Consumer Rituals to Drive Growth: Identifying Sources of Influence

While scholars maintain a sense of wonder (and puzzlement) about the repetitive nature of habits, as well as the distinction between conscious behavior and unconscious responses, this subject has its own appeal to marketers and market researchers.

For the latter group, there are two aspects to this subject of particular importance. First, because repetitive behavior lends itself to conventional promotional plans, marketers can exploit the effectiveness of these respective programs. And secondly, since people can learn or acquire specific habits, the learning experience itself can be a catalyst towards furthering a key marketing objective: Consumer education.

But habits alone are insufficient material for a marketer's proper understanding of the dynamic influence consumers have on a variety of products and services. Remember: Routinized behavior lacks any emotional or symbolic communication, which explains the shift, in emphasis and analysis, on rituals; highly repetitive actions, which are the result of conscious choices that have value as a statement of purpose.

To distinguish between these categories requires an appreciation for the multi-dimensional aspects that define rituals, including:

Artifacts: The accessories that are part of a consumer's business or social rituals. A symbolic example of this act is the customary popping of a bottle of champagne, in celebration of a Grand Prix Awards ceremony.

Script: This outline provides the sequence of actions the principal players perform, the one an audience sees and hears. In this case, the same bottle of champagne would be a tool of theatricality; the winner or award presenter would uncork the bottle, shake it to create more foam, and release this bubbly liquid all about him –his teammates and second- and third-place finishers, climaxed by the victorious driver drinking the champagne and passing the bottle to those around him.

Performance: A ritual is also, as the previous points reveal, a matter of performance. In the Grand Prix scenario, there would be several performers – from the winning driver and his teammates or pit crew to his corporate sponsor – involved in this momentous occasion.

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Audience: A ritual can be a performance intended for and enhanced by an audience, or a private act without public attention.

Branding Rituals and Practices: The Detailed Expression of Consumer Behavior

Bearing these facts in mind, and with a fuller appreciation of the power rituals have on branding, as well as the cultural stereotypes created by advertising and the fashion system, there are four rituals associated with these issues:

  • Possession: The rituals of buying and owning a product or service.
  • Exchange: Gift-giving events like Valentine's Day or Christmas.
  • Grooming: Customizing a car or mobile device, to better reflect a person's identity.
  • Divestment: Rituals governing a milestone like the sale of a house or some other matter of importance.

In addition, rituals serve three fundamental roles in brand communities: One, there is an order to things; a shared consciousness for many, and a specialized sense of transformation for each individual.

Picture a gathering of car enthusiasts or Harley-Davidson aficionados, whose rituals are critical to maintaining and transferring knowledge among this group.

Second, these processes are critical to the ethos that characterizes an organized constituency with its own hierarchy and established rules. And third, there is ample evidence that rituals can explain when and why consumers trade-up to more affluent lifestyle brands.

All of which leaves marketers asking the same fundamental question: How can we use rituals in a practical – and profitable – manner?

In response, my recommendation is that we should acknowledge that rituals offer insight into the sources responsible for the collective behavior of consumers.

What, for instance, explains the ritual of creating a personalized pair of sneakers, with certain colors and patterns denoting membership in various groups? How, by way of another example (in a different industry), can a brand like Corona become a global icon, thanks to its association with a simple lime wedge?

As in the example with Corona, the image begets a ritual, repeated by millions of consumers worldwide, with its origins still anchored in Mexico and the country's tropical beaches.

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The point is obvious: Consumer rituals also inspire innovation, which launch new products, and combine distinct services within certain environments. In short, rituals tell business owners and marketers many things. They reveal essential information worthy of respect and examination.

Filiberto Amati is the Founder of Amati & Associates, a group of Innovation Catalysts, Branding Architects and International Experts that works with a variety of multinational companies and top consumer products throughout the world.

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