Industryweek 1394 17356habitbookcover

Does Your Customer Think of Your Product as Part of the Family?

Sept. 18, 2008
Your product or service needs to a 'habit' of your customer.

Your product or service needs to be buried so deep into how your customer operates that they can't even envision extracting you, explains Neale Martin, author of Habit: The 95% of Behavior Marketers Ignore. "It would almost be like trying to pull out a lung."

The ultimate goal is to have your product an automatic part of how your customer functions to the point where the decision to use your product is located in the unconscious "habitual mind", explains Martin.

Martin's book examines how the brain works and applies these findings to how companies should be marketing their products. He points out that people operate under the illusion that most behavior is conscious and intentional when in fact the opposite is true. If our conscious mind, or what he calls our "executive mind", had to make the million decisions required daily, it would become overwhelmed. That is why our "habitual mind" handles the routine matters. And products should reside in the habitual mind.

Looking at some recent examples, Martin points to the iPod. "The genius of the iPod's design is that it facilitated quick habitual mastery." This is the standard against which all companies must measure their products. "Every company needs to recognize that the reason they acquired their customers might not be relevant for today and make sure they make the changes necessary to enable their products to be habits for their customers," says Martin.

The problem is that most companies react to the market instead of shaping the market. The iPhone and Blackberry created their own markets and were designed in a way that understood how the user wanted the information. "Often manufacturers focus on the device they are creating to solve a problem instead of understanding how the user will employ the device to solve the problem," says Martin.

New patterns of thinking, on the part of companies, are critical to success. A good example is how the Wii rethought their market instead of competing in the same market. Nintendo understood that the ease of use and the intuitive nature of using the device, not the specific technology, was what would attract customers, says Martin.

Martin worked with Sprint to create a product that was habit forming. "We had a vision about what we were creating and made sure that all functions fit those criteria. If it didn't meet a 'habit forming threshold' it wasn't included," explains Martin.

" Sprint and Samsung created the Instinct interface from the bottom up to work the way your brain works," says Doug Rossier, Spring Instinct Marking Lead.

Martin points to Burger King to provide an example of how a company can think strategically when positioning themselves against the competition. We all remember Burger King's "Have it Your Way" tagline. Turns out that the reason Burger King came up with that slogan was that it was unable to compete with the assembly-line precision of MacDonalds and a saw an opportunity to attract customers by offering specialized customer requests. They knew McDonald's was not set up to cater to specific requests and therefore they were able to offer a different customer experience and thus gain market share.

Martin suggests companies answer the following questions before launching a new product or service.

  1. What behaviors will lead to a sale? For example, you might expect potential customers to check out the web site, read a brochure, come in for a trial or watch an infomercial.
  2. What are you doing to give the customer an incentive on each behavior? What reinforcements do you have in place that will make that behavior likely to occur?
  3. Although launching a product necessarily involves the executive mind, what existing mental models are you using to tap into powerful unconscious mental models?
  4. If your product is new to the world, how are you tapping into your customer's existing mental models?

"Every marketplace is controlled by the habits of its customers. Incumbents maintain their position only as long as their customers maintain their habitual behavior. New entrants can only succeed if they supplant the entrenched unconscious behavior of one or more existing segments or be creating new habits thus creating new markets," Martin says.

Neal Martin is founder and CEO of Ntelec, Inc. a marketing and education company. He has spent the last decade helping communication and network companies (Sprint, Nextel, Cisco, Nortel, TI, Motorola) launch innovative products and services.

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