In The Power of Habit, New York Times writer Charles Duhigg reveals a fundamental truth: “When a habit emerges, the brain stops fully participating in decision making…so unless you fight a habit–unless you find new routines–the pattern will unfold automatically.”

Such is still the challenge for so many brands today with their digital marketing investment. Planning a year’s worth of media and creative follows a comfortable pattern of brief-to-boards (traditional TV, that is) in lieu of integrated planning across paid, owned, earned and shared media. All because of the ingrained habits of agencies and marketers alike–whose brains have shut down and fallen back on what’s familiar.

To be sure, old habits die hard. Whether it’s smoking cigarettes, or biting your nails, or visiting the freezer each night for a bowl of ice cream. Brand planning is no different. To change these habits, we must become more self-aware and understand the three phases of Duhigg’s habit loop:

Cue: the trigger that tells your brain to go on auto-pilot
Routine: the actions you take
Reward: the satisfaction that results after a routine is completed

the-habit-loop2Apply this model to traditional brand planning, and you get something like this:

Cue: “Time to plan for 2013.”
Routine: Consumer Insight. Brief. TV Boards. Bolt on everything else.
Reward: Job security. Business as usual.


This planning habit is the root cause of why so much digital marketing today is uninspired–and worse–fails to move the needle. Brands struggle to do better by their digital investment and still deliver on their financial goals under this routine.

To effect real change, marketers must form a new planning habit to replace the old one. They must demonstrate leadership and have the willpower to deliberately fight this habit. They must find a new routine before the same pattern unfolds again, and challenge their partners to work differently. For example:

Cue: “Time to plan for 2013.”
Routine: Consumer insight. Brief. Integrated planning. Integrated activation
Reward: A big idea that connects across the connected media landscape


You have the power to change old habits! Resolve to start a new routine!  Take your brief and bring your channel partners together to develop integrated programs that engage consumers across the connected media landscape.

Hurry, before the TV boards show up.

Originally published in iMediaConnection:

Shaun Quigley is VP, Digital Practice Director for Brunner. Follow him @squigster.

Illustration style courtesy charlesduhigg.com

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