Crossing your fingers.
Blowing on dice.
Knocking on wood.
Wearing lucky clothing.
These are among the rituals many casino gamers employ in the hopes that good luck will be theirs. We have seen even more that we could have ever imagined. But some rituals can do more than ward off bad luck. Some rituals have the power to create strong bonds.
Ceremonies. Weekly, monthly, or annual events. Rituals can have an undeniable effect on your brand and loyalty from guests, team members, and other stakeholders. If you’re trying to create a healthier community, a ritual could be the tool you need to create a sense of belonging and familiarity.
As human beings, we are creatures of habit. Routines provide us with a sense of security and stability. The word “ritual” can conjure primitive, mystical, or sacred ceremonies. Still, rituals are an essential part of our lives, such as brewing a pot of coffee every morning, cooking a huge Thanksgiving dinner once a year, or the way we mark life – weddings, Sweet Sixteen, or Quinceanera celebrations. In New Orleans, one of our more significant rituals is Mardi Gras. As revelers, we return to “our spots” to catch our favorite parades. We have parade clothes that will surely find the attention of riders. We go to lunch on the last Friday of the season (at numerous historic restaurants that have hosted these gatherings for almost 100 years), and (for some) we end the season with an Ash Wednesday mass at the St. Louis Cathedral.
Rituals provide us with a sense of belonging to our families and our communities. It doesn’t take much thought for you to remember a ritual in your family that always brings a smile.
Brand rituals could offer guests (and team members) the same sense of belonging to your community. As operators and business owners, we are continually setting patterns of behavior we hope will build loyalty. Done with intention, you WILL build loyalty.
Rituals are not exclusive to large brands. Low-cost and mass-market brands adopt rituals to stand apart in the market. Perhaps it is the need to add some differentiation, and in a veritable sea of slot machines, a distinction is undoubtedly the goal of every casino brand marketer.
Brand Rituals are Everywhere
You may have participated in rituals without even realizing it.
Did you get or give the first kiss after the countdown to a new year, or perhaps you prepared a pot of cabbage and black eye peas on New Year’s Day to “guarantee” a prosperous year.
As children, we all know we need to extinguish all of our birthday candles in one breath.
Whether it is a day at the beach or Cinco de Mayo, you can’t deny the ritual of lime with your ice-cold Corona beer. It has become such an unspoken expectation that drinkers simply consider it “the way it is.” This ritual makes them feel like “insiders” because they understand the “right” way to consume the beverage.
In the television show Cheers, one character’s name was always sung out in chorus upon entering the bar. “Norm!”
How do you eat an Oreo? The right way, of course. Chances are you twist and separate to get to that yummy cream filling first, or you go for the dunk into a cold glass of milk. Either way, yours is an emotional, sacred ritual you likely grew up with and are sharing with the next generations. Dunk or twist, eating an Oreo has become more than simple consumption. Through consistent marketing, the manufacturer took this everyday routine and turned it into a meaningful ritual and manifested an eating event.
The pour of a Guinness is another classic example. I once worked with someone who practically leaped over the bar to instruct a bartender on the proper way of pouring the dark liquid so that it formed (or is it foamed) the perfect head of foam. In case you’re wondering, it starts with a clean, DRY glass at a 45-degree angle. Pour until it’s three-quarters full, no more, no less. Allow it to settle before filling it to the top. I am told to pour any other way, and your drinking experience is ruined.
Stella Artois has a 9-point pouring ritual that begins with a cold water bath called The Purification and ends with The Bestowal. I think they have taken the notion of a ceremony to heart.
For years, Apple consumers would line up to be the first to purchase the latest smartphones. Apple encouraged this ritual, making the first buyers feel special by limiting the initial supply (to the bane of all who preferred to wait).
And, some claim Hallmark “invented” some holidays to further emphasize the ritual of card-giving for special events.
Hey, break me off a piece of that Kit Kat bar. I definitely need a break.
Brand Rituals are Important to Team Members
Rituals can also be a key element in how we engage and retain team members. Elaine Wynn used to send cakes from Freed’s Bakery in Las Vegas to the directors on the team. I was so surprised to find it on my desk, and then I was told she had done that for years. It was a personal ritual Elaine had created to enhance the bonds with team members further. She also was a master at the Final Four bracket game!
Disney cast members receive service pins, depending on how long they have been with the company. Each pin is coveted because it is distinctive for each year and gets affixed to their name tags. It’s a form of recognition that is visible to both the cast member and the public.
When I started working at the Isle of Capri, I discovered a long-standing ritual of distribution of logo wear that happened each quarter that team members loved. They would never face the dilemma of not having a thing to wear. At another operator, pens were given for specific years of service. When seen on your desk, everyone knew what it meant.
Rituals signal a shared sense of purpose because they are potent drivers of the culture. Thus, they should be nurtured and reinforced. When Howard Schultz returned to the help of Starbucks, he recognized the need to ignite a passion in each partner. Every new hire would take part in a ritual tasting of the store manager’s favorite coffees. It was a ceremonial experience that reinforced the values Starbucks held dear to their culture.
But there are also silent rituals, that can build or destroy team member engagement such as where and how executives take their lunch and dinner breaks, or how they stroll the back of the house. It can be how a new team member is handed off to their department or how changes are communicated. Consider a close examination of these unspoken rituals.
How to Create Brand Rituals
If you had a chance to read our post on Talk Triggers, you’d find some of this very familiar. I believe rituals must have a few common elements to stand the test of time and truly become a part of your brand.
- Consistency – By definition, rituals consistof a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order.
- Relevant – The goal is to bond your target audience to your brand. Rituals must be connected to both.
- Specific to Your Audience – Disney guests may love to wear a pin with the number of years they’ve visited, but chances are your audiences may differ in their motivations. Find the unique triggers for each audience and curate the experience for that.
- Entertaining – Remember, we are in the entertainment business. For other brands, I would typically advise them to make rituals enjoyable, but casino brands need to step it up a bit.
- Assist in the Adoption – No one likes to feel like an outsider. Your rituals should be easy enough for first-timers to take part, while still creating an extraordinary experience each time it happens.
- Shareable – If it’s not on social, it never happened. Make sure people will want to talk (positively) and share with friends and families.
Brand Rituals You Can Create
Rituals are often derived from existing behaviors. They should involve the guest (or whoever your target is) and create personalized experiences for them. Above all, they should be repeatable.
The best rituals start very organically but will stick when leadership is seen modeling it. Sustaining it over time will require fine-tuning as changes affect the business. As an example, the high-fives seen in some companies have had to change due to our current need to limit physical contacts.
Rethink your jackpot celebrations. These used to be the heart and soul of many slot floors, but cost-cutting and technology have curbed this great moment, saving celebrations for big jackpots only, and often not much celebration. These capsule parties can be created as multi-sensory experiences that anyone can participate in. From simple cowbells to confetti cannons, find the ceremony that best fits your brand, which can (and will) be repeated.
Another familiar ritual is birthday greetings to both guests and team members. Are you creating an experience that will bind the recipient to your brand? Can you improve your birthday experience in a meaningful way?
Your tchotchkes can also become valuable rituals. The original operators of Lady Luck had a crazy key chain that guests would rub for good luck. When the executives at the Isle of Capri considered reintroducing the brand, that was the number one comment that came up. Many former guests still had them!
Rituals give guests a compelling reason to choose you over your competition. Did you know that Oreo was not the first chocolate sandwich cookie? Without the ritual, they would just be another cookie option on the shelf. But the chances are that your emotional connection to that simple ritual of dunking or twisting will make you choose the pack of Oreo cookies.
The meaning team members will attach to routines and rituals is needed today more than ever. They foster a sense of belonging, but because these are often as natural to us as breathing, they often go under-appreciated.
How will you use ritual to create an enhanced connection to your guests, team members, and stakeholders?
A shortened version of this column previously appeared in Casino Journal.