In this posting, I wanted to introduce the concept of tribal branding. Situations where tribal branding might work include festivals, sporting seasons, annual charity drives, as well as brands that create a strong sense of identity and “discovery” amongst its users, and seek to be positioned as niche, independent, difficult, edgy, or different, such as Mooks, Virgin, Apple, OK, Go! and Alessi. The reason these brands become tribal is predominantly because of the defragmentation of traditional communities, and the need for people to belong to something that contributes to their self-identity.
Tribal brands rely on a number of key factors, 1. Anticipation of usage, 2. Social (or depersonalised) attraction to others who use the service or product, 3. Commitment, 4. Loyalty, and 5. Trust.
In addition to trust and commitment, critical contributors to the tribal brand were anticipation, and social attraction. In particular, anticipation (or the excitement leading to the next opportunity to use the brand) has the highest influence on the tribal brand, followed closely by social, or depersonalised, attraction to others who used the brand. What this means is that while the people who use the brand might identify with others who use the brand, it doesn’t necessarily seems themselves as potentially being friends or having a relationship with others, outside of their use of the branded products.
Tribal brand affinity has more influence on purchase intentions that product and service quality, and tribal brand affinity is more powerful in building loyalty than other typically assumed transactional components, such as product evaluation, and overall satisfaction.
Service quality perceptions, which are traditionally argued to be an important influence over future usage of products with future intentions does not seem to matter as much with tribal brands. What this suggests is that transactional components, such as product attitudes, service attitudes, and customer satisfaction are less important as a motive for future usage, and recommendation, than a sense of brand affinity with the organisation, and what it represents.
BRAND RELATIONSHIPS GO THROUGH A DISTINCTIVE CYCLE
Consumption experience has a strong influence amongst those customers who express a willingness to form continuing behavioural relationships with the brand. As consumers remain in their relationship with the tribal brand, their levels of brand affinity, and their future intentions become more pronounced.
In particular, the brand relationship is at its most robust for those customers who are using the product for their second and third years. These findings are similar to research into relationship commitment and trust in the field of social psychology, where the initial arousal or excitement of a relationship (infatuation), is transformed to one of mutual interdependence in the succeeding encounters (commitment). As a relationship develops, however, it encounters potential negation and stress, and is more open to competitive, and reduction in commitment, loyalty, and optimism about the relationship (break-up or regeneration).
LOYALTY HAS TO BE NURTURED AND MAINTAINED DEPENDING ON WHERE THE CONSUMER IS IN THE BRAND RELATIONSHIP
Loyalty creation is as much a process, as it is an outcome. As customers build experience with a brand or organisation, marketing managers need to develop strategies that develop meaningful connections between the individual, the group that consumes the brand, and the brand itself.
In terms of many marketing programs, there is little difference in the way that products are marketed between new users, intermediate users, and heavy/long-term users. In other words, specialised marketing programs should be developed to build customer relationships. Specifically for tribal brands, marketing programs need to target the weakening relational commitment noticed amongst customers who had been using the product for a long time. This is different to many FMCGs, where habit tends to create intertia in their usage. With tribal brands, managers need to revitalise the customers relationship with the brand. The reasons for the reduction of the influence of tribal brand affinity amongst those users is most likely related to a cumulative process, rather than a single “incident”. Much of the relationship literature suggests that maintaining a relationship is a result of both parties encountering, and then surmounting some forms of stress, competitive offerings, and negation by other parties. Marketers of tribal brands need to invest in relational programs that counteract the centrifugal forces that besiege the longer-term relational bond.
More to come soon.