on October 20, 2014

Using Human Habits To Guide Consumer Research



Charles Duhigg first became interested in how habits can affect social settings and behavior while he was working as a newspaper reporter in Baghdad. He witnessed how breaking down the habits around riots and uprisings enabled leaders to stop these situations from happening. From there, his curiousity led him to working with one of the largest retail companies in the United States as well as disecting his own habits -- causing him to lose weight and begin running marathons.

"New parents are a retailer’s holy grail."

Duhigg sat down with one of Target's statisticians, Andrew Pole, to discuss how the retail giant was able to capture that unique point in a consumer's life when their shipping habits can be broken - parenthood. As he explains in this article, "once consumers’ shopping habits are ingrained, it’s incredibly difficult to change them."

That is, until there's a particular moment like parenthood when products are foreign and the consumers in question are simply too tired to stick to an old die-hard routine. Target knows that if they can grab your attention at these opportune moments, they've probably got you for life. If they can get you a coupon right when they know you've purchased a new house or just got married, they can get you in the store for products related to that life event -- and while you're there, they'll do their best to get you to buy everything they have to offer.

So what's their main task? Analyzing your shopping habits to try to tell when you'll be experiencing one of these life events and trying to target you at the exact right moment. Pun intended. 

"Left to its own devices, the brain will try to make almost any repeated behavior into a habit, because habits allow our minds to conserve effort."

While studying rats, researchers have noticed that if they can put a rat in a setting that is familiar and offer a reward, they can get the rat to navigate a maze to receive this reward, and in doing so, the behavior ultimately turns into a habit.

Once the habit is formed, "the rats started thinking less and less." Such is the case with most routines or habits in our lives -- this can be seen in things as simple as locking the door when we leave our house or taking a certain route to work. These things are second nature to us so our brain power doesn't have to be used up quite as much. You read that right. We created habits so that our brains can be lazy. 

The sweet smell of Febreze's success.

Another case study Duhigg likes to reference is the inital flop of the Febreze product. When first launched, the product was marketed as a new habit. When the product was unsuccessful, P&G ultimately started researching cleaning habits and realized that the product could be used as a type of reward for finishing a cleaning project, "not a reminder that your home stinks." After this new habit was marketed, sales doubled after only two months and ultimately brought in hundreds of millions of dollars within the year.

How can this be applied to your business?

If you can start to understand how to get into the mindeset of your customer and tap into a specific part of their habit, you can actually figure out how to become a part of this routine instead of trying to get a consumer to adopt an entirely new way of being. You can figure out the exact right moment to influence their purchase habits and decisions. Asking the right questions in the right setting can help ensure that you're as successful as Febreze.