Ritual Attraction-Connect with consumers by understanding their brand rituals (The Hub Magazine)

We’ve all been there. Whether we’ve been tasked with introducing or repositioning a brand, fighting off private label, finding new reasons-to-believe or reinvigorating a mature brand, we’ve all faced the challenge of finding new nuggets of information, developing new marketing strategies, and producing new creative executions that will transform our brands and allow us to build stronger and more meaningful relationships with consumers.

As human beings, we almost always fall into a predictable behavioral path. We may conduct a few focus groups, hoping consumers will tell us something we don’t already know, or maybe we’ll spend a few hours with our intended consumers in their homes, or at the store, and hope some hidden behavior that we can leverage will appear.

Eventually, we’ll look for assurance in a quantitative study. We might commission an attitudes and usage study, or become seduced by the power of differentiation and conduct a segmentation study. We’ll have plenty of statistics and perhaps a new way of slicing up our consumer universe, but how many times has this approach really produced something transformational, and how many times did the end result justify the costs of this approach?

To be fair, there was a time when this approach was very helpful. But in today’s hyper-competitive world, where your competitors have access to the same techniques and information, where imitators make your positioning less distinctive, and where consumers have a hard time remembering what they did yesterday — much less a brand interaction or communication that may have occurred a few days or even weeks ago — these methods alone rarely produce the results we seek.

In short, this traditional battle for the consumer’s mind is difficult, costly and typically yields incremental results. Brand-builders need new approaches and forward-thinking marketers increasingly are turning to behavioral science for answers.

Psychologists and behavioral marketing experts have discovered that around 90 percent of our actions do not involve conscious thought. In other words, around 90 percent of the time consumers don’t consciously think about what attracts them to a particular brand. They don’t form opinions based upon some cost-benefit analysis or internal brand-attribute ratings.

We can ask consumers all the questions we want about why they chose one brand over another, or what they look for in the category, but they probably won’t be able to give us an accurate answer because they didn’t think about their actions in the first place.

Think about it: Ninety percent of consumer thoughts and actions do not involve conscious thought. Yet, it is a fair bet that almost all our discovery, marketing and branding techniques rely completely upon consumers’ conscious thinking. Surely, marketing to the subconscious part of the consumer mind should yield better results. So why hasn’t marketing to the subconscious caught on?

The answer, in large part, rests upon traditional notions of what the subconscious is all about. Until recently, it was viewed as either the purview of academics, as “un-scientific hocus-pocus,” or shrugged off as “that subliminal type of advertising where marketers hide sexual images in liquor ads to induce arousal.” Many misclassified it as “emotional” or “intuitive,” and thus beyond the realm of hard science.

However, applying findings from anthropology, sociology, psychology, and even religious studies, marketers are now gaining access to the 90 percent of consumer brains that make decisions. This enables us to create marketing strategies, tactics, and creative executions that connect directly to this most important part of the consumer mind.

Just as important, they are also realizing that marketing to the subconscious is more often than not a more scientific endeavor than traditional “conscious marketing.” Ask a marketer within which social, psychological or behavioral theory their findings and program are couched, and you are likely to get an incomplete answer.

Ask the same question of a subconscious marketer and you should get a list of scientific theories that cut across fields ranging from behavioral economics to comparative symbology to cognitive psychology. In addition, they’ll have a plethora of scientifically validated studies to back up these theories.

Marketing to the subconscious isn’t any more difficult than marketing to the conscious mind, but it does require us to think a bit differently. To begin with, one must understand the fundamental ways people store, process, recall, and act upon information and desires. This includes comprehending both the structures that shape the way we process and store information, as well as the symbolic and cognitive cues that bring deep-seated thoughts and desires to the surface.

The goal of this understanding is to harness the power of subconscious attraction through ritualized action and communications. Ritual, a concept that is fast becoming popular in the marketing and branding world, is the time and space where our deepest social and mental connections are made.

When marketing to the subconscious, branding professionals should attempt to transform every brand interaction from a routine conscious occurrence into a ritual experience. For example, brands in the baking category traditionally are marketed as ingredients. Typically, they are supported by promotions, displays, and incentives that connect an insight through a strategic idea that suggests a consumer activity that will hopefully prompt a purchase.

Let’s say the three top baking products are each doing this through the insight that people express love through their baked goods. Each idea is brand-owned and supported by various vehicles touting incentives for purchase consideration.

What if we could use all of those marketing devices in a way that would trigger a response that is not routine, but part of a ritual? You could make your marketing dollars work harder by driving efficiency through greater effectiveness in the consumer’s mind. Go back to the insight; go deeper than the conscious mind of your consumer informing you that it’s love that gets her to bake.

It’s love all right, but the subconscious mind tells us that the baker needs the love as much as those for whom she is baking. The scientific fact that she needs to feel useful and needed is much more valuable to her and the brand than any coupon. As marketers, we can use the power of the consumer’s subconscious in our communications by instigating ritualized actions over and over, thus cementing a passion and commitment for a brand, not unlike the way diehard sports fans feel about their teams.

You probably already have most of the data that is needed to begin tapping into the consumer subconscious and ritualizing the consumer brand experience. Hidden nuggets of information that lie within the existing and traditional research and data are waiting to be uncovered and can revive, reinvigorate, and strengthen the connection between the consumer and the brand.

So, the next time you have been tasked with introducing or repositioning a brand, fighting off private label, finding new reasons-to-believe, or reinvigorating a mature brand, let the competition concentrate on the 10 percent of the consumer decision-making process that matters least. You can focus on the 90 percent that matters most and produce the new creative executions that will transform your brand and allow it to build stronger and more meaningful relationships with its consumers.

Read more from The Hub Magazine at: http://www.hubmagazine.com/html/2011/hub_43/jul_aug/2372307743/ryan-brand-identity/index.html.

Don Growhoski is chief strategy/creative officer of Ryan Partnership, Ryan DarkHorse.

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