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Arm Punches & War Dance: Build a Brand Ritual

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The All Blacks perform the haka, a Maori traditional war dance, before each match and even their opponents play an unwitting part.

Porsche drivers flash their lights at each other while MINI drivers tend to wave. Volkswagen just wants us to punch each other in the arm.

Stella Artois is doing its best to get us to “behead” our beers while Corona is satisfied to have us plunk a slice of lime in the necks of our bottles.

Rituals matter to us as a species and play an increasingly important role for us as stewards of our brands.

Rituals define our groups and create a sense of community and exclusivity. Those of us who perform this ritual are different from all the others here and this uniqueness is the heart of the group identity. High-performing teams have rituals. They may be subtle, but they very often have cultural nuances and group behaviors that set them apart on purpose. This forges a sense of exclusivity within our peer groups---all important elements in the psychology of group influence.

Rituals spread ideas through source similarity. We see people like us doing something that intrigues us and we copy their behaviors. In a world where we define an ignoramus as someone who doesn’t know what we learned five minutes ago, rituals are powerful compliance techniques. Monkey see, monkey do.

On a personal level, rituals serve as centering touchstones, reminding us of the importance of those behaviors they bring to the fore. We don’t just tap our tennis shoes with our rackets to shake the imaginary dirt from them; we do it to remind ourselves to move our feet on the court. The haka doesn’t just give us a little frolic before a match; it reminds us of our warrior spirit (not to mention the side note that it scares the hell out of our opponents).

In a group setting, rituals create a means to affect culture change by forging symbolic rewards systems. When we create rituals within our teams, we are creating systems within which we are rewarding people for the right behaviors. We do things in a certain way that may appear stylized, but s masks their underlying meaning. Sweeping the proverbial temple steps, in other words, often masks the attention to detail, the meditation--–and the upper body strength conditioning---eeded to master the martial arts.

So, have a conversation with me for a moment on this idea.

  • Think of a behavior that you need to instill within your team, organization–or just yourself. Make a short list.

  • Think of a ritual that you could create–an act that you perform or a process you go through–that would make this behavioral change more visible, easier to remember or more palatable to your group.

  • What do you come up with? How can we surface the idea of creating rituals on purpose to affect change and what can this do for us?

I've got some other thoughts on brand rituals and a few personal case studies at my blog,, so please drop by and share your experiences!

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I've spent twenty years connecting brands to the wants & needs of technology users, as a consultant and as a front line executive managing the people, strategy and budgets at brand name companies like Sony, Onstar, Iomega and Plantronics.

This generally means that I've spent a lot of time saying "no" to very charming people and defending very creative marketing ideas in front of people who don't always laugh at my jokes.

What else can I tell you? I've lived and worked in the US and Japan, hold multiple patents, have lectured at top graduate schools and industry forums, and have a Wharton MBA, the diploma for which is somewhere in my office.

My consulting business is focused on helping consumer technology companies nail their branding so they get through the ambient noise in the market, as well as guiding them in how to win in the trenches of the channel, where all business battles are won or lost.

What you see on my blog,, is what I've netted out of the conversations I get to have with lots of smart people. Drop in and comment at your convenience ~!

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