The tribal mentality and a brand’s success

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“Can you pass me my iPhone?” a friend recently asked me when we were out together.
What is noteworthy about this sentence is that she referred to her mobile by brand – have you ever heard anyone say ‘can you pass me my Samsung?’

Apple doesn’t produce phones. It produces iPhones. You don’t own a phone, you own an iPhone.

Substituting a brand name for a product is not uncommon – think Coke or Glad. However, the difference here lies in the fact that Coke can refer to any type of cola drink, and Glad to any type of cling wrap. Only phones produced by Apple are iPhones. The iPhone exists within a category of its own.

Now, it’s no news that Apple has been able to achieve massive brand presence and a strong loyalty base. So, what can we learn from Apple’s marketing victory? And can it be replicated?

Most Apple loyalists will tell you that Apple offer functionally superior products, and are thus a more successful company. However, when consumers pay double for white Apple headphones, something other than functionality is at work. In marketing terms, reducing the success of a brand to the products it creates is a simplistic view. Products can be imitated. It is the brand that holds the unique relationship with their consumers – whether they acknowledge it or not.

It is about building something bigger than your product. Something people can use to connect to each other. Red Bull connects its customers through a common interest of extreme sports. Blackmore’s is currently building an online community dedicated to health and well being. Like Apple these brands are creating tribes – where emphasis is on people, not product.

What do you think of this tribe mentality? Can it work across all categories?

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4 Responses to “The tribal mentality and a brand’s success”

  1. Gaynor Kemmett says:

    I think Apple is a brilliant brand that has and is doing a wonderful job of making people think of Apple as their item. We call thermos’ thermos because that brand – thermos – makes a container that keeps a drink or other fluid hot or cold by means of a double wall enclosing a vacuum – and thermos is now in out dictionaries as that “thing”. I love Apple Macintosh branding and I think they deserve all of the ‘space’ that is devoted to them. iPhone will be in a dictionary one day I think and good for Apple!. Thank you for listening.

  2. Roger, it strikes me that the motive power behind tribal identification is perceived competition…even an adversary upon which to focus. There’s a common attitude among artists and actors having a success…”it’s not so much that I win as it is that you lose.”

    That seems to be a very powerful locus of forming a tribe. An adversary who can be humiliated seems to lie at the heart of tribe (brand) forming. Back when canned tuna was new to the market, canned salmon was the only game in town. So what did the advertisers write…”Tuna, the fish that doesn’t turn orange in the can.”

    Have you seen much canned salmon on the shelves?

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