Tribal marketing for Generation Y

A couple of months ago, I attended a book launch event dedicated to the recent publication of How Cool Brands Stay Hot by Joeri Van den Bergh from Insites Consulting and Mattias Behrer from MTV Europe. ((How Cool Brands Stay Hot, Kogan Page, 2011))  The book gives an insight into Generation Y, or Millennials: teenagers and young adults born between 1980 and 1996 .  Web savvy, wary of marketing “tricks” and highly authentic, they are “on a mission to become special and unique.” ((ibid., p. 3)) Besides, these youngsters are just beginning to shape their relationships with brands, and provided that you get your brand on their radar screen, and make it appealing and “cool”, chances are, they will like it for quite some time to come. This is why it is so important for any company that wants to market to Generation Y, to know what it takes to become a truly cool brand.

The authors have structured the results of their detailed 5-year long research, that I finished reading a couple of days ago, around the so called CRUSH model.  It is an acronym of Coolness, Realness, Uniqueness, Self-identification with the brand and Happiness, which are the main requirements for any brand that aspires to be considered “cool” by youngsters. Whereas the book is packed with useful marketing advice (did you know, for instance, that teens actually do trust their parents more than one could ever imagine, and that they don’t like to buy "ethical" and "green" products because they are fed up with marketers telling them what’s ethical and green?) from beginning to end, I’d like to share with you the main findings about the part on teen self-identity (The S in the Crush model). It resonated with me particularly in view of my recent talk on Personal Branding.

 

How big is the role brands (especially clothes, accessories and gadgets) play in constructing self-identity and personal brands? To answer this question, it's important to point out that identity is always connected to the body, “Identity is always about the body, the bodily states and desires of being, becoming, belonging and behaving.” ((ibid., p. 148)) That’s why fashion, and tatoos play such an important role in self-expression. What your customer wears or carries often becomes part of his or her personal brand.  And because personal brands are shaped and influenced by the external social environment (which forms the so called social identity), it’s extremely important for marketers to understand the dynamics of self-identity formation.

 

Perhaps one of the most profound lessons for anyone who wants to understand consumer dynamics of Generation Y, is to step away from traditional psychographic segmentation which is a "method to simplify reality by assigning individuals to groups of homogenous persons who share the same characteristics. In reality, the members of segments are not connected to each other and take no collective action." ((ibid., p. 157))

 

Instead, it’s important to explore the teens’ search for a lifestyle that enables them to become part of a “tribe”, express their self-identity and construct their personal brands.

 

The concept of tribal market segmentation becomes easy to grasp if we take into account the following main elements of identity formation:

 

-The personal identity: the identity a person believes he/she has

-The social self: the identity he/she has in the eyes of others and that can be discovered only through social interactions. Given that there may be several social groups each person interacts with, that person can, in fact, has several social identities.

-The aspired self: the ideal identity a person would like to have

-Non-identity: the non-wanted self  ((ibid., p. 150))

 

Tribal marketing explores relationships that teens have within networks of heterogeneous people linked by a shared passion or emotion. For a very detailed, and very useful example of tribal mapping within Gen Y, have a look at the image below.

 

The table summarizes results of joint work between Insites Consulting and MTV Networks. The horizontal dimension of the image represents “me”-centered tribes on the right, and “we”-centered tribes on the left. The vertical dimension groups extroverts above and introverts below.

 

As a result, each of the quadrants in the model groups youngsters whose identities have a lot in common. For instance, the upper left quadrant groups people who like to react to the world around them through their own creativity. Indie kids, rockers and new ravers are part of this group, for instance.

 

What kinds of insights does the tribal marketing approach give to brand builders?

 

First of all, it’s important to understand that it’s rarely possible to appeal to the entire Gen Y with a single brand. If may be, however, possible to have several brands at your disposal within the same company.  Nike Inc. has understood it well by using two different brands — Nike and Converse — to appeal to different tribes within Generation Y. The Nike brand, which focuses on athletes, appeals to the upper-right quadrant (status-seeking youngsters). This tribe will find Nike’s notions of excellence, importance of fashion highly appealing. Converse’s fans — mostly in the upper left quadrant — will appreciate the simplicity, creativity and art: values that fuel the Converse brand.

 

Another interesting example described in the book illustrates how to create appeal across H&M's Generation Y customers. ((ibid., see p. 168))

 

Second, do not structure your brand communications around the tribes that are most located on the outskirts of the tribal model. This means that whereas the “mainstream” tribes (located close to the center of the model) are relatively “safe” to portray in your communications, the outskirt tribes, such as gothics, may be a stretch, because they are often perceived as non-identities to many tribes, especially diagonally opposite. So, if you consider running an ad in which a pair of gothic youths drive your new funky car brand, think twice and consider a pair of fashionistas instead.

 

Third, explore a close fit between online and real life identity formation. Notice what different tribes like to do online, and you should not be surprised to find out that fashionistas like to watch glam YouTube videos, whereas introverts are big time into games.