On a recent business trip, I and a colleague were in Indonesia doing some research for a project.
We spent most of our time in Indonesia on the island of Bali where we developed a friendship with a fellow named Komang who ran a fledgling travel and tourism agency. He was our guide in Bali and made the travel arrangements to the other islands we needed to visit.
The economy of Bali is predominantly based on tourism and the export of handcrafted artwork and jewelry. And each category, or “niche”, of craftwork, is executed by a specific caste.
Although Bali is part of Indonesia, the most highly-populated Muslim country in the world, the Balinese largely follow the Hindu faith and traditions. As a consequence, they picked up the idea of the caste system. The Balinese however, don’t only apply it to social status, but to trades as well. The Balinese caste system is not unlike the guild system widely practiced in Renaissance Europe.
There is a caste that works with metal—the jewelers and sword makers, a caste for those working in stone, carving statues, a caste for woodworkers and so on.
As we traveled around, we noticed an interesting phenomenon.
What we noticed and seemed counterintuitive to out Western minds was that all the shops for each kind of caste craft were tightly clustered together.
You might be driving down a road through the lush countryside and around the next bend, you would come upon ten to fifteen stone statue shops lined up one after another. All selling pretty much the same products.
Five miles further, you might see a mini village of jewelry makers or woodcutters.
At one point during our time in Bali, I asked Komang where we could find a place that sells bronze statues. He said we’d have to go to the such-and-such village on the other side of the island. I asked him if there wasn’t any place closer and he said, “No, only there. That’s where you get bronze statues.”
Now, this system seemed broken to our American minds.
Wouldn’t it make more sense if you could be the only bronze statue shop in a village? There would be less competition and less pressure to be the cheapest since your nearest competitor would be miles away. It seemed plain as the nose on your face… to me.
I asked Komang, “Why do you do things this way, having all the same type of craft goods for sale right next to each other and not spread out across the island?”
He gave me a quizzical look and answered, “We’ve always done it this way.”
It didn’t give him pause and he didn’t question it. That was a perfectly good reason for him.
During our time there, we’d encounter other island traditions that seemed inefficient or impractical and I’d ask again, “Why do you do it this way?” and I’d get the same response, “We’ve always done it this way.”
I never understood that whole dynamic. Until recently.
This week, I was reading Seth Godin’s latest book, This is Marketing and was introduced to his concept of:
People like us, do things like this.
What I was seeing, and not understanding, was Balinese culture. Not mine.
So as you’re working to introduce change or innovation into the market or maybe even the world, you have to start with finding those who align with your values and your culture, then build from there.
Your product or service is not for everyone and that’s OK. If you make it for everyone, you’re not making it for anyone. That would be mass marketing and we are seeing that that doesn’t work anymore.
So put yourself out there. Be clear on Who you are and Why you do what you do. Be generous sharing what you have to offer.
Your tribe will find you because…
“For most of us, from the first day we are able to remember until the last day we breath, our actions are primarily driven by one question: “Do people like me do things like this?”
— This is Marketing by Seth Godin
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