FutureVision: Translating brands into behaviours

How can brands shift their customer relationships from occasional purchase to something deeper? The move from product-centric to a more connected exchange starts with one thing--interrogating a brand's purpose, in terms of its role in people's lives and ultimately in culture.

Nir Eyal’s Hooked Loop, under discussion in this FutureVision issue, pushes brand thinking into behaviour, and unpicks the triggers, actions, rewards, and investment needed to form habits around a product orservice. It leads brands to ask: given our purpose, what habits do we have licence to be part of?


Hooky Sneakers
How often do you really need to buy them? This author has the unenviable habit of checking for sneaker releases every single Saturday. Scrolling through one social feed after another, all roads seem to lead to a sneaker shop.

Similarly, the moreathletic among us might have a habit of running on a Saturday morning. These two instances have a couple of things in common. Both are habitual (the first a habit of purchase, the second a habit of use) and both have been identified and turned into successful services by Nike.

The Nike SNKRS app is built on a collector’s habit of religious purchase. It’s a service that allows sneakerheads to cop the latest drop and create their own custom newsfeed, to ensure they’re always in the know. The now famous Nike+ app is grounded in habitual use of Nike products, and supports runners in their athletic endeavours.

Clearly these services stem from Nike’s brand purpose: to serve all athletes. But they’re made powerful by Nike’s understanding that the brand’s relationship with their customers starts, and doesn’t end, at the point of purchase. These services are using habitual behaviour to supercharge relationships, all unlocked by the brand’s purpose.

R/GA shares Mr Eyal’s appreciation for technology and its power to disrupt. But while Mr Eyal focuses on the tech brands that rely on habit formation to be commercially successful, we believe the opportunity is much broader. In short – you don’t have to be a snazzy tech brand to encourage habits. Take the 1970s Alka-Seltzer jingle: ‘Plop, plop, fizz, fizz’. While far from a bastion of creative excellence, the line drove consumption by encouraging the use of two tablets per serving. It was wildly successful, by changing the customer’s habits.

The Aviva Driving Challenge is a great contemporary example. The more you use the service, the safer you drive, and the lower your annual premium. Aviva managed to turn the standard annual subscription into a daily relationship. In doing so they’ve created the necessary elements of the Hooked Loop: trigger (context of starting the car), action (firing up the app), reward (score my driving), and investment (cumulative data creates more accurate risk assessment and reduces cost).

So how can brands explore and work with habitual behaviour? As we’ve mentioned, it starts with a simple truth. Brands need to be about something greater than their product. They need purpose. Beats by Dr. Dre realises more people are interested in culture than headphones. Mastercard realises more people are interested in life’s priceless moments than credit cards.

Unilever knows people care more deeply about sustainable living than personal hygiene or homecare. Talking about deodorants and detergents has limited appeal, but discussing a plan to make sustainable living commonplace is impressive in the way it speaks to customers, suppliers, and employees. It articulates the brand to their whole company and their supply chain. Many of us habitually use Unilever products to clean our homes and (hopefully) ourselves.

Challenging the nuances of that behaviour, to be more mindful of usage and to encourage considered consumption is both brave and applaudable. Bring this all together on Unilever’s digital platforms, that build community and enable action, and you have the power to genuinely inspire behaviour change, globally.

Saying & Doing
At R/GA we spend our days building digital services that wrap around our clients’ products, and thrive in culture. This approach requires ambitious collaboration with experts in the field and careful curation of teams across storytelling and systematic design.

For Beats our teams collaborated with data scientists to create the future of music recommendation, which evolved into Apple Music. For Google News Labs we brought together writers, designers, animators, and data analysts to mine anonymised search habits and turn them into social stories for the 50th Super Bowl, all in real time.

For McDonald’s Happy Studio, we worked with developmental psychologists to create games that help children build skills for future life. This enabled us to explore how games might be designed to fit with, and build on, natural patterns of play.

Under the guidance of experts, we began to connect observed behaviours with proven models of child development. From start to finish, we tested our understanding with lightweight prototypes, putting them in the hands of children and letting them take it away. The app hit the top five in its category in over thirty countries, and is currently live in forty-two markets, with more to be added in 2016.

As the South-London proverb goes, people should ‘do what they say, and say what they do’. The same applies to brands. All of the cases discussed in this article underline the need for brands to be ‘sayers’ and ‘doers’ in the connected age. But how do we ensure that habits are used in a way that is contributive to lives and culture, and not the reverse?

Throughout this piece we’ve discussed habits in general terms, describing behaviour that’s familiar and repetitive. The more academically inclined would see habits as automated, carried out without conscious awareness, and even addictive.

As Mr Eyal has written: "The power to build persuasive products should be used with caution". We’d agree with that. Because if, as a brand owner, you’re looking to create a habit that is detrimental to your customer, they won’t thank you for it. Not only is it unethical, it’s also bad business (just look at the PR mess the payday-loan firm ‘Wonga’ got themselves into last year).

We’ve established that forming behaviour starts with stretching and examining a brand’s purpose. Sometimes it can lead to counterintuitive work, like Patagonia’s Black Friday campaign ‘Don’t Buy This Jacket’, which showed that the brand genuinely has something to say about the effect of consumerism on the environment.

If we are to keep marketing ethical, we should strive to create win-win situations between brands and their customers. Because when customers are happy and the brand has found its corner in culture, you’re set. As we all know, that’s easy to say, hard to do, and extraordinarly powerful when done well.


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