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Using habits to drive your inbound marketing performance

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When I really pay attention to a football game it always fascinates me just how fast the players react, how much happens on the field in a matter of seconds and the number of decisions a player makes during the game.But if you focus in on one player you'll notice they're exceptionally good at a few things with the capacity to excel in other areas at a moments notice, usually just for a quick burst. 


Champions don't do extraordinary things, they do ordinary things, but they do them without thinking, too fast for the other side to react. They follow the habits they've learned. - Tony Dungy.


Tony Dungy's coaching philosophy revolved around changing player's habits. He didn't want them making so many conscious decisions on the field. He didn't want to try and change habits that players have spent their lives building he wanted to change those habits. Tweak them slightly to improve efficiency.

Each player knows their role on the field so well they don't have to think about it. What they need to do, where they need to move, how they should react, is all automatic. After running thousands of plays under thousands of different scenarios, players no longer have to think about what to do.

The player's behavior has become automatic because the players crave the "win". Whether its winning that play or winning the game. Thats why you'll see players celebrating after a play even when they're losing the game.


Once your routines happen automatically, without even thinking about it, you extend your capacity relevant to your habit. Because players know their own positions so well they have the capacity to increase skill sets that other positions require.

This is also how the players play together on a team. Football is a team sport. It requires excellent communication, humble collaboration, immediate accountability and leadership.

The better the habits of everyone the better the team will perform. They will communicate better, collaborate better, share responsibility better, hold each other to a higher standard etc...


• • •


Inbound marketing teams are like football teams in that they are consistently doing the same activities (daily blog posts, daily social media posting, daily email campaigns etc...) and football teams play games on Sunday.

Inbound marketers are consistently diving into analytics to adjust regular activity and regularly reviewing daily, weekly and monthly reports to guide the overall strategy. Football teams are making small adjustments throughout the entire game and watch hours of film during the week to develop a strategy for the game on Sunday.

Similar to Tony Dungy, you want your inbound marketers to stop making so many decisions and instead react automatically to daily and hourly data. You want your team to carry out their normal duties but do it without even thinking, faster, smarter and better than the competition.

Due to advancements in technology and work cultures, it is possible to quickly validate learning by running frequent tests and experiments across your different marketing assets. The faster you can learn from your tests and iterate the faster you can validate bigger hypothesis.


3 Steps to Creating New Habits

Lets start by stating that you can't actually get rid of bad habits you can only change them.  

Habits have a 3 step process. Cue, Routine, Reward. To change a habit you want to swap out the routine in the middle for another, better one, keeping the cue and reward the same.

This is one of the most powerful tools for creating change. In The Power Of Habit, Charles Duhigg explains to us this golden rule of habit change. To effectively replace one routine with another follow the following 3 steps.

They'll help you keep track of routines so you can see what works and what doesn't, identify the habits trigger so you know how your attention will be focused and finally, experiement with different rewards to test what you get really excited about. 


1. Document the old & new routine

Start simple. Make a list of a few routines you carry out everyday. Describe the current routine in detail and how you want to change it/improve it. Breaking your day down into a series of routines will help you uncover how and where to make fast and impactful adjustments.


2. Identify what triggers each routine

Think about what prompts you to get started on those tasks. This process takes a little time. Think about the amount of information that could potentially trigger you to take action? It's never ending. Did you open your email because you sat down at your desk or because it's 8:30am, or maybe it's because that's what everyone else in the office is doing at that time, or maybe you get an alert/notification every morning around the same time, or maybe... 

Charles Duhigg points out in his book, The Power of Habit, that almost all behavioral cues fit into one of the following categories: 

  • Location (where are you?)
  • Time (What time is it?)
  • Emotional state (What is your emotional state?)
  • Other people (who else is around?)
  • Immediately preceeding action (What action preceding the urge?)

So if you wanted to know what was cueing your email behavior you would answer each question the moment you feel the urge. Over a week or two you will start to notice a pattern. This pattern will uncover the trigger of your email behavior. 


3. Find the right reward

Rewards serve an important purpose in the habit loop. Without them you can't develop automatic behavior. Most of the time they operate in the background and can be difficult to pinpoint. It's hard to identify what is exacting so satisfying. 

Take a checklist for example. I know people who live by their checklists. What seems like an outdated productivity method, considering the amount of options available, is still fairly popular. When you ask someone why they like using a checklist the answer is almost always some form of "I just like making a list and checking it off." "It feels so good to physically cross things off my list!"

So what is it about crossing things off your checklist that's so rewarding? Is it simply watching the amount of things left to do on your list slowly disapear until everything is checked off, giving you a sense of accomplishment? Maybe you celebrate in some way or do the same thing right after you complete your list.

These are the details you want to pay attention to so you know exactly what is fueling your behavior.  What ? 

Start by monitoring exactly do you do right after you check the last thing off your list. Then start to experiment with replacing that action with something else. Also see how you react to leaving an item or two left on your checklist and record how you react to the change. 


Final Thoughts

Tony Dungy built his legacy over-time, a long career of trying to prove his philosophy. When he got the opportunity to coach the Tampa Bay Buccaneers he made sure to showcase the true power of habits.

He worked with his team to uncover their habits and where they were flawed. Have each player right out the routines they complete inside the habit loop. Once you have a clear idea of a player's habits have them describe how the habit should improve and how it's going to improve.

Now you want to identify what triggers prompt immediate activity on a regular routine. Pay attention to where you are, what you're doing, the time of day, etc... Really focus on finding your triggers because they it can be tricky to define for early stage companies.

Finally experiment with different rewards and ask yourself, "do I crave this?". Cravings drive habits. Once you start to crave the reward before you begin the routine, your behavior will start to become more automatic.

Habits are automatic behaviors. Things we do that we don't even have to think about.

Use the power of habits to your advantage and you can exponentially grow yours and your teams productivity.




Duhigg, Charles. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. New York: Random House, 2012. The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. Penguin Random House, 28 Feb. 2012. Web. 3 Nov. 2016.