DIGITAL MARKETING • CONTENT MANAGEMENT • BRANDING & STRATEGY

Humans are Hardwired to Form Habits

Humans are Hardwired to Form Habits

After recently reading Neale Martin’s book titled “Habit: The 95% of Behavior Marketers Ignore”, I got to thinking about our digital habits. Specifically… regarding human habits:

Why do we continue using digital devices so much, even though we complain about them?

The Main Reason is two-fold:

Humans are hardwired to form habits. And habits are inherently hard to break.

Martin’s book explores why our brains are pre-wired to form habits, and explains how product teams often misunderstand the consumer’s decision-making process. More specifically, teams often ignore the importance of habit.

Over 90% of behaviors are driven by the unconscious mind.

Let that sink in for a minute… over 90%! This means the vast majority of our activities are done while our brains are on ‘auto-pilot’ mode. When teams loose sight of how habits drive consumer behavior, major missteps can occur.

Consider the recent example of Snapchat’s 2018 UX Redesign flop. The popular social media platform made headlines when its 2018 app redesign garnered negative publicity from celebrities and lost them 3 million users.

Without warning, Snapchat launched a complete overhaul of their user experience, leaving even the most savvy ‘snappers’ in the dark, with no helpful onscreen instructions or pre-launch announcements. (SOURCE: The Verge). 

Below we explore the concepts of the conscious and unconscious minds, why our brains are designed to create habits, and the roles of each mind in our decision-making.

A Matter of Survival

To understand how and why our brains build habits, we must leap back in time.

As homo sapiens evolved, the act of creating habits was actually a matter of survival.

It was imperative for homo sapiens to establish a regular food source, to recall which vegetation is poisonous, and to settle into a childrearing routine.

All of this ensured survival-of-the-fittest. And through that evolutionary process, some 200,000 years later we have the well-honed, habit-building machine called our modern-day human brain.

Flash forward to present day, with The Internet of Things, it’s clear why we have so quickly and so easily formed a digital addiction.

Our brains are naturally inclined to form habits. It’s part of our DNA.

As digital devices become increasingly enmeshed in our daily life, we reenforce these habits even faster and stronger.

Human Habit-Building

Sigmund Freud compared the entire mind to an iceberg, where the conscious mind is what we can see above the surface. This represents only a small 10% of the entire “iceberg” and is called the Executive Mind.

Picture the Executive Mind like the CEO calling all the shots (or so it thinks ;-). It drives our awareness and our conscious thought.

The remaining 90% of our mind is referred to as the Habitual Mind because it is where our habits are stored and reenforced over time.

Both minds are always with us, yet the unconscious is in ‘auto-pilot’ mode.

Because our Executive Mind is only 10%, it occupies precious real-estate in our brain. In order to free up that 10% powerhouse for complex pursuits, it’s constantly seeking to automate decisions that can be delegated over to the unconscious mind. 

In other words, to remain available for new experiences, thoughts, ideas, activities, our conscious brain is continually trying to “habit-ize” tasks and pass them off to the Habitual Mind. Because of this, consumers develop favorite brands, familiar TV channels, frequented stores, etc. 

PRO TIP:

This explains why some stores become massive successes and others flop. If a shopping experience is too complex, it will overburden the Executive Mind, and result in frustration, abandoned carts and other negative customer experiences. Getting started must be easy, and the customer’s journey flawless. This is how a human habit starts to form.

Omega vs. Delta Moments

We are creatures of habit. We dislike changes to our routine, which are known as our ‘Omega rules’. 

SIDE NOTE: Read our FOMO blog to learn about a habit-driven fear many suffer from today.

An Omega rule (human habit) represents a mental checklist we use regularly to stay productive and help make everyday decisions.

Often these rules are related to mundane or casual topics, and do not involve a strong emotional component.

Changes to our routine causes a disruption in our habitual pathways which is a Delta Moment. Here, the habitual auto-pilot mode switches off, and our oh-so-precious Executive Mind engages.

PRO TIP:

For Marketing Teams seeking to acquire new customers, we want to encourage situations where a Delta Moment can occur. On the flip side, if our goals are to retain existing customers, we want to nurture our customers’ Omega rules by making it easy to continually and expansively use our product or service. 

Nielsen Pyramid of Delta Vs. Omega Moments in Consumer Behavior-Human-Habit
Nielsen

Delta Moments are when conscious evaluation occurs and a customer is open to new choices. Because of that, Delta Moments occur at different times, for different segments, product categories and brands.

Understanding the nuances of your customer’s purchasing process, decision-making and habits are critical for Marketing and Product Teams.

Conclusion

Human habits, NOT conscious intention, drive at least 90% of our behavior. Our brain is constantly seeking efficiency of the minds. Make it easy for consumers to choose your brand, and to keep choosing you habitually.

PRO TIP:

Acquiring new customers requires catching their attention when they are likely to experience a Delta Moment, veering away from their habitual routine. 

How do you see consumer habits effecting your business? Comment below! I’d love to hear your experiences. You can also contact me here.

Featured Image by Anna Dziubinska on Unsplash



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