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New years, habits and marketing

Habits. They are things we either are trying to build or trying to break. New years marks the time of year when people declare all the habits they are going to break. 90% of them fail. The problem here is that habits are hard to kill. People underestimate the power of them and fail.

The most successful technology companies in the world have become habits. Think of quickly Google searching the answer to a question you and a friend may be having or opening Facebook or Instagram for a quick scroll whilst waiting for a meeting to start. These are habits. Checking social media today is the equivalent of what a smoke break was 20 years ago. These companies' products have become a part of life and as a result habitual.

Habits are a part of life and as a marketer we should understand them and be able to leverage them. Google define's a habit as "a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up" - I do enjoy how "hard to give up" is part of the definition. As habits consist of three parts:

  1. A cue or trigger
  2. The behaviour associated as the habit
  3. The reward.

The reward is the important part as it provides the motivation that drives the behaviour. It isn't something that people are always aware of or are consciously seeking. Rewards can be money, a nicotine hit or even something like the clean feeling in your mouth after you brush your teeth. Regardless of the habit, there is always a reward.

Marketers, especially those in the tech space, have a bad habit of calling things dead well and truely before they are even on life support. Every time they are wrong. Once you start to think of people and start to think of the habits that people have you start to realise things don't die the way tech magazines would like you to think they do.

The amount of articles I have read proclaiming the death of SEO in the wake of a Google algorithm update is ridiculous. Most web developers don't know SEO and take shortcuts and make poorly search optimised website. There is very little incentive for this behaviour to change as most clients of web developers won't be able to pick up on things that could cause indexing issues.

Putting the "SEO is dead" behaviour into the cue, behaviour, reward habit steps it is quite easy to see how it is developed. The cue is when something in the technology landscape changes i.e. when Facebook or Google announces a new features. The behaviour then occurs and articles start being published. The reward is public or industry attention, and in the media space attention is money.

Perhaps a better example of habits is book stores in Australia. About five years ago a few of the biggest bookstore chains in Australia folded. The general public thought it was because of ecommerce, but it was actually due to mismanagement. The public took it as a sign of the beginning of the end for bricks and mortar retail. I was working at a retail store at the time and the chatter in the industry went full chicken little - the sky is falling, the end is nigh! People were saying there wouldn't be shopping centres in 10 years. "The internet is here and shops are going to go away forever, just look at the book stores!" However book stores are still around today and busy. Ecommerce ate a little bit into the marketshare of bricks and mortar and that was about it.

People like going to the shops, for many people this is a habit. They like walking around and looking at things and getting the feeling of buying things. People talk of retail therapy. Shopping at a bricks and mortar store is a deeply entrenched cultural habit built over generations and for this reason it will take a very long time to go away. Habits are hard to break and thats why things don't die the way tech magazines and marketers tend to say they will.

This isn't a pop science blog, it is a digital marketing one. So knowing the power and longevity of habits, how do you utilise them in your marketing? Here are a few ideas you could implement.

In email marketing

Think of habits you could build with email. Something I very intentionally do with my regular email marketing pieces is to keep them regular. The time, day and frequency that the regular emails arrive is set. If it is a monthly email it is always on the same day, same time each month. I've found that being consistent with email, particularly frequency, is key. I've seen open rates and click throughs continually rise. The regularity here will help create and build a habit, however if there is no reward - i.e. your content sucks, you are not relevant or not providing any kind of value - it won't work.

With your content marketing

As with email marketing, publishing content/articles with a predictable regularity is keen. Ideally you want your audience to be anticipating your content. Most super YouTubers are fantastic at this - think of Casey Neistat. He publishes every single day, at roughly the same time. His audience anticipates his content and is always coming back for it. Due to this he doesn't even need to worry about promoting his content.

In your products

Building habit forming patterns into your products (if you can) is one of the best things you could do. Pokemon Go a is great example of where this could have been key. When Pokemon Go took the world by storm the novelty of the game was enough to get people to keep coming back, however novelty by definition doesn't doesn't last. Novelty is why new years resolutions fail. When the novelty wore off, the interest in Pokemon Go did too. There was nothing in it to reward you to regularly use it beyond novelty. Pokemon fever faded as quickly as it came on. In a recent update Pokemon Go now has rewards for players who play every day and incentives to log back in, however I think it is too late now. It will never reach the same level of madness as it did at its hight.

Habit forming products is obviously very applicable to SaaS products and video games, however don't let not being a tech company hold you back (it hasn't stopped me!). Look at what other industries are doing. Work out of how you you can build habits in your marketing and products. Investigate of what existing cues in your target audience's life you can try and leverage. Think differently, outside the box even! Remember, always think of the reward.

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