Don’t Let Customers Kick The Habit

May 14, 2012 | blog | By Mike Sullivan

Any kid with a Lemonade stand can explain the sales impact of poor traffic, but something far more complex lies at the heart of the matter. In fact, when it comes to understanding the dynamics behind declining traffic it may take a team of researchers to help sort it out.

In recent years, the study of the neurological processes behind behavior has become a very hot academic field, yielding all sorts of insights about why we humans do the things we do. One of the more important recent findings comes from a Duke University study revealing that habits, rather than conscious decision making, shapes 45 percent of choices. Ponder the marketing implications for just a moment. Perhaps the 19th Century merchant John Wanamaker already had this figured into the equation when he famously quipped, “Half my advertising is wasted, I just don’t know which half.”

Of course, the goal of retail advertising is to drive customers into stores where it is hoped the experience will be delivered in such a way that it will become habitual for the patron. The health of that habit is measured by visit frequency. When traffic counts decline, it’s an obvious problem. But, the stubborn nature of the problem is more fully revealed by additional behavioral research that shows dramatically reduced neural activity while performing habitual routines. That means consumers who have an established short list for restaurants or grocery stores, for example, are literally sleeping through advertisers’ attempts to persuade them.


The findings underscore what many marketers have intuited all along: it’s awfully difficult to change consumers’ habits, and once you’ve got them, it’s critically important to keep them coming back.

A “decline in traffic” is more than a marketing abstraction. It’s living, breathing customers whose habits, for any number of reasons, no longer include your brand.

Shaking awake potential new customers long enough for them to re-examine their habits in favor of something else is the job of advertising. But, if nothing else, this new research illustrates just how vital it is for companies to do all they can to reinforce the habits they’ve spent so much money creating in the first place.

advertisingconsumerscustomer retentionhabitsmarketingstore traffic

Mike Sullivan

President at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency


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