Review of Habit: The 95% of behavior marketers ignore by Neale Martin

I reread Habit recently, a book that was ahead of its time when first published. In this book, Neale Martin argues that two fundamental assumptions have led marketing on a dead-end path

  1. Customers are aware of what they are doing
  2. They know why they do what they do

He discusses the different roles of executive and habitual mental processes (akin to Daniel Kahneman’s Systems 1 and 2 which came three years later). Martin says. “The failures of marketing occur not because they fail to follow the basic tenets of marketing, but because they do”.

Habits undermine marketing, allowing customers to make decisions on autopilot (in their non-conscious mind) rather than paying attention to marketing messages. He is particularly scathing of loyalty programs which he believes create spurious loyalty at best and are, “a costly requirement not a competitive advantage”. He also argues that customer satisfaction is a waste of time to measure, pursue and achieve (explaining less than one-tenth of behaviour).

His formula for success is not through getting to market first or having the best or cheapest product, but rather from becoming the habitual choice of customers. He covers four key areas for marketing to consider habit:

  • Companies should focus on behaviour not attitudes or beliefs
  • Training the habitual mind is different from training the executive mind (requiring affect, reward and repetition)
  • To hold on to customers, businesses should keep them from consciously thinking about their decisions (as automatic repurchase means that the habitual mind is in control)
  • To take a customer away from a competitor, you must break existing habits by getting them to consciously think about the product, and then create a new npn-conscious habit

He asks marketers to focus on four stages of behavioural marketing

  1. Context (why and where)
  2. Training
  3. Reinforcement
  4. Cue (what BJ Fogg would call a prompt)

This is a refreshing read, and a rally good call to arms for marketing with a focus on how understanding customer habits can help businesses build success. Although more than 10 years old, it is still more relevant than many more recent books on the topic.

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