Dunking an Oreo. Unboxing a new iPhone. Putting lime in your Corona. What do they all have in common? Here’s how to find your brand rituals and use them to connect meaningfully with your audience.
When I was eleven, I was given a piece of clear crystal with a hole bored through the middle. I carried it in my pocket and invented small rituals like rolling it around my fingers every morning and placing it under my pillow for luck.
When the stone fell out of my pocket one day I felt deeply sad. And without the ceremony I’d come to rely on, I was restless.
Luckily, I’m in good company.
As a child, psychologist Carl Jung once ‘carved a tiny mannequin into the end of a wooden ruler, which he kept together with a painted stone in a pencil case in his attic’. He often came back to the mannequin, bringing it scrolls inscribed in a secret language of his invention.
The adult Jung suggested that not only are repetitive, ritualistic behaviours normal, they’re also necessary as a form of ‘mental hygiene’. Rituals differ from habits because they are significant and symbolic, not routine. Their purpose is to put us back in touch with our subconscious selves, so that we aren’t overwhelmed by everyday life.
The purpose of ritual is to facilitate moving the conscious mind to the back and bring the subconscious mind to the fore. The subconscious does not function with language, but with symbols.
– Kathryn Hughes, Examiner
This explains why individual or collective rituals can seem illogical or bizarre to outsiders – from the religious practices of remote communities to teenage girls cutting themselves to show their devotion to Justin Bieber.
When life is confusing, ritual helps us make sense of our experiences and reconnect with our identities. Which makes sense considering that ritual is most prevalent at times of great change in our lives – christenings, weddings and funerals to name just a few.
Ritual has also become an important factor in our relationships with the big brands. As stated by Douglas Van Praet in his book ‘Unconscious Branding: How Neuroscience Can Empower (and Inspire) Marketing‘:
Rituals are some of the most powerful ways to brand because they often involve multiple sensory experiences and repetitive acts, driving information into the mind.
Rituals can alleviate and reduce grief – even for people who don’t believe in the efficacy of rituals. Which explains why every world culture conducts end-of-life ceremonies.
But they can do things like influence how much we enjoy the food we eat:
With grief, the ritual leads to a feeling of control. With consumption, rituals seem to work because they increase your involvement in the experience.
– Carmen Nobel, Harvard Business School blog
Branding expert Bernadette Jiwa touches on this when she recounts spending Sunday mornings queuing in line to buy croissants from the exclusive Lune bakery:
The unspoken truth is that without the twenty minute wait a Lune croissant loses its magic. That line is part of the story.
If Lune was open seven days, not just on weekends and if orders weren’t limited to six per customer […] the story wouldn’t be what it is. The scarcity and the story make the product better. The team at Lune understand where the magic happens.
Somewhat counterintuitively, the act of queuing and anticipating the pastries makes your enjoyment of them all the keener.
The customer receives not just a delicious croissant but the pleasure of knowing they’ve taken part in a cultural ceremony.