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Above: The new Chelsea badge as redesigned in 2005. Credit: CFC/fair use.

Tech Tribalism

The smartphone products offered by the leading tech manufacturers are becoming fairly indistinguishable--the device will be a portrait-format rectangle that can fit in the average human's palm; the entire front of the device will be a touch-sensitive LCD-screen, etc. (When powered-down the device looks like a flat inert slab, something like a high-tech trivet.) The devices all incorporate phone, email, Internet-browsing, camera (front- and back-mounted) and music playback/streaming functionality. Due to the near-indistinguishableness of the leading smartphone devices (tech-and-ergonomic convergence), it is likely that, in terms of marketing and branding, a certain tribalism will increasingly come to the fore. A tribalism which parallels that of, say, the English Premier League football supporter. First and foremost the supporter loves their chosen team--of course, that's obvious. But also, secondly, the supporter reviles the opposition with an enmity--ill-will--that can be overwhelming to the casual observer. So, for example, a Chelsea fan loves Chelsea Football Club, sure--that's clear. But also, the Chelsea fan hates Tottenham, and Tottenham fans, and furthermore, the Chelsea fan also hates Arsenal, and Arsenal fans. That is just the way it is--and the hostility is unbreakable, there is nothing a Tottenham team, or an Arsenal team, could ever do to change this state of affairs.

Bringing it back to the marketing and branding of smartphones: brand loyalty is all very well and obviously a pre-requisite. (The idea is to get the customer to love your products.) But there is a second step that will become ever-more important: the loyal customer must also be encouraged to hate the competitors, and viciously so, up to the point that their going over to one of the opponents becomes unthinkable. Unless some such tribalism is engendered, the smartphone customer is likely to become promiscuous and flighty (they might choose a phone because it's that-bit-cheaper, or has some novel functionality, or simply make the purchase on a whim).

The art of tech marketing and branding in the years ahead will be to achieve the state of the smartphone customer becoming willingly, ardently, locked-in to the brand. So locked-in that the chance of a customer going over to a competitor's brand will become as unlikely as a Chelsea fan getting the Tube up to the Emirates and purchasing an Arsenal shirt in the fan-shop. (One can imagine a running street-battle during which the massed acolytes of Huawei set about seething ranks of die-hard Samsung disciples.)

(3 October 2018)