FutureVision: Habits by design

feature brought to you by R/GA London

James Temple, SVP, Managing Director, Executive Creative Director, R/GA EMEA

Habits come in two very different forms. Those rituals and routines that seem to support our lives and the other kind, that keep us stuck. Technology treads this line. Enabling us to communicate, collaborate and grow, or simply getting in the way—with endless feeds, email overload and requests for notifications. Strange creatures that we are, there seems to be a sweet spot. And this is exactly what this, the third edition in our series of FutureVision reportswith Campaign, sets out to explore. From the behavioural economics and psychology of customer engagement to the creation of habits around marketing and advertising strategies.

In the past, our industry valued habitual purchase above all else. Right now, it’s habitual use that matters, because brands are no longer products, they’re alive in everyday interaction. To understand that dynamic, and work with it, we have to learn and understand and value context—the moment, the individual, their world, and most importantly, their thoughts and feelings. This is a grounded approach to design.

From the classical standpoint of utility and meaning, to adding relationship into the mix. Seeking the essential information about how people tick right at the start of a project, remembering that we are naturally fallible, cautious, resistant, and holding in mind that we need simplicity, own multiple devices, require a return for our efforts and want to get started now. These four principles sit at the heart of Nir Eyal’s fascinating Hook Model, the focus of this report’s in-depth interview, and we would do well to apply them to our work.

In our hyper-connected world, the words ‘less, but better’, spoken by iconic German designer Dieter Rams, still hold true. But rather than following design philosophy, we’re now making branding decisions because the evidence base is there. We can see where people are in their lives and what they need in a new kind of way. And we can share this information with clients and partners, creating a language that makes sense to strategists, writers, business leads, technologists, account directors, consultants, engineers, economists.

It’s an approach that brings us closer to our colleagues, and ultimately to every single user. It’s a strategic way of thinking that is aligned to R/GA’s DNA, and we hope you find the following content in this report both revealing and inspiring.

Claire Beale, Global Editor-in-Chief, Campaign

There’s an intriguing theme of habit weaving through R/GA’s latest issue of FutureVision and it touches on many fundamental issues to do with building brands and driving deeper relationships with consumers. But it’s a provocative subject. ‘Habit’ is so often a pejorative word. It can imply thoughtlessness, laziness and— perhaps—ritual addiction to a pursuit you wouldn’t necessarily want to admit to.

But a habit is also something that is comfortable and familiar through honed experience—a rite that has become a part of your life. There are, after all, good habits as well as bad ones; it’s just that the bad ones are sometimes more interesting.

When it comes to the way technology has become ingrained in our lives, the habits of use are sometimes positive, equipping us with more and constant knowledge of the world around us. But when checking our phone or binging on digital box sets has become a habit that actually withdraws us too often from the world around us, we have a problem. As with most things in life, balance—even habitual balance—is key.

But what’s interesting from R/GA’s work in this area is how our new habits are opening up opportunities for smart brands to bake habit into their own DNA and at the same time learn how to hone their relationships with consumers. By understanding their customers’ rituals and routines and developing these insights to build regular dialogues that are tailored to the time, place and sentiment of their customers, brands are embedding themselves further into our lives. Get these dialogues right and conversations between brands and consumers become easy and familiar, like casual chats with friends—the habit of regular interaction makes conversation flow naturally.

Of course, even before digital technology allowed new understanding of consumer behaviour—where people are, what they’re doing, what they’re thinking—habit was a definer: goods and services that came to occupy a habitual place in people’s lives became brands. Habitual purchase was a marker that lifted products from commodities into brands that were sought out and valued. And so it remains.

Melding these new insights into emerging consumer habits with what we already know about building strong brands for the long term creates new value and deeper relationships. And habit starts to lose its pejorative tag and become an ambition.

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