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Discovering the Power of Rituals in Marketing

Updated: Oct 1, 2022

Align Purpose With Your Brand

Article co-created with Martina Olbertova and Jonathan Cook.

We are launching a new form of podcasting called Pass the Mic Series because we believe in the power of many voices.

Each episode begins with one expert - an open-minded and passionate individual who has spent a great deal of time investigating and researching a certain topic.

During our hour, a small group of 4 to 6 people will explore complex and difficult concepts with curiosity and uncertain beliefs and the willingness to objectively listen and learn from the shared insights of others.

Upcoming episodes will address a variety of ideas with Philosophy, gender equity, masculinity, and ethical leadership just to name a few.

We kicked off our first episode with a marketing topic: The concept of Rituals in commercial culture.

Starting the Conversation

What are Rituals in commercial culture?

The answer is simple: a ritual is a symbolic behavior that enables the transformation of an identity.

As the podcast host, Virginie Glaenzer paved the way for this conversation led by Jonathan Cook which starts with a definition of rituals and ends with a reminder to revisit our own personal behavioral habits to guard against transforming our random habits into meaningful rituals. Along the way, there is much more, including purposeful leadership, marketing ethics, evolution in retail rituals and how rituals’ complexity are creating thinner relationships which might represent a key differentiation opportunity for brands.

The group conversation was led by Jonathan Cook, a researcher and consultant who specializes in using immersive methods to uncover and explore the deep cultural patterns, emotional motivations, narrative structures, and ritual experiences that enable enduring value in an increasingly disconnected commercial culture.

Cook started our discussion by defining rituals in business: a ritual is a symbolic behavior that enables the transformation of an identity which results in a change of meaning. Changing behaviors is the goal of marketers in organizations. Identity transformation involves interacting with others and knowing how we relate to them.

Listen to Jonathan’s introduction.

Welcoming Our Guests

We were honored to welcome special guests eager to discuss Rituals in commercial culture.

Dr. Martina Olbertova is a leading expert on brand meaning and cultural relevance around the globe. As a writer, speaker, strategist and cultural consultant, she educates brand and business leaders on how to be culturally savvy and capitalize on culture change. As a social scientist and semiotician, Martina is interested in the power of ritual and the symbolic dimension of brands and marketing. She works with brands to create meaningful value and long-term equity to make their behavior ritualized in culture.

Matt T. Grant is Vice President, Content at Scratch Marketing + Media and his interests include content marketing, organizational behavior, and corporate education. Matt expressed curiosity about how marketers can re-create pre-industrial ritual sacred spaces within a wholly commercial environment and ways marketers might tap into and harness the human inclination toward ritual.

Hilton Barbour has worked with some of the world’s most demanding Fortune 100 companies and some of the feistiest start-ups. He brings a unique perspective to every engagement. He believes an organization’s culture is how it makes decisions and making them in a consistent and cogent fashion requires a degree of ritualization. Rituals impact how organizations innovate, debate, create a space for discussion, and celebrate and recognize success or barriers. Some rituals advance and others are impediments.

Matt Hames is Associate VP of digital strategy at 3 Enrollment and is a pioneer in social and digital media for Higher Education. As a thought leader and speaker, he focuses on emerging trends and consumer behavior. He is intrigued by the broad definition applied to the term “ritual.” He wonders why organizations behave as they do and how rituals might evolve our thoughts.

Key Shared Insights & Perspectives

1- Purposeful Leadership

We started defining rituals as a symbolic behavior and discussed how creating meaning begins with a purposeful leadership team that looks at the various work habits employees have with co-workers and customers that can be improved and revisited.

When organizations don’t create their own rituals, employees/clients may improvise rituals that are not “on brand” or aligned with the company’s goals. Intentional ritual management allows more control over the brand and is a way to define who and what an organization is. Well-designed rituals can bring employees/clients onboard for a higher purpose.

Responding to Jonathan’s comment “When we engage in well designed rituals in business, we can bring people on board for a higher purpose”, Hilton shares his perspective on purposeful leadership.

Listen to his response.

Short bites - Hilton Barbour on Purposeful leadership

2- Conscious Rituals

The group discussed the concept of purposeful rituals vs. unconscious rituals. Martina shared her thoughts on the need to differentiate between mindless ritualized behavior - running on autopilot - and meaningful cultural rituals that uphold shared values and identities.

She opened a question about the need to ask ourselves if the ritual has a real value to our being. The differentiating factor here being consciousness.

A purposeful ritual can have a positive impact and was cited in the scope of business communications. For our panelist who works in a virtual office environment, the weekly staff meeting was a positive ritual that provided an opportunity for camaraderie and collaboration.

On the other hand, our digital society has created unconscious rituals that are similar to addictive behaviors. Think about the first thing we all do when our plane lands, or when we are riding in an elevator or on a bus. Do we need to be quite so tethered to our devices?

Listen to Martina’s questioning our way of living.

Short bites - Martina Olbertova on Conscious Rituals

3- Individual Take-aways

As we came at the end of the hour, our group ended the discussion in the same way we started, with a tour de table. Each participant had the opportunity to reflect on what they heard and share their take-aways from the conversation. Listen to the last 10 minutes of the episode.

Short Bites - Take-aways

Final Thoughts to Consider

It is fascinating to experience the implication and strangeness of a word taken out of its traditional context and applying it to another world. It is a reminder of the leap of faith we must take to expand our understanding of the world.

Ritual in commercial culture brings a new understanding of customer behaviors and branding.

With the deliberate incorporation of meaningful rituals, a brand is much more than a logo and tagline. Business rituals communicate a sense of purpose and give customers and employees the feeling of being “branded” - becoming part of a herd of common identity with organizations, communities and other individuals.

This common identity is valued by consumers and affects their buying behavior more than convenience or pricing.

It is important for leaders to recognize and manage rituals so they are not cast aside or unintentionally changed to the point of becoming meaningless.

If this short summary resonated with you, go to YouTube to view the entire discussion or listen on iTune, Spotify, Speaker or SoundCloud.

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