Catalytic Thinking / Marketing Strategy

A kitchen bin, a watch and what this means for behavioural change


Moving my kitchen bin has taught me a valuable lesson about marketing.

And it’s time that I shared it with you.

Let’s not beat about the bush here. You probably don’t care about my kitchen bin.

It’s of no interest to you that it sat for five years next to the boiler in a little alcove, and was moved to behind the door when we shelved out that alcove to give us more storage space.

What you are interested in are the behavioural difficulties that this has caused.

For the past five years, whenever my partner and I have been working at the sink, we’ve taken two steps the right, swivelled on our heels and thrust whatever waste we had into the bin’s flappy lid.

Here’s the kicker.

Now that we’ve moved the bin, we still do it. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve nearly put an empty yoghurt pot into the bread machine.

As a marketer, this is deeply, deeply important (the principle, not the yoghurt pot).

Because we were both used to where the bin was, we built up a habit.

It was an unconscious habitual movement which didn’t require any cognitive processing to get the job done.

You and I are marketers and branders. We have the same problem with our consumers.

Our consumers have their habits and their patterns.

And our job is to break these. We need them to stop buying the products they’re used to choosing and cognitively engage to give our wares a try.

We need to first break their habit, and then help them to form a new one.

We need to give them a great reason to do it.

Back to my kitchen bin. The reason we moved it was to create more storage for the stuff we have.

But the move wasn’t intrinsic to the bin’s purpose. It was due to another purpose, something unrelated to the bin’s function.

And that’s where the problem comes – because, from a behavioural point of view, the move makes no sense whatsoever.

When we ask our potential consumers to make a change, we need it to be a change that makes sense for them. Not for us. Not for something linked or indirectly related. For them.

Moving away from behavioural change bins, let me talk about watches.

I don’t wear a watch. I own a watch (bought for me by my partner and one which I love very much) but I don’t wear it.

In fact, I haven’t worn a watch regularly since I had my first mobile phone.

Why? Because the phone tells me the time, and if I’ve got any text messages (back in the day).

The single function watch was replaced by something else, and another behavioural process.

Today, I came across the Pebble watch.

My second thought (the first was occupied by ‘Ohhhhhhh’) was about the behavioural change that buying a Pebble would cause.

I’d have to remember to put it on in the morning. I’d have to do my cufflinks up around it. I’d have a physical weight at the end of my arm.

I’d have to raise and rotate my wrist to tell the time, not reach into my pocket for my phone.

Just that initial wearing would be a gigantic behavioural change, for me, in itself. And change takes energy.

So why am I considering it?

By linking to my phone, the Pebble would tell me what’s going on, make me aware of things that I might need to check out.

I could leave my phone on silent and still remain in touch with what’s happening in a much more unobtrusive way to the people around me.

The benefits could outweigh the energy expended in creating that behavioural change.

So, for those of us toiling in the marketing sphere, I want to leave you with this.

Behavioural change is hard to create. It takes energy on the part of the consumer, not only to want to make the change, but to actually do it and stick to it.

So for those of us in the marketing world, we need to make sure that our work creates an environment for change, one that’s not a ‘step too far’ or nonsensical for the consumer.

We need to make sure that our product or experience is worth it. That it actually delivers something back greater than the sum of the effort expended in obtaining it.

And finally, we need to make sure that our work keeps delivering that experience so that a new habit is formed.

We must become the habit, not the choice.

Because choice doesn’t always stick.

Habit does.(And you know it does, because it’s so damned hard to break)

Neil Hopkins is a Marketing and Branding Theorist at heart, and a Marketing Communications Manager by day. His blog – interacter – is the primary location he shares insight and information relating to marketing, branding and advertising strategy.
You can follow Neil on Twitter, circle him (like an escaped bull) on Google+ or track him down in any number of other ways.
Featured image used under Creative Commons from DaveBleasdale’s Flickr Photostream.

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3 thoughts on “A kitchen bin, a watch and what this means for behavioural change

  1. Pingback: 6 Principles of Influence and Persuasion | interacter

  2. Pingback: The UK food industry is squandering its best opportunity for decades (and where are the marketers?) | interacter

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