Why Should Brands Care About Customer Habits?

By: Max Kenkel
brain and connectivity symbolizing psychology and habits
Habits are weird. So are humans.
Why are we so prone to forming habits?
One reason people are creatures of habit is that habits are efficient: People can perform useful behaviors without wasting time and energy deliberating about what to do. Especially when we are assaulted with choices.
For those who are working through their own habit of skimming, here’s the TL;DR wrap up of an NPR article:
“Neuroscientists have traced our habit-making behaviors to a part of the brain called the basal ganglia, which also plays a key role in the development of emotions, memories and pattern recognition. Decisions, meanwhile, are made in a different part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex. But as soon as a behavior becomes automatic, the decision-making part of your brain goes into a sleep mode of sorts.”
What this means is that a habit is basically a knee-jerk nature that helps people get their needs met more efficiently.
Because habits become deeply ingrained in our brains, they can be difficult to break even if a particular habit creates more problems than it solves. Understanding how habits take shape may be helpful in dismantling and replacing them.
Habits are notoriously hard to break precisely because, when a habit is triggered, the brain goes on autopilot. A person may not be fully aware of how their habit works—habits are built to make things happen without us having to think much about them. Consciously intervening in one’s own habitual behavior likely won’t come naturally, so breaking a habit can require some consideration and effort.

What Do Habits Mean For Brands?

In my town, there are three gas stations at one intersection. All three make pizza. All three pump gas at the same price. All have a restroom for public use.
Even though there’s little difference among the three other than their name, I always end up at the same one.  I’m not even particularly loyal to them outside of this intersection. I just default to this gas station because I know it. It was built first, and I’m used to it. I don’t even think about it anymore. I’m in a habit loop.
This is exactly why every brand is sitting on potentially thousands—maybe even millions—of people out there, just like me, waiting for a good reason (any reason, really) to change our behavior.
The amount of time it takes to build a habit depends on the individual and the intended behavior, among other factors. While you might be able to pick up a new habit in a matter of weeks, some research indicates that building habits may take many months.

How Can Brands Leverage Psychology to Sell More?

Brands know incentives work. Yet many of them continue to push reward-for-purchase programs masquerading as loyalty programs. In my opinion, loyalty is bigger than just the free burrito on your seventh purchase. When every brand has a similar loyalty program, that kind of “top performer” program has stopped stealing share and is now simply a race to the bottom. That can be important, too, but eventually brands need to ask how much juice will they really be able to squeeze out of the top tier, and how much margin are they willing to part with to reward the people who were already coming to the store? I think there is a better way.

Loyalty is about unlocking new behaviors from clients—behaviors that catapult a customer through the phases of the buying journey faster and more frequently, creating a relationship that keeps customers coming back.

A true loyalty program should address every phase in the buyer’s journey, with not only different tactics by phase, but different tactics and journeys by customer type. Customers are motivated differently, requiring multiple engagement methods to reinforce the desired behaviors and habits. For some customers, it’s not only about getting customers to engage; it’s also about helping them overcome the uncertainty of a new technology, addressing data security concerns and general averseness to change.

Take a look at the example below to see how diverting people into a new routine (i.e., habit) could look:
Example of habit disruption to influence customer behavior.
By understanding the motives behind the routines consumers are falling into, your brand can implement personalized cues to sway utilization towards your products and services instead of the competition. The concept can be applied not only to the store brands, but also to product brands and the share of shelf space they command inside of a store.
Habit loops research conducted by CMB uncovered that once a behavior becomes a habit—as long as the motive stays in place—the cue will always trigger the behavior. If the behavior leads to the reward, the habit sticks.
Through the same research, we can also identify stronger cues and rewards needed for customers to create new, long-lasting habits with your brand.
This is what makes loyalty attainable, this stacking of repeated, meaningful brand interactions throughout the entire customer experience that makes creating a new habit a reality.
That’s true personalization. And this code can be cracked through research.

What Are You Waiting For?

You don’t have to rely solely on traditional marketing that doesn’t tie to a result. The key to unlocking personalized journeys for each of your customers—to engage more with your brand, buy more from your brand and ultimately advocate for your brand with a clear, loud voice—is within reach.
Imagine having research-backed confidence about the levers you pull in market to create, capture and close more leads, drive increased sales and harness positive referrals.
Want to hear more about habit loops? Shoot me an email—let’s chat.
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Max Kenkel
Max Kenkel

As Customer Solutions Manager, Max leads our Customer Solutions line, ensuring all six components of a successful loyalty program deliver for our clients. With more than ten years of experience in strategy across customer, channel and employee loyalty programs, he’s seen a lot. You’ll often hear him talk about how important data is to brands. In his words, “It’s easy to make decisions on intuition, but it’s a lot easier to justify to shareholders when you can back it up with data.” Beyond his professional passions, Max plays bass in a pop punk band, visits as many national parks as he can and is an aspiring poet, publishing his first book in 2023.