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People love products with rituals

When people perform a ritual while consuming your product, they will enjoy and pay much more for it (e.g. 74% more for the same chocolate).

Topics: Customer Experience
For: B2C, B2B
Research date: July 2013
Universities: Carlson School of Management, University of Minnesota, and Harvard Business School, Harvard University

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📝 Intro

This research is one of the main papers that inspired me to start Ariyh.

It was published 7 years ago. That may seem like a long time ago, but you’ll see that this fascinating research is still greatly underused by marketers - and often unknown.

📈 Recommendation

Build a ritual into your product’s consumption: a series of unusual movements or behaviors people make when they consume your product (e.g. closing their eyes for a moment, flipping their phone’s screen a certain way).

Good examples are Oreo - separate the biscuits and lick them - or the way of pouring certain Belgian beers.

Even better if your ritual is before the product is consumed and some time passes between the two.

🎓 Findings

  • When people follow a ritual before or when consuming a product they:

    • Enjoy the experience more

    • Enjoy the product more

    • Are willing to pay more (in the study, 74% more for the same chocolate)

  • A delay between the ritual and the product’s consumption further strengthens satisfaction.

  • The ritual needs to be performed by the person consuming the product. For example, the person opening and pouring a good bottle of wine will probably be the one who enjoys it the most.

  • Rituals should be systematic, repetitive movements natural to the context and product. Not random gestures.

People really enjoyed their carrots when they performed rituals. Even more so if there was a delay between the ritual and consumption

🧠 Why it works

  • A ritual increases our involvement with the product. It creates the feeling that the product is part of something we created.

  • Previous research has shown that we like and overvalue objects that we have created ourselves. Preparing our own food, for example, makes us like it more.

  • Rituals often make life better. For example, we find activities less stressful when we are permitted to perform our chosen rituals, and space feels safer and food purer if accompanied by rituals. This is why we perform rituals for birthdays (e.g. cake candles, make a wish) and other important moments of our lives.

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  • The experiments were done on food tasting (chocolate, carrots, and lemonade). In theory, the findings can be generalized for other products - the psychological principles are the same - but this was not tested.

  • It’s unclear how much you can ‘force’ a ritual adoption to your customers. Ideally, you should encourage it to be picked up voluntarily. If you make it mandatory to follow a ritual, the effects could be different - or even backfire.

🏢 Companies using this

  • Very few companies have successfully built a ritual around their products. It’s unclear how many have tried.

  • Successful examples include:

    • The Jeep Wave: when you drive a Jeep, you are required to wave to other Jeep drivers.

    • Oreo biscuits: separate them and dip them in milk

    • Pringles: pop the cap of the tube

⚡ Steps to implement

  • You’ll need to think out of the box to define your ritual, even more so if you’re a digital product. Some ideas:

    • You’re a B2B consultancy: your consultants could become known to start all meetings by getting everyone to do a 1 min deep focus breathing meditation.

    • You’re a gaming app: each time players open the app, they need to move their screen brightness up and down until it reaches the perfect point.

    • You’re a dishwasher tablet maker: before placing the tablet in the dishwasher, people should roll it between their hands 3 times to soften it up.

  • In general, make sure the ritual makes sense for your brand and context (asking people to do 3 pushups before logging into your CRM might be a bit odd). It should also be easy, and about the person doing it, not your brand.

  • Once you define and test your ritual on a small scale you can communicate it in your product labeling, customer interactions, and campaigns. Eventually, it should grow organically as part of your word-of-mouth.

🔍 Study type

Lab experiments

📖 Research

Vohs, K. D., Wang, Y., Gino, F., & Norton, M. I. Rituals enhance consumption. Psychological Science (July 2013).

🏫 Affiliations

Carlson School of Management, University of Minnesota, and Harvard Business School, Harvard University

Remember: This research could be disproven in the future (although this is rare). It also may not be generalizable to your situation. If it’s a risky change, always test it on a small scale before rolling it out widely.

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