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. Read the rest of this entry »

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.

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September 11th, 2013

Language Barriers

By Kyle Morich



The map above is a heat map diagram indicating the areas of the country where the English language dialect is most similar to my own. This map makes intuitive sense to me—even though I’ve lived in Georgia for most of my life, my parents are both from New York State and I was born in New Jersey. If you’d like to take the dialect quiz yourself, you can access it at http://spark.rstudio.com/jkatz/DialectQuiz/. The quiz was developed by Joshua Katz, a PhD student at North Carolina State University.

Taking this quiz is a fascinating reminder that even within the US there are many different ways to pronounce a word and understand the concept behind that word. For instance, I never use the word “supper,” but there are people out there who use it interchangeably with the word “dinner,” and some more who actually use both and have a separate definition for each.

In business, we often develop vocabularies for models, metrics, and ideas and assume that others speak the same language as we do. Ask both a media buyer and a financial analyst to define the word “impression” to appreciate how far off this assumption is. As a consultant, I work across multiple industries and one of the biggest struggles beyond having to rapidly become an expert in a new field is learning to speak the language of that industry. One of the reasons Sublime offers introductory training courses on habits and psychology is because we want our clients to understand what we mean when we use words like “context,” “cue,” and “reinforcement.”

I also work with non-native English speaking clients, and language and communication is always something that I have to focus on and remember to factor into our interactions. I find myself pausing before using idioms and colloquial expressions to consider if my meaning is actually coming through.The next time you are writing emails or giving a presentation to people outside your company, industry, or geographic area, pay attention to your language. Don’t always assume everyone knows what you are saying.

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. Read the rest of this entry »

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. Read the rest of this entry »

March 19th, 2013

Episodic Disruption

By Kyle Morich

House of Cards - a Netflix Original Series

Note: This post was featured in the March 2013 edition of the Force of Habit Newsletter.

In the first two minutes of the Netflix Original Series House of Cards, Kevin Spacey’s character, House Majority Whip Frank Underwood, strangles a dying dog in the street and delivers a powerful but unsettling monologue about “useless pain.” By the end of that opening scene, I was hooked, shackled to a show both wonderful and morbid. This sensation normally produces a frustrating paradox—the more I enjoy a series and want to see what happens next, the more aggravated I am having to wait a week for the next episode and months for the entire story to unfurl. As Congressman Underwood would say, “Useless pain, indeed.”

Only this show was different, because the next episode had already arrived—in fact, they all had. In a bold move bucking the traditional week-by-week broadcasting model, Netflix made the entire first season available at the same time. Though it was a successful ploy for this viewer (I binge-watched all thirteen chapters in three days), was it really a bold move, or just a belated acknowledgement that our media consumption habits are changing?
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