Research probes behavioral streaks’ impact on consumer activity
Don Gorske of Wisconsin ate at least one Big Mac every day for 39 years. Mark Covert of California ran at least one mile every day for 45 years. Dick Coffee attended 781 straight University of Alabama football games.
These examples suggest the desire to maintain a streak can be a powerful influence on behavior. Two Clemson University researchers are examining how businesses might leverage this knowledge to benefit their bottom lines.
Danny Weathers, associate professor, and Andy Poehlman, assistant professor of marketing in Clemson’s College of Business, said their research suggests that streaks differ from habits or rituals in terms of how they are learned, the role of goals, and their motivational impact on future behavior. Consequently, streaks, habits, and rituals affect future behavior in different ways.
“Habits or routines generally involve minimal effort. However, streaks require more than just minimal effort, and they often require overcoming obstacles,” Weathers said. “No one brags about a streak of brushing their teeth every day, but running a mile every day requires more effort. You have to run in bad weather and through illness to maintain the streak. Past behavior compels future behavior, whereas this is less likely to occur for routine behaviors such as brushing your teeth.”
Further, Weathers said that a streak’s schedule must be determined by something external to the person. “The person doesn’t set the schedule, something or someone else does. It’s often determined by the calendar – daily, weekly, yearly – but it could also be determined by someone else, such as an athletic team’s schedule.”
Though the researchers’ study didn’t delve into what motivates streaks, Weathers did say there are several reasons why they become part of a person’s everyday life.
“For some, it borders on a behavioral disorder in that the person needs, or desires, repetition. Or, it could be related to a person’s ego and wanting to be one up on others. Then, there are those who use streaks to define themselves socially,” Weathers said.
The research found there is a relationship between streaks and intentions to continue that behavior in the future, and that’s where businesses become interested in a person’s behavioral streak, Weathers said.
“If businesses know you have a streak, informing or reminding you of this may be the incentive you need to purchase again. And these days, businesses can easily track your past behavior through loyalty programs, credit cards, or requiring you to log into a web site. If you have a streak of buying coffee from a local coffee shop once a week for nine straight weeks, but you haven’t yet purchased coffee during the tenth week, the coffee shop could send you an email pointing out that your streak is about to end. Or perhaps you’re about to reach a milestone of, say, 30 weeks. To the extent that the person is influenced by streaks, this might be enough to get them into your shop.”
Though Weathers said Gorske’s Big Mac streak and Covert’s running streak are extreme, they are examples of how streaks influence future behavior.
“There is so much potential for businesses to communicate with people who have behavioral streaks, be they extreme, or to a lesser degree, such as those who unknowingly purchase a product over a period of time,” Weathers said. “Retailers can use the opportunity to motivate the consumer to continue their streak, or simply make them aware they have a streak going. So, it’s not just about buying more product, it’s playing to the importance a consumer may put on the streak itself.”
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