In the ideal world of a marketer success is never in doubt and every brand becomes habit-forming. But that’s not reality and not all brands can become a habit of course. For example, brands that are not purchased with great frequency, such as flooring or major appliances can cultivate brand loyalty with trade partners through promotions or with consumers through brand marketing, but not necessarily via a “brand habit.” Think of habitual purchase behavior as a step beyond brand loyalty to brand insistence. As a result, the consumer requires no additional conscious motivation or justification to purchase … just the ready availability and consistent delivery of the brand. In essence, the brand is a part of the consumer’s life and its absence would be impactful.
There is a simple truth that governs brand habits; brands must behave a certain way to have their customers behave a certain way. We call this brand behavior being “customer centric.” Brands that are intentionally customer centric, provided that their purchase likelihood is sufficiently frequent, are more likely to become habit forming with their customers than those that are not customer centric.
A prime example that most everyone can relate to is Starbucks. Beyond their product offerings it also intentionally delivers a customer centric experience. Baristas are trained and encouraged to know their regulars by name, greet them accordingly and remember their drink – even engage in light conversation during the visit. Repeating this personal affirmation, over time, ingrains in its customers the Starbucks habit for its “third place” culture. The brand promise of being that coveted third place (a respite between home and work) is the foundation, but delivering it consistently is the framework for long term habit formation.
Other brands that continue to demonstrate superior customer centricity in their categories are Southwest Airlines, Wegmans supermarkets, and Google, to name a few. Their selection, purchase intent and use becomes second nature simply because time and again they deliver a superior customer centric experience.
In the case of Wegmans based in Rochester, New York, superior habit-forming customer service is actually inculcated by an amazing employee relationship experience, built on the belief that happy employees makes for service that makes happy customers. It’s a culture where employees are number one. And it works.
But just as easily as habit-forming brands come to mind, so too do brands that have jolted customers out of their brand habits by stumbling into company first policies. You can probably name some of those from your own disappointing experience. These are brands that have excelled and succeeded, but through internal changes (usually bottom line-related), sometimes seemingly small but nevertheless important examples of their customer centricity are sacrificed in the name of improving profits. All too often, these sacrifices provide short term gains for shareholders but eventually degrade the reputation that made the brand successful and profitable in the first place.
Examples of brand habit killers are diminished customer greeting and service routines at retail due to staff and training cutbacks, creating an overly zealous sales incentive atmosphere that drives customers off, or “shrinkflation” practices, such as whittling down portion sizes of candy bars or bread sticks. All these will likely save money, but all will assuredly kill a good brand habit.
A recent article in Harvard Business Review challenged some of my thinking about consumers’ connections with brands. Are consumers loyal to your brand or have they just formed deep habits? Habits versus loyalty – what makes a customer come back?
A habit is a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.
Loyalty is the quality of being loyal to someone or something. The author, Roger Martin argued about the drivers for purchase by consumers are as basic as comfort and familiarity, not loyalty.
Work hard to win the early popularity contest. Being an early leader helps you be more familiar and comfortable. Therefore, the freemium model is the leading way to builds habits with software online. They get you hooked – you like it and want to stay. I used Mailchimp for free for five years and just started paying for a premium version. I used the free version for years but now want some added features and am willing to pay for it.
Design for habit, have it in mind in the beginning. A simple new product like the Amazon Dash was created to make it as simple as possible to reorder things you need all the time. All you do is push the button. Or take Google, it has the same look and feel as it did in the beginning almost 15 years ago, and is a habit-forming product. They designed it from the start to make it habitual.
Innovate carefully within the brand. Customers hate change. New and relaunch are not happy words. Learning new software like updates to Microsoft windows are annoying. Companies that have made changes and been successful think through how to keep the user experience similar. Netflix worked the same way when they went from disk to stream. They kept thing as similar as possible using a subscription model and the same logo.
Keep communications simple. Ad copy is too hard to understand, and the biggest mistake you see is overstuffing an ad with too much info. If you show a generic version of a product first and explain why it is inferior to your branded version, the subconscious thinks your brand causes the negative problem. P&G only does a side by side comparisons in ads for this reason. Simple sells – so an ad that shows someone walking up to bar ordering a bud light demonstrates the habit you want them to emulate.
If you are responsible for launching a new product, how have you thought about building habit into the product so that consumers interact in an addictive way? Like nicotine, a simple to use, habit-forming design can be powerful for new products.
Every time you change your product and update it, it is going to annoy customers. Think of an operating system update when you just got used to how things work. Think of frequent tweaks creating confusion and not being helpful. Consumer craves the familiar as much as they want things simple to use. Be careful if you are about to change, update or refresh a product. You may end up breaking their purchasing habit. Maybe sometimes change is not always a good thing.