Brand Building 101: Habits Are Good, Rituals Are Great

We talk about products, services, and brands all of the time. But, if we really want to go deeper, if we really want to drive better results, we need to talk about habits and rituals too. Habits and rituals are essential to the stories our customers tell themselves about what it is we do.

Let’s start by defining each. Jasmine Bina puts it best: “Habits make life easy. Rituals make life meaningful.” While habits move us through time, rituals help us mark the passage of time. Buying napkins is a habit. Buying napkins to use for a kid’s birthday party is part of a ritual. Habits are shortcuts. Rituals are long drives through the country.

Over time, branding is all about what gets engrained. Old dogs don’t want to learn new tricks. Habits are good at this, but rituals are great at this. When we think about the products and services our brand offers, we want to think about the rituals they either create or participate in, not just the habits. Rituals are where the real value is.

The COVID crisis has been an amazing teacher. Habits have changed while rituals have been adapted in front of our eyes. Note the difference. The habit of buying the same thing from the same store is always at least a little susceptible to change, but not much. In a crisis, those little habits can change quickly. When your brand of toilet paper is out at the store, you don’t go without.

The rituals of gathering, think birthdays, weddings, or just drinks at the bar, have all been adapted. These rituals don’t go away, they just take on new versions of their old selves. As bizarre as Zoom happy hour is at first, it’s still happy hour. Brand stickiness in rituals belongs to the creation of meaning. This is exactly where we want our products and services to exist.

In order to ritualize our brands, we should start with the emotions our customers associate with what we do, and continue by thinking of the times in life those emotions are most pronounced, and end by linking them together. When we tie ourselves to rituals, we aren’t just brand building in available space, we’re brand building in emotional space. This is how we build something meaningful. This is how we create even more value.

Want more? Read Bina’s post, “When Consumer Habits Fall Apart, Look For The Rituals That Remain,” and as she suggests and I can now also heavily recommend, Sasha Sagan’s book, “For Small Creatures Such As We: Rituals For Finding Meaning In Our Unlikely World.” h/t also to Ari Lewis’ podcast Mastering The Attention Economy for putting me on to Bina’s work.

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