Pull the Trigger – how brands can use the power of habit

Pull the Trigger - how brands can use the power of habit
Pull the Trigger - how brands can use the power of habit

Often we would like to attribute to ourselves a much more rational buying behaviour than science or textbooks would lead us to believe. We consider ourselves independent, in-control, uninfluenceable. Triggers - small environmental impulses - demonstrate how wrong we are. This article aims to show how companies can use the power of habitual triggers to create an incredibly stable context for brand consumption.

Implicit remembrance: Should we drink less Corona beer in the times of Coronavirus?

"Never," some might say. But the reality may be different.

"Corona brewer AB Inbev expects profits to plummet because of the Coronavirus" said a recent Handelsblatt article. In the fourth quarter of 2019, the profit of China's strongly represented beer producers by 5.5%. Analysts reckoned with only 1.9% Profit collapse, the Handelsblatt continued.

The extent of triggers on our buying behavior may be too little in this calculation to have attracted attention, as we can learn from the following quote:

Triggers are like little environmental reminders for related concepts and ideas.

Jonah Berger, Contagious

NASA accidentally helped sell candy bars.

The trigger name equivalence was also given to chocolate bar manufacturer Mars, only in reversed form. Mars bars were named after the NASA Mars Pathfinder in 1997, which was named after the neighbouring planet of our Earth, Mars. The outer space explorer experienced long-lasting media attention. Over approximately the same period, the company had an unusual increase in sales of the Mars candy bar--Without increasing the marketing budget. Things could be worse.

The [...] increased exposure to the word “Mars” made shoppers implicit memory of the eponymously named candy bar more accessible as they scanned choices of treats in the candy aisle.

Debra L. Stephens Essentials of Consumer Behaviour

Habit Trigger - how a copywriter gives us dental hygiene with Pepsodent.

Jonah Berger describes triggers as environmental reminders that remind us of ideas, related concepts - or even brands and products. A reminder can be pretty much anything.

  • One time in the morning at 09:30 a.m. reminds us of our Knoppers, the

  • KitKat, „A breaks best friend“, besetzt den Trigger Kaffeepause, also bestimmte Anlässe, mit dem Konsum des Schokoriegels

  • An inner perception leads us to quickly approve a Snickers. "You're not yourself when you're hungry."

So many brands are already doing it. They use the power of triggers. And often they have one thing in common: They link existing triggers with new behaviours, in the best case the consumption of their own product. Few brands reach the next level: to identify new triggers and form habits linked to them.

We need to create new links to prevalent triggers.

Jonah Berger Contagious

Claude Hopkins did the latter. At the beginning of the 20th century, the advertising copywriter confronted consumers with a simple advertising message on his posters: "Just run your tongue across your teeth". People responded to this request intuitively. They ran their tongue across their teeth. And they noticed: Yes, there is a coating. And yes, there is a solution: Pepsodent. For bright white teeth.

You’ll feel a film – that’s what makes your teeth look ‘off color’ and invites decay.


Habits can be illustrated as a trigger-routine reward loop, inspired by Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit.

Claude Hopkins thus used a mechanism that journalist and non-fiction writer Charles Duhigg used in his understanding of habits as illustrating a trigger routine reward loop. The trigger was the perception of the plaque through the requested tongue movement. By implicitly remembering the Pepsodent brand, Hopkins then formed a new routine - that of brushing teeth. The reward: white teeth and that pleasant feeling of freshness in the mouth. Completely without plaque. A habit was born. The number of regular toothbrushes increased dramatically within a decade.

Duhigg further explains the real power of habits by saying that our brain activity does not increase when the reward is given. Instead, our brain anticipates them as it learns to recognize the connections between trigger, routine and reward. This makes habits behaviors that take place in a very stable context [based on Bas Verplanken, time]. Virtually on autopilot. And this autopilot can simultaneously create an extremely durable recurring framework for brand consumption and loyalty.

A dynamic environment - questioning old triggers, identify new ones.

We encounter these small impulses, the environmental reminders, almost everywhere without being aware of them. According to a study by Duke University, North Carolina, about 40% of our actions are based on the power of habit. So most of our activities are done on autopilot. We don't question the triggers that precede our routines. Everything is designed to take the pressure off the brain. It is, therefore, all the more important that brands identify these triggers and use them to form new routine reward loops.

We take this task as both a challenge and opportunity in an increasingly dynamic world. Because the way we consume, interact, cooperate or move around has changed fundamentally. We are replacing old habits with new ones, discarding existing life concepts, experiencing new triggers that need to be managed. Often in a completely new context. Therefore, brands must constantly check existing triggers, and question whether a trigger and its context are still valid or whether new triggers need to be identified. This is the opportunity to reclaim the power of habit. Pull the Trigger.