'In Conversation with Huw Thomas'

Our ‘In conversation with Huw Thomas’ series is written by blogger Bethan Williams, alongside PMC. Based on conversations with our Managing Director, Huw Thomas. Bethan is an anthropology graduate turned dance teacher turned blogger and writer. This series takes snippets of the conversations between Huw and Bethan, where their interests and areas of knowledge overlap, and turn them into pieces which are relevant to retail and business in general.

“There is a strong connection between brand, individual identity and culture. Therefore, and more precisely, a brand community is as an enduring, self-selected group of consumers, sharing a system of values, standards and representations, who accept and recognize bonds of membership with each other and with the whole”

I think brand and product loyalty is going to become an ongoing theme in my conversations with Huw. More than once we’ve explored ‘loyalty’; what it means and what it looks like in the changing retail environment. It falls back to the question; how do retailers generate and maintain loyalty from their customers? How do they keep them coming back?

As discussed before, much of the challenge is combating choice and competition in the marketplace. We’re in a constant state of bombardment from advertisers and producers trying to steer us toward their particular product. The differences are often minimal but our choices are crucial to the success or failure of a business. The technology to gather and analyse data and market intelligently is still young and there’s currently no easy solution. Intelligent marketing means personalised marketing. In my previous ‘In Conversation’ piece, I suggested that loyalty and personalisation are two sides of the same, very important, coin.

I focused on personalisation of services from the businesses perspective but what about looking at personalisation from the point of view of the consumer? I think commodities need to do more than simply fill a practical gap. They need to connect with consumers so people can build relationships with the brands they consume. It follows that companies, in order to rise above the swathes of competition, need to take responsibility for creating connections between themselves and their customers, and between people buying their products and each other; their Brand Tribes.

The theory of branding as tribalism applies on a big and small scale.


There’s nothing novel about asserting that football clubs are billion dollar industries because they represent something more than just a game. Ask any fan of any sport or club and they’ll tell you it’s about the collective sense of identity and about sharing in the joys and sorrows of the team. Large clubs have brand values in the hundreds of millions and have consumers across the globe. Taking Arsenal as an example, the demand for branded goods in the US and the Middle East is huge. Products are bought by people who are likely never to see an actual Arsenal match. Moreover, the demographic cannot be defined by the usual barriers. Supporters are male, female, young, old, rich, poor and the list could go on.

So what is it about Arsenal, or any major sports club, which makes owning their products desirable to non-locals? It’s about feeling part of something bigger than the individual. It’s about signalling an allegiance. It’s a collective sense of belonging. It’s about connecting with other people who also support Arsenal. It’s tribal! And what’s more, this tribalism is often more effective in attracting new customers, and keeping old ones loyal, than anything new the brand managers define.


Another example of small but powerful Brand Tribalism is Marmite. Imagine it; you’re standing in the ‘Jams & Spreads’ aisle of the local shopping centre comparing a jar of Marmite with a jar of own-brand yeast extract. Despite the difference in price, you buy the Marmite... you love marmite! Buying the Marmite makes you feel part of the ‘Love It or Hate It’ tribe. Yeast extract just doesn’t do that for you.

The other day I was drawn to purchase a KitKat simply because it gave me permission to ‘Take a Break’. I sat down and felt connected to all those other break-taking, KitKat eating people out there. That’s the power of Brand Tribalism.

So these are just two examples, on very different scales, of how collectivity breeds loyalty. Attaching emotional value to a company, or what a company stands for, generates a sense of community which people very naturally gravitate towards. Humans build relationships with products and attach value to what they come to symbolise. From this, networks of individual consumers appear, sharing a common sub-culture, identity or vision, which in turn reinforces their collective consumption habits and preferences.

My next couple of pieces are going to explore this idea further, focusing first on what Brand Tribalism means to consumers and then on what it could mean for marketing teams. See you there!


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