By Charles Duigg, EscapeFromCubicleNation.com
When starting a business, attracting customers and making sales is a huge priority. It is so exciting to see orders roll in, and people begin to talk about you online.
But in order to build a solid business, you need to go far beyond initial sales — you have to create a connection and a relationship that lasts over time.
Charles Duhigg, New York Times reporter and author of the bestselling book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business is my special guest author for today’s post. He goes so far as to say that you can make a product into a habit.
How do you make a product into a habit?
That question has bedeviled entrepreneurs and marketers for eons. Everyone knows that once they make their product into a habit – part of a customer’s daily routine, an automatic reaction – it becomes a best-seller. When we start shaving every day, checking our email automatically or wiping the counter after every use, that’s when companies sell us razor blades, smartphones and paper towels.
But how does it happen?
To understand how products become habits, consider the case of how America developed a toothbrusing habit, and in particular how one toothpaste – Pepsodent – became one of the world’s most popular brands.
In the early 1900s, a prominent American businessman named Claude C. Hopkins was approached by an old friend with an amazing new creation: a minty, frothy toothpaste named “Pepsodent” that, the friend promised, was going to be huge.
Hopkins, at the time, was one of the nation’s most famous advertising executives. He was the ad man who had convinced Americans to buy Schlitz beer by boasting that the company cleaned their bottles “with live steam” (while neglecting to mention that every other company used the same method). He had seduced millions of women into purchasing Palmolive soap by proclaiming that Cleopatra had washed with it, despite the sputtering protests of outraged historians.
But Hopkins’ greatest contribution would be helping to create a national toothbrushing habit. Before Pepsodent, almost no Americans brushed their teeth. A decade after Hopkins’ advertising campaigns, pollsters found that toothbrushing had become a daily ritual for more than half the population. Everyone from Shirley Temple to Clark Gable eventually bragged about a “Pepsodent smile.”
I discovered the story of Claude Hopkins a few years ago while reporting my book, The Power of Habit, which explores the science of habit formation. Today, Hopkins is almost totally forgotten. He shouldn’t be. Hopkins was among the first to elucidate principles that even now influence how video games are designed, public health campaigns are managed and that explain why some people effortlessly exercise every morning, while others can’t pass a box of doughnuts without automatically grabbing a jelly-filled cruller.
So, how did Hopkins start America brushing?
By taking advantage of a quirk in the neurology of habits. It wouldn’t be until almost a century later that medical schools and psychology labs would fully understand why habits exist and how they function. Today, we can create and change habits almost like flipping a switch.
But there are historical outliers who seemed to intuit or stumble into these insights before anyone else. Hopkins created a tooth brushing habit by identifying a simple and obvious cue, delivering a clear reward and —most important —by creating a neurological craving.
And craving, it turns out, is what powers a habit.
When Hopkins signed on to promote Pepsodent, he realized he needed to find a trigger for its daily use. He sat down with a pile of dental textbooks. “It was dry reading,” he later wrote in his autobiography. “But in the middle of one book I found a reference to the mucin plaques on teeth, which I afterward called ‘the film.’
“That gave me an appealing idea,” he wrote. “I resolved to advertise this toothpaste as a creator of beauty.”
Soon, cities were plastered with Pepsodent ads. “Just run your tongue across your teeth,” read one. “You’ll feel a film—that’s what makes your teeth look ‘off color’ and invites decay.”
“Note how many pretty teeth are seen everywhere,” read another. “Millions are using a new method of teeth cleansing. Why would any woman have dingy film on her teeth? Pepsodent removes the film!”
All habits — no matter how large or small — have three components, according to neurological studies. There’s a cue, a trigger for a particular behavior; a routine, which is the behavior itself; and a reward, which is how your brain decides whether to remember a habit for the future.