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Habits control 40% of what we do and we often don’t even realize it, according to The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. They are a powerful influence on what consumers buy, how organizations run, and how societies function. Harnessing habits is a key to changing behavior.

Habits Run Almost Unconsciously

Habits function unconsciously in our minds in low levels of our brain. The Power of Habitdetails a true but unusual story about a man with brain damage. In the story the man is not able to tell researchers where the kitchen is in his house. His damaged brain is missing that memory storage capability. Yet researchers watch him get up and find food in his kitchen when he was hungry. Later, it was determined that the part of his brain that controls habits recorded the information and behavior about how to find food. His conscience memory couldn’t tell you, but his habit brain “remembered the routine.” So when his gut gets hungry, the subroutine kicks in and makes it happen. This is true, not just of the brain damaged man in the story, but of all of us. We buy, act, and live our lives based on these low level subroutines called habits.

Habits Shape Marketing

Understanding how habits work is critical when trying to market your ideas or products to the world. Consider the following: Where do people shop, at Walmart or the old downtown? People use Facebook to find social connections, but do they go there for banking advice? People don’t go to the second Google search page, so where should you be? Purchasing managers call the same vendors again and again because that is what they do. When we begin to look, we will find powerful habits controlling behaviors that effect our marketing strategies. So how can habits be understood and leveraged into powerful allies?

3 Elements of a Habit

In order to understand a habit or make a new one there are 3 elements that must be understood according to Duhigg.
1. The Cue:
Every habit starts with a cue or trigger. A trigger can be: morning hunger, a location like an aisle in the supermarket, a time of day, sitting in the couch at home.
2. The Routine:
This is the habitual steps you take. For example morning hunger > stop at Dunkin’ Donuts. Or in the cereal aisle I look up and to the left for Brand X. Every day at 3:00 I get a cup of coffee and talk with the guys. When I sit at the couch I pick up the remote and surf the channels.
3. The Reward
This is the positive payoff for the habit. Sugar rush, found my cereal, break from work, relaxing TV show.

To change habits look for all three of these elements. Latch on to them and watch the power of our habitual actions take over. If change is what we are trying to accomplish we need to address this powerful part of our brain’s routine in our marketing plans, social movements, and product designs. The habit is the key that unlocks doors of behaviour.

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