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How to build a “habit loop” to form a lasting and lucrative reader relationship

November 28, 2018 | By Rande Price, Research VP – DCN

Consumer engagement is a critical component of news publishers’ direct to consumer revenue strategies. According to the International News Media Association’s (INMA) new report, Unpacking the Reader-Subscriber Lifetime Customer Journey, every publisher component from content to membership programs and e-newsletters, must reflect a strong and unified value proposition to consumers in order to be habit-forming.

The report includes highlights of Charles Duhigg, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of Power of Habit, explanation of the science behind a habit formation. Scientists refer to this as “the habit loop” and it can easily apply to reader engagement. Every habit has a cue, routine, and reward. Duhigg explains that people stop “thinking” when they perform habitual activities. In fact, about 40 to 45% of what people do every day are routine based decisions (habits) rather than conscious decisions. Publishers should aspire to their content being habit forming.

Rewarding behavior

However, to create a new habit, there needs to be a clear and distinct reward. It’s even better if the reward is immediate. Interestingly, Duhigg believes educating people about the “habit loop” helps to change their behavior. If the reward is clear, consumers understand the payback of their actions and accept them more easily. Rewards don’t just need to be monetary or transactional; they can also be emotional.

The report also identifies the importance in shifting focus from top of the funnel acquisition metrics to the consumer lifecycle and conversion metrics. The Wall Street Journal did just this and now trains its journalists to think about three key metrics:

  • Reach: How many consumers are reached by WSJ content at any given moment? Consumers are identified in two distinct groups a) subscribers and b) potential subscribers.
  • Quality: Are the consumers reached the ones who will return to consume more content? Will they promote WSJ content to friends and family?
  • Habit: Is the routine habit forming? When you build a reading habit, the consumption cycle continues.
Engaging strategies

The INMA report also features Matt Skibinski, from The Lenfest Institute, and cites his definition of engagement: “when readers find your content, products, and brands valuable enough that they are willing to pay for it.” Skibiniki believes publishers should look at the occasional reader, the regular reader and the one-time reader to classes of readers will help identify the different signals of engagement.

The INMA report finds consumer engagement to be the most important outcome of direct to consumer revenue strategies. It’s when habits and emotions create a pattern of repetition. It’s also when retention trumps acquisition in a publisher’s relationship with its audience. And INMA concludes that the greater the engagement, the greater the consumer revenue.

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