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New research offers a method to build habit-forming news products

February 13, 2020 | By Michelle Manafy, Editorial Director – DCN @michellemanafy

Readers once consumed the morning paper as regularly as their morning coffee. As well-trained hounds would retrieve that paper from the lawn, consumers had deeply ritualized routines around their consumption of news—be it a daily morning hit, the nightly news, or a Sunday deep dive. New research from Twipe examines the evolution of reader consumption patterns and the need to rebuild a “habit loop” in order to create loyal customers.

Pre-digital,  many consumers had a daily consumption pattern that, for example, involved reading the morning paper. However, when news went online, the product experience didn’t follow. In fact, most news organizations shifted from publishing any sort of “edition” to publishing a constant stream of information. To compound this, it was increasingly disintermediated and delivered on a wide range of platform and contexts. Readers developed fragmented reading habits and, as Twipe points out, publishers “failed to prioritise maintaining the habitual relationship with their readers.”

This report, which is latest chapter of Twipe’s Reinventing Digital Editions research series, was based upon interviews with leading newspaper publishers across Europe and the United States. They analyzed these insights to create “a habit formation canvas for news” and to highlight best practices for forming habits with news products.

Cues, triggers, actions

Citing Charles Duhigg’s research in the “Power of Habit,” Twipe’s research looks at the cues and triggers that foster habits in content consumers. For newspaper publishers, time is a particularly important cue, as many people crave news early in the morning. Location is another key consideration, as forming habits with commuters provides a location-optimized opportunity. Twipe also touts the effectiveness of the popular red dot, which alerts readers to updates in a given app.

Cues and triggers alone won’t form a habit, however. The research suggests that publishers then follow Nir Eyal’s advice and prompt a “very simple action… that is easier than thinking,” such as a click, swipe, or tap that is then given a “variable reward.” This is an approach well-documented in casinos and other forms of “addictive design.”

For publishers in particular, Twipe suggests that “mixing structure and predictability with the serendipity of discovering unexpected articles offers a variable reward that powers the habit loop.”

Best practices

Based up its observations of, and interviews with, successful publishers, Twipe offers five best practices for habit formation with news products (which it explores in a series of case studies in the report):

  1. Know the existing habits of your readers
  2. Your content is the key to the hook
  3. Invest in product experiences for the right habits
  4. Transform your organization
  5. Focus on the right metrics

The good news, as Twipe points out, is that “publishers have this know-how in their DNA.” Given the longevity of the news business, publishers understand how being a reliable, regular part of consumers’ lives builds a deeper relationship. With the right understanding of habit formation, combined with consistent respect for consumer needs and expectations, news publishers can leverage digital to regain their role as part of a regular media diet.

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