Getting Your Customers to Stop Thinking of You

Dr. Art Markman talking about making your company a habit

This week I had the privilege of attending Forrester’s Tech Marketing Roundtable here in Austin, TX. As usual, Forrester put together a great discussion with fellow product marketers and shared some fascinating insights.

Forrester also invited a guest presenter for the discussion, Dr. Art Markman from the University of Texas. Dr. Markman’s topic of discussion was on how to make your company a habit (Side note -keep an eye out for Dr. Markman’s upcoming book,Thinking Smart. Sounds like a great read for Product Marketers.)

Your first question may be, why should you care about your customer’s habits?  Here’s one good reason from Dr. Markman:

In the end, the importance of habits inverts a common wisdom about successful businesses. You may think that you want your customers to think about you often. In fact, you often want your customers to act without thinking.

Customers have habits that involve routines and these routines don’t change easily. This can be a tremendous advantage if you can become part of their natural activities. This also means that if you are trying to replace a competitor’s product or service, you can’t assume that just because you have better features that  a customer will naturally switch.

I can’t think of a better example to this point than Microsoft’s attempt to get people to stop searching on Google and give Bing a try. Microsoft has done an admirable job trying to differentiate their product through design and around certain features (e.g. an innovative travel search) and has launched a multi-million dollar advertising campaign to drive awareness.

The cost of trying to replace a user’s default search? Right now, it  is estimated that Microsoft is losing over $1 billion dollars a quarter with Bing and has only reduced Google’s market share by two-tenths of a percentage point from the 65% it held when Bing debuted.

So, how do you make your company or product a habit?  Here are a few starting points from Dr. Markman:

  • Find your customer’s habits and insert yourself – once you know what they are actually doing you can design for their behavior.
  • Find a way to disrupt existing consumer behavior so they will consider something new – sometimes you need to disrupt their habits in order to get them to consider a new choice.
  • Don’t surprise people when it comes to change, let them know the site changes are coming –  as opposed to Facebook always surprising users with new features.
  • Look for the little things you can do to make your product become a habit – we often point out the big features but it can be the small things that make your product ‘automatic’ in your customer’s minds.
It is worth noting that finding existing habits is not a trivial task. Asking customers what they do will lead you down a different path than what they really are doing. The best advice, “Don’t just do something, stand there and watch” what they are actually doing to gather insights into their product habits.

In the end, finding out what your customers are doing without thinking can help make your product a better experience and make it even harder for competitors to replace you.

5 thoughts on “Getting Your Customers to Stop Thinking of You

  1. Nice post JD. I really like the distinction between “asking” and “watching”. Clay Christensen has been preaching the same message for a while now. From a recent interview he gave with Gigaom 
    ““Jobs are very stable in a sense and don’t change very much,” he said. For example, Julius Caesar used a chariot to get messages across from one city to another. Fed-Ex uses planes and trucks, he said. The job of delivering the packages hasn’t changed; just how it is done has changed.”

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