In a WARC Best Practice paper, How to use behavioural science to build new habits, Crawford Hollingworth, co-founder of The Behavioural Architects, and his colleague Liz Barker, Global Head of BE Intelligence & Networks at the behavioural science consultancy, argue that "habits are, in effect, the marketing 'holy grail'."
Habits make up a huge proportion of our daily lives, they note, and once formed, they become such second nature that breaking or changing them can be near impossible.
That's one reason why half of new products fail: "the real problem often lies not in a lack of awareness or knowledge in the consumer, or even a lack of intention to use, but in the failure to change existing habits or adopt new ones".
Accordingly, the authors outline six strategies that marketers can employ to build, maintain and disrupt consumer habits.
The single most important of these, state Hollingworth and Barker, is the creation of a supportive environment.
So, for example, a health-conscious person looking to cut their consumption of wine or beer on a weekday evening is more likely to succeed if they ensure there is little, if any, of either drink in the home and they can find an acceptable substitute.
"Making … small but effective changes to the context can help promote a new habit," the authors note.
Marketers should also look at how they can leverage the shifting contexts that frequently appear in consumers' lives – moving house, changing jobs, having a baby, retiring – when opportunities to establish new habits arise.
Piggybacking on existing habits is another option, rather as Kellogg's did with Pop Tarts – a ready-made breakfast snack heated in a toaster which made an instant mental connection with Britons' regular morning routines.
That example also highlights a third factor – making a new habit easy to do. Marketers may also wish to consider creating cues and rewards as a way of developing it.
Practice and repetition are particularly important if people are learning something entirely new, say the authors, citing Apple stores, which let consumers use and play around with their products, as "great examples of how a learning space can be created".
Finally, building meaning and motivation can help sustain behaviour change and prevent relapse into old ways.
Data sourced from WARC