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The secret sauce to behavior change: Rituals

Changing behaviors doesn’t come easy. Whether you’re trying to get to the gym more often or upping your game in the office, it takes time and discipline. Tucked within the discipline is the secret sauce and it’s all based in either building or breaking down your rituals.

In the world of smoking cessation the model had always been to go all in at once. Whether cold turkey or with help, it was to jump in with two feet and quit. We discovered over time it was better to meet consumers where they were, and giving them small but meaningful wins helped build momentum for the big quit attempt. Even if the win was changing one ritual for one day. For some smokers those rituals were a morning coffee or an after-dinner smoke. To address the rituals, we created a promotional effort called “mini-quits.” We know in tobacco control that it takes 8-12 quit attempts to quit successfully. So these mini-quits built up to a larger promotion called the QuitCash Challenge: Registrants quit for a month to be eligible to win a large prize (in this case, $5,000). By all measures the promotion has been very successful and the model has been repeated for several years.

This model doesn’t only apply to tobacco control. You can apply it to almost anything. Think about it, you walk by the vending machine and you swear the Snickers bar is staring right at you. It’s not, but the voice in your head is telling you otherwise. That voice, the craving or temptation, lasts about 5 minutes according to psychologists. Resist for that five minute urge and repeat that behavior and you’re building new rituals. You can apply this “start small and build momentum” strategy to almost anything. Fitness training, healthier eating, recycling more, volunteering in your community, the list goes on.

One of my online coaches, Rob Hatch of Owner Media, uses a strategy he calls putting success in your way. It’s a ritual-based strategy and goes like this. Rob, a runner and triathlete, places his tennis shoes by his bed so that when he wakes up it’s the first thing he sees. Seeing the shoes reminds him that he needs to get out on the trail first thing. For me, I put my laptop on my dining room table each night. Doing so tells me in the morning to quickly check email and the schedule for my day. It helps me prioritize my day and prevents me from sitting down with my first cup of coffee and getting lost on my phone in social posts or the morning news.

Our client in Colorado Springs – Cheyenne Mountain Zoo – has a similar philosophy. When it comes to sustainability, they accept people for where they are on the sustainability continuum and just ask that they do a little more. Not a lot. Just a little and then build from there.

As marketers we often look to educate our audiences on the emotional and functional benefits that our products and services offer. The second step in that process is to activate. Activate is the perfect place for your brand to work on building rituals or breaking bad rituals. Promotional models are just one way to make that come to life in a meaningful way. If you’d like help building a model that would work for you, just give us a call.

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