Our knowledge about the world constantly updates as we are exposed to new stimuli and as we receive ongoing feedback that allows us to modify our behavior when we find ourselves in similar situations at a later time. The concept of learning covers a lot of ground, ranging from a consumer’s simple association between a stimulus such as a product logo (e.g., Coca-Cola) and a response (e.g., “refreshing soft drink”) to a complex series of cognitive activities (e.g., choosing the design elements to furnish a room). In this module we'll review the basic components of learning and see how customers form connections to your product or service.
A physician borrowed a page from product marketers when she asked for their advice to help persuade people in the developing world to wash their hands habitually with soap. Diseases and disorders caused by dirty hands—like diarrhea—kill a child somewhere in the world about every 15 seconds, and about half those deaths could be prevented with the regular use of soap.
The project adapted techniques that major marketers use to encourage habitual product usage of items such as skin moisturizers, disinfecting wipes, air fresheners, water purifiers, toothpaste, and vitamins. For example, beer commercials often depict a group of guys together, because research shows that being with a group of friends tends to trigger habitual drinking!
The researchers found that when people in Ghana experienced a feeling of disgust, this was a cue to wash their hands. However, as in many developing countries, toilets are actually a symbol of cleanliness because they have replaced pit latrines. So, an advertising campaign included messages that reminded people of the germs they could still pick up even in modern bathrooms: Mothers and children walked out of restrooms with a glowing purple pigment on their hands that contaminated everything they touched.
These images in turn triggered the habit of handwashing, and the project resulted in a significant increase in the number of consumers who washed their hands with soap.
How can other organizations that work to improve public health, the environment, or other social issues harness our knowledge about consumer learning and habitual behavior to create or reenergize positive habits? Pick a cause that matters to you, and devise a learning-based program that will reinforce positive habits and/or extinguish negative ones.