Businesses owned by tribal members face significant challenges when entering a market that may be dominated by large non-tribal business with significant financial capital and name recognition.
Yet there are also opportunities because of a concept in economics and marketing called “differentiation,” which can provide tribes with a competitive advantage in any type of market.
Product differentiation (or differentiation) is the process of distinguishing a product from competitors’ products in a way that makes it more attractive to a target costumer, consumer or audience.
A differentiated product is one that is uniquely different from other products that are generally similar in a broad sense. Clothing associated with different designers is one example, but even commodities like food can become differentiated to some extent. For instance, items in a grocery store can be labeled as “locally grown” or “farm raised.”
Differentiation offers an opportunity for tribal businesses to produce and sell goods or services that are uniquely tied to, and affiliated with, members of their tribal community. Products such as art and craftworks that are produced by tribal artisans and featured at venues like pow-wows cannot be easily found elsewhere.
Many tribes are already using product differentiation when promoting the benefits of buying a product beyond its mere consumption value, such as to helping contribute to a tribe’s economy and the well-being of its tribal members.
Place branding is a term based on the idea that marketing strategies can be applied to geographic regions and communities.
This form of branding tends to be more complex because places are rooted in the history and culture that is reflected in their people, organizations and physical spaces.
A tribe’s economy will naturally flourish if the tribe can attract more visitors to its area and present itself as a special place to visit.
For example, when visitors to a city near a tribal area arrive at their hotel and see a display shelf full of brochures for places to see in and around that city, they may well find a brochure inviting them to visit the tribe. These visitors may want to visit a tribal area to meet and speak with tribal members, view historical and nature exhibits, buy local goods or art and craftworks, sample local cuisine or attend cultural events that are open to the public.
Visitors to tribal areas will appreciate opportunities to learn about unique cultures, including the tribes’ values and traditions. The development of tribal areas for tourism can also have many communal benefits for the tribe, such as a serving as a special gathering place for community events.