Tribal Marketing and Tribal Branding | The Digital Marketing


Tribal Marketing and Tribal Branding

Brendan Richardson is a lecturer who focuses strongly on consumer behaviour and tribalism. With the new age of the internet, this has become a key focus when designing many websites. This is particularly so when considering website design for business-to-consumer brands. Below is an article by Brendan on the how to approach tribal marketing:

Tribal Marketing and Tribal Branding

The term ‘tribal marketing’ has been around for a number of years now, yet the practice of tribal marketing often remains fundamentally neglected or misunderstood.

This is a shame because consumer tribes have a lot to offer. Tribal members voluntarily become advocates for the brand, evangelizing other consumers. They affirm each other via brand rituals that deepen their ties to these tribal brands. Volkswagen Beetle owners swap stories online about the names they have come up with for their cars. Harry Potter fans reinforce each other’s loyalty to the Harry Potter brand by sharing anecdotes about their favourite characters and encouraging each other to dress up in Hogwarts robes for book launches and movie premieres – helping to create a vibrant atmosphere around these events. Tribes also act as innovators, generating new brand uses that enhance the brand experience. Nutella enthusiasts post photos online to share novel ways to enjoy Nutella. Mini drivers advise one another on new ways of car maintenance. All these practices serve to strengthen the ties that members of tribes feel to their chosen brands.

Brand Evangelists

Why Don’t Marketers Engage With Tribes?

In posing the question as to why marketers don’t engage more readily with tribes, I would argue that the answer lies in a reluctance on the part of marketers to relinquish any control over brand-related communications, and a tendency to use marketing communications in an interruptive rather than supportive way. However, there is a way to practice tribal marketing, while retaining appropriate levels of control over your brand. To understand how this works, we first need to understand some key aspects of contemporary tribalism.

 Important Aspects of Tribalism for Brands to Understand:

Contemporary tribes are a form of community based on free choice – in short, fulfilment of the need for community by means of voluntary rather than enforced affiliation.

Via social media or other convenient locations, tribes gather together around those objects or activities that they feel passionate about. This feeling of social connection, expressed via the shared passion for an activity or even a particular brand, is called ‘linking value’.

Outsiders with Darren McMullen Pictures taken at the Bronie event BUCK 2013 in Manchester Bronies with Darren McMullen

It follows that the marketer’s role is to support this linking value and to facilitate opportunities for consumers to share it, via brand-related experience. However, rather than trying to force consumers to share linking value, marketers need to learn the art of inviting consumers to do so instead. So – how do we go about this? We do so by stepping back from the tribal ‘conversation’ until such time as we understand it.

Understanding the Conversation:

The best way to approach tribal marketing is to think of consumer tribalism as a conversation that’s already going on when we enter a room. Instead of jumping straight in and insisting on trying to interrupt, or – worse still, dictate – the entire conversation, most of us will take the time to listen for a while, til we’ve had a chance to figure out what the conversation is about. Then we join in that conversation in an appropriate and respectful way.

Understanding Consumers

To apply this to tribal marketing, if the marketer takes this sort of respectful approach to the tribal ‘conversation’ (not only the tribe’s discourse, but also their rituals and sense of identity as expressed within that discourse) then there is an opportunity to become a leading voice in that conversation, without undermining the other participants’ enthusiasm for it.

But if the marketer insists on trying to interrupt that conversation (as conventional marketing is often wont to do) then such interruptions risk being perceived as intrusive rather than supportive.

Supporting the Conversation:

By supporting the conversation instead of disrupting it, we can harness the passion and natural enthusiasm of tribes. This supportive approach can be developed via use of ethno-marketing techniques, resulting in strong relationships between customers and brands. This amounts to a partial reversal of conventional marketing logic, but offers abundant opportunities for closer, more respectful ties between consumers, brands, and society as a whole.


About The Author:

Dr. Brendan Richardson is a Lecturer in Consumer Behaviour in Cork University Business School, and author of ‘Tribal Marketing, Tribal Branding’, published by Palgrave Macmillan: