Tribal marketing is an approach that organizes target markets into various groups or tribes. These tribes can represent various different types of group associations. For example, one group could be people who work together while another group could represent all the members who communicate on various websites (Fons). Therefore there can be traditional tribal communities where people engage in face-to-face communication as well as there can be virtual tribes of people who share information online. As a result most people are generally considered to be members of multiple tribes however not all tribes are considered to be of equal importance by tribe members.
Consumers in general have become weary of traditional marketing messages. It has become increasingly hard to reach consumers through traditional channels even when the traditional social media channels are considered (Kelly, Kerr and Drennan). Other examples of this can be thought of by the introduction of both web-based television programming as well as digital recording devices. Both of these technologies allow consumers to bypass commercial messages and watch commercial free programming. Such an example is only one of many. Nearly all of the ways that used to be relied upon to reach potential customers have been subverted by one way or another. On top of that, consumers have grown generally skeptical of marketing messages in general (Stewart).
Since consumers are becoming increasingly resistant to the traditional forms of marketing then marketing professionals and researchers have been developing alternatives to the old way of doing business. Tribal marketing is one example of an overall development within the field of marketing. New forms of delivering marketing messages are being constantly tried. Some are more successful than others as many of the new marketing strategies fail. Yet some have proven to be reasonably successful and others to be outright revolutionary. It is believed that tribal marketing may represent a model that has much potential in regards to the total of alternatives forms of marketing that is being developed.
Evidence of the Trend's Emergence
Tribal marketing is centered on the idea of community (Cova and Cova). It is not just putting together a target market based on the idea of the individual. Under existing paradigms a marketer might group together a target market with individuals who have similar demographic or other similar characteristics. Tribal marketing serves as a polar opposite to the existing paradigm. Instead of targeting an individual with a certain set of attributes, a marketing campaign may focus on various tribes or groups of people with certain characteristics.
The group can be centered on a product itself (Harad). This is the most ideal positioning of a product although it is also the hardest and riskiest strategy to try and implement. It also may take many years to successfully work. Many companies can serve as a model of successful tribal marketing strategies. However, many more have failed. Yet the models that do exist serve as evidence that the strategy can work and can work well. The key to the model is to infiltrate the tribe and earn the tribes trust. If this can be achieved then it can lead to incredible levels of market penetration within the tribe or set of tribes.
The most successful tribes are the ones whose product is at the center of the tribe. The product itself can provide a platform or motivation for group organization. Jeep and Harley Davidson are great examples of tribal marketing and group formation but there are countless others who have successfully implemented such a strategy. Such products are generally considered deeply entrenched into consumer ideas of self-identification. For example, when a person joins the Harley Davidson tribe then that tribe becomes part of their identity. People in this tribe will actually describe who they are by associating themselves with the product.
Another interesting aspect to the tribal concept is that tribes can be artificially constructed (Dixon). In the modern world people move frequently, families breakdown, and communities are less cohesive than they were at one time. As a result of this people are often on the lookout for new tribes to join. Therefore new tribes can emerge quickly and old ones can continue to evolve to account for changing environments. Tribes can be considered as groups of people that are bound together by some form of commonality but these bonds may change quickly. Sometimes the relationships are centered on a product, an idea, or even a geographic region (Gonzalez).
Examples of the New Trend
There exist countless examples of organizations who have implemented successful tribal strategies through countless different variations. A model that three levels of tribal product affiliation has been proposed. The first level deals with products that are functional in nature. Examples of such products are stationary, hand tools, soap, kitchen utensils, etc. It is difficult to use a tribal approach to marketing such products but it is still possible. Post-It Notes can serves as an example of an organization that took a functional product and made is something more than purely functional (Heffernan). Yet the risks associated with developing a tribal approach with these types of products is greater than products that have an emotional appeal. This is primarily due to the fact that tribal marketing is best achieved when there is some kind of excitement generated with the product. Purely functional products are generally not all that exciting to consumers.
The next stage involves products that have some emotional appeal to consumers. Examples of this are any products such as cosmetics, clothing, food items, or any other product whose appeal can be based upon some emotion by the consumer. This category is slightly easier to form a tribal marketing approach to try to become part of the tribe. If a good satisfies some emotional need from a consumer then they are far more likely to share that information with another member of the tribe. For example if someone tries a new chocolate product and really likes it then this experience may be more likely to be shared as it represents a strong emotional response. Then if the tribe accepts the product into their group then it can spread quickly amongst the members.
The final category of the tribal marketing model is the category that represents products that have a strong enough emotional appeal that they actually become part of that persons self-identification. The example of Harley Davidson was already mentioned. However, there are many more marketing examples to illustrate this category. Another strong tribal marketing program example can be provided by Apple Inc. who represents one of the most valuable and innovative organizations on the planet today. Apple positions itself as artists who are passionate about using their digital products to create or inspire (Accelteon). Apple products are incorporated directly into their consumers' concept of their self-identity.
Figure 1 - Tribal Model Examples (Accelteon)
The tribes' concept is applied to a community of people with different demographic features who share a common interest. However this doesn't necessarily imply that these people have actually met each other on a face-to-face basis. Virtual communities which are also sometimes known as E-tribes consist of a group of people who interact and socialize with each other through e-mail, instant messages, blogs, chat rooms, or through other digital mean. They share common interests, ideas, and outlooks which may include opinions on various products or services. These communications can influence individual choices that are not restricted to the digital world. For example, individuals who post information on MySpace and various music preferences may be picked up by other members of the tribe and spread faster than could by other means.
Virtual tribes can play an important role in marketing as they influence consumer buying decisions and spread information quickly. Many groups are formed specifically for the purpose of sharing advice or feedback about different products or services. For example, say someone wants to buy a phone but doesn't know where to start. It is likely that they may search online for information about the various cellular products that they are considering. They may read other customers feedback about the various experiences with different products. After they have researched all of the information online then they will use this to determine which product they select.
There are two basic categories of virtual tribes that are broken down by size. The first group is a smaller size that is composed of a limited amount of people who most likely know each other first hand. This group is more likely to use direct communications with other members such as email or text message. They are also more likely to communicate on a one on one basis that is more personal that the alternatives. For example, a family oriented tribe that is spread out geographically may use email to keep each other update on various aspects of their life. Communications can…