The Force Of Habit

  • by , Columnist, January 23, 2017

In this month’s Harvard Business Review, former P&G CEO A. G Lafley and Rotman professor Roger Martin talk about the power of simple habit in shaping our brand and product decisions. According to the pair, many decisions are not taken due to an active and positive interest in a product, or even its sector, but by simply following the path of least resistance. “Research into the workings of the human brain suggests that the mind loves automaticity more than just about anything else — certainly more than engaging in conscious consideration. Given the choice, it would like to do the same things over and over again.” In short, habit is the most powerful determinant of behavior.

While Lafley and Martin apply the theory primarily to low-interest categories in CPG, their work applies equally in some areas of the travel space, particularly in the similarly low-interest (but high-margin!) area of business travel. 

My own experience is typical of this. I have traveled almost every week for the past four years, so it’s safe to say booking flights and hotels is something I do more frequently than grocery shopping. Since I live in Toronto, I fly with the delightful Porter Airline (so much so I feel they are about to embroider my name into the headrest of seat 1A). But it’s hotels where habit really kicks in — because I one time stayed at one hotel, that’s always my go-to. Especially since I know at the end of the year I’ll have enough points to take the whole family off on a free holiday somewhere nice.



So every step of my traveling is now driven by habit. I may seem like a lost cause to any industry players not within my personal cocoon of habit, but is that the case? If they set their minds to it, would they have the chance to break me out and convert me to something new?

It’s certainly worth a try: after all, business travelers are high-frequency, low-maintenance on-site, and price-insensitive at the point of purchase. Plus, they frequently travel in packs, with the most fanatical points-collector often determining where the rest of the team stays.

There are a number of opportunities to use digital marketing to locate and incent these valuable users over to a new “habit”:

Take a strategic view of your target users

No business should operate without a precise segmentation of its audience, but when looking for these hard-to-prise-away consumers, knowledge of the segment’s digital behavior is particularly critical. Shop-alongs, ethnographics, day-in-the-life exercises should all be used to build journey maps that pinpoint the precise moments where we can drive the thin end of the wedge into the target’s existing habit-driven behavior.

Trouble-shoot your competitors problems

With many complaints now being made public via Twitter, it may well be worth reaching out proactively at the point where relations with their provider are under most strain. By reaching out through a follow request and offering not just quick fixes but a carefully and briefly packaged offer of accelerated scheme entry.

Better visualizing benefits

It’s hard to equate points to prizes, and many travelers don’t have a clear idea just how much they are going to be able to get from their spending. A clarification of this could be a strong marketing tool — a consumer could certainly be tempted to put their current points tally or an estimate of my travel into a competitor’s system if it was going to do some calculations and let me know what they could offer. And at the very least, they would then have contact details for future marketing…

Make an outlandish offer…

Once high-spending users are identified, why can’t they be offered premium benefits and a guarantee of up weighted rewards up-front? The red carpet should be rolled out in advance of their arrival, rather than making them wait to earn it.

None of this is easy, and harder still to deliver at scale. But with advances in social analytics to detect high-rolling users and a dedicated plan to reach them, it’s not impossible to break the vice-like grip of habit on the business traveler.

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