Rituals lost and found
The pandemic and associated lockdowns and other disease control measures disrupted rituals, upending the strong emotional ties associated with many of them, even the ones we once took for granted. In response, organizations should identify how they can help build new ways for people to cope and reconnect.
Many of us are grieving the rituals of life we once enjoyed. The past year has been a period for reassessment and searching for new meaning.
Many of us are grieving the rituals of life we once enjoyed. The shared emotional experiences around traditions associated with loss, celebration, ceremony and routine help bind us together within our families and friends, work, local communities, and wider society.
With so much change, it’s been a period for reassessing and searching for new meaning that has inspired many people to develop new rituals that bring them joy and comfort in new routines. Many have formed new behaviors, including virtually connecting more often with family and friends and spending more time on self-care and mental wellbeing.
In societies where mindfulness was less culturally ingrained, it’s become part of daily life for many. Use of meditation apps surged during the pandemic—the app Calm now even has a premium membership tier included on American Express cards.6 Meanwhile, spirituality has been fueled by a growing array of spiritual networks. In the US, personalized astrology app Co-Star raised US$5.2m in seed round funding.7
As of December 2020, the pandemic isn’t over, and it’s clear that people want—and need—new habits, rituals and coping strategies to help them live in their new and unexpected circumstances.
Whether it's coffee with our colleagues, Saturday sports, or applying makeup with friends, losing our rituals affect us all in some way.
Brands must work to understand the blank space left by a lost ritual, then provide an experience that could replace it. We've identified four roles for rituals that brands should consider as they design new ones:
Ritual as portal: A ritual can help us transition between different selves. Everyday-me might become holiday-me while packing, for instance. Transition rituals are especially relevant for beauty, grooming and fashion brands.
Ritual as sense of belonging: Friday night drinks or Sunday sports are examples of rituals that promote a sense of belonging and around which products are consumed in a social setting. The challenge for brands is to create experiences outside physical settings.
Ritual as comfort: New rituals like socially distanced street dance parties and cocktail hours can be a source of comfort. Brands should consider how they can enhance such moments.
Ritual as anchor: Brands can help people reimagine emotional anchors such as holiday celebrations when they can't physically get together. Pay-later fintech Klarna hosted an online music festival called Klarnival to fill the gap left by cancelled summer events.
Any ritual a brand creates should be linked with its brand purpose. When the right ritual is balanced with the right purpose, it could enable customers to engage with what matters to them.
Brands have a huge opportunity to support people as they develop new rituals, like activities that are healthier, more sustainable or community focused.
Unpack the mechanics of rituals to understand not only how people feel but what they do at a detailed level. These will probably differ from market to market, and the balance of where they take place (online/offline) may shift over time as the pandemic plays out.
Brands are now widely expected to have a voice and speak on issues (see our Empathy challenge trend). Choose carefully how you use your brand’s voice to help people through their life changes. Acknowledge to your customers that we’re in this together to find some sense of normality in our lives—and say it authentically.
Encourage rituals to transition from lost to found. Help people feel more relevant. How can you support psychological sustainability? How can you incorporate mental health considerations into your products and services? While we’re all in this together, our personal experiences vary, so remember that some people will be coping and grieving, while others are embracing new sources of joy.