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Brand Rituals: The Evolution of the B2C Dynamic

 

Justine Patino, Copywriter/Designer

1 March 2017

 

Come writers and critics / Who prophesize with your pen

And keep your eyes wide / The chance won’t come again

‘Cause the times they are a-changing

I’m pretty sure when Bob Dylan sang this song in 1964, he wasn’t talking about the evolving relationship between brands and consumers —  but listen to this verse in the context of today’s advertising landscape, and he very well could have been! In a world increasingly diluted with brands vying for consumers’ attention, it is no longer enough to simply satisfy a need. Brands must find a way to stand out amongst the competition.
This may seem like a daunting task, and at first, you may be having visions of Times Square or the Las Vegas Strip: flashing lights, bold lettering, advertising that screams, “PICK ME! PICK ME!” But don’t be fooled — standing out as a brand isn’t about being the biggest, the brightest, or the tackiest. It actually comes down to simple science, and something people have practiced since the start of society: rituals.

Chances are, you’re already familiar with several modern cultural rituals. Perhaps you set out cookies with your kids for Santa Clause on Christmas Eve, or maybe you’re one of those folks standing outside of Best Buy all night long to await the Black Friday sales. From simple everyday tasks to time-consuming commitments, rituals are an inherent part of our society. At their very core, they’re acts that define members of a community, offering individuals a sense of belonging.

In fact, this sense of belonging is SO important, it’s actually been shown to stimulate the brain’s reward center. You know, the same part of the brain responsible for that time you ate a *whole* pint of Ben & Jerry’s in one sitting. Just as humans repetitively engage in ritualistic behavior that makes them feel good, consumers will stay loyal to brands that offer a similar positive reinforcement.

Since a product itself is rarely enough to create a sense of belonging, some brands may want to consider establishing a ritual. If you’re among these brands, I present to you without further ado…

3 Essential Tips for Creating a Brand Ritual

1. Communicate the how

Think about the last time you popped the top off your Pringles can; dunked your Oreos in milk; squeezed a lime wedge into your Corona. All of these behaviors are brand rituals that you’ve probably participated in without even realizing it. Although these actions may seem like second nature to society now, they were taught over time. Show your consumers over and over again how you want them to interact with your product, until it becomes intuitive.

2. Engage the consumer

Gone are the days when people are willing to make even the smallest, insignificant buying decision without personal attachment. Don’t believe me? Just ask any waiter in America serving PepsiCo products. Let’s be real: we all know it’s essentially the same s**t, but a huge majority of consumers will vehemently insist upon having their Coca-Cola because (1) the bottle is iconic, (2) polar bears are cute, and most importantly, (3) it’s way more fun to Share a Coke with your sidekick/bestie/better half than the underwhelmingly average experience of just drinking a Pepsi. Sing it with me again: oh the times, they are a-chaaaanging. People no longer want to be passive consumers, but rather seek an active experience from their purchases. What else did you expect from a generation that grew up finding jokes on their popsicle sticks and fun facts underneath their bottle caps? Brands, think of it this way: you’re not just selling your product (a.k.a. the end result) anymore. You’re selling every moment a consumer engages with said product, or what I like to call “the act of“. Your ritual should be a simple task that aims to make those mundane moments leading up to consumption just a bit more fun.

3. Create Expectations

Rituals come in all sizes, shapes, and forms. Perhaps your ritual will be a simple task instilled in consumers through catchy commercial jingles (break me off a piece of that Kit Kat bar!), or maybe it will entail a more intricate, ceremonialized behavior (see: Lines Start Forming for iPhone 6s Days Before Launch). Whatever shape your ritual takes, by tying it to an appropriate time, you inherently give your audience something to look forward to. Lunch breaks become a milk chocolate snacking opportunity; the release of a minorly upgraded cellphone becomes a city-wide sidewalk camping trip. Creating expectations builds anticipation, making the end result seem all that more rewarding to your consumer, which helps your ritual (and ultimately, your brand) gain traction. If you build it, they will come.

My last words of advice? (Brace yourselves, this is the part where I get mind-numbingly cliché!) Keep it simple, make it memorable, and be unique. If you’ve ever been to Australia, you’ve surely witnessed all three of these perfectly executed in a Tim Tam Slam. While the dynamic between business and consumer may indeed be a-changing, with an understanding of the consumer experience and the implementation of brand rituals, the change doesn’t have to be a scary one. In the long run, it may reflect just one step on the evolutionary chain toward an overall more conscious consumer market.

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