Saturday, March 04, 2006

Tribal identities

How can we Marketers understand consumers in today’s world of stronger fragmentation and ever changing communities? Let’s look at one not very recent but ever evolving trend: tribal identities. Everyone belongs to tribes - It can refer to an ethnicity, it can be interest based, geographically defined, or just being part of the same consumer community (e.g. mac users). Over the last years this phenomena of self selected and consciously chosen tribal identity has fully moved into Cyberspace. Partly due to this transition into the Online world, tribal identities become less and less a political or social phenomena, but more and more a consumer marketing challenge that marketers try to understand better. To build connection between brands and consumers, you need to know the consumer’s tribal identities.

I think the real news is not about consumer tribalism; this has been discussed since the 80s. The more fascinating movement is that consumers have more and more tribal identities. Consumers, especially the younger ones, switch identities happily back and forth between multitudes of identities. You can be a part of your favorite blog communities in the morning, at the workplace you are fine-tuning your baseball team in Fantasy Sports, and at night you are adding content to your identity in

What is the difference of tribal identities to marketers’ traditional understanding of customer segments? Very simple, most companies believe that an individual falls into one particular segment that is identified by a multitude of descriptive attributes. Companies have to realize that this is becoming more and more difficult, since customers are moving beyond a particular segment identity to a multitude of tribal behaviors. Therefore they are very difficult to be clustered into one particular segment. Consumers are just moving too fast and without any regards for a company’s desire to segment them.

Interesting fact is that technology is one of the key drivers of threatening traditional identities while simultaneously enabling consumers to build new identities. Technologies are an identity destroying and an identity creating force. Successful marketing communications will not only recognize consumers’ “tribal memberships”, but respect the customer in these multiple identities. The science of customer segmentation is not dead but is becoming more complex and is in need of more sophisticated toolsets and methodologies than ever.


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