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Tribal Marketing – A Step Beyond Segmentation

August 2019 Marketing

“Tribalism,” that loaded word that has become a part of today’s political environment, has also entered the brand marketing world. The “tribes” idea, a powerful concept for leaders and marketers, addresses the way people develop an intense loyalty around a brand and form a rigid bond with that brand. It is step beyond market segmentation and step beyond brand insistence.

Conventional wisdom has held segmentation as the gold standard of brand marketing, but targeting markets based on common demographic, psychographic and behavior characteristics is not enough today. We need to add the new dimension of “tribal marketing.”

Peter Horst, writing in his book Marketing in the #Fake News Era – New Rules for a New Reality of Tribalism, Activision and Loss of Trust, (published by Advantage Media Group. Charleston, SC, 2018), explains: “A broader sociological notion is the tribe, which represents some aspect of how we think about ourselves – some characteristic of affiliation or foundation of our identity.”

Tribal marketing and its implications for brand marketers

Horst cites Lilliana Mason, a political science professor at the University of Maryland. She points to the 2016 presidential election as a vivid example. “Donald Trump leveraged this phenomenon,” she stated. “He pointed at groups that are not ‘you’ and called them responsible for your loss of status, loss of what you deserve.”

Talk to any Trump supporter and you will see this intense and even blind loyalty. As Trump says, “I can shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue and get away with it.”

How does this translate to brand tribalism? Brand tribes consist of people linked by a shared belief who are more than just consumers: they are true believers and promoters. Because such tribes are capable of collective action, they have significant implications for marketers.

Robert Kovach, the leader of Cisco’s leadership and intelligence team, writing in the July 26, 2017, Harvard Business Review, states: “In the business world, even when we are in the same company, we often find ourselves at cross-purposes without colleagues. Sales organizations want flexibility to meet changing customer demands…”

Forbes Magazine contributor Nikki Beard in “Tribal Marketing And The Need For A Radical Redefinition Of Brand” (Aug. 26, 2018) writes that, when it comes to tribal marketing, “The idea is pretty simple, but it comes out of the convergence of several consumer trends.” She believes that tribes arise when consumers are identified more on the basis of collective behavior than on shared demographics.

Beard gives credit to the Internet and “increasing global connectivity” as key reasons for this tribal group behavior. One of the things that drives this intensive tribal brand loyalty is the development of brands that stand for something like the environment or human rights.

She writes: “…you have to come to the table with a powerful brand promise to start with. Consumers increasingly demand that brands take a stand about all kinds of things. If your brand is based on the outdoors, then not only had the brand better care about the environment, it better put some ‘oomph’ behind it…”

“If behavior is more important than demographics,” Beard continues, “and if customers no longer want to be identified by their demographics, does this mean the end of segmentation marketing? The death of segmentation as a practice?”

She concludes that it is not necessarily the end of demographics, but believes that understanding tribal marketing and how it relates to demographics and other segmentation criteria will fortify the brand marketing process.



About the author

James T. Berger, Senior Marketing Writer of The Wiglaf Journal, through his Northbrook-based firm, James T. Berger/Market Strategies, offers a broad range of marketing communications, research and strategic planning consulting services. In addition, he provides expert services to intellectual property attorneys in the area of trademark infringement litigation. An adjunct professor of marketing at Roosevelt University, he previously has taught at Northwestern University, DePaul University, University of Illinois at Chicago and The Lake Forest Graduate School of Management. He holds degrees from the University of Michigan (BA), Northwestern University (MS) and the University of Chicago (MBA). Berger is an often-published free lance business writer who has developed more than 100 published articles in the last eight years. For more information, visit www.jamesberger.net or telephone him at (847) 328-9633.

James T. Berger
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