Surprise surprise — it turns out our brains like to act lazy. The subconscious mind is continually looking for ways to cut energy use and, well, think less.
Our brain hardware is a big part of why we form habits. If you’re in the business of building marketing campaigns, this fact is an excellent opportunity to design contests around the science of habit formation.
Habits: We all know there’s plenty of bad ones in the world, but what if we could harness that same power for good? Can it be done ethically? Keep reading to learn more about what the current science knows about habit formation and what you can do to harness neuroscience for your next campaign.
You probably have a lot of questions: What’s the science? Is it ethical? How’s it work for a contest? We’ll take ’em one at a time:
1.) But first: the neuroscience of habit.
Business journalist Charles Duhigg, in his book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, talks about the three-part habit loop: a cue (or trigger), a routine, and a reward.
Brushing your teeth daily and driving to and from work are both habits. Eventually, our brains can perform our most frequent tasks without even us actively thinking.
Habits aren’t inherently evil; good ones conserve our time and mental energy.
When first learning to drive to and from a new job, for instance, it demands a ton of focus and concentration. Eventually, we can drive that daily route without even thinking about where we’re going. Mental processing is freed up other uses — hopefully paying attention to our surroundings and any unsafe drivers. And, for some reason, it becomes even easier for our brains to form new habits when we’re going through periods of high stress or significant upheaval. The more a habit settles in, the more difficult it becomes to dissolve.
2.) But is it ethical?
If you’re serving the customer’s interests, then yes.
For marketers, negotiating customer habits could be a metaphorical gold mine. If you respect and provide customers high-value content that’s aligned with their potential interests or problems, you’re golden. Understanding and being conscious of habit formation can then become a symbiotic process.
“Understanding and being conscious of habit formation can then become a symbiotic process.”
For instance, let’s assume that you habitually buy the most affordable products at hardware stores. Then you buy a new house and experience the significant upheaval of moving all your belongings. Around the same time, your mailbox receives a packet of discount coupons for a new brand of paint.
According to neuroscientific findings, you’re already more likely to try the new brand — was it wrong for the paint company to send new residents coupons? If your house needed a fresh coat of paint, and the coupons are conveniently there when you need them, the brand has aligned their promotional timing with your currently relevant problem. It’s a win-win.
To keep it ethical, you need to make the offer as useful as possible for your audience. This is a big part of why it’s so important to maintain an ongoing understanding of your customers. If you haven’t already, work on creating a reasonable persona of your typical customer. Using this method, if you’re a paint company, you only target the people who need and want to buy paint. It’s that simple.
Serve your customers inline with their needs, and that’ll solve the ethical dilemma of marketing to them.
“To keep it ethical, you need to make the offer as useful as possible for your audience.”
3.) Now, the contest!
We know about the neuroscience, and we know it’s ethical if we do it right, so let’s get crackin’ on that contest. How does the science of habit work here? We’ve identified our market, and we’re ready to target them with our newfound neuroscience know-how.
One effective strategy is to harness existing habits in our market and piggy-back off of them. This method involves finding a habit that’s related to the contest, then adding a small feedback loop to something our customers are already doing.
For instance, checking Facebook might be a favorite habit of your customers, so a Facebook contest that adds a trigger, routine, and a reward for every Facebook login experience might do just the trick. Doesn’t the importance of building audience engagement and frequent posting make more sense now?
Focusing on a particular time of day, customer emotion, or pattern can also help. Build your contest around some trigger your customers already have. If you don’t know what trigger to use, this is a good time to do more research on your customers.
4. Your habit cheat sheet:
Following these tips should help you integrate habit science into your contests:
Find a trigger. Look at your customer’s experience of your product, interaction with your social media page, their use of the Internet–anything. Identify triggers that happen already in their lives and look for upheaval or stress. Upheaval isn’t always bad, but part of being an ethical marketer is making sure your product/service is respectful, useful and relevant to the customer.
Find a “good” upheaval event, so you aren’t exploiting — something like a new job, going away to college, getting a pet, buying a house, moving, retiring, or even traveling overseas. These are exciting times for many people. Remember, stress isn’t always bad, but it does usually create vulnerability and openness. Upheaval can be a smaller event, too, like buying a new computer. Life changes, even small ones, make people more vulnerable to advertising and to changing their habits. Even if your product isn’t 100% directly related to the upheaval event itself, you might still find a way to leverage that event (depending on your persona and market, of course).
Create a routine that’s in line with your business objectives for the contest. What’s the action you want customers to take? Is it doing something to earn an entry? Sharing a post? Find the effect you want to create and make sure you can connect it to the reward, the contest itself.
Make it rewarding by designing the contest prize to match your audience.
If possible, make it repeatable. This builds engagement and starts your customers on the path to creating a new habit. One coupon, for instance, probably isn’t as useful as a pack of coupons that all have different dates they’re valid. By the time your customer has used five different coupons, before they know it they’ve built a habit of shopping with you. You can use the same concept with contests — tie one contest to entrant participation in another contest (or purchase of a product).
Pay attention to product design. If you have any input on how your product or service is designed, remind your organization to integrate features that follow your buyers’ habits.
5.) Keep it Genuine.
The bottom line here is authenticity. Find out what your customers need, bring it to them and make it attractive. Building a habit with you is great for both your company and your customer as long as you keep it real and focus on serving your audience, always.
If you’re ready to start building a Woobox campaign, you can sign up for free. All free accounts can create any promotion — you only need a paid account to publish and operate a live campaign.
If you have any questions, Woobox support is here for you by email or phone (1-360-450-5200) Monday – Friday from 9 am PST to 5 pm PST.