The Email Marketer's Habit Loop

In my last post, I shared my thoughts on a book I was reading, “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business,” by Charles Duhigg. The book examined the concept of a three-step habit loop that puts some consumer behavior on autopilot. As promised, today’s post will examine how habit loops can also drive organizational behavior regarding email programs.

Because a habit loop is something we don’t consciously recognize, we may think we’re just going through the motions; but the idea of a cue, routine, and reward is more apparent if you look for it. This loop can be found in many areas of our lives, including our work. And when it does manifest itself in our work, it affects what we produce. In partnering with numerous clients over the years, I’ve found one thing certain: Everyone gets into a routine. Some routines are good, others not so much. So I encourage you to look at routines that may be affecting your email program and ask whether you can use the habit loop as a way to change for the better.



Using the habit loop to send the right email. In the early days of email marketing, we had to work incredibly hard to demonstrate and prove the value of email marketing to our higher-ups. We had to fight to get budget and we had to convince others that email was a legitimate form of marketing, but eventually, we succeeded.

In fact, we were so successful at proving the value of email that today, when any business unit within an organization needs an extra bump in revenue to meet a goal or deplete inventory, the first thing they think to do is “send another email.”

Now it is time to move forward from the battle cry of “send another email” to “send the right email.” To succeed, you’ll need to alter the habit loop that has been created -- evolve it, if you will -- and create new habits within your organization to ensure that consumers continue to value and respond to the emails you send.

At any given time, an organization can serve up many cues to send email: holidays, revenue targets, sales events, new product launches, increased web traffic -- take your pick.

Chances are that if something needs to happen online with your consumer, email is the first channel that comes to mind to make that thing happen. Because of this, the challenge becomes less about identifying the cue (since there are so many), and more about focusing on the cues that matter most (since some could actually cannibalize the effectiveness of others).

As email marketers, we spend a significant amount of time analyzing the performance of programs, with very little analysis of how the organization actually leverages the channel. So take a step back today and write down the cues that you get from your organization to send emails. Are there areas of obvious crossover? Is there a logical and effective way to consolidate the cues? Are all of the cues, in fact, legitimate triggers for sending another email? Are there more relevant cues that you need to introduce into the habit loop? Look at these cues, analyze them, and determine if they are driving the success you seek.

The routine that can quickly develop between you and your email service provider is another thing that, left on its own, has the potential to limit your effectiveness. Unfortunately, most marketers don’t recognize the routine they fall into when working with their email vendor until someone decides to change ESPs. The daily challenges seem minimal in comparison to the giant shift associated with changing vendors. However, if you can look at this change as an opportunity to identify more effective ways to accomplish a task, try new features and functionality you aren’t taking advantage of, or tap reporting and insights that you don’t currently leverage, you can optimize your routine to drive program efficiency.

The reward is the achievement of your goals and objectives. And achieving that reward, consistently and repetitively, is what drives the craving to do more. This is what email marketers are really good at -- we have done this successfully within our organizations, as evidenced by the continued adoption and effectiveness of the channel.

Very few email marketers consider the organizational processes driving habits affecting their program’s behavior. Often you will hear people say things like, “That’s just the way things have always been done.”

As staff shifts and people leave organizations, it’s easy for predecessors to simply take on the habits of those who came before, without taking time to understand why things were done a particular way. Instead, I encourage you to examine the email habit loop within your organization -- and, if necessary, start adjusting those cues and routines accordingly. After all, the reward is there for the taking.


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