Habit is the latest buzzword in Consumer Web. Habituated users have made Facebook, Twitter and recently Pinterest wildly successful. Who needs to be reminded to visit Facebook? (I know folks who are trying to break that habit!)
Although virality got all the attention when E-mail became popular, it was the habit of checking E-mail several times a day that made E-mail the dominant choice for business communication, giving the founders of Blackberry a killer application.
Habits have existed for a long time in other domains especially consumer goods where we’re molded through advertising into forming habits such as – oil or shampoo your hair every day, or use a fabric softener after a detergent, or pour Dettol every week into your sinks, and many such promoted ‘good habits’ that ensure frequent and lifelong use of a product.
Consumer research defines a ‘habit’ as a learned response that becomes automatic by repetition. The word ‘response’ is important. We respond to an existing human need. For example, for many years Coke was the learned response to thirst in the US. Similarly, habitually checking your Facebook or Twitter account is a response to an underlying need for social validation (of the stuff you post), and an underlying curiosity to compare, observe and learn from the behavior (posts) of others who matter in your world. Communicating with others is interesting, entertaining, and strangely satisfying. We learned that Facebook can be used to easily respond to this existing need.
The next wave of entrepreneurs will need to isolate – a. the underlying need that their product targets, b. the existing response and the response to be learned, and c. the benefits of repeated use.
Don’t confuse habit with another five letter word – loyal. Loyal users and habituated users are different beasts. Let the SaaS and e-commerce folks chase brand loyalty, while the content, curation and UGC folks chase habits.