Sublime Behavior Marketing Services

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The Challenge

On January 9, 2007, Steve Jobs made the long awaited announcement that Apple was bringing to market a smartphone like no other, the iPhone. When the iPhone went on sale June 29th of the same year, thousands of customers were camped in front of Apple stores. The iPhone sent shock waves through the wireless industry. Not only would the iPhone pose a significant challenge to handset manufacturers, Apple signed an exclusive deal with AT&T Wireless. No other carriers could offer the iPhone to their Apple-rabid customers for years.

Sprint asked Sublime Behavior Marketing to help develop its response to the iPhone. The mission was clear; not to create a rival, but to create a smartphone that would hold onto Sprint's top customers. To do this, we set out to create a mobile phone that was habit-forming. This meant every aspect of the experience was focused on creating specific behaviors and then reinforcing them.

The Design

The original iPhone commercials focused exclusively on how the devices were simple and intuitive to use. The first person viewpoint also taught customers how to use the iPhone before ever holding one in their hands.

Habit-forming design is both logical and intuitive. A logical design is one that clearly fulfills the functions that a user expects to do. Intuitive design works with the unconscious mind where the device itself communicates how it is to be held and interacted with. The iPhone, like the iPod before it, is an example of a well-designed product where most users never feel the need to read a manual. Because the Instinct was following the iPhone to market, the phone would be judged against the pleasant iPhone user experience.

When the project began, many of the hardware specifications were already decided. We were going to market with a screen that was not as responsive and a chipset not as powerful as the iPhone's. Therefore, our habit-forming design process began with physical layout of the phone handset. The team created three physical navigation buttons that were both logical and intuitive.

The Instinct prototype.

The first was a physical "Back" button to undo whatever the user had done. This was included to encourage fearless experimentation and exploration. We also included a dedicated "Phone" button, a physical key often omitted on current smartphones. It was important to keep the phone context top-of-mind to make the device more comfortable for users new to the smartphone concept. Finally, we added a "Home" button that would bring the user to the phone's main menu, where the user could quickly access the phone's applications. Research had revealed that users were rarely willing to go through more than two clicks to access an application. This became an important design criterion for the Instinct—all applications had to be accessible within two clicks. We put a Favorites menu on the home screen that was populated with the applications users selected most frequently. This button would ensure users would have two-click access to their most habitual features.

Once the physical device had been designed, we went to work on the operating system and the applications themselves. Sublime oriented the design team around the major components in its model of habitual behavior: Context, Cues, Behavior, and Feedback.

Context

To organize the applications that came pre-loaded on the device (this was before the App Store concept existed), Sublime focused the team on the idea of context, or how consumers naturally categorize their life. We created four overarching contexts that were placed on the home screen: Main, Fun, Web, and Favorites. This layout would make it intuitively obvious where to find applications and enable users to reach them intuitively.

The Favorites page.

The applications for the phone were also developed from a contextual perspective. One example is the Movie application. While it was possible to access movie information on earlier phones, it was not easy, requiring multiple steps and user input. Sublime projected the typical scenarios for accessing movie information from a mobile device, such as a couple out on a date that decides to go to the movies after dinner. By understanding these scenarios, the developers were able to build the Movie application around three contexts that covered the majority of potential uses:

By focusing on the context within which an application is used, the designers were able to create applications that were both logical and intuitive. This application worked so well, many users reported they used the phone to plan the majority of their visits to the movies.

Cues

Visual Voicemail.

We approached cues, or stimuli that trigger habitual behaviors, from several angles with the Instinct. Ring tones and other distinctive audible cues were developed for incoming calls and messages including text, email, and voicemail. Iconography on the phone was critical; if done correctly, the icons would become cues for application use. A design company was hired specifically to create easily recognized and contextually relevant icons for each application.

In some cases, cues were crucial to interaction with the device. Research showed that voicemail was not used by a large percentage of younger users in large part because of a lack of meaningful cues; users did not know whom the message was from until it was played. The Visual Voicemail application allowed the user to see from whom each voicemail was sent and selectively choose whether to listen or not.

Behavior

One of the most challenging components of developing a habit-forming new product is the getting the customer to perform new behaviors around that product. Apple did a brilliant job of this by showing hands and fingers interacting with the iPhone in its early television advertisements. When someone picked up the iPhone for the first time, it seemed quite natural to swipe, pinch and tap. They had already been trained to do so.

We ran into difficulty communicating this idea. As launch approached, we assembled a large number of planners and assigned a small group to focus on the "out-of-the-box experience." Their assignment was to determine what behaviors the customer would perform when they opened the box, such as putting the battery in the handset and turning it on, interacting with the screen, using certain applications, etc. Instead, when it came time for this group to present, they began with a presentation on what they wanted the user to feel. The organizational habit of focusing on user thoughts and feelings instead of behavior was a struggle to overcome.

Navigation

Once the group had successfully shifted to the idea of focusing on behavior, we began to identify necessary components to ensure these first behaviors were performed perfectly. The first was to ship a completely charged battery with the device because we wanted to enable the user to interact with the phone immediately. At the time, it was standard to require the customer to charge the battery for several hours before use. We also created a small walkthrough card that would quickly get a new customer using many of the most impressive features on the device.

Another example of focusing on behavior can be seen in the Navigation application. The phone's GPS system allowed us to create an effective navigation application, but testing found it rarely used—most customers know where they were going most of the time. We redesigned the application to display local traffic readouts on the main application screen. This feature gave the user a reason to open the application during a typical commute to work and added to the number of times people would access the application. Habits compete, and the Navigation application on the phone would be competing against the other ways users can get directions (e.g., online maps, in-car navigation systems, writing down directions, etc.). By linking the application to a context outside of driving directions, we were able to significantly increase use and, in turn, increase the likelihood that the application would be the customer's default behavior when navigation service was actually needed.

Feedback

Once a behavior occurs, feedback determines if a customer will perform that behavior again. The unconscious mind works rapidly, processing feedback information in a fraction of a second. There were several feedback elements built into the Instinct to reinforce behavior. The phone provided "haptic" feedback, or small vibrations, when a key or on-screen button was pressed. This let the user know that the device received her command. Additionally, the applications were designed to be fast loading. This gave users immediate feedback that the device, application, and network were working properly.

One of the primary punishers for cell phone users is the unexpected or "shock" bill, defined as exceeding an average bill by more than 20%. Implicit to the goal of making the Instinct habit-forming was trying to get the customer to use the device automatically without thinking about it. A shock bill would completely undermine this goal, drawing attention to the device and punishing its use. We recommended an unconventional approach in launching the Instinct—the user would be required to sign up for an unlimited data and voice plan. While priced significantly under the competition, this requirement would create a barrier for many who wanted the phone. However, this "Everything Plan" would ensure that no customer would ever receive a shock bill and be punished for using the data-heavy features installed on the phone.

The "Everything Plan" prevented shock bills for Instinct users.

Overall, feedback was the ultimate key to our success. Reinforcing feedback was built into nearly every feature the phone offered. Call quality and network speed were top-notch. Applications performed exceedingly well. Voice recognition was exceptional, making it effortless to call anyone in the directory by pushing a button and speaking the person's name. Users responded to this reinforcement by not only using their own phones more, but also by showing off the Instinct to friends and families, creating word-of-mouth converts to the phone and Sprint network.

Results

The Instinct was a landmark success. It was chosen Best Cell Phone, Most Innovative Product, and Best in Show at CTIA E-tech. It was the most successful phone Sprint had ever launched and held that position for more than two years. Owners of the Instinct had the lowest churn (customer defection) rate of any Sprint phone. Revenues generated from the Instinct surpassed $2 billion.

As a result of the Instinct's success, Sprint has since implemented a habit-based strategy for all of its consumer devices.

Executive Summary

The Challenge

The Design

Context

Cues

Behavior

Feedback

Results