tying your shoelaces differently can help you achieve market domination

How tying your shoelaces differently can help you achieve market domination

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Maybe you’ve already found it. A small gem from Ted’s incredibly rich inspiration archives. A short video of Terry Moore explaining that for centuries, we have tied our shoelaces wrong. If not, watch it first and then return to this post.

The bottomline ? Small changes in our behaviour can bring (significant) benefits. And here’s how understanding the underlying dynamics can help you innovate more succesfully.

Most business success stems from innovation. And innovations always require people to change their behaviour (a little). But we hardly ever adapt those changes to reap the benefits. Or it takes ages, as happens with the shoelace tying technique. I doubt whether 1% of the 3,840,534 viewers of the video has changed their behaviour. So if we understand why we resist changing our behaviour we might find a way to influence that and use it to achieve world/market domination. I think of this as ’creating buzzable behaviour’.


To understand why we find it so hard to change our habits you need not look further than the book ‘Power of Habit’. We are all animals of habit. Caught in ‘habit loops’. Trigger, habit, reward. Quick & dirty summary of the book: as the trigger will still occur and you still crave the reward, you need to replace the habit. With which one ? Yours obviously.

I have come across two ways to actually go about doing this. There is a deeper, more difficult path with greater conversion ratios and sustainability and an easier route which will get you some quicker returns.

Disruptive Fun Therapy. If you watch the Bottle Bank video first you’ll understand intuitively what this approach is all about.

You create a fun, disruptive (deviates from normal patterns) experience which teases people to try a different habit. It shakes up your thinking: Hey, changing my habit to a new one is actually not so hard and could be fun ! It works by boosting the actual benefit (get healthier by taking the stairs) through fun additions such as entertainment, storytelling, games. And by lowering the barrier of trying (the cost for the user).

This is a great tool to use when your product or proposition (habit) that you would like to take the place of an existing habit (product) is not too complex, engrained in culture or otherwise ‘big’. Say change your breakfast from bread to a fluid equivalent with cereals. At Buzzer, we created hundreds of ‘BuzzTools’ with similar mechanics that helped consumers discover products and change their consumption patterns.

Customer Transformation. To understand this route, check out the video first.

This is the big one. You need vision, conviction, business cojones to travel this path. Like Google and/or any seriously ambitious startup wanting to become Google. The aim of this is to change your customer. Literally. Make him/her a different person. And the way to do it is to invest heavily in teaching, coaching, supporting your customer to adapt new behaviour. Ask yourself: what were we before we became Googlers ? We were Yellow Pagers. Time Atlassers.


Michael Schrage convincingly describes how Google and other companies focused on changing their target audience’s behaviour through education, not traditonal marketing. Google took us by the hand and transformed us to expect accurate search results in 0.00012 seconds. It helped us discover and adopt a new habit, routine to replace the old one. And take that as the norm. Reaching the holy grail of marketing: loyalty.

A year ago, I designed a customer transformation path for an international financial institution. After great initial enthusiasm and 6 months of creating the first building blocks, the project halted. The company did not have the longer term vision or stamina to pull it trough. We should have gone for the less ambitious road.

bananapeelI am currently teaching my youngest daughter Mae to open up bananas the right way. She’s picking it up slowly but held back by all the other people doing it wrong. I estimate that it will take a few generations to get large groups to adapt this. I am thinking about a Fun Therapy technique that will speed this up.

before after 3Most companies convince themselves that traditional advertising will do the trick. “Exercise with our Absolute Abdominal Apparat 20 minutes each week and you will have 200% more energy”. This assumes that the lure (promise of the benefit) is sufficient to adapt a new routine (exercise). But the cost (machine, changing your schedule, finding a place for it, exercising, muscle aches etc.) is not addressed.

book herdOf course, people are changing their behaviour all the time without any apparent use of the two methodologies. But then we confuse ‘changing behaviour’ with ‘copying behaviour’. In ‘Herd’ Mark Earls explains how strong our copying tendencies are. But people can only start copying behaviour once others have changed theirs, right ?

To get the benefits from innovations people need to change their behaviour. This is difficult. To speed up the process you can apply at last two different techniques, suitable for smaller innovations and quicker wins or for more radical innovations and greater gains.

If you know of other approaches or good examples, let me know !

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2 Comments Added

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  1. kazania online June 3, 2014 | Reply
    You are my inspiration , I have few blogs and often run out from to post .
  2. Mark December 16, 2014 | Reply
    Thanks for the shout out. Just to respond to you comment about copying only working as a mechanism for change if you've already changed someone's behaviour so that others can copy from it, I think - as is often the case with behaviour change you're missing some of the important things about how behaviours spread through populations and perhaps focussing a bit too much on changing the behaviour of an individuals. Surely the issue for anyone in marketing or policy is not what an individual does but what large numbers of them - a community or population - do? First, it's abundantly clear that things - ideas, feelings, behaviour spread through populations by individuals copying something they see around them - "social learning", in the jargon. we can't help it. We do it from morning to night, from immediately after birth to the day we die. While we'd like to believe otherwise, its very rare than its the unique quality of the thing - the idea, the feeling, the behaviour - that makes it spread; rather, it's the fact that (at least one/some) other people are doing it and that any given individual can see it. In some instances, we copy authoritative or "influential" figures. In others, it's just what folk round here do. Sometimes these choices get embedded as social norms into what we call cultural practices and become invisible (think of the rules we have in Europe for how to lay out the food on a plate); sometimes the choices visible to us are more fluid. Equally, sometimes we copy what seems to be becoming more popular - fashion and style and music and bars and sometimes we seek to avoid what's popular. It varies by context and over time. The truth is for most choices, you can do all the hard work by thinking it through yourself (which is what most behaviour change interventions encourage). Or, you can use the brains and behaviour of those around you to outsource you decision to. This is why the UK Govt. Behavioural Insight Team found that the best way to get people to file their tax returns on time is to manage their perceptions of what others had done ("9 out 10 people like you have already filed..." And there's always someone doing weird shit, if you look hard enough.

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