Welcome to Salmon Theory, a newsletter about philosophy, strategy and hope.
I’m Rob. Thank you for your attention. Let’s do this.
🔍 Here’s the thing
Here’s what I love about Twitter.
It’s fantastic to discover new people.
But that’s only half of the journey there.
The other half – the really cool half – is then getting to know those new people.
Come for the interesting feed, stay for the thoughtful conversations in the DMs.
Or on email.
Or in person.
Over one of the most memorable brunches I’ve had in a long time.
This is a long-winded way of introducing this week’s guest, Alessia Clusini.
She’s a wicked smart woman, but also someone I now consider a friend.
She’s the co-founder of her own research firm, Trybes Agency.
She believes in mixing AI-driven research with digital ethnographic techniques.
She’s worked with clients like the BBC, Virgin, Victoria Secret, Juventus, Vogue, FIAT, Telecom Foundation, Tuscany Travel, and Slow Food.
In 2019, she was nominated as one of the 50 most influential women in Italy.
She has a fantastic newsletter that always teaches me something new.
And, to reiterate, she has mad Italian brunch cooking skills.
Alright, enough fanboying. Let’s get to it.
Welcome, Alessia. How did you get to where you are?
To get “here”, as in, close to the concept of Ikigai, I’ve built at least three careers, lived in several countries and learnt a bunch of skill sets from incredible people that are not related to one unique path or vision. The opposite of a straight path, I guess. My background is creative but I ended up working in data strategy.
One upon a time, I was working as a fashion designer and trendsetter. I was doing really well, but then Zara and the global financial crisis hit the industry so I've moved overseas and, while working shifts in hospitality and learning English, launched a project playing with guerrilla marketing. It turned out to be successful so I thought: "Shit, this thing is real. I must do marketing, I love it!"
So I moved back to Europe and I happened to apply for a masters in marketing and communications, by chance. I won the only scholarship, beating all the odds, so I took it as a second sign and decided to start what turned to be a new career. The masters, in fact, guaranteed me the first job in social media marketing. It was nine years ago, traffic and growth were pretty much organic and you could experiment with platforms and communities much more than now. I found success with it, so I decided to create a network of creatives and strategists to offer our social media marketing services. We were working remotely, keeping the costs low, hence making a lot of money and having fun living wherever we wanted (digital nomads, anybody?).
But another disruption was coming. Social channel algorithms were changing and forcing brands to throw big budgets to reach their audiences, while the amount of content was getting out of hand and competition for people's attention was getting harder and harder. So I stopped and started studying again: this time SNA, content analysis and netnography. I was convinced by our performance numbers that the more you understand your audience, the better, and I wanted to focus on analysis, to serve content and strategy. Again, it was the right moment: the big data boom.
Along the way, I was lucky enough to meet the amazing people that became my new agency partners – Martina Faralli, a psychologist specialised in content analysis, and Tomiwa Adey, a Hybrid Intelligence engineer – and to be addressed by some of the most brilliant minds in netnography and digital humanities.
So we created a couple of really cool tech tools (like Krowd, the first-ever analytic tool for Facebook communities), experimented with early days social listening and debunked a few consolidated market research myths: like topicgraphics instead of demographics, or the fact that quant and qual are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they can be mixed in a new research model that is possible if you couple AI with the social sciences – I call this hybrid intelligence tech. And this is what led to Trybes Agency.
Why do you do what you do?
Did I mention the Ikigai concept? :) I believe people are vehicles for greater ideas or concepts, and we just have to be brave and honest enough to let them come through us and our paths. I see myself as a facilitator.
How do you speed your brain up?
I try to meet (conceptually and physically) the most diverse and ingenious people I can possibly reach. I’ve been investing in human capital since forever.
How do you slow your brain down?
Er… good point. Still working it out. I can’t even begin to tell you how many methods I’ve tried, so please if you know of anything that really works send it through. I’m meditating every day, first thing in the morning, and then practising asana around 6pm. My partner says he notices I’m calmer since I’ve started it.
Which two fields should talk more to one another? What should they talk about?
Consumer research and advertising. This gap is the biggest problem I see in the ad industry. Consumer insights firms and ad agencies should meet halfway and talk about how to represent people as they are and how to give them what they want/need (with the extra challenge of these very people not even knowing what they want/need yet). We need to move beyond innovation fads and programmatic nonsense. ;)
What’s something everyone could do with a bit more of?
In general, curiosity and investing time and money in understanding people. There are timeless principles behind the success of the biggest ideas, most impactful companies, and top leaders in history. Right now, learning new tools and visions like Ecosystemic Culture, Liminality, Cascades and Imaginative Advantage.
What’s something everyone could do with a bit less of?
Ego. This is what keeps us from being brave and honest vehicles of greater ideas or concepts, which implies vulnerability and pain. It also generates all kinds of fears in order to protect itself. I’ve analysed/interviewed numerous transformative experiences experts on this topic, from CEOs to shamans and festivals organisers, and learnt a lot. But I still have a lot to go. It’s a huge journey.
What’s the last thing you changed your mind on?
Having a kid. I never felt the necessity of it (I was still somehow feeling like I was 16 or something). And besides, I thought, like many fellow millennials, that climate change, economic uncertainties and losing freedom were major things that turned me down.
I mean, they are.
But then I changed my mind, for a few reasons. First, as a gesture of extreme love towards my partner, who’s the most inspiring person I got to meet and should have the chance to have a legacy. Along the same lines of thought, having a kid is a major ego-shutting lesson (way more impactful than psychedelics!). And also, because if we don’t do it, how is this world supposed to change?
I mean, if we, open-minded, resilient, empathic, creative, culture-driven people don’t do it, the world of the future is going to be left to a bunch of Trump supporters with a stable job living in the suburbs. That doesn’t look good to me either.
Everyone’s a bit mad. How are you mad?
I never thought about it before you asked me here. I think my madness consists probably in going blindly towards the goal, which led many times to beat the odds and achieve things despite what the data, common sense or conventions were suggesting.
I wanted to be a designer but I lost one eye, and the doctors said it was impossible in that condition. I proved them wrong.
I wanted to have a thriving career that implied an expensive, exclusive education but I come from a simple working-class family. Didn’t care. Just went for it. It wasn’t easy to do two jobs plus uni, but eventually, I made it.
I – many times – felt like I was the youngest, least prepared, least conventional person when facing data and market research hubs. I still went for it. Even though I was embarrassed, not too confident, out of my comfort zone.
I think this madness implies some naivety and certainly a component of believing we are channels, facilitators. It comes from family and experience.
What gives you hope?
Younger generations. Gen Z is so cool if I compare them to us when we were that age. That’s maybe why I enjoy working on their ecosystems and with them so much.
🍬 Link love
😽 Furry feels
Stay safe. Stay sane.
Send replies, I like hearing from you. 😘
PS: See you on Twitter.