Despite all the talk about behavioral marketing, few marketers are aware of just how much habit impacts consumer behavior. That was, perhaps, the most surprising finding from our recent survey of marketers about what drives purchasing behavior.
In fact, just 9 percent of respondents realized that as much as 95 percent of consumer behavior is on autopilot, according to our survey, for which we partnered with CMO.com. Habit experts explain that this high percentage is innate. From daily routines to the brands we buy, humans desire the simplified decision-making that habituation provides.
The lack of recognition of habit as a driving influence in all of marketing could explain why so much marketing disappoints where ROI is concerned. If your brand’s growth involves switching people from a competitor’s product to yours, what you are really asking them to do is change their habit. Any switching strategy will be ineffective if it’s not sensitive to the target’s ingrained habits and what it will take to change them.
Switching one time isn’t considered a success, either. A campaign may get someone to try a product once, but the goal should be to get them to buy it on autopilot. The very definition of a strong brand is that its purchase is habituated.
Marketers who don’t acknowledge the dominant role of habit in people’s lives can inadvertently concept products or run promotions that have little hope of traction because they work against existing habits. In addition, the marketer may miss seeing the habituated moment in the consumer’s path to purchase.
The success of content marketing is also strongly dependent on insinuating a brand into people’s existing habits or, far tougher, getting people to adopt a new habit that makes your content part of their daily lives. The best content in the world could still fail if the marketer doesn’t understand the target’s habituated information sources, habituated media usage, and consumption habits, such as time of day or occasion.
A recent meta-analysis by our brand marketing agency of both scientific and popular literature makes clear: Any marketer today who is not an expert on habit will underperform in his job. But the responses to our survey also revealed several interesting findings about what marketers do know about habit.
Among the findings:
• More than 85 percent of respondents realize that the majority of factors and cues driving decision-making are subconscious. It’s not just psychologists and behavioral scientists, such as Dan Ariely and Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman, who argue this convincingly. Increasingly, data scientists tell us analytics reveal people don’t really know what they want until they buy it. And when asked their rationale, consumers just articulate whatever they can put into words, though it may not accurately reflect what’s really going on in their heads.
• When asked which is best for insights on habit–behavioral science or the analysis of big data sets–64 percent of respondents cited the former. However, both now play a critical role in cracking the code. While ethnographies, experiments in psychology, and behavioral economics all reveal habits, triggers, and cues, increasingly analytics reveal what will more rapidly leverage the habit, trigger, and cue and do so across large numbers of people.
• Nearly 85 percent of survey respondents understand that habituated buying decisions are just as much a reality in the world of B2B marketing as they are to B2C. Studies increasingly report business people displaying many of the same habits as consumers on their path to purchase.
• Respondents recognized that habit doesn’t just drive purchase decisions. It can also help drive their corporate culture. Seventy-eight percent agreed that it is possible to create behaviors to which a whole company is habituated. Some consider this the ability of a great leader.
For example, as Charles Duhigg details in "The Power of Habit," Howard Schultz returned as CEO of Starbucks in 2008 when the company was suffering. His insights on what would turn things around included returning to outstanding customer service and the consistent preparation of a high quality product. He identified the keystone to this performance as habituating the calm and grace with which employees handled the stress of long lines of customers, the high pressure of lots of orders in rapid succession, and confrontations from disgruntled customers.
He and his team then designed a training program to help employees not only anticipate these stress points, but with role playing and rehearsing, habituate how to handle them--replacing impulse with routine ways by which to deal with difficult situations. The benefits in employee performance and morale, and customer satisfaction, have been called nothing less than striking.
• Survey takers were asked which of a preselected list of brands are successful because they play to what habituates. No matter which brand the respondent chose--Nest Thermostat, Febreze, Disney, Amazon, Pinterest, Fed Ex, and Starbucks--they were right. For example, the Nest Thermostat was designed to read people’s habits and then program itself accordingly. P&G famously studied people’s cleaning rituals and then designed Febreze to play into them.
• When asked about ad agency-marketer relationships, 93 percent of respondents said that it is possible to study them and correlate certain work habits to the quality and effectiveness of the outcome. In fact, Mondelez has studied and identified what it believes is its teams’ habits with agencies that are most conducive to advertising ROI.
• The survey also asked respondents, “What skills or techniques would you love to learn that could help you rewire the brain of your target to buy your brand on autopilot?” The ideas submitted ranged from a desire for new research techniques to pull from people’s subconscious the drivers of their habits, to a desire to learn how to create content that habituates. Interestingly, one answer cited by a fifth of all respondents was a desire to learn gamification–a means of conditioning and habituation.
For marketers, learning more about habit can prove challenging because it’s not taught in traditional marketing curricula at universities. Yet understanding it can reap immediate benefits. With many media and shopping habits in a state of dramatic change, seeing them through the lens of greater expertise can lead to deeper insights and a wiser assessment of implications.
In addition, new research on the habits driving consumer decision making will help marketers face that many of their long standing rules of thumb on people’s path to purchase are seriously out of date. And, of course, marketers studying anew the habits of their targeted customers must also conquer their own bad habit of confirmation bias seeing in the data what one wants to see even if it is not really there.
These authors will also speak at Brandworks University, one of the few conferences focusing on habit as applied to marketing and leadership, May 13-15, 2014. Also speaking are Erika Blaney, of Bunchballon, on how to use game dynamics to habituate behaviors, as well as others who will apply their habit expertise to content marketing, new-product concepting, data analysis, and a productive agency/client relationship. Brandworks is sponsored, in part, by CMO.com.