“Tribal Marketing” OpEd by John Mack

Tribal marketing n. A marketing strategy that attempts to create social groups or communities that are centered around a product or service. The credo of tribal marketing is that postmodern people are looking for products and services that not only enable them to be freer, but can also link them to others, to a community, to a tribe.

Faith Popcorn, “America’s leading futurist” and author of several marketing books, made this prediction in 2004: “disillusioned by the old authorities, and unable to know everything themselves, people turn to their friends to tell them what, and who, to trust.” Meg Columbia-Walsh, managing director of Faith Popcorn’s Brain Reserve, the consulting company of the aforementioned guru, writing in the December issue of Pharmaceutical Executive, also talked about trust. “[Consumers] don’t want glitzy marketing messages-they wan t advice they can trust. By associating brands with real-life leaders, not just celebrities [my emphasis], consumers will see the brand as trustworthy.” These pundits see blogs, wikis (Web sites created by a collaborative group-such as employees-that are easily created and edited using any Web browser and server software), and Web sites run by peers as influencers that marketers must be aware of.

This month’s issue is devoted to online commun-ities that exemplify trusted sources of advice for health care professionals and consumers.

Brian Towell, “top dog” over at Doghouse, which he describes as a little agency engaged in “Tribal Dynamics,” said in an impassioned post to the PHARMA-MKTING listserv that “Technology is relentlessly defining the pace of change at which new ideas and connections are developed and shared. Wake up and smell the coffee every-body!!!!”

Blogs — one of the technologies of which Brian speaks — currently enjoy a high level of esteem among consumers and it seems that almost everyone is writing one! Everyone, that is, except pharmaceutical employees. Pharma is not known for being an early adopter of technology, so it’s no surprise the industry hasn’t yet woken up and smelled the blogging coffee. Nevertheless, I feel that the time is right for pharma research and corporate PR people-if not marketers yet-to consider blogs. This month’s article “Blogs and the Pharmaceutical Industry” ventures to suggest a few ideas they might find interesting.

One person who knows all about blogs and wikis is Dr. Frank Antwerpes, CEO of DocCheck, a German health care professional portal site. DocCheck uses all these technologies, but this month’s article “DocCheck: Das Portal” focuses on how the portal parleys its users’ trust for the benefit of pharmaceutical marketers.

I first learned of tribal marketing from the book Generation Rx which I review in this issue (see “Generation Rx: A History and Critique of Pharma Tribal Marketing“). The author condemns tribal marketing as practiced by the pharmaceutical industry, but I found the first third of the book, which tells the fascinating history of pharma-ceutical marketing, to be the most interesting takeaway.

Issue: Vol. 4, No. 11: December 2005
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