This morning I went to the kitchen, opened the fridge, grabbed the coffee, pulled the carafe from the coffee brewer, put it under the tap, turned on the water, spun around, opened the cabinet and pulled a coffee filter from the top shelf, spun back round, positioned the filter in the brew basket and scooped in the coffee. By then the perfect amount of water was in the carafe. In one fell swoop, I turned off the tap, poured the water into the brewer, slipped the carafe in place and pushed the start button. Total elapsed time from bed to brewing – less than three minutes. I’m so good.
Total elapsed conscious thoughts about what I was doing – zero. It’s second nature to automatically, effortlessly and thoughtlessly process all the intricate interactions between our brains, bodies, environments and everything else we need to manage, each minute of every day. All this subconscious processing creates the beliefs and habits of our lives – all the things we don’t think about that actually drive us.
A marketer’s job has always been to influence beliefs and change behaviours, which are only possible through a singular capability: better thinking. Ellen Langer, a distinguished Harvard professor of psychology, has devoted much of her life’s work to researching how people think. Her findings point to an obvious, though scarcely appreciated, observation … if we don’t think about our thoughts, we aren’t likely to improve them or to realise insights that make things better. She suggests, “If we open up our minds, a world of possibility presents itself”.
Marketers listen to consumers and watch what they do but often pass up extraordinary opportunities to truly understand why people acquire habits or how they might be inspired to change, even though we know people switch brands, adopt new styles, experiment with products, lose weight and even stop smoking when their habitual thinking is actually swayed. It’s time marketers adopt new habits and change the way we think about how people think.
Remarkably, Langer’s research reveals we can achieve positive changes simply by being more mindful of how we’re thinking. She notes, “It’s a subtle change in thinking although not difficult to make once we realise how stuck we are in culture, language, and modes of thought that limit our potential”. For example, who would have ever thought people would buy shoes online? That is until Zappos made it possible and fun by changing the way we think about free returns.
As Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit says, “If you believe you can change – if you make it a habit – the change becomes real. This is the real power of habit: the insight that your habits are what you choose them to be.” 2 Marketers can choose to be so much better when they make it a habit to go beyond what and discover the power of why.