The power of rituals for brands

The power of brand rituals

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Call them rituals, ceremonies, habits … associating a brand with a set behaviour can have a powerful effect on loyalty and enjoyment.

One of the most famous associations of course is Corona beer and lime. It is now such an accepted way of consuming the product that many drinkers don’t give it a second thought, and yet, as Vanessa Krumb points out, no-one’s quite sure why they do it or where the idea comes from. It has simply become the way you have a Corona.

According to Krumb, not only does a brand ritual improve the perceived experience, it is also likely to add to the price point. Buyers will pay more for something that comes with an established ritual. As consumers, the association of a product with an event (popcorn and the movies, beer with watching sport) adds to the enjoyment because it makes the occasion feel complete. I suspect rituals work the same way. They provide a way of interacting with the brand that is fun, known and widely practised. That in turn gives them greater value.

Anna Rudenko provides some classic examples of other rituals that we all recognise:

  • Separating your Oreo and dunking it in milk;
  • Breaking a KitKat into halves and eating it on a break;
  • Popping the cap of the Pringles tube; and
  • The Stella Artois’ 9-step pouring ritual

Interestingly, she says, this use of rituals has been adopted by low-cost and mass-market brands rather than luxury marques. I suspect that’s because these brands have recognised the need to add perceived value and differentiation to what they offer. Adding an element of fun to the consumption of a food, for example, adds to the character of the brand.

The 6 attributes of a great ritual

Rudenko also references a great post from John Howard in which he lays out the six attributes a ritual needs:

  • It should continue a behaviour that already exists, not be one that is “forced” on the brand. As Howard observes, “Ritual is about the people who do it, not the brand itself”;
  • It should be consistent – because otherwise of course it cannot be repeated;
  • It should be specific – as in directly associated with that brand;
  • It should be relevant – it needs to make sense to people, regardless of whether it is necessary or not;
  • It needs to be easy – because difficulty acts as an effective barrier to entry; and
  • It needs to be shareable – according to Howard, in order for that to happen, the ritual itself must be visible, understandable and replicable.

The whole push towards experiences at the moment is really just a drive to provide accents to life that brands can own.

It’s hard enough getting consumers to interact with brands today. Getting them to do so in ways that are particular to the brand itself might seem an even greater challenge. And yet, as consumers, we’re drawn to accents – things that cut through the clutter and add to what we do. The whole push towards experiences at the moment is exactly that: a drive to provide accents to life. Brands can do that through big gestures. But they can also do it this way – by giving consumers simple, fun frameworks for engaging and re-engaging with things that feel familiar.

When to introduce a ritual

So when should a brand consider fostering a ritual? Here are five situations when introducing a new ritual or encouraging one that is already taking place makes sense:

  • When consumers take up a way of interacting with your brand that you want to encourage;
  • When buyers need guidance on how to get the most out of the product;
  • When you want to encourage a new behaviour;
  • When you want to drive a powerful sense of community; and/or
  • When you need to find a way to add distinction to your product in a cluttered market.

8 ways to build a great ritual

  • Make it specific to your audience – that way, it will feel right to them, and it will build a sense of community;
  • Make it specific to an event or time of day – that way, people know when to participate;
  • Make it specific to the brand – this is after all a branded ritual you are looking to build;
  • Make sure that what you are suggesting fits with how people see your brand. Otherwise the behaviour will seem “odd”;
  • Make it enjoyable – so that people will want to keep doing it. Fast food outlets for example use rituals to make it easier to order the food you want and to get it faster;
  • Encourage the ritual through your advertising so that it becomes the normal way to engage with the brand;
  • Help people take up the ritual fast – there’s nothing like feeling like an outsider to turn consumers off. Give first-timers ways to get up to speed without looking like they are learning the ropes; and
  • Add products, or ways of interacting with the brand, that take their reference from the ritual. That way, you can continue to embed the ritual and make it an increasingly important part of the branded relationship.

Note: A version of this article was posted elsewhere under the title 8 Ways to Create Powerful Brand Rituals.

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