Brand Tribalism. Theoretical Foundation and Practical Application

Essay, 2012

36 Pages, Grade: 1


Table of Contents

1. Introduction
1.1 Problem Statement and Research Objectives
1.2 Approach

2. Background
2.1 Terminology
2.2 Consumer tribes, brand tribes and brand communities

3. Brand Tribes' Characteristics

4. Types of Brand Tribes

5. Relationships in the brand tribalism
5.1 Relationship between the consumer and the brand
5.2 Relationships between the customers

6. Application in the marketing practice
6.1 Application of the concept to the marketing management ...
6.2 Advantages and disadvantages of tribal marketing

7. State of the Art
7.1 Research Findings on Brand Tribalism
7.2 Best Practice Example
7.3 Application of Brand Tribalism and Tribal Marketing by Forty Agency

8. Conclusion
8.1 Summary and Discussion of Findings
8.2 Limitations
8.3 Outlook and Implications for Future Research

9. Bibliography


Table of Illustrations

Illustration 1: Typologies of brand communities

Illustration 2: Typology of Person-Brand Relationships

1. Introduction

1.1 Problem Statement and Research Objectives

In times of Web 2.0 many companies try to keep up with the current trend to launch an online community. However, this marketing activity often fails or turns out to be ineffective. The reason for it lies in the fact that the marketing managers often do not see the main point behind social media - people want to be connected (Fournier/Lee 2009, p. 109). Brand tribalism is a sociological concept enrooted in the idea that today’s consumers look for products that offer more than just quality and functionality by uniting people with each other (Cova/Cova 2002, p. 603f).

This research paper explains this concept by exploring the theoretical foundations of the term as well as its application to the marketing practice. Therefore, this work has two main objectives. The first is to provide solid theoretical information about the idea of brand tribalism including characteristics, structures and types of brand tribes. The second objective is to present, how the concept of brand tribalism can be applied to the marketing management and how it effects the customers. Furthermore, marketing activities of two companies present on the market will be researched in connection with the concept of brand tribalism.

1.2 Approach

The theoretical basis of this paper is presented in chapters 2 to 5. The information presented here derives from a solid literature research mainly focusing on scientific journals. Therefore, this part of the research paper is aimed at the first objective of providing a solid theoretical foundation of brand tribalism. Chapter 2 presents foundations of the term 'brand tribalism' and by showing the differences between consumer tribes, brand tribes and brand communities it delivers the basic definition used in this paper. Chapter 3 demonstrates the characteristics and chapter 4 the typologies of brand tribes. The structure and the relationships inside the brand tribe are explained in chapter 5.

The second part of the paper is devoted to the practical application of brand tribalism. For that purpose, the information was also gained from the research in the marketing literature as well as case studies on brand tribalism. Furthermore, Harley-Davidson was analyzed as a best-case example in brand tribalism based on the information gathered from marketing literature, case studies on this brand and the data on its webpage. Moreover, in order to explore the practical application of the brand tribalism the activities of the marketing agency Forty were analysed by interviewing its representatives, as well as studying their marketing approaches presented on the firm webpage. Chapter 6 presents the concept of tribal marketing and demonstrates its advantages and disadvantages. Chapter 7 "State-of-the-Art" presents the current research status on brand tribalism. It also presents the best- case example of Harley Davidson's brand tribe as well as the concept's application by the marketing agency Forty.

Finally, in the conclusion the content of the working paper is summarized and the findings, limitations and the outlook for the future are presented.

2. Background

2.1 Terminology

Due to the different dimensions of the term, several definitions of brand can be found in the literature. According to Kotler et al . a brand is "a name, term, sign, symbol or design, or some of these elements, intended to identify the products and services of one company and to differentiate them from those of competitors" (2009, p. 454). However, today the dimension of the term is seen much broader. Whereas in the original definition a brand is the result of a company's marketing management activities, today it is seen as a synthetic result of the interaction between the company and the consumers (Solomon et al., 2010 p. 37). Brand is in fact the "collection of perceptions held in the mind of the consumers" (Fournier 1998, p. 345). Furthermore, brands can be seen as social entities co-created by the customers (Muniz/O'Guinn 2001, p. 427).

A tribe in its original anthropological concept is "a social division in a traditional society consisting of families or communities linked by social, economic, religious, or blood ties, with a common culture and dialect, typically having a recognized leader" (Oxford Dictionaries 2012). The concept of brand tribalism, however, is based on the postmodernist Latin perspective. Postmodernism is a concept perceiving that today’s people, typically showing shared beliefs in certain values of modernism and industrialism, are breaking up the established social and cultural order and are developing new society aspects instead (Solomon et al. 2010, p. 38). One of the main features in the postmodernist society is neo-tribalism. Enrooted in the work of Maffesoli (1996), neo-tribalists argue that people having liberated themselves from the social constraints are experiencing a very high level of individualism today. However, they are now seeking for alternative social arrangements and communities (Cova/Cova 2002, p. 596). This theory is based on the Latin vision, which perceives that the consumer is less interested in the objects of consumption themselves than in the social links and identities created by them. Following this need of connecting with others, people unite in consumer tribes or even brand tribes (Cova/Cova 2002, p. 595). These ideas form the basic concept of brand tribalism.

2.2 Consumer tribes, brand tribes and brand communities

On the one hand, there are many authors and researchers who use the terms "brand community", "brand tribe" and "consumer tribe" as synonyms (Cova/Pace 2006, p. 1088). On the other hand, there are some researchers who differentiate between these terms. They define a consumer tribe as a group of individuals who are not necessarily homogenous in terms of such social characteristics as age, sex or income, but are inter-linked by the same passion and emotions. They do not only consume, but also take collective action (Cova/Cova 2002, p. 602). A brand community, as defined by Muniz/O'Guinn, is a "specialized, non-geographically bound community, based on a structured set of social relationships among admirers of a brand" (2001, p. 412).

The differences between these two terms lie in the explicit commerciality of the brand community, which is not intrinsic to a consumer tribe (Cova/Cova 2002, p. 603). The brand communities are largely held together by the consumption practice and their essence and coherence are influenced by the mass media. This again is not necessary a characteristic of a consumer tribe (Muniz/O'Guinn 2001, p.414). Luedicke/Gisler see a brand community as a "more exclusive concept" (2007, p. 277).

Thus, a brand community can be seen as a special form of a consumer tribe, whose members are united by the consumption of a brand product or service (Luedicke/Gisler 2007, p. 277). In these terms, a brand community can be seen as a brand tribe. Cova/Pace define "any group of people that possess a common interest in a specific brand and create a parallel social universe (subculture) rife with its own myths, values, rituals, vocabulary and hierarchy" as a brand tribe (2006, p.1089). Hence, a brand tribe demonstrates characteristics of both a consumer tribe and a brand community. In the following, the terms brand tribe and brand communities will be used as synonyms implying that the brand community presented has the core characteristics of a consumer tribe.

3. Brand Tribes' Characteristics

The numerous characteristics of brand tribes can be found in different conceptions in the existing literature. Several authors see a connection between the characteristics of social, archaic tribes and consumer tribes (Cova and Cova 2002; Maffesoli 1996).

Based on the comparison to the archaic tribes, Cova/Cova assessed the following characteristics: Consumer tribes do not rely on a central power, but rather choose a collective representative actor. Members of the tribe are not united by rational factors but by non-rational, emotional and archaic elements, such as identification, syncretism and group narcissism. Persons in the consumer tribe are heterogenous in terms of social factors. One person can belong to several neo-tribes at the same time. The members have shared experiences and rituals, whereas in a brand tribe, these are related to the process of consumption. Overall, the consumer tribes are ephemeral and nontotalizing groupings (Cova/Cova 2002, p. 597ff).

Whereas these characteristics derive from the comparison of a consumer tribe with an archaic tribe, Muniz/O'Guinn developed three core aspects of a brand community based on the theoretical sociology literature: consciousness of kind, rituals and traditions and moral responsibility (Muniz/O'Guinn 2001, p. 413).

The first aspect - consciousness of kind - refers to the communal sense of belonging together and being different from people outside the community. This aspect not only implies that the member feels connected to the brand, but also to the other members. The consciousness of kind bears two other important aspects. The first one is legitimacy, whereat members of a brand community clearly differentiate between true members, marginal members and outsiders. Another aspect of the consciousness of kind is the oppositional brand loyalty. Through opposition to competing brands, community members obtain important communal experience and therefore their consciousness of kind intensifies (Muniz/O'Guinn 2001, p.419f).

The second characteristics of brand communities are the tribal rituals and traditions. They are usually based on the shared consumption experiences of brand products or services. Hereby, a brand community reinforces its culture and essence. One focus of rituals and traditions is to celebrate the history of the brand. In order to vitalize and enforce the community culture, members look at the roots of the brand and the community. Expertise in brand history differentiates the core community member from a marginal one. Another important aspect of rituals and traditions is the storytelling. Hereby, the community members tell their own stories or pass on others' stories connected with the brand. Lots of myths about the brand are developed through this practice. Storytelling reinforces the consciousness of kind and the social link between community members. It may also refer to the competitive brands or members outside the community in order to emphasize the strengths of the community and the differences between community members and other people ((Muniz/O'Guinn 2001, p. 421ff).

The last core aspect is the moral responsibility. Members have a sense of duty towards the brand community as a whole and its other members. On the basis of social consciousness, brand community members recognize which behavior is appropriate and which is not. In these terms, exiting the community by switching to the competitive brand is often seen as wrong and can therefore be criticized by other community members. Moral responsibility is needed for collective action and coherence. There are two important community practices based on the aspect of moral responsibility. One of them is the integration of the new and preservation of the existing members. The other practice is to assist other community associates in their consumption of brand products or services. Sensing the moral responsibility, brand community members not only help repairing products or fixing problems connected with the brand, they also actively share useful brand-related information. Internet and social media offer useful tools to exchange information for this purpose. Sometimes assistance in the brand community can even go beyond brand-related topics (Muniz/O'Guinn 2001, p. 424ff).

Besides these three core characteristics, Muniz/O'Guinn state that a brand community is not geographically bounded. Due to the status of the internet and other media today, which is significantly important for the development of brand communities, members do not have to meet in real life in order to connect. Therefore, elements of imagination can be observed in the pattern of a brand community. It is often considered to be an 'imagined community', whereby consumers feel connected with other unmet community members (Muniz/O'Guinn 2001, p. 419).

Even though further characteristics were observed in some brand communities, the three core aspects - consciousness of kind, rituals and traditions and moral responsibility - presented by Muniz/O'Guinn, are accepted theoretical foundations in the concept of brand tribalism. They are used by many researches in order to identify and evaluate a brand community or a brand tribe.

4. Types of Brand Tribes

Consumer tribes as in the concept presented by Cova/Cova are unstable, small-scale, feeling-based, heterogeneous networks of people. They are open systems consumers will belong to if they feel emotionally bounded. Due to these characteristics, consumer tribes are difficult to identify and evaluate (Cova/Cova 2002, p. 598ff).

Brand communities and brand tribes, however, can be differentiated with regard to their characteristics. Concerning their coherence and organization, brand communities can be very formal and structured or informal and loose (Veloutsou/Moutinho 2009, p. 316). Regarding the size, one can differentiate between larger network-based (more than 50 members) and smaller group-based (less than 50 members) communities. Members of a network-based community usually identify themselves more with the community as a whole and only have limited relationships with other members. In comparison, consumers in smaller brand communities usually have stronger relationships with other members and more actively participate in communal affairs (Algesheimer et al. 2005, p. 24).

Regarding the foundation of a brand community, De Almeida et al. differentiate between company-initiated and consumer-initiated communities. The first type are the communities which were usually founded by companies in order to help customers with brand-related problems as well as inform them about new products or services and other brand news. The focus of consumer-initiated communities goes beyond that and therefore they provide more interaction between the community members by discussing topics not necessarily connected to the brand (De Almeida et al. 2007, p. 645). However, this differentiation rather concerns brand online communities and not brand tribes in the notion of this paper. Since in the current concept brand tribe is defined as a group of brand admirers interacting and creating its own rituals and traditions, it is difficult to say who the initiator of the community actually is - the company having created the brand or the people interacting and sharing admiration towards the brand.

Another typology was presented by Fournier/Lee. In this conception, brand communities may have forms of pools, hubs or webs (Fournier/Lee 2009, p. 107). A pool is a group of people united by shared goals or values. In this case the brand management addresses the pool by presenting the brand as caring these values and therefore uniting the community members through emotion and identification. Compared to other brand community types, pools are lacking interpersonal relationships. Therefore, the community can react very sensitive, if the common meaning disappears, for instance when the brand tries to grow (Fournier/Lee 2009, p. 107). In the concept of brand tribe presented in this paper, a pool cannot be evaluated as a tribe at all, since it lacks the interpersonal connections.

The second type of brand communities is the hub. Its main aspect is the members' shared admiration of an individual. Hence, this community's weakness lies in the sensitivity towards the presence of the central figure (Fournier/Lee 2009, p. 108). Here, a hub cannot be immediately regarded as a brand tribe either since it does not necessarily carry the consciousness of coherence.

The most stable and strongest type of brand communities is the web. Hereby, the members not only share an interest towards the brand, but are also connected by interpersonal relationships with each other (Fournier/Lee 2009, p. 108). Of all the three types a web is the only one that can be regarded as a brand tribe in the concept presented in this work. Founier/Lee suggest that establishing a web community or a mix of all the three types would enforce the brand and its loyalty (Fournier/Lee 2009, p. 108).

Another differentiation is proposed by Cova/Pace. Hereby, the two categories by which the brand communities are measured are retail strategy - niche, mixed or large - and the level of the required investment to be done by the consumer. In this concept, the scale based on these two categories, which is presented in illustration 1, can be used for positioning and measuring brand communities (Cova/Pace 2006, p. 1091).

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Illustration 1:

Typologies of brand communities (Adapted from Cova/Pace 2006, p. 1091)

The marketing literature and research provides different typologies of brand communities. However, not all of them can be applied to brand tribes. All in all, brand tribes can be definitely differentiated in large network-based and small group-based communities, as well as be evaluated with regard to the company's selling strategies and the required consumer's investment to join the tribe.


Excerpt out of 36 pages


Brand Tribalism. Theoretical Foundation and Practical Application
Munich Business School University of Applied Sciences
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ISBN (Book)
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marketing, brand, branding, social media, community, web 2.0, tribe, tribalism
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Alisa Zayasenko (Author), 2012, Brand Tribalism. Theoretical Foundation and Practical Application, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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