Power Essay – Think habits by Jinane Halimeh

By Jinane Halimeh, Client services director of DMN Advertising

Data. We have become an industry obsessed with data, pulled into a race of who gets the most deluxe gateways to facts, figures and analytics. We leverage on this data to cement our strategies and campaigns, confidently supporting our course of action with concrete facts and figures. Yet, just when we succeed in convincing clients, results are not always as expected.

“But this is what data shows…”

When this becomes the defending point, marketers are usually left in despair, helplessly standing in front of a disappointed client whose faith in “marketing” has gone thin.

That being said, the importance of data and data mining can still never be underestimated. It helps you craft scenarios, maximise on opportunities and minimise risks. Data allows you to understand the behaviour of societies, giving you the aptitude to anticipate what’s next. For years, engineers have developed the most sophisticated algorithms, generating tools and platforms that have shaped our world.

The continuously booming technological innovations in the collection and mining of data are playing a major role in impacting the way we operate as marketers. Today, data gives us access to insights on what route you to take to work, which gym you go to, how much time you spend exercising and what restaurant you most frequently dine at.

It provides insights on your spending quota, your interests and behaviour. All this information paints the picture and sets the scene, helping us better understand the audience and accordingly segment it based on our targeting strategy. If we step back for a moment and analyse the pools of data in hand, we come to notice a common denominator: routine.

You take the same road driving to work. You use the same app to order food. You order from the same set of outlets. You buy the same toothpaste. You shop at the same retail outlets. The list goes on. There are definitely exceptions to the rule, but that does not change the fact that there is a routine in our lives. This is called a habit loop.

Habits are formed when new behaviours become automatic, like driving a car. You instinctively drive, like some instinctively reach for a cigarette the moment they wake up, or know the exact degree to turn the dial for the perfect shower temperature. Habits are hard to break and new habits are difficult to form. The behavioural patterns we repeat most are incised into our neural pathways. So how do we break the habit loop and where’s the added value?

In his book The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg talks about the science of habit formation in our lives, companies and societies. The habit loop consists of three elements: a cue, a routine and a reward. While data is our gateway to identifying these three elements, when it comes to breaking the habit routine, is data alone enough?

One of the world’s largest companies, Procter & Gamble, used habit insights to turn a failing product into one of its biggest sellers.

P&G spent millions developing Febreze, a colourless, cheap-tomanufacture liquid that when sprayed on a blouse that smelled of cigarettes, for instance, would remove the odour. After the product launch, sales started small and only got smaller. Febreze was a failure.

That’s when P&G decided to regroup. From being initially designed to destroy odours, Febreze was spun into an air freshener to be used once things were already clean. This revamp was prompted by habit insights following thorough market research. Today it’s one of the top-selling products in the world.

When P&G first developed the product, it was based on market research and insights. The sales team bet on the returns thinking a product like that can’t go wrong. But it did. P&G changed how they communicated Febreze, finding the perfect fit into the habit loop of its target audience. Your habits give you away and habit insights are the key to the rustiest of locks.

Habit insights allow us to recognise the cue, the routine and the reward. Only then will we be able to get a clear picture on the behaviour of both the consumers and the brand. When we understand how habits are formed, how they can be disrupted and changed, only then can we use this knowledge to navigate these habits towards brands.

Today we are witnessing the implementation of robots, growth in online retail, and consumer habits changing. To tap into the mindset of the digital generation, new methods must be adopted when it comes to consumer engagement. With such data at our disposal, leveraging on habit insights will play a fundamental role in influencing consumer decision making.

Back in the 1990s, collecting data was done door-to-door. In this era, the doors are wide open. Brands need to be armed with the right data, present on the right channels and closely listening to their audience while also knowing what to listen for.

The late Steve Jobs said: “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”