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THE ROLE OF BRAND RELATIONSHIPS AND TRIBAL BEHAVIOR ON BRAND LOYALTY INTRODUCTION

Authors:
THE ROLE OF BRAND RELATIONSHIPS AND TRIBAL BEHAVIOR
ON BRAND LOYALTY
Rodoula H. Tsiotsou, University of Macedonia, Greece
ABSTRACT
The paper examines whether consumers having a relationship with a brand are more willing
to form relationships with other consumers and if these two types of relationships contribute
to consumers’ brand loyalty. The results suggest there is a sequence of effects with the
consumer-brand relationships influencing the consumers’ tribal behavior which in turn affects
their brand loyalty.
INTRODUCTION
Loyalty is considered a fundamental element for any longitudinal relationship and therefore,
it has been positioned at the center of contemporary brand management. Nowadays,
businesses are implementing various strategies and tools to build loyalty with their consumers
such as consumer experience management (CEM) and customer relationship management
(CRM). Consumer experience management (CEM) is considered an effective strategy for
gaining loyal customers (Meyer and Schwager 2007). The purpose of consumer experience
management is to ensure that every consumer’s contact or interaction with the firm is positive
so that it results in satisfaction (Goldsmith 2011). A consumer experience is considered
successful when “a customer finds (it) unique, memorable and sustainable over time” (Pine
and Gilmore 1998, p. 12).
Customer relationship management (CRM) is being touted as another key technique
for creating loyal relationships with consumers. As important components of CRM, loyalty or
reward programs have been used as tools for building consumer loyalty in services (Wirtz et
al. 2007). Rewards or incentives play a significant role in driving future consumer behavior,
although they depend on the consumers level of satisfaction and ties with a firm. Research
shows that strong consumer-brand relationships are required when using rewards/incentive
(Wirtz and Chew 2002) and trying to develop brand loyalty (Tsiotsou 2011).
CEM and CRM have two common characteristics: they focus on consumer
satisfaction and they emphasize as a prerequisite the consumer-brand relationships. However,
nowadays, consumers do not only develop relationships with the brands but with other
consumers as well because of the brands (Veloutsou 2009). Both types of relationships are
important for brands and their managers (Schau et al. 2009) and should be taken into account
when developing either CEM or CRM strategies. For example, brand relationships and
interpersonal relationships have been proposed in the literature as the antecedents of
consumer experience (Palmer 2010).
The consumer-to consumer relationships are referred in the literature as brand
communities, brand sub-cultures and brand tribes (Veloutsou 2009). Consumer online and/or
offline clubs/brand communities/brand tribes have been employed by companies as a means
of creating loyalty (Roos et al. 2005). However, this aspect of consumer-to-consumer
relationships because of the brand and around the brand has attracted limited research interest
and managerial attention.
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Therefore, the purpose of the present study is to examine both, the role of consumer-
brand relationships and brand tribal behavior in developing brand loyalty. Previous studies
have focused either on the role of consumer-brand relationships (Algesheimer et al. 2005;
Tsiotsou 2011) or on the effect of consumer communities/tribes in building loyalty (Roos et
al. 2005; Hur et al. 2011). In terms of consumer groups, this study differs from previous
endeavors in the type of brand communities examined. Roos et al. (2005) studied through 44
in-depth interviews the members of a telecommunications club that was developed by the
company in a formal manner. The club required membership subscription and provided
various rewards/incentives to its members. Hur et al. (2011) studied online brand
communities and gathered data from 200 female consumers. This study examines more loose
offline relationships between consumers (called tribal behavior) that are freely developed by
the consumers themselves and do not require any formal subscription.
The paper is organized as follow. First the conceptual model and research hypotheses
are presented. Then, the method and analysis of the study are explained. Finally the paper
concludes with the findings discussion and implications along with the study limitations and
future research recommendations.
CONCEPTUAL MODEL AND RESEARCH HYPOTHESES
Developing loyalty between companies and consumers is considered central to business
success. Firms are focusing on brand loyalty strategies because they create entry barriers to
competitors, and generate greater sales and profits. Research shows that brand loyalty has a
direct effect on reduced marketing costs, increased new customers (Aaker 1991), favorable
word of mouth (Dick and Basu 1994) and is good predictor of brand equity (Chandhuri
1999). Moreover, loyal consumers are less vulnerable to competitors’ actions (Dick and Basu
1994; Ballester and Aleman 2001) and less price sensitive (Birgelen et al. 1997).
Loyalty refers to “a deeply held commitment to re-buy or re-patronize a preferred
product/service consistently in the future, thereby causing repetitive same-brand or same
brand-set purchasing, despite situational influences and marketing efforts have the potential
to cause switching behavior” (Oliver 1999, p. 34). Several antecedents of brand loyalty have
been proposed in the literature. Brand attachment (Thomson et al. 2005; Tsiotsou 2011),
brand trust (Chaudhuri and Holbrook 2001; Morgan and Hunt 1994; Tsiotsou 2011)
perceived risk, inertia, habit, involvement and satisfaction (Rundle-Theile and Bennet 2001)
are only a few found in the literature.
The proposed model (Figure 1) supports that the relationships consumer develop with
the brands along with the relationships they form with other consumers lead in the
development of brand loyalty. Thus, loyalty is seen as a sequential process where consumers
become related to the brand first and then, to other consumers who follow and support this
brand. Following, the hypotheses of the study are presented whereas the proposed
relationships among the constructs are shown in Figure 1.
The Antecedents of Brand Loyalty
The consumer-brand relationships are very important for companies because, as recent
research indicates, a strong emotional attachment with the brand indicates a brand with high
brand equity (Christodoulides et al. 2006). According to Blackston (1992) consumer-brand
relationship is a combination of cognitive, emotional, behavioral processes that occur
between consumers and brands. Veloutsou (2007) supports that consumer-brand relationships
consist of an emotional and an informational aspect. Brands may communicate their offers to
customers in an individual or mass manner, while customers can provide feedback and brands
can react to that input .
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The interpersonal relationship metaphor has been used to in the literature to explain
the consumer-brand relationships. According to this notion, individuals form relationships
with brands in a similar manner that they initiate and nurture relationships with other
individuals (Fournier 1998; O’Malley and Tynan 2000). Thus, consumers affectively bond
with specific brands to form brand relationships (Fournier 1998). Sometimes the relationship
is so strong that brands have fanatical consumers demonstrating emotional attachments such
as feelings of passion and love, intimacy and dedication towards the brands they have
decided to follow. The attachment is so strong that some may express extreme, addictive and
compulsive behaviors (Chung et al., 2008; Tsiotsou and Goldsmith 2011).
Aaker (1997) suggests that the development of a strong brand relationship between
consumers and brands should be the ultimate goal in branding because consumer-brand
relationship builds up brand loyalty. A number of empirical studies support a direct link
between consumer-brand relationships and brand loyalty (Fournier 1998; Park and Lee 2005;
Kressmann et al. 2006). Fournier (1998) supports that consumers do have relationships with
tangible goods/brands and these relationships impact their loyalty for these goods/brands.
Recent studies show that the emotional attachment consumers develop with brands can lead
to brand loyalty through an hierarchy of effects (Tsiotsou 2011). Therefore, it is hypothesized
that:
H1: Brand relationships are positively related to brand loyalty.
Brand trust has been conceptualized as ‘the willingness of the average consumer to
rely on the ability of the brand to perform its stated functions’ (Chaudhuri and Holbrook
2001, p. 82) and exists “when one party has confidence in the exchange partner’s reliability
and integrity” (Morgan and Hunt 1994, p.23). Trust involves a “calculative process” based on
the ability of a brand to continue to meet its promises and on an estimation of the rewards
gained by remaining in a relationship in terms of the costs involved (Doney and Cannon
1997). It is perceived as a process that is carefully considered (Chaudhuri and Holbrook
2001). The link between brand trust and brand loyalty results from the notion that trust can
create relational exchanges that are highly valued (Morgan and Hunt 1994). Research
supports that brand trust impact consumers’ brand commitment, even more than overall
satisfaction (Ballester and Aleman 2001). Moreover, brand trust is linked directly to purchase
and attitudinal loyalty with the brand (Chaudhuri and Holbrook 2001; Tsiotsou 2011).
Therefore, based on the above reasoning, it is hypothesized that:
H2: Brand trust is positively related to brand loyalty
Brands act as agents that facilitate the development of relationships amongst
consumers. Nowadays, it is common for individuals who admire a brand to interact around
this brand and even join groups which have the brand as a central point. These brand
followers engage in group actions to achieve collective goals and/or to express mutual
sentiments and commitments (Stokburger-Sauer 2010).
In the literature various terms are used to describe these groups, named brand
communities, brand sub-cultures of consumption or brand tribes (Fournier 1998; Cova and
Pace 2006; Bazaki and Veloutsou 2010). This paper approaches brand communities as formal
brand related groups which consist of individuals who join the group willingly and
acknowledge their membership of the group. Brand tribes on the other hand are groups of
individuals that exhibit tribal behavior; participants have not necessarily joined the group in
some sort of formal manner, but they are demonstrating the behavior (Bazaki and Veloutsou
2010). Therefore, brand tribes have a wider membership than brand communities. Although
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brand tribes are not always so formal, their participants often have a sense of togetherness
and belonging (Hamilton and Hewer 2010).
Tribal behavior can be conceptualized as collective memory, brand tribe identification
reference group acceptance, and brand tribe engagement (Tsiotsou and Veloutsou 2012).
Collective memory refers to the brand knowledge the consumers are developing and their
willingness to share this knowledge with other group members (Veloutsou and Moutinho
2009). Brand tribe identification is the perceived attachment of an individual to other brand
supporters (Algesheimer et al. 2005) while reference group acceptance is the perceived
approval of brand related activities in which an individual participates conducted by other
people in their reference group (Veloutsou and Moutinho 2009). Brand tribe engagement is
the degree of motivation in active participation in the brand group related activities
(Algesheimer et al., 2005).
In line with Roos et al. (2005), the function of tribal group participation is perceived
as a sign of commitment from the consumer perspective and therefore loyalty to a brand.
Recent evidence suggests that consumers belonging in brand groups (e.g. brand clubs or
online communities) remain more loyal to the brand (Roos et al., 2005; Hur et al. 2011).
Thus, it is expected that individual intending to continue engaging in brand tribal behavior
should also try to remain loyal to the brand. In line with this reasoning, it is hypothesized
that:
H3: Tribal behavior intentions are positively related to brand loyalty.
The Antecedents of Tribal Behavior Intentions and Tribal Behavior
Recent empirical evidence suggests that the more active members of the brand tribe will also
like to remain in that group for a longer period of time (Algesheimer et al. 2005). Moreover,
Veloutsou and Tsiotsou (2011) have shown that consumers being identified with and actively
engaged in a brand tribe are more likely to have intentions to continue their tribal behavior.
Thus, it is expected that:
H4: Tribal behavior expressed as (a) collective memory, (b) reference group
acceptance, (c) tribal engagement and (d) tribal identification is positively related to tribal
behavior intentions.
Consumer’s relationship with the brand is an influential antecedent to integration
(Muniz and O’Guinn 2001; McAlexander et al. 2002) and identification with the brand group
(Algesheimer et al. 2005). The link between brand relationship satisfaction (Algesheimer et
al. 2005) and community participation has been previously verified in the literature.
Moreover, Veloutsou and Tsiotsou (2011) have shown that brand relationships have an effect
on tribe members’ collective memory and identification with the tribe. Based on the above
research findings, it is expected that consumers should have developed trusted relationships
with a brand before they become involved in brand-related groups (e.g., brand tribes).
Therefore, it is hypothesized that:
H5: Brand relationships are positively related to tribal behavior expressed as (a)
collective memory, (b) reference group acceptance, (c) tribal engagement, and (d) tribal
identification.
Brand Trust as Antecedent of Brand Relationships
Brand trust constitutes an important construct in marketing because it affects consumers’
positive and favorable attitudes, and results in brand commitment (Ballester and Aleman
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2001), an expression of successful relationships between consumers and brands. Based on the
commitment-trust theory, Morgan and Hunt (1994) consider trust as a key variable in
developing and maintaining enduring and highly valued brand relationships. Therefore, it is
hypothesized that:
H6: Brand trust is positively related to brand relationships
METHOD
The target population for this research was soccer fans living in a south European country.
Professional sports teams are considered today as strong and unique brands (Buhler,
Heffernan and Hewson 2007), with specific consumer-brand associations (Tsiotsou 2012).
The sport industry and especially soccer, is such that their supporters are likely to develop
strong relationships with both their team and other team supporters, demonstrating tribal
behavior.
The survey research method has been used in order to collect data for the study. The
questionnaire consisted of multi-item measures for each construct. The scales have been used
before in the literature showing acceptable levels of reliability (Algesheimer et al. 2005;
Veloutsou and Moutinho 2009; Tsiotsou and Veloutsou 2012), as presented in Table 1. All
items in the final instrument are anchored by Strongly Disagree (1) to Strongly Agree (5).
Using convenience sample, student volunteers acted as field researchers to collect the data for
the study. They were instructed to recruit non-student respondents. This procedure resulted to
320 completed usable questionnaires. The majority of the sample consisted of males (51%).
In relation to age, the majority of the participants were between 16 and 25 years old (53%),
41% were between 26 and 50 years old and 6% were older than 51 years old. Regarding their
education, 56% held a bachelor’s degree while 40% were employed full time.
ANALYSIS
Confirmatory Factor Analysis
Because the measures of the study have been previously developed and used, a confirmatory
factor analysis (CFA) tested the measurement model and then, structural equation modeling
(SEM) tested the theorized model (Figure 1).
The initial items used to measure the eight latent constructs (43 items) were subjected
to Confirmatory Factor Analysis (CFA) using LISREL 8.52. Table 1 presents the final
measurement model for the exogenous and the endogenous variables of the study. The
revised measurement model consisted of 30 items and was found to fit the data well with a
chi-square goodness of fit index of 988.76 and 406 degrees of freedom, ratio χ2 / d.f.=2.4,
p<.000). Moreover, the fit indexes values met or exceeded the critical values for good model
fit (RMSEA = 0.07, NFI = 0.90, CFI = 0.93, IFI=0.03).
Next, composite reliability (CR) assess the internal consistency of the model. The
calculations of composite reliability (CR) and average variance extracted (AVE) used the
procedures recommended by Fornell and Larker (1981). As shown on Table 1 all the
composite reliabilities for the seven multi-item scales ranged from 0.85 to 0.96, indicating
acceptable levels of reliability for the constructs. Moreover, the AVEs ranged between 0.63
and 0.74, well above the recommended .50 level (Bagozzi and Yi 1988).
The measurement model was tested for evidence of convergent and discriminant
validity using the factor loadings and the Φ matrix. The loadings of the observed variables
ranged from 0.71 to 0.93, and all were positive and significant at the 0.05 level (the lowest t-
value = 14.41). The item loadings indicate that the observed variables were explained by the
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latent variables and provided evidence of convergent validity. To test discriminant validity
the AVE score for each construct was compared against the shared variance with the other
latent constructs. The AVE scores were larger than the shared variance with the other latent
constructs, providing evidence of discriminant validity.
Testing the Structural Model
After the preliminary calculations, the analysis continued using structural equation modeling
(SEM) by employing Maximum Likelihood (ML), and the statistical package LISREL 8.52.
The proposed model (Figure 1) had three non significant paths and did not fit the data well
with a chi square value of 1464.77 with 422 degrees of freedom (ratio χ2/df=3.5, p<.00);
RMSEA=.09, NNFI = 0.84, IFI=0.88, CFI = 0.88. Two paths were non-significant and were
omitted in the model while four paths suggested by the modification indices were added
because they were in line with the related literature. The new model had a much better fit
with a chi square value of 1080.17 with 422 degrees of freedom (ratio χ2/df=2.6, p<.00);
RMSEA=.07, NNFI = 0.92, IFI=0.92, CFI = 0.92. With respect to the explained variance, the
proposed variables explained 84% of the variance on Brand Loyalty and 88% of the variance
on Tribal Behavior Intentions.
DISCUSSION AND IMPLICATIONS
Nowadays, brand managers aim to develop stable and strong relationships with their
consumers because these relationships can protect product providers from damage potentially
caused by an occasional brand failure or poor brand performance (Berry 1995). Furthermore,
a customer-firm relationship may act as a barrier to its termination because consumers gain
several benefits through a long-term relationship (e.g., economic and psychological benefits,
emotional and social bonds, customization and personalization of services) (Colgate et al.
2007).
The study investigated the effects of the relationships consumers build up with brands
on an individual level along with the relationships they develop with other consumers around
a brand on a group level on brand loyalty. The findings show that brand loyalty is no longer
the outcome of only the relationships consumers develop with brands but also of the
relationships consumers develop with other consumers because of the brand. In particular, the
results suggest that the individual relationship with a brand will directly influence brand
loyalty and indirectly through certain tribal behaviors such as collective memory and the
current engagement in brand tribal activities. Moreover, tribal behaviors such as reference
group acceptance and brand tribe identification will influence consumers’ future intentions to
engage in tribal activities. In turn, intentions to participate in future tribal activities have a
direct effect on brand loyalty. The findings also support once again the direct link between
brand trust and brand loyalty.
Moreover, the study shows the sequence of effects of these two types of relationships.
First, consumers need to develop strong relationships with the brands and then, to develop
relationships with other consumers who share the same values, rituals and language.
Managerially speaking, the study shows that in order to develop brand loyalty,
managers should not only focus on developing strong consumer-brand relationships but
encourage consumer-to-consumer interactions around the brand for which they should aim to
develop brand tribes. Marketing managers should try to leverage their consumer-brand
relationships and transform them into consumer-to-consumer relationships in order to
develop brand loyalty. The marketers need to recognize consumer-brand relationships and
consumer-to-consumer relationships as two important predictors of brand loyalty.
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Thus, in order to build up brand loyalty, first, brand managers should make every
effort to create positive consumerbrand interactions and encourage a strong emotional bond
between the consumer and the brand. Then, they need to promote the development of
relationships amongst consumers around the brand in a formal or informal manner.
Developing online and offline brand groups such as brand communities, brand clubs and
brand tribes is an easy way for initiating consumer-to-consumer relationships. However, in
order for these groups to be effective, consumers should be identified with them and its
members and feel a need to connect with each other in the context of the brand’s
consumption. Sharing information amongst brand members and providing the opportunity to
the consumers to express their personality and identify with the group are only some of the
necessary elements for forming a brand group that could make consumers become involved
in it.
LIMITATIONS AND FURTHER RESEARCH
This study has certain limitations that qualify its findings and provide directions for further
research. First, the findings and implications (theoretical and practical) of this study should
be read in the context of the specific sample and results may not be generalized. However, as
in any research, further investigation is needed to replicate and extend these findings.
Although the chosen context is good for strong consumer-brand relationships and consumer-
to-consumer relationships, future research should definitely try to examine these relationships
in other contexts, for goods, services, corporate or even for people brands.
Moreover, the data collected were at a specific point of time although loyalty is
considered dynamic in nature. This might not be the most appropriate approach in capturing
processes and changes over a period of time. Thus, longitudinal approaches to the study of
brand loyalty in relation to the proposed antecedents are recommended in order to gain
further understanding not only of the developmental process of loyalty but to also tap its
possible fluctuations over time.
Another limitation of the study is the use of a convenience sample which means that
the results are not generalizable to the population as a whole. Because the data comes from a
single country, the present model should be validated in other countries. Recent research
shows that the effect of consumer-brand relationships on consumer community participation
might be culture driven (Tsai et al., 2011). Therefore, research in other countries and contexts
would further support this paper’s model.
Finally, future research may consider the influence of other determinants of tribal
behavior such as consumer motives, brand prestige, brand personality, and relationship
satisfaction and examine their role in building brand loyalty.
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For Further Information Contact:
Rodoula Tsiotsou (Ph.D.)
Assistant Professor of Services Marketing
Department of Marketing & Operations Management
University of Macedonia
Agiou Dimitriou 49, TK 58200 Edessa, Greece
Tel. 003(0)-23810-51765 Fax 003(0)-23810-51182
E-mail: rtsiotsou@uom.gr
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TABLE 1
Final Measurement Model and Confirmatory Factor Analysis Results
Loading
AVE**
0.70
I would like to be informed about my team
.93*
I am more willing to learn news about my team than for other teams
.79*
I listen with interest the information about my team
.93*
I am willing to be informed about my team in the future
.90*
This teams means more to me than any other team
.87*
I care about the developments related to my team
.85*
I feel comfortable with my team
.84*
Both, the team and I benefit from this relationship
.71*
.74
I completely trust my team
.91*
I depend on my team
.83*
My team is honest
.85*
0.67
When my friends talk about sports they want to talk about this team
.86*
When my friends watch sports they want to watch games of this team
.80*
In general my friends know a lot about this team
.79*
0.67
I follow this team because I am sure that my friends approve of it
.84*
I am very loyal to this team because my friends also like it
.87*
My friends are following this team and I follow it too just because I want to be like
them
.66*
0.63
I am very attached to the group of people interested in this team.
.87*
The friendships I have with other people interested in this team mean a lot to me.
.79*
If people who follow this team planned something, I’d think of it as something “we”
would do rather than something “they” would do.
.78*
I see myself like one of the many people who follow this team
.72*
0.74
I am motivated to meet people who follow this team because I feel better afterwards.
.87*
I am motivated to meet people who follow this team because I am able to exchange
opinions about the team.
.85*
0.64
It would be very difficult for me to stop doing things with people interested in this
team.
.84*
I am willing to make more effort to interact with people interested in this team than I
would for people interested in other teams.
.75*
I intend to keep interacting with people interested in this team
.84*
I never miss an opportunity to recommend activities organized from people interested
in this team to others
.76*
I intend to actively participate in activities of people interested in this team.
.80*
0.70
I always follow my team
.88*
I follow my team in all of its activities
.83*
I am devoted to my team
.80*
Chi square = 988.76 (p<0.00) with 406 degrees of freedom, RMSEA = 0.07, NFI = 0.90, CFI = 0.93, IFI=.93
* significant at the 0.05 level
** CR = Composite Reliabilities, AVE = Average Variance Extracted
12
FIGURE 1
Proposed Conceptual and Final Structural Model
( * indicates significant path, indicates non significant path, indicates added path)
.49*
.25*
.98*
TRIBAL BEHAVIOR
Brand Tribe
Behavioral
Intentions
R2=.88
Brand
Relationships
R2=.54
H6
.73*
H3
.29*
H5c
.31*
H1
.37*
H4d
.89*
H5b
H5d
H2
.37*
H5a
.68*
Brand
Trust
BRAND
LOYALTY
R2=.84
H4a
H4b
.10*
H4c
Reference Group
Acceptance
Collective
Memory
Brand Tribe
Engagement
Brand Tribe
Identification
.43*
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