Why building habits makes for good business
Our lives are a mass of habits
According to a Duke University researcher more than 40% of the actions people perform each day aren’t actual decisions but auto-pilot habits. For a fair share of people, the New Year is a time to make some well-intended resolutions. The making of new desired habits. Or the breaking of existing bad habits. However more people break these resolutions, with the majority (66%) admitting to doing so within just one month.
So it goes without saying that changing or instilling new habits requires considerable effort above and beyond desire or willpower. Common wisdom suggests it takes 21 days to change our habits. However this is for something as simple as deciding to drink a glass of water each day. Researchers from University College London found that the average time it takes for a new habit to stick is actually 66 days; with individual times varying from 18 days for simple tasks up to a massive 254 days for more difficult or involved tasks.
Force of habit within marketing
The human brain is inherently lazy. The conscious mind can’t process lots of information, compared to the unconscious mind which is 200,000 times more powerful. So habits emerge to save effort.
This brings with it advantages and disadvantages to brands seeking to encourage purchase as explored in an excellent Harvard Business Review article. This attests that the brain is less of an analytical super-computer and more of a gap-filling machine that quickly fills in missing information based upon past experiences. Thereby advertising that promotes and reinforces existing comfortable buying habits trumps innovative or unfamiliar alternatives. In fact, the human mind loves automaticity above conscious consideration. Repeated experiences also lower the barriers to acceptancy. Given a choice the brain would prefer to follow the familiar and do the same things over and over again.
Back to the advantages and disadvantages for brands. For bigger brands with greater awareness, familiarity and consumptive experiences, the workings of the brain are to their advantage. So long as their offering satisfies, a favourable perception is reinforced overtime building advantage over those offerings not chosen. The double whammy for smaller less well-known or new brands of course is it’s hard to break into the conscious minds of consumers. Of course some consumers will make a conscious choice to purchase and some will consciously reappraise their normal purchase intentions. And new brands can disrupt this choice.
However these choices are the minority. Most of what we process sits within the sub-conscious. For the majority of people ‘new’ messages just wash-over or are filtered out as the sub-conscious habit-loving mind is in control. As Daniel Kahneman say in his book ‘Think Fast, Think Slow’ – ‘thinking fast’ is the subconscious habit driven decision-making mind while ‘thinking slow’ is the conscious decision-making mind. The reality is the human brain prefers the warm glow and comfort of what it already knows and has experienced over any new stimuli.
Continuing with the HBR article, this suggests helping customers avoid having to make yet another choice.
To do this means creating a cumulative advantage that extends beyond any consciously positioned competitive advantage. If you can make your brand a value – a part of someone’s identity - you really have a powerful competitive advantage. Habits help create that ongoing emotional connection.
The power of habit within the workplace
All companies have their own unique culture which spawns a set of habits and rituals. By rituals I mean repeatable behaviours which inhabit a more mindful choice or focus.
Within the world of business to business there is more conscious choice given to purchase decisions through the more complex decision-making process (with an average of 6.8 individuals involved in the buying decision according to the CEB) and the scrutiny of procurement. However people ultimately buy from people and therefore tapping into the right human emotions can help to unlock business decisions as proprietary research with gyro in partnership with the Fortune Knowledge Group established. Findings identified that: ‘62% of executives say it is often necessary to rely on gut feelings and soft factors’ and ‘2/3 of executives believe business decisions are shaped by human emotion’.
Within the world of business Nissan invites car dealers and parts manufacturers to drop in for a ‘guest’ test drive. According to Japanese culture a customer is an honoured guest. So they have elevated the normal test drive into a respectfully engaging ritual. This experience cultivates the formation of stronger emotive bonds and loyal relationships (while possibly inducing brand ambassadorship).
New habits can also be encouraged through smart digital product design to create human experiences that are useful, usable and engaging. Amazon Dash Buttons are one great example of usefully disrupting existing behaviours to build habit around product re-ordering which in turn drives frequency of purchase. Dash nicely encapsulate the design principles of the Joshua Porter, (author of ‘Designing the Social Web) timeless Designing for Usability & Motivation model shared.
So whether you work for a brand or are a partner working with a brand why not challenge yourself in addressing the following two questions:
Like Nissan, how might you use brand rituals to create a greater sense of bonding / fuel passion?
Like Amazon Dash, how might you establish and embed new habits across your audience purchase journey?
Companies that embed habits and rituals into their brand experience have an opportunity to build cumulative advantage beyond any initial competitive advantage. In doing so, they gain to make their products or services the more comfortable ‘gut’ choice. To conclude, what we are made to feel is often more important than what we are made to think.