The 8 Traits of Sticky Brand RitualsSep 27, 2021
Inject a sense of ceremony, and your customers will enjoy your products more.
Rituals are how humans mark many life events, both big and small. From clinking glasses before a celebratory sip of bubbly to bowing our heads in thanks at the end of a yoga class, established sequences of behaviour are being used to elevate even the smallest experience into something memorable.
Rituals hold universal appeal. The development of routines, habits, and traditions is deeply rooted in human behaviour dating back all the way to the most ancient civilizations. It plays a particularly prominent role when it comes to food, and there are countless rituals around the world all tied to consumption. But to what extent does a ritual enhance the consumption experience? And what is it that makes brand-specific rituals stick?
Can Rituals Make Food Taste Better?
This was the question a marketing professor and a team of researchers set out to answer with a series of four experiments involving chocolate, lemonade, and carrots.
The four experiments tested the hypothesis that ritualistic behaviour enhances the enjoyment of ensuing consumption. The first experiment showed that those participants who performed an assigned ritual (breaking and unwrapping a chocolate bar in a particular way before eating it) found the chocolate more flavourful, valuable (worth paying more for), and deserving of savouring, compared to those participants where no ritual was performed. These findings were further proven by replacing chocolate with the most mundane food they could come up with, carrots.
The second experiment demonstrated that random gestures do not boost consumption as ritualistic gestures do. It further showed that a delay between a ritual and the opportunity to consume heightens the enjoyment. Anticipation leads to greater pleasure.
Experiment three found that it’s not enough to observe someone else performing the ritual to derive enhanced enjoyment, but that personal involvement is required for the benefits of ritual to be realised. This was tested by preparing lemonade in a systematic, ritualist pattern, versus merely observing someone else making it.
Lastly, experiment four provided direct evidence of the underlying process: Rituals enhance consumption enjoyment due to the greater involvement they prompt in the experience.
These findings inform marketing psychology and provide powerful knowledge for marketers. So, do rituals enhance consumption? Yes, they do.
Image courtesy of B&T
Twist, Lick, Dunk
Eating all the green M&M’s first
The Corona lime wedge
The Tim Tam Slam
These are all compelling examples of the power of brand-specific rituals. Most of these notable examples are low-cost and mass-market brands. That’s because brand-specific rituals add augmented value and differentiation beyond just practical utility. As Utpal Dholakia Ph.D. said:
“Well-designed and popular brand-specific rituals are virtually impossible for competitors to imitate, no matter how similar or even superior their own products may be. The twist, lick, dunk ritual belongs to Oreo and Oreo alone. For the foreseeable future, it can keep socialising new generations of children to practice this ritual — and become loyal and life-long consumers of its cookies.”
Key Ingredients for a Brand-Specific Ritual That Sticks
Informed by usage behaviour
Rituals that evolve out of existing behaviours have a much better chance of success. Dunking a cookie existed long before Oreos and Tim Tams, but they channelled these observations to create a powerful ritual that they now own. By observing product consumption, brands can pick up on instinctive behaviours which can then form the basis of experience design.
From my experience in brand management roles for leading FMCG globals, observing a consumer in their natural environment is when you can identify true user behaviour.
Creates a sense of ceremony
The most potent rituals are experiences that create a sense of ceremony around the brand. This is often a sequence of actions, like with Oreo and the “twist, lick, dunk,” which has the added benefit of including a (momentary) delay to consumption, proven to heighten the enjoyment as determined by the experiment.
Considers different senses
Another winning approach is an augmented sensory experience like the Edible Cinema. Chef-designed menu items, presented in numbered mystery boxes, are strategically offered to guests throughout the movie to augment specific moments within the film.
Image courtesy of Edible Cinema
Designed for occasions
Occasion-based rituals also have sticking power. Like popcorn and going to the movies, consumers learn to associate one with the other. The occasion does not necessarily need to be a major holiday, like eating chocolate on Valentine’s Day, but can absolutely be an ordinary occurrence, like the cafe around the corner from a yoga school offering a post-asana chai, or “chai-asana.” Many longstanding brand rituals are habit-forming.
Uses clever messaging
Some noteworthy rituals come down to clever messaging rather than a specific sequence or occasion. Take Cadbury Favourites’ “what to bring when you’re told not to bring a thing.” No doubt the insight that informed this brilliant strategy was gleaned from customer research.
Considers social context
Cadbury Favourites not only nailed their ritual from a messaging perspective, but the brand experience was also masterful as most things are enjoyed more when shared.
Importantly, as the experiment showed, rituals succeed when performed by the user; it’s not enough to merely observe someone else do it to derive the enjoyment.
Image courtesy of Edwina Joel
Easy to understand
Simple and catchy language allows for better recall. This is then reinforced with repetition through not just advertising but the packaging, pop-up activations, and user-generated content.
A long-term, integrated approach
Pulling off a brand-specific ritual won’t work if it’s approached as a short-term stunt. For it to become intrinsic, a considered brand strategy is required, followed up with a major integrated campaign, a launch campaign that really packs a punch.
Rituals have the power to make life better. They can lead to habit creation, repeat purchases, and heightened involvement, making ritual a powerful strategy in a marketers toolkit. Never forget that customers are willing to pay more for an elevated experience.
This article was originally published in Better Marketing on Medium
Want more smarter marketing tips? Sign up for our free weekly roundup of ideas, case studies and news specifically designed for switched-on humans like you.
Global Marketing Strategist
Global Marketing Strategist