#1 The Habit EngineeringSM Mission

As marketing researchers in the pharmaceutical industry, it has been widely accepted that our task is to understand health care ‘decision-making.’ Whether through direct questioning or through quantitative attribute ratings, much of our research strives to understand the drivers and barriers that govern a customer’s seemingly conscious, deliberate decisions so that we as researchers can provide the marketers with guidance on influencing that decision.

We at ThinkGen believe that this premise is fundamentally flawed, simply because our customers are, for the most part, not making deliberate decisions, per se. Instead, customers’ actions are governed substantially by habit: automatic ‘auto-pilot’ behaviors large and small that are executed with little conscious thought.

Habit is a powerful force in behavior. Research shows that more than half of peoples’ actions during a typical day are habitual – the route we drive to work, the coffee shop that we frequent, etc. There are good habits: going to the gym and eating healthy food. And there are bad habits, like smoking. As we will demonstrate, habits also are operative in professional – including medical – settings: a physician encounters a specific symptom presentation, and she instinctively writes her ‘go-to’ product that she has been writing for 20 years. We have started studying this closely.

Given the significant role of habit in our day-to-day actions, we can discern two forms of thinking: executive and habitual. Executive thinking is utilized when we encounter new situations or complex problems, and involves intellectual effort, memory and/or problem-solving. Habitual thinking, on the other hand, is akin to ‘auto-pilot.’ It is the type of thinking that ranges from governing more significant tasks without much thought, such as driving, to thoughtlessly starting to pan through our Instagram photos between meetings.

Changing or disrupting habits, or creating new habits is difficult. Marketers know this well, but they just haven’t thought about it this way. As part of this series, we intend to provide insights to pharmaceutical marketers and marketing researchers into how to study habits, how to differentiate between what is habitual vs. executive thinking, how to measure the force of habit (i.e., ‘habit strength’) and ultimately how to influence habits (leverage, change or disrupt). We will be providing an ongoing set of case studies that will demonstrate the significance of habits, or will exhibit where companies have effectively created new habits, or broken habits that stand in the way of their products’ success.

Ultimately, we feel strongly that this is an important new paradigm we are pioneering in this industry, and we look forward to your joining us on this journey!

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