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In the view of earning profit, marketers should develop as deeper, more affective relationship with their customers as they can. Some scholars reveal that competitive advantage can no longer be sustained on the basis of product attributes and perceived position. Today’s Consumers are now developing unique and vibrant relationships with their brands (McAlexander et al 2003). And strong brand relationship has also been characterized as cults or tribes (Cova and Cova, 2002). In this sense, the brand gathers passionate consumers in a structured social relationship, binding members together through a shared social and interpersonal experience (Cova 1997, Muniz and O’Guinn 2001). Brand managers are advised to go beyond the common marketing theory to establish a more stable relationship with the group of tribal people. In this case, the discussion of the way to make stable relationship with these tribal members is receiving more and more attention.
The aim of this paper is to analyze the definition of brand tribe and some relevant literatures to evaluate how marketers engage with the phenomena of brand tribe to build a long term relationship with tribes.
Concept of Brand tribalism
“A brand tribe can be defined as a social network of varied persons -who are linked by a shared belief around a brand; its members are not simple consumers, they are also believers and promoters” Patrick Dixon (2010) Says. A brand tribe does collective action and therefore it is implicated as post-modern business. The emergence of brand tribalism represents tribal consumptions. Some scholars define the concept of tribal consumption as “Tribal Based Views of Brand”.
Cova (1997) says that Brand tribalism emerges because there is a group of consumers who adore this brand emotionally connected by some values and usage of consumption, using the social “linking value” of products and services to create a community and express identity. According to Bagozzi’s (2000) concept of international social action, social associations are the most important influence on an individual’s consumption decisions. In terms of this point, the phenomena of tribes can be presented as an expression of both self and social identity. Furthermore, Maffesoli (1996) establishes that consumer social identities and consumption choices shift depending on situational and lifestyle factors. So, the phenomena of Brand tribalism can also be understood and accessed through their shared beliefs, ideas and consumption. Due to this point, one individual consumer who has different categories of identity, may be involved in several different brand tribes at the same time.
Socially interconnected groups have been found to act loyally as a group because personal relationships are maintained through shared, regular consumption (Gainer, 1995). Brand just likes an art and consumers just like its diverse audiences bounded by a shared passion for “performance”. Meanwhile, studies of consumer-consumer relationships and their influence on individual consumption have focused on brand communities (Berger et al., 2006; Muniz and O’Guinn, 2001; Schouten and McAlexander, 1995). This research expands the focus on social relationships in the consumer behavior area and looks into the dynamics of a group of consumers focusing on one brand (brand tribe) for marketing opportunities.
As revealed before, a brand tribe can be seen as a kind of network of societal micro-groups (tribes). In this view, brand tribes are identified as a relatively new concept in social theory and yet have made significant impact on the development of marketing theory (Cova and Cova, 2002; Cova and Salle, 2008; Gronroos, 2006; Kozinets, 1999). Brand tribe is different from historical tribes because it has a new social order, wherein status within a tribe is achieved by different and specific values (Cova and Cova, 2002). In brand tribes, the members are grounded by same self identity, belief, interesting or emotion. In this view, the term of “brand community” may be not an adequate explanation of describing tribes. A brand community is established around supporting a particular brand or product (Burgh-Woodman and Brace-Govan, 2007). According to Kozinets and Handelman (2004), this community, in some instances, may diminish brand equity, just like a consumer activist standing in opposition to mainstream consumers. In this way, people would not be self-formed as tribes.
Shared consumption (tribe) is the post-modern consumer’s means of creating a social link and building bridges between individuals (Cova and Salle, 2008; Simmons, 2008). Therefore the existence of brand tribes presents a chance to communicate with elusive post-modern consumers who hold meaning and relevance for the individuals within them, rather than attempting to create a homogenous segment from arbitrary characteristics. In this view, brand tribalism calls that marketers should look beyond conventional brand strategy, such as brand community (Addis and Podesta, 2005). Besides because involvement with a tribe is an expression of self-identity, the brand tribe shares not only moral values or opinions, but consumption values and preferences. In this case, it can be seen that when tribal members possess for their tribe, there is an opportunity for marketers to co-create meaningful and “symbiotic” the brand and brand image; the brand community, consumer and brand tribe to facilitate the creation, communication, and the evolution of the brand and build special relationships with groups of consumers (Cova, 1997).
Furthermore, the post-modern consumption practices and values allocated to consumption of certain products and brands by a tribe provide unique characteristics for marketers to explore and leverage. Customer co-creation and co-production has been recognized as an area of consumer behavior theory that cannot be ignored in the process of gathering marketing intelligence (Rowley et al., 2007). Researched areas such as product development, experience environments, loyalty schemes and virtual communities have all been identified as key points for customer involvement (Rowley et al., 2007). Tribal marketing scrutinizes how tribes consume and “co-create” products for their own uses. This gives marketer’s another avenue for creating social interaction around their good, service or brand. And also it can be seen that rather than the influence of marketers and common marketing theory, in the tribes social influences are the most important influence on an individual’s consumption decisions (Bagozzi, 2000).
Building bonded loyalty with consumer tribes
Tribal membership is fluid and can fluctuate according to the involvement of the individual (Maffesoli, 2007). This poses a challenge for marketers in identifying and building long-term loyal relationships with individuals. Firms supporting consumer-consumer relationships, such as consumer tribes, are proposed to create long-term loyalty through establishing both an emotional connection as well as a rational reason for commitment (Cova and Cova, 2002). In many publications, loyal relationship between customers and companies are seen as an investment for the future revenue and competitive advantage (Srivastava et al., 1998; Gomez et al., 2005). And the value of loyalty, a commitment of re-consume is shown by the difficulty other firms have in copying this relationship (Kumar and Shah, 2004). However, the concept of loyalty may have limited value in the case of post-modern consumption. The context, product and an individual’s experiences do not produce one tribal form of loyalty that will have re-consumption commitment. In this situation, it is required that aggregate tribal members’ loyalty to a formation of loyalty. And the formation of loyalty should concern the influence of social identity and social context.
According to Bhattacharya et al. (1995)’s theory, social identity theory is used to structure the commitments of repurchase from a social group (tribe) as a form identification with the brand. It is also referred to as “bonded loyalty”, where people show a collective loyalty towards a brand or company.
Bordieu’s (1989) concept of “cultural capital” may explain the knowledge, rules and chain of command within a tribe. In the tribal context, cultural capital “consists of a set of socially rare and distinctive tastes, skills, knowledge and practices” (Cova et al., 2007, p. 136). A tribal marketing approach needs company to act in a support role to the relationships within a group with the aim being to build bonded loyalty, rather than to act as a controller (Cova and Cova, 2002). In this view, an understanding of the specific cultural capital of a tribe, and its symbolic meaning would support marketers to hobnob with tribal people and build a collective, bonded loyalty. And also it could “provide insight into ways of engaging members in the co-creation of products and, more importantly, the experiences they deliver” (Rowley et al., 2007).
The social dynamics of tribes also provide insight for connecting with members on an affective level. Cova and Cova (2002) found four different roles to exist amongst consumer tribe members. These range from low participation (the sympathiser), to active members, to practitioners and lastly devotees, who possess high level of involvement and emotional attachment (Cova and Cova, 2002). The practitioner in a tribe has a similarity with the opinion leader concept; they influence the exchange of certain information among peers due to their own knowledge and authority in the area (King and Summers, 1970; Robertson and Rogers, 1972). In a post-modern consumer tribal context, it is fitting to use King and summer’s (1970) description of opinion leaders as people with influence over the exchange of certain information. The roles members assume may have implications for whom, and how, marketers choose to communicate with the tribe.
Since there were people calling that brand tribe is subculture, it is necessary to talk about it. Otts (1989) defined culture as “All technologies, beliefs, knowledge and fruits that people share and transfer to next generations.” English anthropologist Taylor (1958) believed that culture was everything that an individual learns in society. It is a combination of knowledge, beliefs, arts, morals, laws, customs, and any other capabilities and customs. And subculture is often expressed with synonyms such as split culture, cultures within cultures, cultural pluralism theories, and multi-cultures.
Actually, subculture and brand tribe have the same characteristics. They are both founded by trying to find people of similar self-identification, attitudes, communication methods, shared values, shared experiences, personal characteristics, social and economical statuses, and educational backgrounds, and gather them together (Schouten et al 1995). In this view, it may be seen brand tribe as a kind of subculture. However Schiffman et al (2008) reveals that brand tribes are different from subculture. It describe that Consumer tribes differ from subcultures in that their connections are much narrower, with similar beliefs, values or customs setting them apart from the dominant societal culture (Schiffman et al., 2008).
This piece of work reveals the details of tribal membership and evaluates the influence of this membership on consumption behavior. It is not like conventional segmentation where consumers are arbitrarily grouped by segment characteristics, tribes are consumer-driven groups that members in tribes construct an individual’s self-identity and create new communities based on shared consumption, beliefs, passion and ideas. In this view, it can be found that tribal relationship is primarily founded based on affective rather than on rational or commercial bases. In this condition, building a long term relationship with tribal members requires that consider the influence of social identity and social context on the formation of loyalty. As revealed by Bhattacharya et al. (1995), this kind of loyalty is referred to “bonded loyalty”. Then the understanding of defined values of social dynamic of tribes and a specific set of “culture capital” provide a way for marketers to reach tribal members and develop a collective, bonded loyalty.
Finally, although subculture and brand tribe have similar features, it is still hard to say they are the same thing. According to Schiffman et al (2008)’s theory, relationships between members of brand tribe are much narrow. In this view, we can see that though their connection is also built in a similar way of gathering people together, the main bond of brand tribe is shared consumption while subculture’s main bond can be everything.
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