Turning routines into customs linked to your brand
Last weekend was my brother Jim’s first time visiting New York City. We spent the night at our cousin’s in Brooklyn, and kicked off the momentous day with breakfast at the Willburg Café. The food was very good, the prices were reasonable, and at the end of our meal the waitress placed a little wooden chest on our table. It was our bill. I was intrigued that somebody could make something so mundane into something unique. We returned the next day, spending time joking and talking about the chest.
Humans like rituals, even small ones such as opening a “treasure chest,” because they are predictable and comforting. And if they are unique, they offer an easy mental device for remembering something. Rituals help us form emotional connections, and as I’ve written before, emotional connections are key to branding and marketing. As you create or discover rituals connected with your brand, here are several things to keep in mind.
Rituals must be consistent.
They must be predictable, so the customer knows what to expect. Inconsistency can actually be damaging, creating customer disappointment (“Last time we came here we got after-dinner mints; what happened?”).
Rituals must be relevant and simple.
The ritual must make sense to customers, such as having wait staff sing “Happy Birthday.” In the same breath, remember that it must be simple. If it needs to be explained more than once, you are trying too hard. Simplicity also helps to insure that it will be adopted. On the flip side, simplicity can make it easy for the competition to copy, such as restaurants giving crayons to the youngest patrons. Crayons are still a great idea—just overused.
Make it Fun.
Cracker Jacks nailed this early on (too bad, though, the quality of the surprises has suffered over time).
Your customers control the ritual.
You can propose or foster a ritual, but you can’t control if it will succeed—and that can be a very good thing. Guinness decided to take a perceived drawback—the long tap-pouring time their beer requires—and persuade customers to think of it as necessary for a better drinking experience. Their highly successful campaign slogans included “Good things come to those who wait” and “It takes 119.53 seconds to pour the perfect pint.” Cheetos, thankfully, didn’t have much luck with its attempts to get consumers to rub orange, Cheetos-covered fingers on whatever they could. Customers do a great job of ignoring cheesy ritual offerings.
Rituals are not always planned.
A lot of marketers refer to the lime and Corona ritual’s success, but they usually don’t tell you that it was invented on a whim by a young bartender. It was not part of Corona’s marketing plan, but Corona knew a good thing when it came along. They also knew enough to not mess it up. They could have run tests and might have found that drinkers preferred a lemon to a lime. They could have tried to control it. But they were smart enough to let it control itself.
Rituals are easier to create in some markets than in others.
Innate human activities, such as eating and competing, are rich in ritual because they have been around forever. That is why restaurant examples are so easy to find, as are those relating to sports.
Although certain markets have a ritual advantage, all have opportunities. For example, newspapers could borrow a page from fortune cookies by using rubber bands with daily sayings. An ice cream company could create a uniquely shaped chocolate that is just under the lid of every pint.
Follow your customers and pay attention to every way they interact with your product even in the most mundane ways. Who knows, you might luck out and find a ritual that already exists. Just leave the Cheetos out of it.