Marketer's analysis of consumers reveals 16 tribes

04 November 2002
IN SA Tribes: Who we are, how we live, and what we want from life, Steve Burgess, professor of Business Administration in Marketing at the GSB, has produced a trailblazing study that paints detailed “portraits” of a cross-section of South Africans, and relates this to their consumer and political behaviour.

The book, which was launched on October 15 at the GSB by New Africa Books, reports on research carried out with nearly 15 000 households across South Africa from 1997 to 2001.

The in-home interviews with a nationally-representative sample focused on social identity characteristics, including value priorities, personality traits and demographic characteristics such as race, gender, standard of living, participation in the financial sector and type of dwelling.

“Cluster analysis was used to separate respondents into 16 groups based on their social identity characteristics. The groups, which we call tribes, were then related to brand choice, product category participation, political party choice, and social attitudes. The results show that social identity is highly predictive of all of these phenomena. For instance, we can predict brand choice with 85%–95% accuracy in the product categories we tested,” says Burgess.

“The findings suggest that social identity is a far more useful way to think about how individual differences influence the types of human behaviour that interest business and government decision makers,” he adds.

Burgess contends that all the tribes can be profitable market segments, even those that require donor funding. The mostly agrarian and impoverished tribe ("Agrarian Lifestyles"), for example, is a market for hospitals, roads, schools and the like, while members of the most affluent tribe ("Achievers") have a lifestyle that can be compared with those of professional people anywhere else in the world, Burgess explains.

The racial legacy of apartheid is evident; "Rural Survivalists" are almost all black and "Achievers" are over 90% white. But the detailed analysis shows that it is other social identity characteristics related to race, such as standard of living, that explain this pattern, he says.

Burgess and Markinor director Mari Harris co-author a chapter on political attitudes and choice and Professor Bob Mattes from the UCT Centre for Social Science Research and IDASA contributes a chapter reporting on identity research in 11 African nations, conducted by Afrobaromter, a collaboration of IDASA, the Ghana Centre for Democracy and Development and Michigan State University.

According to Burgess, Mattes and he were unaware of each other's research, “but the findings from both projects are consistent and suggest that race and ethnicity are much less important aspects of African identity than many people seem to think”.

The research has important implications for the global consumer market, he observes. “Some 68% of the world's population will reside in emerging economies by 2015. These countries share important characteristics. So, if you understand sources of demand, sources of supply and methods of effective management in South Africa, you understand more about competing in other emerging consumer markets of China, India, Eastern Europe and South America than firms who don't have this knowledge.”

He notes that firms in Western industrialised nations are racing to acquire such knowledge because of slower relative growth and demographic trends in their traditional markets.

The project was funded by Markinor, a leading South African research company that provided three annual samples of 3 500 households, other firms such as Rand Water, Nasionale Pers, Coronation Asset Management who provided access to data from collaborative research and student research at the University of the Witwatersrand, and The Ohio State University.

Burgess now has a database of South African values and consumer behaviour, which covers the period from 1987 to present and which he believes is one of the largest in the world and he is continuing with new research in 2003.

Working with leading international scholars in the field, he has also penned a number of articles on the research that have appeared in prestigious international, peer-reviewed journals such as the International Journal of Research and Marketing, the Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, and Advances in Consumer Research.

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