Have you downloaded the Definitive Guide to Building Thought Leadership yet?

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