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How Marketers Create Craving In 3 Easy Steps

Photo by Alberto Garcia via Flickr

"The process within our brains that creates habits is a three-step loop. 
"First, there is a cue....  
"Then there is the routine... 
"Finally, there is a reward... 
"Over time, this loop...becomes more and more automatic....until a sense of craving emerges." 

 - C. Duhigg, "How Companies Learn Your Secrets" (The New York Times)

A good marketer knows how to make people want something badly enough to pay for it. A great marketer knows how to sell it to them over and over again. And an extraordinary marketer gets them to prefer one specific kind of thing, the branded thing, over an equivalent item for which they could have paid half as much.

Most of us will never be extraordinary at marketing - only a select few will rise to attain the status of a Steve Jobs or a Howard Schultz. But it is possible to rise above just being "good." You can learn to make customers crave things if you learn to understand the science of habit. (And in the process you could lose a few pounds along the way.)

For Duhigg it was the 3:30 cookie. He had a habit of getting up from his chair every day at that time to eat and socialize. The cue was the time of day; the routine (the non-thinking part) was to eat the cookie and gossip; and there were multiple rewards: social interaction, information, and undoubtedly a great sugar rush.

The bad habit cost him nearly 10 pounds.

He tried to change his ways but could not. Until he used the science of habit formation and re-formation, as used by master marketers at Procter & Gamble to turn the odor neutralizer Febreze into a megahit. Basically, he kept Steps 1 and 3 and reworked the "mindless" part, the habitual Step 2:
"To shift the routine — to socialize, rather than eat a cookie — I needed to piggyback on an existing habit. So now, every day around 3:30, I stand up, look around the newsroom for someone to talk to, spend 10 minutes gossiping, then go back to my desk. The cue and reward have stayed the same. Only the routine has shifted."
Think about how "getting a cup of coffee on the way to work" is a social habit deeply encouraged by marketers. How did they get us out of the "olden days" when people made coffee at home because "The best part of waking up is Folgers in your cup."

How did they "encourage" (brainwash?) the nation into paying $2 or more a day for a cup of coffee they could easily make just as easily and well for themselves?

Easy! They not only followed, but improved the original habit cycle - by using an entrenched habit (drinking coffee) and making the routine easier as well as adding a social element, as follows:
Old Way
  • Cue: Wake up
  • Routine: Brew coffee, drink it, clean up
  • Reward: Alertness, sense of preparation for the day
New Way

  • Cue: Wake up
  • Routine: Wait on line for a fresh, hot cup of coffee that someone has made just for you
  • Reward: Alertness, social status, belonging, sense of preparation, and NO messy clean-up
Can you say slam-dunk?

Of course it is not so simple to create or change habits, but when it comes to marketing, remembering the "cue-routine-reward" loop can be incredibly helpful in shortcutting the puzzling process of determining what people want and how to break through the clutter.

 As follows:
  • Step 1: Find an entrenched cue-routine-reward cycle to break into - rather than introducing a product seemingly "out of nowhere." (For example, nighttime TV viewing; organizing meetings; exercising)
  • Step 2: Narrow down how you want to alter the routine - add (like adding Febreze to the cleaning routine); change (like having people use cleaning wipes instead of spray cleaners); or eliminate (like having to empty the dustpan after sweeping the floor)?
  • Step 3: Articulate a short-term reward for doing things the new way - something the user will get every single time. For example, they will save so much time by using cleaning wipes instead of spray that they will feel a rush of joy at how quick it went. (Don't just make this up in your head - watch people, observe.)

As it turns out, scientific research has shown that habit-formation is affected by our brain cells. An article published in the Wall Street Journal ("How Habits Hold Us,") Feb. 18 discussed the research of Joe Z. Tsien and colleagues at Georgia Health Sciences University. They learned that mice deficient in "an NMDA receptor on their dopamine neurons" didn't really care, in an experiment, about the reward they would get for overeating - they just stopped when they were full.

One can argue about whether it's socially helpful or unhelpful to lure people into changing their habits. I can see both sides of that argument. Either way, it is good to know how to train the brain, if only for yourself.

It is true. No matter how many times you have failed before, a lifetime of seemingly unbreakable bad habits indeed can be broken. All it takes is an understanding of what triggers you, a recognition that the resulting behavior is bad, an appreciation of the reward that you get, and a substitution of a more positive habit for the bad one.

Here's hoping that you use your power to "create craving" responsibly and well.

Good luck!
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Marketing Is More Important Than Innovation: Febreze

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Marketing is synonymous with leading the business:
  • Marketers exist to create customers (American Marketing Association). 
  • Businesses exist to create customers (Peter Drucker). 
  • Therefore the role of a marketer is to establish, lead, and manage businesses so that customers can be won and kept.
Marketing is more important than innovation. Drucker was bold but misguided when he made them equal: "Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs." (quoted in Forbes)

Febreze is a great example.

Writing in The New York Times, Charles Duhigg, author of the forthcoming The Power of Habit, explains that Proctor & Gamble's innovative odor-killer wouldn't move off the shelves, because the marketers had it wrong.
"A week passed. Then two. A month. Two months. Sales started small and got smaller. Febreze was a dud."
The marketers had assumed that people would welcome a product designed to neutralize bad smells. What they didn't realize was that even "neat freaks" didn't care when those bad odors were their very own.

Duhigg recalls a visit by the "panicked marketing team" to the home of a consumer who had agreed to participate in P&G's marketing research:
"The house was clean and organized....But when P.& G.’s scientists walked into her living room,where her nine cats spent most of their time, the scent was so overpowering that one of them gagged....a researcher asked the woman, “What do you do about the cat smell?” “It’s usually not a problem,” she said. “Do you smell it now?” “No,” she said. “Isn’t it wonderful? They hardly smell at all!”
The "breakthrough" moment came through when the marketing team found a woman who was a regular Febreze customer.  She loved the product and it had nothing to do with eradicating odor:
“I don’t really use it for specific smells,”the woman said. “I use it for normal cleaning — a couple of sprays when I’m done in a room.”
What turned Febreze from an innovative failure to a market-smashing success, in fact, had little or nothing to do with innovation. What it had to do with, primarily, was one simple marketing insight: People are willing to pay to reward themselves for doing unpleasant chores.

In the end the marketing was what moved the merchandise. According to the article, within two months of the "Febreze revamp" based on this insight, the results were astounding:
  • Sales doubled.
  • $230 million in sales one year later
  • $1 billion in sales of "dozens" of spinoffs including air fresheners, candles, and laundry detergents
  • "Today it’s one of the top-selling products inthe world."
When you really stop and think about the impact of marketing, it's sort of amazing that we sit anywhere below the very top of the corporate food chain - no?

Have a good day everyone, and good luck!

This is an expanded version of an answer I originally posted this to Quora in response to the question, "What's The Role of Marketing?"

Brand Spontaneity Is Immature

Will Shakespeare performance 2
Photo by Erika Smith via Flickr

Jewish men are commanded to pray every day at fixed times. Women are not because we are exempt from time-bound commandments.

The prayers are fixed too. The words or method of saying them may vary by denomination or congregation. But the point is ritual: Within that brand, always to repeat the same words of appreciation, of repentance, of praise.

I always wondered how ritualizing prayer made sense. When you are pouring your heart out to God, shouldn't it be spontaneous? Otherwise you are just mumbling anytime you just aren't in the mood to pray. Aren't you?

It is the same thing with brand. If you are pouring out your fanatical desire to serve the customer, shouldn't it be spontaneous as well? Otherwise you are just going through the motions. Nobody is "on" all the time.

No and no.

We ritualize prayer, and brand, for a very simple reason. You don't feel the emotions before saying the words. The words are supposed to stir you to feel the emotion!

We wear the uniform, we post the sign, we arrange things just so on the plate, we use that particular color and logo and tagline - to REMIND ourselves of what we are doing there.

Religion and brand begin with spontaneity, sincerity, heartfelt commitment. But they are reinforced and maintained through ritual. And in particular, ritual words that stir us up to service.

Have a good day everyone, and good luck!

The 5 Conditions of A Woman's Freedom (In Memory of Soraya M.)

Cover of "The Stoning of Soraya M. [Blu-r...
Cover of The Stoning of Soraya M. [Blu-ray], now also available on Netflix.

Odd. I haven't written a directly feminist post in a while but yesterday I did. Just 12 hours later we sat down to watch The Stoning of Soraya M.

None of us could sleep afterward.

If you haven't seen the movie it centers on the death of a beautiful, kind, dutiful young woman in Iran. Soraya died for absolutely no rational reason whatsoever except that she was caught in a horrendously unfair and corrupt web of inequality - religious, political, cultural, psychological and economic.

In the movie Soraya's aunt Zahra tries to save her. Just like in my post I wrote about my aunts as mentors and role models.

Feminism is only the belief that women are entitled to the same rights as men. It's not (or should never be) the belief that women have to follow the dictates of feminists.

Soraya was stoned to death because she had no personal choice:
  • Economic: Soraya could not make enough money to live alone so she was chained to the husband who beat and humiliated her. When she does earn a little money she has to hide it with her aunt so that her husband won't take it away.
  • Religious: Her religion said that women must obey men - father, husband, religious leaders (who are male). Religion was enforced by the state.
  • Political: She had no rights as a citizen. When she was accused of the crime of adultery (note that her husband had unlimited rights to this) she had no right to represent herself at the trial. She was also considered guilty until proven innocent, whereas if she had accused her husband he would have been considered innocent until proven guilty.
  • Cultural: The unfair system was enforced mostly by other women who bought into the system and who said that Soraya's problems were marital and that her husband's philandering was justified by her "neglect" of him. (In fact she did whatever he said, and he beat her silly.) There was no place she could run, no social safety net, no system of support.
  • Psychological: Soraya was conditioned to believe that she could not break the rules even when the rules were unfair - on so many levels. Her aunt Zahra was not "broken" like her.
I wish I could say that this movie were isolated or that this particular culture or scenario is. However the problem of women's deeply-rooted inequality spans history and culture - see The Woman With The Dragon Tattoo, Elizabeth, Kickass, Winter's Bone. While Soraya's story and the situation of women in some countries is horrifically extreme and bad, I can't turn away from the inequality that I see in any situation.

Until all women are free and have the personal choices we are entitled to - none of us are. It is a matter of life and death. Please speak up for those who have no voice.

Have a good day everyone, and good luck.

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Personal Branding: A Feminist Issue

PF Chang Marathon 2010 - Women Leaders
Image by Dru Bloomfield via Flickr
"Until women are as ambitious as men, they're not going to achieve as much." - Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer, Facebook
By age of seven I had about seven Barbie dolls. They were all beautiful, although some got tangled hair if you didn't brush it right.

One day I gave the prettiest Barbie a haircut. She looked better.

Theoretically I was allowed to be just as ambitious as any boy. Had a real education, library, freedom. Read from the littlest age about smart girls like "Nancy Drew." Eventually found Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem and bell hooks.

But all around me, the messages lurked. Girls are not as ambitious as boys. Should focus on their looks. Should be smart, but not talk too much. Should be manipulative rather than speak directly. Should find a "caring" job, part-time. Should love babysitting and cooking. Are there to listen, to serve, and to silently do as they are told.

My mother and my aunts responded differently to these messages. Mom found a "caring" job but focused her time at home on the kids. One aunt went predominantly with a mothering role to be realistic. Another chose career because the traditional way wasn't right for her (and wasn't right, period).

 As an adult I find that role models for ambitious women are scarce. You would think that we would be way past that. But no.
  • Religious leaders are still predominantly male, and prayerbooks still refer to God as a "He."
  • Political leaders are still mostly men. Unless they fit the mold of a venerable statesman, a bit older and revered (Queen Elizabeth, Margaret Thatcher, Golda Meir, Hillary Clinton), political women are easily targeted. Especially if they are young, beautiful, and opinionated.
  • Movie representations of leaders are still mostly male. Women are now able to take charge, but they only seem to succeed if they are just as "macho" as a man (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Kickass, Colombiana) - they can physically fight, shoot and kill.
Often the debate over women's rights takes place among women and becomes transformed into a kind of "mommy war" between the "stay-at-home" or "helicopter" moms and the ones who work outside the home. (Never mind the elitist nature of the debate, since most women can't afford this.)

A good example is the scathingly critical blog post career blogger Penelope Trunk wrote a about Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, who stated that women are held back by their lack of ambition.

I am a devoted fan of Trunk's work, but unfortunately what is positive about it is also a negative. That is, Penelope Trunk offers a very cold and objective few of the facts (helpful) without much appreciation for the social context in which they occur or the psychological impact of her advice (not helpful). Thus she has at various times encouraged women not to report sexual harassment and also defended domestic violence.

Trunk wrote:
"She (Sandberg) encourages women to have ambition...but very, very few women would choose to do this after they have kids….the New York Times profile of Sandberg shows her surrounded by men who are only marginally involved in raising their kids.
"Obama, for instance, is shown kissing her on the cheek. At that moment, presumably, Michelle Obama was with his kids....she has confessed to screaming at him that she didn’t sign up to be a single mother."
It is important to untangle the flaws in Trunk's logic because her blog relies on the kind of false assumptions that keep women from being ambitious in the career sense.
  1. Myth: Ambition is masculine. Fact: Ambition is neither unfeminine or feminine.
  2. Myth: Parenthood is a mother's job. Fact: Parenthood is a shared responsibility.
  3. Myth: Having help with childcare means that a mother isn't up to the task of mothering. Fact: Childcare is a huge responsibility and obtaining help is a sign of maturity.
  4. Myth: Working outside the home is a way of shirking the duties of a mother. Fact: Working outside the home is a necessity for most, can benefit a mother's health, and demonstrates fiscal responsibility.
  5. Myth: Women are equal to men and should make decisions without regard to social status. Fact: Women are still very unequal and have to take an array of factors into account that are unique to gender status.
For my part, I think about equality more than I want to. But at the same time, I can't turn away from the headlines. Numerous issues are unresolved: contraception, abortion, sexual assault, domestic violence, eating disorders, female genital mutilation, rape as a war crime, human trafficking, child marriage, and more.

When it comes to personal branding, which is really a way of formulating and reformulating your identity, it is critical to have an image in your mind of what success would look like. If you (female or male) are constantly negating that image of success, or even your right to have that image of success, how will you ever achieve anything?

Personal branding results from activity. But to successfully change your life, you first have to change your mind.

Have a good day everyone, and good luck!