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Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving & the importance of ritual in brand-building

Of all the books written about branding one of my favorites is Primal Branding by Patrick Hanlon of Thinktopia. In this book Hanlon lays out the principles of great branding essentially along the lines of religion. 

Among the principles that Hanlon lays out is one I think gets overlooked a lot - ritual. Jeannie Chan at the Curious Marketeer explains it thus: "Rituals are the meaningful repeated points of contact between you and your guest, customer, client, or target market." Certainly that is one aspect of ritual - the way the brand developer shapes your experience consistently.

But there is another aspect to ritual as well. As a brand-builder you are trying to create a destination for the customer that is an essential part of their lives. The fact that they keep coming to you, and not your competitor, is what guarantees you a steady stream of income and the opportunity to build and expand your presence in the market.

So what you want is to have the customer's patronage of your brand be a ritual in itself.

Starbucks understands this brilliantly of course. Thus the flock of penguins going to work every day with the obligatory paper cup in hand. Evidence: You say, "I'm going to do a Starbucks run" rather than "a coffee run."

Google understands this too. By hitting their search page before you do anything else on the web, you have absorbed their brand into your life so much that it almost becomes unthinkable to use the web without them. Evidence: You say "I'll Google that" rather than "I'll look that up."

Or think about Band-Aids. The product is almost inseparable from the image of a caring mother kneeling before her child's scraped knee. The ritual occurs as the child runs to Mommy, Daddy or caregiver and receives love - in the form of a Band-Aid being applied to the cut.

Finally, there is Thanksgiving. The buying, roasting and preparation of the turkey and Thanksgiving meal is a ritual; brands vie to be the ones who "own" that particular mindspace. I would venture to guess that Martha Stewart owns the holiday right now. And the other ritual associated with this holiday, of racing to the stores on "Black Friday," means retailers can count on lots of business - even from people who don't need a $9.99 coffeemaker from Macy's.

Branding is an art and a science, but in the real world what ultimately counts are dollars and cents. To build a fantastic brand, it's critical to pay attention to ritual. How can you distinguish your product or service today?

Here's what I say to end my blogs: "Have a good day (or evening), and good luck!"