• Georgia Hatton

People don't buy brands, they join them.


By, Holly Pither, MD and founder of Tribe PR

I believe that people don't just buy brands, rather they join them.

Good brand communication is all about engaging directly with these people, understanding what makes them tick, responding to their needs and then consequently turning them into brand fans. These people then become brand advocates and do something every PR professional dreams of; they tell your brand’s story. What more could you wish for?

And if you don’t quite get what I am saying yet, well consider this scenario. It’s a hot day and you are thirsty. You pop into a shop to buy a drink. When faced with a fridge full of juice, which product do you choose? It’s a hard one, because today we don’t just buy a product simply because of what it does, its health benefits or how it makes us feel. Rather we buy from a brand because that brand can help us define who we are. Furthermore, we buy it because it makes us feel part of something bigger; a consumer tribe.

This is why, for example, we may decide to buy an Innocent smoothie over and above a Sunny Delight. Because on that day in particular, we want to join the Innocent tribe and feel free, optimistic, wholesome, pure and happy. Most of all, on that day we want to keep things simple, so we buy an Innocent smoothie.

When you think of it like that, then you suddenly realise that so much of what we do and what we buy into is because we want to feel part of something bigger… Here are a few more examples.

We buy our outdoor kit from The North Face because we want to feel like we are part of an explorer tribe. Where other brands might try to help you build a home, brands like this want to get you out of it, encouraging freedom and bravery.

Whilst at other times, we might feel the need for reassurance through our brand choices, like buying a family car from Volvo. On this occasion, we buy into that consumer tribe of this caregiving brand, picking a brand we can trust to take care of our most precious loved ones.

Or perhaps you worship the open road, adore rebellion and exploration. Then you may well buy into the Harley Davison tribe. A tribe that is so loyal that many of its fans get a Harley logo painfully tattooed into their skin!

You buy your coffee from Starbucks in a takeaway cup, your PC from Apple, you watch Netflix and you scroll Instagram using your iPhone – all make you feel part of something bigger. I could continue…

So, if this really is true and customers don’t just buy brands for their features, but rather they join them to be part of something bigger, then brands need to consider how best to find their tribe. Then once they have found them, they need to make the most out of them.


And here are my four tips to do just that:


  1. Know what your tribe stands for: Spend some time working out what your tribe’s shared belief is. Consider what people will get out of being part of your tribe. Likewise, when someone buys your product or service, how can you help reinforce their sense of tribal belonging? Once you have figured this out, make sure all your written and social communications are consistent. Be sure too that all employees, spokespeople and key brand influencers you work with also sing from that same hymn sheet.

  2. You can’t be everything to everyone: If you are clear about your brand and what it stands for, then you will always find that some people will be left out. And that’s ok. Think back to Harley Davison. Sometimes the nature of your tribe being exclusive can be even more of a reason to want to join it. You will find that you lose your brand message and purpose if you try to be everything to everyone. Instead, focus in on your message and make sure you are clear about what you do and who it’s for.

  3. Be authentic: Authenticity is a word we hear banded around all the time, but there has never been a more important time to get authenticity right especially with so many brands shouting loudly on social media and in the press. Remember people can spot a fake a mile off, so make sure you are genuine and stay true to your purpose. If you are passionate about what you do and live up to your brand values, people will follow you.

  4. Know the difference between loyalty and advocacy: These two terms often get mixed up. Loyal customers are people who keep returning to your brand, but they might not actively be talking about your brand to other people. On the other hand, brand advocates are people who are both loyal to your brand and proactively share it. Your advocates will tell your story for you. As such, it’s essential to turn your brand loyalists into brand advocates.

Just take a look around you - be that on social media, in the street, whilst watching TV - you can spot these tribes everywhere. And then have a think, and consider; who’s in your tribe?

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Marketing Island is an award-winning online marketing magazine set to inspire those in the digital industry.

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