I was recently speaking to a family member who works for Starbucks. When she started her job she was able to switch between Starbucks, Caribou, and even the office-standard Folgers when she needed to. Her tastes were versatile. Now, after a few years under her belt, she can’t leave home without a package of Starbucks VIA Ready Brew in her pocket because she needs her Starbucks fix. She’s addicted to Starbucks.
This is not an unusual phenomena. With just about anything, as we experience more luxurious offerings we slowly become accustomed to the finer things that they offer. For my friend, she would rather go without the caffeine than subject her tastebuds to the abuse of budget coffee from the big metal can.
That’s the funny thing about addiction. It only moves in one direction, and rarely reverses its course.
The Addict’s Craving
Coffee is addictive. Caffeine is addictive, and many coffee drinkers know that we don’t stand a chance against a well brewed cup of the world’s finest roast. What turns this otherwise normal cup of coffee into something that we crave? There’s more to it than just a few good beans.
In the book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business author Charles Duhigg explains the process of how habits, and addictions are formed. There are three parts to every normal habit.
- The Cue: The action or event that triggers us to perform a behavior automatically.
- The Routine: The behavior itself.
- The Reward: The result of performing the habitual routine.
As it turns out, our mind is perfectly equipped in the art of developing and executing habits, which isn’t necessarily bad. In fact, it is a useful method for conserving brain energy. For example, we’ve have all had the experience of driving home from work without even realizing that we did it until we pulled into the driveway. The reason we were able to do this was because we had made that act of driving a habit. Our mind was able to simultaneously execute the habit, while conserving brain power for a better time.
The Starbucks Habit Loop
So, how do we use this built-in tendency for the advantage of our business? Well for starters, we need to embrace each part of the habit loop, and make it a core part of our product. Just like Starbucks.
The cue is our signal to execute a routine.
For Starbucks, the cue is often the smell. One whiff of coffee in a crowded mall, and we reach for our wallets. Starbucks understands the power of this simple cue. In the early 2000′s when they began introducing prepared food, CEO Howard Schultz became very concerned on the negative effect the smell of food might have on the coffee aroma of the store. The company spent years perfecting cooking techniques before finally offering food. They couldn’t allow the smell of a sandwich to distract from the smell of the coffee. Starbucks knows it’s cue, and works hard to protect it.
The routine is the behavior, and for many, the simple act of ordering a Starbucks creation is almost a reward in itself. Not only does it provide an opportunity to show off our mad coffee skills and make decisions, but it is fun and offers the possibility of surprise. The ambience of the stores is one that is warm, welcoming, and a great reminder of past conversations with friends and enjoyable moments with people that we care about. It is familiar, and comforting. The Starbucks experience is rarely duplicated, and is something that the company fully understands and embraces.
At the end of the day, the reward is always great coffee. Starbucks is known for their commitment to quality beans and roasting techniques. The don’t serve cut-rate coffee and the reward is deeply embedded in the rich flavors and strong aromas. The experience of the product is unique, memorable, and the perfect reward to the habitual routine. Charles Duhigg says that the reward is the most important part of the entire loop. Without it, we are given little reason to execute the routine time and time again. The Starbucks loop works because it is built on a foundation of quality.
Igniting The Habit Loop
The mind of our customers is no different than those of Starbucks customers. We are all pre-programmed to succumb to the habitual loop. In this way, we are all creatures of habit, executing the plan in front of us. The greatest brands of the world have discovered this.
How does your brand embrace this process? Are you taking advantage of this normal human tendency, or are you letting the routine slip away?
Great brands see the habits. They understand that every detail of what they do serves one of these three steps for better or for worse. The cue. The routine. The reward. They are all vital, and they all serve the needs of the addicted customer.