When you get an email, do you:
a) Read instantly, but don’t always take action immediately.
b) Read instantly, act immediately.
c) Don’t read it until you have time to act.
d) Notice it, but only read it if it looks important.
Why do you do that? Do you always do that? The way you consume email is likely a well-ingrained habit that feels so natural to you, that you probably don’t think twice about your method.
Humans Function through Habits
Habits are behaviour patterns that have become automatic to us. According to Charles Duhigg, the author of The Power of Habit, as much as 45% of our daily activities can be driven by habits and are meant to make us more efficient. Imagine how much mental energy we would consume if we had to make thoughtful decisions for such repetitive routines as what time to wake up each morning. We rely on habits so much, that when we stop to ponder why we do things a certain way, we can often stump ourselves.
The Habit Loop
In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg explains how habits work:
Every habit has a cue, a reward and a routine. The cue is a trigger your brain will recognize to put you in automatic mode, like seeing unread emails in your inbox. The reward is the benefit, whether emotional, physical or cognitive that your brain is craving. In this instance, your brain could be craving that release of anxiety when you know you’ve read all your email. The routine is the behaviour pattern that gets you the reward, such as reading through all your emails.
When you resist your craving and deny yourself that reward, how does that make you feel? Anxious, sad, annoyed or are you still feeling in control?
Can Marketing Influence Habits?
Deliberately changing your own habits or changing someone else’s habits are both possible but can be difficult. As marketers we can sometimes be on either side of the fence: motivating consumers to challenge their natural inclinations or reinforcing the reward for continuing their routines.
This video demonstrates how Target was able to study shopping behaviour of pregnant women to effectively market the right message at the right time: How Target Knew a Teenager Was Pregnant Before Her Father Knew
They strategically capitalized on one common shopping habit of new parents: once they started shopping in one store, they were often too tired to go to multiple stores.
In this second example, we learn how an entire riot crowd was made to peacefully scatter by simply taking away one part of the equation: How the US Army Uses Habits
Understanding how habits work is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s much more to explore in the realm of habits, so dive in:
- The Power of Habit, by Charles DuHigg
- Famous list of 7 habits of highly effective people
- Bad Work Habits