Market Research Qualitative Research

Tribes and Territories: A New Way to Understand Competitors and Customers – Part 1

Why Do We Need a New Approach to Competitive Mapping?

Farewell, Homo Economicus!

Who? You might know him from your Economics class as Rational Man. Nearly all business theory in the past was based on the theory that consumers made rational decisions, or as Wikipedia notes, “using rational assessments, Homo Economicus attempts to maximize utility as a consumer and economic profit as a producer.”

So why are we saying, “Farewell” to Homo Economicus? Because consumers are not rational in their decision making.

Daniel Kahneman won the 2002 Nobel Prize for his ground-breaking research into the field of behavioral economics, or the study of how psychological, cognitive, emotional, cultural and social factors impact the economic decisions of individuals and institutions. In spite of economic theory, consumers do not use “rational assessments,” and indeed, they may not even “maximize utility” with their decisions, making Rational Man a completely false premise for marketing thinking. As Richard Thaler says in his book, Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics, “The purely economic man is indeed close to being a social moron. Economic theory has been much preoccupied with this rational fool.”

The bottom line is that most consumers cannot articulate how they define and evaluate factors in the purchase decision or why they choose the brands they do. Survey research that pre-supposes the factors that might be important, and even the competitors that might be relevant, is very likely to lead to weak insights or even be flat-out wrong. Consumers might be able to tell you that a brand is “for people like me,” but what does that mean? Further, what should marketers do in response?

To understand why consumers choose your brand, it is critical to dig below the surface or what consumers say – and your own assumptions about them and your brand. Breakthrough understanding of your brands comes from projective techniques in a qualitative setting, and creative analysis that unearths those deep emotional, social, cultural, and cognitive factors that drive consumer choice. You need to understand your brand’s Tribes and Territories.


What are Tribes?

Historically, tribes banded together to help one another survive and were often bonded together by a common ideology or value set. While we often think of indigenous people belonging to tribes, you could also imagine that early pioneers could create tribes to help survive their long journey or their harsh conditions. Tribes became less useful as society developed because individuals did not necessarily need to band together for survival. However, we still seek out “people like ourselves” for socialization, information, or entertainment. Whether you drive a certain car (Subaru), use a certain type of smart phone (Apple), or root for a particular team (New England Patriots), when you do so, you represent your tribe.


What are Territories?

Territories refer to the brand space that is unique to your brand, an asset that you “own” in the marketplace. What is your brand so known for that your competitors avoid coming near? It might be a color that uniquely signals your brand. It might be an emotion or state of being. It might be a geographic area that you rule. You need to understand your territories.

As an example, let’s look at Ohio-based Bob Evan Restaurants (now owned by Golden Gate Capital). Bob Evans was started by a farmer making his sausage and selling it to his neighbors. It was only natural to open a café near his sausage store location so that customers could consume their sausage immediately. Today, Bob Evans is a chain of restaurants and a well-known grocery brand, whose territory is rural America, farming, families, and hearty, home-style cooking. Now, compare that to Cracker Barrel, with their combined restaurant and gift shop concept. Understanding the territories for these brands would show us how they differ and where they overlap, giving insight into how to differentiate each brand in the markets where they compete. Is Cracker Barrel more Southern? Is Bob Evans more agricultural or Heartland? It would help marketers to know!


It Takes Both

You can’t just manage your tribe or your territory, because they work together. The territories that a brand owns are what defines and attracts the tribe members and makes the brand relevant to them. Whether you deliberately set out to own a specific territory, or whether it just grew organically, you can’t have tribes without territories.

That is why the Tribes and Territories qualitative technique answers the questions, “What kinds of people do other people associate with your brand?” “What does your brand say about your customers?” And most importantly, who reacts to your brand by saying, “This is a brand for me.” The process uses a series of projective techniques to guide marketers in defining the entire brand set in the marketplace. In this technique, we go beyond the usual suspects for stimuli, and we carefully evaluate and select a variety of colors, images, scents, tastes, and music as stimuli – just about anything that could be associated with a brand.

Because the Tribes and Territories approach is driven by the customers’ point of view within their social, cultural, emotional, and cognitive boundaries, marketing opportunities become clear more readily. The total project helps to define how consumers perceive each brand: what is important about the brand (territories), what some of the connotations/lesser associations are (territories), which brand they identify with and or what kinds of people they associate with each brand (tribes), and the dimensions that characterize the category as a whole. All brands have a tribe, including local, regional, national, and international brands. And all brands have a territory, whether well-defined or weak.


Who is your Brand’s Tribe? Where are your Brand’s Territories? Contact FeltonBuford Partners to learn more!

Stay tuned for our next blog in this series for more about the Tribes and Territories technique!

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