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Why Brands with Rituals Will Rise to the Top

Frank Cowell

We take comfort in rituals. From special occasions, holidays, weddings, graduations, and even mundane, everyday routines, they offer us continuity in how we experience life.

Rituals provide us nostalgia and familiarity, and a sense of connectivity and belonging. Rituals can also make things more fun, such as candles on a birthday cake, or a special meal to commemorate a milestone or some special day, or the simple act of gift giving and receiving.

Marketers know the power of rituals in our lives and they use this power to create brand rituals for both internal (employee) and external (consumer) audiences.

RITUALS CONVEY IMPORTANCE

Did you ever wonder why the Oreo is the world’s top-selling cookie?

Sure, the chocolate wafer and creamy inside has a lot to do with it, but so too does the ritual of eating an Oreo. Think about it. No matter where you go the whole world over, people just seem to know the right way to eat an Oreo: first you twist it, then you lick it, and then you dunk it.

This ritual aspect of eating an Oreo has become an iconic part of pop culture. It conveys a sense that the way you eat the cookie matters, which means the cookie itself matters—which elevates its perceived value and desirability in the eyes of consumers.

Likewise, connoisseurs of Corona know the right way to drink the beer is by placing a slice of lime in the bottle’s neck. Anything less and you just won’t enjoy the product as much and certainly not as intended. And don’t ever get between a Guinness drinker and his or her beer pour. Do it right—at an angle and in two separate motions—and you’re in, but do it wrong and the beer drinking experience is said to be spoiled!

Again, such rituals convey added value and importance. They also convey a sense of being part of an exclusive club or family, which plays to consumer emotions and loyalties . . . and let’s face it, we all want to be part of the in-crowd.

WE MAKE BRANDS PART OF OUR DAILY LIVES

As consumers, we tend to make brands part of our own rituals or daily routines. Marketers know this, too, and they depend on it. Starbucks and Disney are experts at this, and so is Hallmark, just to name a few.

Whether it’s watching a Disney classic on the big screen or on DVD, doing so is almost a childhood rite of passage. As parents, it’s a nostalgic ritual that brings back fond memories of our own childhoods and allows us to relive some of those feelings with and through the eyes of our children. Even visiting Disneyland or Disney World is a ritual of sorts for moms and dads and their children who will fondly remember forever the first time they spied Cinderella’s castle together, or took a stroll down Main Street USA or road on Dumbo.

With Starbucks, stopping at your local shop for your favorite cup of java, reading the paper, and/or checking messages on your smartphone has become an almost indelible part of the morning routine for countless numbers of us. We even take pleasure in placing our orders the “Starbucks way” using the Starbucks language, day in and day out.

Hallmark relies on the ritual of card giving on holidays and special occasions to sustain its brand. Conspiracy theorists have even gone so far as to claim that Hallmark “invented” holidays such as Valentines and Mother’s Day and Father’s Day so consumers would have more occasions for sending cards. While that’s debatable, it’s clear that Hallmark and other card companies have popularized the ritual of card giving to their advantage.

Other ways brands have become parts of our everyday rituals include watching NFL broadcasts on Sunday afternoons, or the televised morning news or late night talk shows each day of the week. The ritual act of watching offers us routine, continuity, and makes us loyal to the particular show or brand.

BRAND RITUALS ENGAGE EMPLOYEES

Rituals are not for consumers alone. Rituals play an important role engaging employees and building team cohesion.

From Wal-Mart’s team cheer at the start of shifts to new Google employees wearing beanies called “Nooglers,” such rituals are designed to build morale, reinforce desired workplace behaviors, and make employees feel greater passion for the brand they represent.

At Digitopia, we award our employees with pins for achieving certain milestones related to their longevity with us and their overall understanding of our brand mission. These pins designate achievement and commitment, and are much sought after by staff.

Similarly, Disney awards its “cast members” (employees) service pins related to how long the person has been with the company. Each year’s pin is distinctive and gets affixed to the employee’s name tag. Disney cast members covet these pins, which act as a form of recognition and acknowledgement that is visible to both other employees as well as the public.

RITUALIZE YOUR BRAND

As a marketer, one of your jobs is to explore the elements of your brand that lend themselves to becoming ritualized.

How might you make your product or service part of the daily lives of your customers? Is it even possible?

How might you use brand rituals to create a greater sense of “team” and “family” with your employees, and to fuel their passions for supporting the brand?

Creating a ritual around you brand, whether it’s focused internally or externally, is one of the most effective tools you have to engage people’s emotions and loyalties . . . and it’s one of the key components necessary to building a successful cult brand.

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