7 Tips for Building a Habit-Forming Business

March 12, 2017 | Published by | Leave your thoughts

Using the power of habits to make your business irresistible to your customers.

Right off the bat, NO, this post is not about businesses that sell porn, cigarettes, alcohol, cannabis or any other addictive substance. Addictions are BAD. They ruin lives and wreck families. So, if your business is into those things, this post is NOT about you or for you.

First, a little overview on habits.

In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg talks about how humans, and most animals, use automatic behavior to make decisions (Duhigg: 2012). These form the many habits, or “hard-wired” behavior, our brains use to cope with uncertainty and over-stimulation. Small, automatic actions, combine with others to form larger habitual behavior and inform decision-making.

Without these mental shortcuts, we could not function. We would constantly be overwhelmed with information if we had to think about every action or everyday decision we make.

So how do habits form?

When we are responding to a stimulus, like when we get hungry, we seek out an action that meets the need. When we find the right action, like eating something, we receive a reward in our brain – a little chemical wonder-drug called dopamine. And dopamine, generally, makes us happy.

Now, when we get hungry, seek food, and find a juicy cheeseburger – we get a lot of dopamine as a reward! And it makes us very happy!

And our brains prioritize the rewards we get. We start to crave things that our brains know is going to give us the larger dopamine boost. So, when we get hungry (the cue or trigger stimulus), we start to crave a cheeseburger and go find one (the routine), and become satisfied and happy (the reward).

Pretty simple, really. And our brains LOVE simple!

Now, sometimes the stimuli gang-up on us, so to speak. For example, we may feel angry at someone or something, or stressed, or depressed. This can combine with another physical sensation such as hunger. There are neurological links between our emotional centers and our hollow organs – which is why negative emotions make us feel gurgly in our bellies. Our brains also know that the cure for Gurgly Belly Syndrome is a double-cheeseburger. Therefore, to resolve the tension while we may not be able to deal with our emotional stress directly, we can eat!

Source: Duhigg, C. (2012). The Power of Habit. New York: Random House.
Illustration ©2017 Jon C. Wretlind.

It is a shortcut.

So, the cue becomes our stressful thoughts and feelings – we no longer use eating to address merely our hunger, but we use it to address the other stresses too. This can lead to over-eating or binge-eating (or many other behaviors).

In order to prevent us from becoming addicted to food like a drug, we need to replace the habit of over-eating. Since we cannot replace the cue (becoming angry or depressed) or the reward (the happy-making chemicals our brain produces automatically), we can replace the routine.

Source: Duhigg, C. (2012). The Power of Habit. New York: Random House.
Illustration ©2017 Jon C. Wretlind.

To be an effective replacement, however, the new routine must provide the same-or-better reward. Otherwise, until our brain becomes accustomed to linking the new routine with the old cue, we will naturally fight and resist the new routine.

This is why it is often necessary to rely on social support (positive pressure – another shortcut) to help us maintain the new routine for the amount of time needed to replace the old one – usually between 20 to 40 days for most of us. For many, replacing the routine of over-eating with diet and exercise is only truly effective long-term if there is good social support from friends, family or a support group.

Great. Habits, Shortcuts…. How does this relate to my business?

Even if you don’t sell cheeseburgers, quite a bit, actually.

(If you DO sell cheeseburgers, send me a connection on LinkedIn or Facebook or something. I want to get to know you better!)

We use habitual behavior to help us analyze problems and make decisions regularly. It isn’t the only type of shortcut we use – we rely on social proof, reciprocation, commitment and others – but, just as our brains gravitate to previously-learned behaviors in the everyday decisions we make, we also do the same with the larger decisions.

How does this work?

Well, think about your business “pain points.” What are the big issues that seem tough to tackle and cause you a ton of stress? How do you go about solving them?

Well, you used to pick up the Yellow Pages and the phone. Now, you Google it. Or you go on social media. Or you email a colleague.

This is the beginning of the “customer journey.”

Illustration ©2017 Jon C. Wretlind.

The typical customer will go through a process, much like a funnel, to solve their problem. We know this process well, because we all do it. (Think about how you select a fresh cantaloupe. You might select a cantaloupe – I can’t stand the things… but I digress.)

The stages are, generally:

  • Searching for options.
  • Evaluating information at hand.
  • Deciding how much to commit, and to whom.

You’ve probably seen this before.

Navigating this process is different for various types of customers and decision-makers. However, the process itself is engaged using habitual behavior like the ones mentioned above. You might think of each habit like a kind of ritual or ceremony they perform.

Whatever floats your boat.

Anyway, the real trick here is to know your best potential customers well enough that you can effectively target each stage of the journey with a personalized high-quality approach, addressing each habit along the way with a better option than what they have been relying-on previously.

For example: Many businesspeople know in this era of social media, blogging and inbound marketing, that content is king. But providing really great content is not easy! It takes a ton of work to do well, and most businesses are in the business of doing other things – like running their business.

So the pain-point is that they don’t really have the time or ability to keep coming up with great content or blogging, or making videos, or eBooks, or webinars, or whatever-fad-comes-along.

So how does the hip and with-it businessperson address that pain-point?

Well, often they think they have to do it themselves anyway, because who really knows their business like them? And, while they have a point there, there are whole disciplines of “content creators” like freelance writers, graphic artists and others who would really love to help.

Professionals who know how to solve that problem with high-quality work.

Unfortunately, many of businesspeople are taught by other marketers to “curate” content or use apps to quickly throw together (boring) infographics.

(These marketing-guru-folk also tend to sell that stuff. And more than 22% of businesses are dissatisfied with the performance of their content-marketing efforts. Huh.)

What the businessperson using this stuff ends up with is:

  • Boring. (Did I mention that before?)
  • Uninformed.
  • Unclear.
  • The same exact content everyone else uses.
  • Not relevant to their own customers.
  • Not really relevant to their own business at all!

So if your business, like mine, happens to specialize in creating killer-content, what do you do to create a better replacement habit?

7 Tips for Building a Habit-Forming Business

  1. You get to know your customers.
  2. You curate THEM! By getting to know certain market segments well.
  3. You take the time to engage them one-on-one.
  4. You hand-craft content that no one else has!
  5. You find ways to deliver personalized connections with your potential customers at each stage of their decision-making process.
  6. You get excited about your customers’ businesses and become their cheerleaders!
  7. You make your customers feel like kings and queens of the world!

But I would bet that if you were to do these 7 things, your business in whatever industry you work, would become truly habit-forming. In a good way!

Many businesses can follow the same model, because it really is just what we used to do naturally before the age of mass-produced media content. We get to know people, genuinely care about them, build trust and connect. Humans are made to connect with each other! We just seem to have forgotten that with all our shiny new gadgets and tech.

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This post was written by jcwretlind

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