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The Resurgence of ‘Tribal Marketing’

Exit: Tribevertising. Enter: Tribefacturing. While ‘Tribal Marketing’ may not be a new concept, it is gaining relevance in terms of the way consumers tend to make purchasing decisions online. Online, tribes can be found on social networks, message boards, blogs, forums and any other platform that facilitates conversation and communication surrounding a topic, product, passion, pastime, lifestyle or belief. In the modern concept, “Tribal marketing is a marketing strategy that attempts to create social groups or communities that are centered around a product or service. The credo of tribal marketing is that postmodern people are looking for products and services that not only enable them to be freer, but can also link them to others, to a community, to a tribe.” The challenge for brand marketers is to create these tribes and to identify members of the tribes. Many tribes tend not to evolve around a specific product or brand, but are about consumers/individuals sharing similar interests, hobbies, beliefs, preferences, world views and passions. People in tribes are highly disciplined in their brand preferences, are ready to change as new brands, services and ideas gain currency within the tribe; are acutely aware of their affinity group and selectively seek relationships with members of their tribe. At the same time, tribal members discriminate against the icons of other tribes, avoid information that offers insight into the rationale behind the behavior of other tribes and avoid creating relationships with tribal outsiders. The tribes can be organized by three key social variables: value-orientation, relative social class and age. Value-orientation refers to a bundle of values, political, religious and social that distinguish conservatives from progressives. Relative social class refers to a bundle of variables (income, occupational rank, investment portfolio, etc.) that distinguish individuals with a relatively high level of discretionary income from those with little or virtually no discretionary income. Age refers to the physical age and health age of the individual and his or her spouse. Each construct reflects potent forces for binding tribes and elaborates the differences among them. People who are conservative tend to govern their decision making and ethics by reference to principles of right versus wrong. Progressives tend to apply fairness as their ethical standard. More affluent people are apt to believe in reward for merit as a just basis for allocating resources. The less affluent tend to view entitlement as a just basis for allocation. Taste, symbolism and consistencies within tribal strata distinguish tribes. Similarities create membership solidarity. Differences create ‘territorial irritations’ that yield inevitable, complex culture clashes. A brand that is iconic for one group may be iconoclastic for another. It is imperative for brands to position themselves with the tribes. To access the tribes, brands will have to come up with something that transcends advertising. Something truly useful, relevant, delightful or generous. Here are some successful niches carved by brands over time - Wal-Mart: Value. Coca-Cola: Refreshment. Tiffany: Love. Dell: Competence. Jeep: Freedom. Frito-Lay: Taste. Volvo: Safety. Disney World: Fun. McDonald’s: Consistency. Take a cue from niche players and actively start to deliver products and services ‘manufactured’ (tribefacturing) and tailored to tribal needs. Decide your brand’s promise and the practical niche, and then stick to it through thick and thin. Ultimately you will get acceptance of your tribe(s)! Send your comments to

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