Archive for the ‘Marketing’ Category

June 30th, 2014

The Usage Gap: Addressing a Habit Imbalance in Shopper Behavior

By Kyle Morich

The choice of cleaners... green equals clean, I suppose. Spraying and scrubbing the shower tile is not a chore I relish, and—outside the grout changing color—nothing about the process is reinforcing. I don shabby clothes and smother my face with a dust mask to block out the alkaline fumes of the bleach. I repeatedly smack my knuckles into hard corners and I typically need to use the shower as soon as I’m done cleaning it. Nevertheless, I submit myself to this unpleasant exercise every month because I’m a responsible adult who cares about the cleanliness of his home—also, because my wife tells me to do it.

This past weekend, I was about halfway through my duty when I ran out of cleaner. We use bleach to get rid of mildew buildup, and there were no other bleach-based products in the house to substitute. Were this the bachelor version of myself from five years ago, I would have shrugged, doused the rest of the shower with hot water, and called it a day. But I suppressed my slacker instincts and committed myself to finishing the job. I threw out the bottle, put on respectable clothing, wrote “bleach spray” on our grocery list, and headed out to do the week’s shopping.

As I arrived at the cleaning products aisle in the store, I had the sudden realization that I couldn’t remember which brand of cleaner I was supposed to buy. My mind was briefly awash in the panic that only grocery store shelves can invoke: dozens of products, dozens of price points, dozens of features, all competing to induce me to purchase. I had a vague recollection of the color green being involved on the bottle, so I grabbed a bottle of Lysol “All Purpose Cleaner with Bleach,” thinking that was my brand of choice. Turns out, I was wrong. We actually use Clorox “Cleaner with Bleach,” a product that also has green on the bottle, with some lovely yellow accents. Just like that, I had become the very thing that my marketing brethren fear and detest… a disloyal customer. (more…)

September 12th, 2013

Habit-Score Assessment: Google Chromecast

By Neale Martin



Throughout the mid-90s to early 2000s, part of my job was to evaluate the market implications of new technologies for major telecommunications clients. It was exciting to think about how broadband Internet would change publishing, banking and retail and how rapidly evolving wireless technology would alter the landscape of communications, music and media. But there was one large issue that I could not resolve to my own satisfaction—where do I want my content?

If I have content on my laptop, it’s available all the time and portable. But my laptop has a finite amount of hard drive space. If I keep content on portable media, like a DVD, then I can play it on my TV or computer, but nowhere else. Cost of content becomes an issue quickly, not to mention the inconvenience of carrying around DVDs.

The alternative was to have the content available on servers and make it accessible over the Internet, a format now referred to by marketers as ‘the cloud’. This always seemed to be the best solution—if the networks were sufficiently fast and reliable. When I originally thought about this problem, they were not. Fast-forward a decade, and those networks are (somewhat) in place and the marketplace is rapidly shifting to this new model. Netflix, Hulu, UltraViolet, Pandora and dozens of other companies have streaming strategies that incorporate different pay models all based around the ability to instantly access thousands of programs and movies from any network connection. Similarly, Smart TVs, TiVo, DVD players, video game consoles, and specialized devices like Roku and Apple TV stream this newly available content. And of course traditional cable companies offer on-demand streaming from both their set-top boxes and online applications.

Consumers are now faced with the same question I had many years ago (where do I want my content?) except it is no longer a hypothetical exercise. With so many options and so many companies working to “own” and “control” the consumer’s access to content, the choice is getting overwhelming. When the conscious mind gets overwhelmed, the mind relies more heavily on the unconscious mind to make decisions. Therefore it is imperative that any company competing in this marketplace offers a habit-forming experience.

Last month, Google entered into this cutthroat competitive market with a remarkable device that could prove far more habit-forming than all the others. Called Chromecast, this streaming device is slightly larger than a wireless car fob, plugs directly into an HDMI slot on flat panel TVs, and streams content from iOS and Android devices, including iPhone, iPad, Samsung Galaxy, Apple computers or anything equipped with a Chrome browser (sorry Blackberry and Windows phones). I recently received my Chromecast device and, using Sublime’s Habit-Score Assessment methodology, I’ll walk you through why I believe it to be one of the most habit-forming streaming devices currently on the market.


May 22nd, 2013

Shopping on Co-Pilot: The Power of the Deal in Bad Economic Times

By Neale Martin


Ben Johnson’s past successes as head of Apple’s retail operations made him a prize catch for JCPenney when the retailer lured him away as their new CEO in November 2011. The market’s response to this hire was largely positive: the company’s share price gained 17.5% on the news. Johnson’s vision for the struggling department store chain was to replace its long-standing retail approach of ever-present sales, deals, and discounts with “everyday low pricing,” and to focus on an enhanced customer experience by creating “store-in-store boutiques” and shifting some of its floor space to high-end fashion brands.

This aggressive new strategy, to put it lightly, didn’t work.

Johnson was fired just 17 months after taking the helm. His vision for JCP not only failed to improve, or even stabilize, the company’s sales and profits—it made them significantly worse. While it is easy to point out the myriad ways that JCPenney is not Apple (and business talking heads had a field day exhaustively listing those differences), the biggest flaw in Johnson’s thinking was not understanding the psychological power of the deal during times of economic stress. (more…)

April 16th, 2013

Half a Second

By Neale Martin

Half a Second

Half a second—that’s it. Just slightly longer than an eye blink. When an event occurs in less than half a second, the unconscious mind is in charge, processing millions of sensory inputs and responding seamlessly and automatically. But if the event lasts longer than half a second, the conscious mind gets involved, sometimes sorting things out, often messing things up. How we perceive reality is largely a matter of this imperceptible timing.

A wife walks out of the bedroom wearing a new dress and awaits her husband’s reaction. An instantaneous smile communicates authentic appreciation; a half-second delay makes her skeptical of any compliment that comes out of his mouth.

A 12-year old launches a new racing game on his smart phone, and senses a slight delay when he tilts the phone to navigate his car around a hairpin curve. After three ‘unfair’ crashes he quits the game and never launches it again.

A novice high jumper continually uses incorrect technique during practice, despite repeated instruction from her coach on how to properly position her hips and arms as she flies over the bar. However, after her coach employs an audible ‘clicker’ to instantly signal proper technique mid-flight, the student is able to correct her jump form in a single half-hour session.

Over millions of years, the slow, deliberate executive mind evolved on top of the hyper-quick and automatic habitual mind. This executive mind brought us a new sense of conscious self-awareness and, with it, a skewed understanding of our world. Our executive mind believes it is in control of our actions and decisions, yet the majority of these behaviors are simply rubber-stamped processes originating from the habitual mind. The conscious mind is simply unaware of how much unconscious thought is being performed underneath the surface—and how much control the habitual mind really has. (more…)

January 3rd, 2013

Duhigg’s Error: Where The Power of Habit Goes Awry

By Neale Martin

Charles Duhigg’s new book, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, brings renewed interest to the critical role of habits in our lives. Unfortunately, the book is fatally flawed. The author of the New York Times bestseller makes several critical errors regarding habits and their implications. Though professionals familiar with habit-based marketing know better, The Power of Habit is receiving wide readership and its unsound concepts will undoubtedly confuse those new to the subject. I’ve outlined a few of the major problems with the book here for easy reference.

July 31st, 2012

Going Negative: Using Negative Reinforcement to Shape Consumer Behavior

By Kyle Morich


We all know the obnoxious klaxon call of the morning alarm clock.


Even before our brains can draw back the heavy drapes of sleep and form a coherent thought, we throw our bodies from underneath the covers and hurl our limbs toward the infernal contraption.


The sweet silence that follows turning off the alarm (or hitting the snooze button) is soothing and peaceful. It is also what we call negative reinforcement, and your company could benefit a great deal by incorporating it into your customer training plans.

In our habit-based model of behavior, the brain learns from feedback following a contextual behavior. If the feedback is punishing, it makes that behavior less likely to occur in the future. If the feedback is reinforcing, it makes the behavior more likely to occur. When you add something pleasant after the behavior, we call that positive reinforcement, such as giving a child a cookie after they make clean their room. When you take away something aversive, we call that negative reinforcement, as in the alarm clock scenario—getting out of bed is reinforced by the removal of the irksome alarm sound. 

The various forms of feedback

Companies often shy away from negative reinforcement except in task-oriented user interface interactions, like an ATM chiming until you remove your card or the ringing of a phone to get you to answer it (although with smartphones increasingly offering pleasant melodies or even popular songs as ringtones, the negative reinforcement dynamic of a phone call is becoming a historical artifact). One area we often see negative reinforcement shape behavior is in consumers who do not have routinized habits for “chore” activities, such as mowing the lawn, cleaning the house, or maintaining a vehicle. The chore going undone creates a negative emotional reaction in the consumer. This reaction, usually anxiety or frustration, builds and builds until the customer performs the behavior to remove that uncomfortable feeling: cutting the long and unkempt grass, vacuuming the living room rug, or getting the car’s tires rotated. This relief from anxiety reinforces that behavior, and makes it more likely to occur in the future. Even consumers who are highly habitual in their chores (e.g., mow the lawn each and every Saturday morning) will feel some measure of emotional relief from the task completion.

One variable in this negative reinforcement equation is the consumer’s personal emotional threshold, or the point at which the anxiety or frustration becomes too much to bear and the behavior must occur. One discovery I have found with my fiancée-soon-to-be-wife is that we have vastly different emotional thresholds for cleaning the house. I can let dust and dinge accumulate for days or weeks before I feel compelled to clean, whereas she can feel a single dog hair shed upon the carpet mocking her very existence. It’s not that I don’t care about cleaning our home—it just takes me longer to build up a motivating emotional response than she does. A cleaning products company whose revenue depends on how much I clean my home (such as Swiffer, Windex, or whatever brand makes my vacuum bags) could try to aim its advertising at heightening my awareness to the uncleanliness of my home or intensifying the emotions I feel about it.

The next time you have a behavior problem and want to use feedback to shape and change what your customers do, consider how negative reinforcement can help you accomplish your training goals. It’s always a good plan to offer a cookie when a customer does something right, but sometimes helping them remove something sour can be just as sweet.

1. Image by xJason.Rogersx on flickr.