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Brand Communities & Consumer Tribes

A brand community was defined in 2001 by Albert Muniz Jr. and Thomas C. O’Guinn as ‘“a specialized, non-geographically bound community, based on a structured set of social relations among admirers of a brand.”

Building a brand community is not an easy task, but it’s seriously benficial if companies can cultivate this relationship within a marketing strategy. This is because community members are generally more passionate and loyal, and very often become brand ambassadors: they defend the brand, represent the brand and in the long term, become a partner of the brand. However, in order to build a brand community, the company needs to have a real personality and communicate its values so that the members of the group can identify themselves.

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Harley Davidson have managed to build a very strong brand community: its members easily connect and are organized around the same lifestyle, activities and the specific culture of the brand. Harley Davidson is more than a lovemark and suggests strong brand associations such as ‘freedom’. We can also find several segmented groups within the brand community: Latinos, Women Riders, Iron elite, etc., but they all share the same values.

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Beyond brand communitites, marketers have also defined the emerging “Consumers Tribes”: groups of people emotionally connected by similar consumption values and usage, who use the social ‘ linking value’ of products and service to create a community and express identity”. They share their interest and create a parallel social universe ripe with its own values, rituals, vocabulary and hierarchy. An example of this would be the World Nutella Day, created by a Nutella fan, where all members of the tribe are invited to celebrate their love and dedication to the brand together.

There are three distinguising features:

  • Shared consciousness and the sense of belonging to an in-group
  • Evidence of rituals and traditions around the brand
  • Sense of obligation to the community and its members

Difference between a tribe and a community:

  • The community is built around a specific brand or product
  • The tribe focuses on the relationship between its members – the consumers.

For example, Nike has built a tribe around high-performance athletes.

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Advantages of tribes:

  • The Brand becomes the ultimate expression of self, the philosophy of the brand becomes the philosophy iof the member of the tribe
  • A tribe can be global, without geographic limitation. It create one self-identity across different countries, cultures.
  • It creates loyalty. It is cheaper for a brand to retain its consumers rather than acquire new ones.
  • Largest potential in terms of brand extensions. The member of the tribe will always be willing to buy the new product from the Brand (example: the Apple watch).
  • Great communication opportunity (tribe members will communicate with their peers, and become ambassadors)

The Key rule of tribal marketing is to provide customers with a support to interact with each other through activities in their community. This will allow an increase the level of engagement and the brand loyalty because people want to interact with the brand but the mostly want to be able to be connected with each other.

In 2001, Cadbury withdrew its product Wispa (launched in 1981) from the market because of declining sales and replaced it with Dairy Milk Bubbles. Members of the Cadbury community were really unhappy over this decision and decided to take online action. They created online petitions and campaigns on social media platforms calling for Cadbury to rethink their decision.

After seeing the enthusiam of consumers, Cadbury decided to relaunched Wispa Classic. Fans were satisfied because they felt like they had been heard and understood by the brand. This brought a lot of publicity to Cadbury and had a positive impact on the overall business! This is how powerful and beneficial a community or tribe can be when handled correctly.

Here is a small case study on the subject if you are keen to learn a bit more!

In the long term, brands can use their community to test products and gather powerful insights.

This strong relationship between a brand and its tribe leads to value co-creation: where members become a partner of the brand and demand to be part of innovation.