Did you brush your teeth this morning? What about yesterday?
It seems like a pretty normal habit now, but as it turns out, Americans didn’t regularly use toothpaste to clean their teeth until Pepsodent came along in the 1930’s.
Pepsodent wanted to be more than just another product on the market, so they called on Claude Hopkins to help elevate their marketing strategy.
Hopkins poured over dental books, looking for clues on how to frame Pepsodent as a useful product for consumers. Eventually, he came across the word that changed the game: plaque.
Hopkins decided to describe plaque as ‘tooth film’ to appeal to his less technical audience, knowing how important it is to speak to your audience in their language.
Feeling this film on your teeth can be unpleasant and concerning. Everyone wants to be at their best, and feeling like your mouth is unclean can be stressful.
There is a visceral, emotional response.
Realizing that people have an emotional connection to looking good, Hopkins decided to frame Pepsodent as a vanity product (i.e. using Pepsodent results in more beautiful teeth).
“Note how many pretty teeth are seen everywhere. Millions are using a new method of teeth cleansing. Why would any woman have dingy film on her teeth? Pepsodent removes the film!” (source)
Hopkins used the discomfort people experience when they don’t look their best to make an emotional connection with his audience; why would you choose to look bad when there is a simple solution?
As mediators, you know the importance of an emotional connection.
Speaking on his past as a trial lawyer, Bruce Friedman (Mediator/Arbitrator at JAMS) notes, “We are always looking for the emotional hook on which to hang the case and sway a jury to see the case through that emotional prism. Now science is teaching us that decision-making is actually physical” (source).
That includes the decision to use mediation services!
Since Hopkins revealed his campaign, people have come to see brushing their teeth as a normal daily habit.
And what to call the massive societal shift that formed this habit?
That my friend, is a habit loop.
How Habit Loops Work
No good discussion of habit loops would be complete without mention of Pavlov and Classical Conditioning. It’s a simple example of how cue association works that most people are at least somewhat familiar with.
So Pavlov has this dog. The dog naturally feels a sense of reward when given food. What dog doesn’t? Pavlov starts to ring a bell before giving the dog his meals, and eventually the dog begins to salivate when the bell rings whether food is present or not.
The saliva is evidence that the association between the bell and the food has become solidified; the dog knows that ringing the bell leads to a reward.
A habit loop works in a very similar way. It’s the simple neurological loop at the core of every habit. It consists of a cue, a routine, and a reward. For Pavlov’s dog, the cue is hunger, the routine is ringing the bell and the reward is getting to eat.
In our Pepsodent example above, the cue is feeling the film (that, by the way, naturally exists) on your teeth, the routine is brushing your teeth with Pepsodent, and the reward is a more beautiful smile.
The element that separates classical conditioning and habit loops is craving. Craving the reward – and even the routine itself – propels the loop into a habit that you want to perform over and over again.
You enjoy the minty flavor and the fresh feeling in your mouth when you brush your teeth, so you crave brushing your teeth again in the future. And, the loop continues.
These examples are explained at the individual level to make this complex subject more digestible, but ideally, mediators need to collectively contribute to shifting society from litigation to ADR, not just convincing the individuals they come in contact with.
But, mediators solve a variety of problems, not just one. So can they use this psychological process to their advantage and create a large-scale habit loop like Pepsodent did?
The Problems Mediators Face and How Habit Loops Help
Thanks – in part – to well-known court programs and famous mediation cases, mediation has grown over the last decade as a respected option for solving non-criminal issues.
Forrest Mosten (Author, a thought leader in mediation) notes, “As people become disenchanted with our court systems, and as we become aware of the significant impact that a family breakup has on children, more people are turning to mediation” (source).
Despite this progress, many people are still unaware of their option to use mediation. Or, as Donald Swanson (Attorney at Law at Koley Jessen P.C.) remarks, they believe that “Some types of cases are ill-suited to mediation” (source).
The problem is so prevalent that Mediation Awareness Week was introduced in Ireland – and then across the UK – to share the benefits of mediation with the public.
Litigation is still the first option that pops into most people’s heads, even when they know what mediation looks like.. In modern western countries, the judiciary system is still the go-to for conflict resolution on every scale (from individuals to wars).
This lack of awareness and use of mediation means community support, activity of professional associations, changes in regulations, and strong marketing from individual mediators is vital to continuing the transition of mediation to the default for conflict resolution in society.
As an individual mediator, using marketing techniques properly and working to become more visible to your community helps the transition to mediation by proving your efficacy as a professional, as well as improving general awareness for mediation and how it can be used.
As this transition pushes forward, a habit loop forms, and society further embraces mediation as the go-to, everyone wins. Mediators will enjoy an easier time finding clients, and clients will enjoy a less painful route to dispute resolution.
Unfortunately, as Lee Jay Berman (President of the American Institute of Mediation) suggests, strong marketing techniques are not currently part of most mediators’ repertoire. He notes that many talented mediators come from fields where marketing skills are not taught or needed (source).
"When mediators speak candidly, our daily struggles revolve less around ADR techniques than around understanding the work of effectively marketing and organizing our individual business models…” (source)
Mediators need to learn the right techniques to market themselves effectively.
The goal is to get the general public to have mediation be ‘top of mind’ in the category of conflict resolution.
Top of mind is the same as tip of tongue. It is the first business or type of business you think of when given a cue, and therefore, what you are most likely to recommend to friends and family.
When you see the word car, what is the first brand that comes to mind? Whatever brand just popped into your head is winning when it comes to being top of mind for you.
To get top position in the minds of the public, mediators need to form a strong association with a cue, so that people automatically think about mediation in a positive way when that cue is presented.
This is where the habit loop structure comes in handy.
Cue → Routine → Reward
↖ ← Craving ← ↙
Three pieces of the puzzle are clear:
the craving is having a dispute easily and quickly resolved,
the reward is getting the issue resolved, and;
mediation needs to become the routine that connects people to the reward they crave.
What’s left is finding the right cue to spark the process. And of course, to make sure the whole loop is rewarding enough that people want to relive the experience or recommend it to friends and family.
Make Your Cue Relevant
Tammy Lenski (Author of The Conflict Pivot) advocates for ‘design thinking’ in her approach to mediation. “The first step in design thinking is empathizing — trying to fully understand the experience of the user for whom you are designing”.
The same technique can be used in creating a habit loop.
When marketing yourself as a mediator, it’s important to remember that the services you offer aren’t as important as the experience your clients have and the cue you associate with your business.
If the cue you use isn’t common in a prospect’s environment, no one will ever think about your service.
Take Psychologist Gráinne Fitzsimons who conducted a study on how to get people to eat more fruits and vegetables (source). He paid university students 20 dollars to report what they ate for two weeks.
Half way through the two weeks, they were asked to take part in what they believed to be an experiment from a different researcher. They reviewed public health slogans targeting college students and were asked to provide feedback.
They were shown the slogan more than 20 times to make sure they’d remember.
One group viewed the slogan “Live the healthy way, eat five fruits and veggies a day”, the other saw “Each and every dining-hall tray needs five fruits and veggies a day”.
Both slogans encourage students to eat fruits and veggies, but the second uses the tray as a clear cue. Although students didn’t really like the tray slogan, calling it corny, when they saw the trays in their cafeteria, they remembered it. It spoke to their experience.
As a result, the students who were given the tray cue reported eating significantly more healthy foods the second week, while those who saw the ‘live healthy’ slogan did not change their behaviour.
Without a clear, relevant cue, mediator’s efforts to market their services will not have a strong effect.
So what cue should mediators focus on to build a habit loop in society? After all, litigation is already top of mind for most people when they run into an issue.
Luckily, the advantage is built into the system of mediation. Where courts are busy, drawn-out, and costly, mediation is a faster and more peaceful way to go.
For this reason, mediators should build their marketing strategy around their ability to alleviate the stress and frustration people feel when they attempt to solve an issue in the courts, rather than marketing their ability to solve the issue itself.
The stress of the situation is what remains relevant to someone, even if they try other avenues first. It’s also common to people who need to resolve all kinds of disputes.
Think about it this way:
Bob and Brenda Baker decide it’s time to get a divorce. Both Bob and Brenda want things to settle quickly and amicably, but they never seem to be able to agree on anything.
Tensions are especially high because they need to decide on a custody arrangement for their son, Billy Baker.
Bob and Brenda start looking for lawyers to represent their respective cases. But, when they hear how much it will cost to settle their dispute in court, they realize it isn’t a practical solution for their issues. They start looking for other options.
Just when they start to lose hope, Bob and Brenda hear about Millie Mediator who sounds like she is describing their exact situation. She talks about how the frustration, time lost, and cost makes going through the court system a bad option for most people.
She shows them how mediation is perfect for their situation.
But, Millie’s brother, Matthew Mediator, who markets his business as an easy solution to a variety of problems, and even specializes in custody disputes, never came up on Bob and Brenda’s radar. This is because the dispute cued the routine of looking for a lawyer first, not a mediator.
It was feeling frustrated at the realization that litigation wasn’t a practical option that cued Bob and Brenda to look for other options. This is what Millie connected to.
Putting it in these terms may sound silly, but hopefully it illustrates just how important it is to get the cue right.
Dan Simon (Transformative Mediator) actually has a perfect example of how mediators can frame this type of situation in his blog article: How Does Divorce Mediation Work? He introduces the topic by saying:
“The decision to get a divorce and the proceedings that follow can be emotionally—and financially—draining. When the initial decision is made, most believe their only option is to hire a lawyer and slug it out in court. However, there is a more civil, effective, and economically viable choice: Mediation” (source).
Note how he elicits the emotional cue rather than focusing on the problem itself. You’re already feeling drained; courts are more draining, check out this other option.
Forrest Mosten (Author, Mediator and Collaborative Attorney) also talks about emotional stress in the introduction to his divorce mediation services. “Mr. Mosten and his trained and caring staff will focus on your goals and personal needs while controlling costs and emotional stress” (source).
Only then does he go on to talk about the specifics of his business and the kinds of clients he normally helps.
It is the stress, anger, and frustration that mediators must connect with.
Join a Community, Become Visible
So, what does the final habit loop look like for mediators?
The cue is the stress, anger, and frustration that people feel when they aren’t sure how they can resolve a difficult situation.
The routine is using a mediator to quickly and cost effectively find a solution that both parties can agree to.
The reward is having the dispute resolved.
And the craving is knowing there is an easier more peaceful solution available when problems occur.
But there is more mediators can do to make this system work for them.
As Lee Jay Berman suggests, “mediation is unlike other professions because it is a relatively young profession, so it's not like the practice of law, where passing an exam and becoming licensed open myriad opportunities” (source).
So, if you want to encourage the industry to mature, you need to become part of a community of mediators working toward building this habit loop in society.
One mediator can influence a few people to change their perspective, but a community of mediators providing the same message to the public can create a social shift that will normalize the use of mediation.
Another benefit of joining or building a community is having a base of people who know who you are and the type of results that you’re capable of achieving, which builds trust and leads to repeat business.
And as Who’s Who Legal suggest in their Mediation 2015: Trends article, “Repeat business drives many established mediation practices, and as bigger corporations become more amenable to this form of ADR, there is an opportunity for practitioners to mediate a case in one discipline and subsequently receive work in another”.
If you’re part of a community that is visible to prospects, when the cue occurs, you can be right there like Millie Mediator, speaking to the needs of individuals looking for help.
The next step? Building a comprehensive marketing strategy for your mediation business with the habit loop in mind. Be sure to watch out for the next article to get tips on how to build a strategy that works for you.
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For now, let me know what you think.
Are habit loops something you had heard about before? Do you already have ideas how you can fit them into your marketing strategy? What is your current marketing strategy?