A follow up to my previous post (or more accurately part 2 of the same), as it did seem to leave one key question hanging: what is a good ritual? So here are a few thoughts on the kind of ritualistic qualities to look for...
Discovered (ideally): this won't always be possible, especially with a new product or brand. But it is just easier to ritualise behaviour that already exists, even if not something everyone does currently (or is even necessarily aware of), than it is to impose something completely new from on high. Ritual is about the people who do it, after all, not the brand itself. So look around: what unexpected and distinctive habits have people already adopted...even if only a minority behaviour? And how could you amplify this (without being seen to take ownership)?
Consistent: obvious really, as the whole basis of ritual is something which doesn't change. But this does run counter to a marketing orthodoxy that (quite rightly) places great value on innovation. Which doesn't mean ritual should be boring. But always remember: it isn't there to provide novelty. A ritual that constantly changes is just a succession of gimmicks.
Iconic: the best rituals aren't just about personal behaviour: they are about the (public and often famous) trappings and trimmings as well. This iconography and symbolism is often what anchors a ritual in public consciousness: take pouring a pint of Guinness, with the twin stages, the settling to black and white, and the clover leaf on top (in an Irish pub ideally) - all part of what makes drinking Guinness special.
Relevant: whether practical or just symbolic, people need to understand why they are doing what they are doing: cider over ice is more refreshing; 5-a-day is good for you. Ritual without purpose or explanation can just seem strange...and no one wants to look equally odd (or stupid) for joining in.
Easy: in some contexts, the difficulty of ritual is what's important (The Five Ks of Sikhism for instance). But brands aren't that important to people, and there are always other options. So why create barriers. The more simple and straightforward a ritual is the better: lime in my bottle of lager...why not.
Shareable: if a benefit of ritual is a sense of group belonging (and recruitment mechanism to that group), it's not just a matter of ease: people have to be aware of the ritual in the first place. This might involve explicit communication, via advertising or on-pack. But the best rituals are owned by the devotees, and passed on by word-of-mouth or observation. So think how to make your ritual visible, understandable and replicable.
Which is maybe all easier to write about than deliver in practice. But the principles seem relatively clear.
So, to paraphrase Field of Dreams, just remember: if you ritualise it they will stay.
I have been pondering behaviour and beliefs a lot recently. Marketing and comms convention typically focuses on (trying to change) the latter in order to change the former. But the inescapable fact is that this works less frequently than we would like to think. In fact, it can often seem as if the exact opposite works harder: focus on the end game, get people doing something different (rather than thinking differently about it), and the beliefs you were trying to foster in the first place will typically follow on behind anyway.
This paradox has clear implications in the area of social issues and action. But it can play just as significant a role in the day-to-day world of brands. The problem is that, in this context, we can all too easily relegate behaviour change to a tactical, point-of-sale exercise: cold, mechanical…and a bit Pavlovian. And despite the truth that beliefs follow behaviour, if everyone is pulling the same levers, there is no advantage to anyone (hmm, sounds like price promotion).
So is there a place for more strategic, brand-building behaviour change?
Yes...and it is called ritual.
Ritual is, if you like, 'branded' habit or routine. And by ritualising your brand in this way, you can elevate behaviour change beyond the world of tactical mechanics to something far more potent and ownable.
Which should come as no surprise. Psychologically, people seem to like, and naturally gravitate toward ritualistic behaviour. After all, ritual has been used to great effect for millennia, in religious, socio-political and even cultural spaces: voting on X-factor is as much a 'ritual' for those who do it as saying liturgical prayers is to others.
What is it about ritual that is so powerful then...and how can brands learn from this? For me, there are 4 dimensions...
Integration of beliefs: whilst a deep cut price promotion might stimulate behaviour, as stimulus it is content and value-free. Change might stick, and beliefs may adjust accordingly. But evidence suggests otherwise. Ritual, on the other hand, is behaviour that integratesbeliefs. Whether responding to the mosque's call to prayer, or having your '5 a-day' of fruit and veg, the behaviour you adopt already embodies a way of thinking...making it far more likely that these beliefs will become your own.
Emotional connection: a 'buy one get one free' offer might well be a bargain but, emotionally, it's a buzz that's (at best) superficial and short lived. In comparison, ritual is all about deep, emotional content and connection, full of meaning (see pt.1) and rich with potent, memorable symbolism and language. Think of a marriage ceremony (even a civic one). Or having your daily dose of 'happy bacteria' in an Activia yogurt;
Group belonging: though others may enjoy the same link-save promotion as you, you have no connection to them - it's a solitary act. There's none of the behavioural reinforcement that comes from acting collectively or, if alone, knowing others are doing the same thing elsewhere. Think of a religious service or political rally, where followers of a common cause mutually reinforce the 'rightness' of behaviour (and beliefs)...even for those on the margins. Ritual becomes a badge of membership, and potent 'rite of passage' recruitment mechanic for that reason. Much like joining the queue to ask the barista for your very first Skinny Double Mocha Frappuccino;
Unconscious reinforcement: sell deals, and that's all people will want. And they won't care where from. But build ritual into your brand, and it provides positive reinforcement...at a deep, unconscious level. Our brains are neurologically hard-wired to follow paths of least resistance...and will always favour established behaviour as a consequence. This is what ritual builds. But maybe more interesting still are recently identified 'mirror neurons', which respond in a similar, unconscious manner to the actions of others. So ritual not only anchors behaviour for the people doing it, but can have a 'viral' effect on others as well. Taking (and watching others take) communion every Sunday becomes expected behaviour, much as seeing someone drink a pint of Magners with ice can seem an idea worth copying.
And the ultimate benefit of building ritual into your brand in this way is that, much as with religion, there is a close relationship between, and short step from ritualistic behaviour to worshipful beliefs. You only need to see the ecstatic worshipers waiting for the latest holy visitation at the church of the Apple (Store) to see this.
In fact, as the BBC recently pointed out, in their Secrets of the Superbrands documentary...
"The Bishop of Buckingham -- who reads his Bible on an iPad -- explained to me the similarities between Apple and a religion. And when a team of neuroscientists with an MRI scanner took a look inside the brain of an Apple fanatic it seemed the bishop was on to something. The results suggested that Apple was actually stimulating the same parts of the brain as religious imagery does in people of faith."
Whether the more extreme examples of such brand fetishisation is healthy or not is another question entirely (I'm not sure it is - there are more important things in life). And such full-on, unquestioning worship may be beyond all but a few brands anyway.
But thinking more pragmatically and realistically, there is still no denying the efficacy for any brand or business of directly targeting behaviour. And branding habits or ritualising brands to cement this behaviour (change), facilitating desired new beliefs as a consequence, just seems a more elegant and sustainable solution than ripping the guts out of price.
Saw this at the weekend (though a 30" version). About 90% of the way thru, I was thinking the new Carling work was pretty poor: a blandly entertaining, but neutered, watered down version of the previous Mates campaign, lacking any drinker insight or viewer humour/reward.
Only for it to turn out to be for Carlsberg...
So basically, the new Carlsberg commercial is a poor man's Carling ad.
Who would want to pay good money (and a lot of it I would guess) for the barrel scrapings of someone else's campaign?
And 'That Calls For A Carsberg'?!?! Good grief - my son could've done better.
One of the greatest advertising ideas ever replaced by hackneyed, 'seen it a million times before', trite, insight-free lazyness.
What a waste. And we wonder why advertising gets a bad name.
In marketing and comms, we are constantly trying to move away from the abstraction of 'customers' and 'consumers', and think in terms of real people. We give these archetypal (usually stereotypical!) consumers a name, we write pen portraits of their lives, we make everything very specific and concrete.
Which does make intuitive sense - consumers are people too after all...it's you and I, and we're not robots or theoretical constructs.
But then this thought provoker from Faris Yakob gave me pause for thought...
"Customers are to people as waves are to water"
Which he went on to unpack thus...
"For the majority of marketing, it may be better not to think of customers as people. ‘Customers’ are a repeating pattern of behaviour that expresses itself in people – from the point of view of a company, it doesn’t really matter who that person is when they walk into a store. Throughout the marketing process, we spend a lot of time trying to understand the kind of people who are most likely to buy, but behavioural economics and decision research all suggest that 'where', 'what' and 'when' are at least as important as 'who'."
A cousin to the content vs context debate in media (is it what you do or where you do it that matters most), the question of whether the 'who' of the people buying our products and services is maybe less all encompassingly important than marketing good practice suggests is a challenging one.
In developing creative ideas, having a bulls-eye still feels important, but maybe that bulls-eye is a behaviour not a demographic.
Which does make a different kind of intuitive sense to me, particularly if a look back at this, where in writing I have obviously seen the who as less important than the what.