Measure and analyze habit formation

1. Analyze customer registries and purchase data to identify how frequently habituated users interact with your product and the users you want to target.

Frequency is a major determinant of the likelihood of someone forming a habit. Measure how frequently your product is used over a defined time span. For example, Target uses their Baby Shower Registries and unique shopper codes they assign to each person to identify certain behavioral patterns – like buying lots of lotion and supplements – that indicate pregnancy so that they can target women in their second trimester when they are most likely to begin buying new products.

2. Decide if it is more appropriate to optimize for unprompted or prompted user engagement, based on the frequency that users currently consume your product - and if you can change your users' habits to increase that frequency.

Unprompted user engagement is when users return to purchase a product repeatedly without depending on advertising and messaging, usually because of their habits. Prompted user engagement relies on advertising, search engine optimization, social media, and email messaging to drive customers to a product. For example, if your product is not used within approximately one week, the chances of forming a habit are low. You may then decide to drive customers to your product with advertising and search engine optimization instead of habit-forming.

3. Conduct qualitative research to identify cue-routine-reward loops that are relevant to your product and create a spreadsheet.

The cue that launches routine falls into one of these categories: Time of day Particular place Particular emotion Presence of particular people Ritualized behavior. The reward comes when the routine, launched by the cue, is finished successfully. For example, in a cleaning loop, the cue could be seeing a dirty room, the routine, sweeping and putting away the toys on the ground, the reward, the feeling of pride once the room has been cleaned. Apply user testing and 1-on-1 customer interviews to identify cue-routine-reward loops. Record these loops in a spreadsheet, note the specific cue, routine, and reward, and also how frequently the loop is used.

4. Analyze your spreadsheet of cue-routine-reward loops and identify the two to three loops that are the most relevant to your product.

Develop different messaging and conduct further audience research for each, to understand the existing habit loop. For example, when Febreze conducted qualitative research to analyze existing loops, they realized they could leverage existing cleaning habits instead of creating new ones. They also found that Febreze was most effective as part of the reward. They created new ads, with Febreze as part of the cleaning loop reward, and drastically improved their sales as a result.

5. Add columns to your cue-routine-reward loop spreadsheet that track demographics who purchase your product and their points of habit flexibility.

Collect demographic data from customers using unique shopping codes that track the individual customer’s purchases. Determine the upcoming points of flexibility based on the specific demographic data collected. Points of flexibility include: Entering college Graduating college Changing jobs Moving to a new town Entering a new relationship Getting married Getting divorced Having a baby. Habits are more flexible during times of change. If you can target the right people and time your cue well, your efforts to change habits will be more effective.

6. Evaluate your trigger, action, reward and investment phases to find weaknesses and determine where you need to focus your optimization.

Ask questions like: Is your trigger working? Is your behavior simple enough? Are you addressing the users leads while also leaving them wanting more? Are you getting users to invest in the product to increase the likelihood of them returning in the future?

7. Optimize your trigger, action, reward and investment phases.

Optimize the weakest of the four steps to improve user engagement frequency. For example, you can compress the time it takes visitors to move through each of the steps of an existing habit to increase frequency that they engage with your product. Alternatively, aim to create new habits that send your visitors through those four phases as quickly and as frequently as possible.