Consumer series are motivational – the key is to keep them alive
People often go out of their way to repeat a behavior if it is recorded and highlighted for them.
If you’ve ever played Wordle, learned a new language on Duolingo, or worked with Peloton, you might know the daily app notifications that urge you to keep going — or risk breaking a streak of back-to-back efforts. Do you heed the bugle call or not?
If you do, you’re in good company. Consumers, our latest to research shows, are more likely to continue doing something when their recent repetition of this behavior is recorded and highlighted for them – as many apps are programmed to do these days. Conversely, when consumers are informed that their streak is interrupted, they are less likely to maintain the behavior.
In fact, we’ve found that consumers go to great lengths to maintain these “streaks” because they consider it a meaningful goal. in itselfregardless of what they hope to achieve – staying in shape, learning a new language, etc. – by repeating the behavior in the first place.
Our findings suggest ways for both companies to better leverage technology to retain customers, as well as for consumers to motivate themselves to pursue desirable goals. Organizations could also improve their efforts to increase employee engagement and motivation.
As users of the app ourselves (who isn’t?), we were struck by how the sequences – defined in academic research as behaviors repeated at least three times in a row – took on a life of its own. For example, if we’re making a constant effort to, say, learn French or try a different wine every day, and that streak gets interrupted because we’re busy or the app doesn’t ping us, it might be quite demotivating. As a result, we may very well lose interest in learning French or tasting wines. Unsurprisingly, people often go out of their way to keep their streaks alive, as teenagers obsessed with their Snapchat Series would tell you.
We hypothesized that the crucial factor might have something to do with whether the series are taped or not. Companies are increasingly tracking and highlighting streaked behaviors, handing out badges and icons to entice app users to track targeted behaviors, but there has been little research into the impact this monitoring might have. have on consumer decision-making. Does it attract them and keep them hooked? Should companies downplay broken footage when it happens invariably, whether due to user fatigue or technical fault?
To find out, we conducted seven experiments with over 4,000 participants on how highlighting recent consumer behavior patterns might affect their later engagement in those behaviors. In one experiment, we collected data from a college fitness program, and in the others, we simulated real-world consumer interaction with apps in the popular areas of exercise, language learning, and games.
In all of our studies, we found that participants were significantly more likely to engage in a target behavior when their intact (as opposed to broken) streak was highlighted via an app’s behavioral diary, even when their behavior previous real was exactly the same. For example, in one study, all participants did the same three strength exercises and successfully recorded them in an app. They then performed a fourth strength exercise, but some learned that this last exercise was not recorded.
What happened next was telling: more participants engaged in another strength exercise, rather than switching to another type of exercise, when they had an intact streak rather than a broken streak (66 .23% against 57.86%). Even though all participants were well aware that they had actually performed four consecutive strength exercises, just having this series of behaviors framed as an intact or broken sequence in the app’s behavior log influenced their behavior. ulterior.
Notably, in another study, we found that the effect of intact versus interrupted sequences was amplified when participants felt personally responsible for breaking a sequence rather than attributing it to an external factor (e.g. example, a malfunction of the application). And in another study, we found that the effect was diminished when participants were given the opportunity to fix their streak.
In fact, the simple act of recording a series of behaviors can himself affect consumers’ subsequent decisions to engage in that behavior. We tested this by asking participants to try to learn the Portuguese and/or Hawaiian language via an app that was under development. Participants with an intact streak of responding to Portuguese questions were significantly more likely to continue when their recent streak was highlighted through the app than when it was not. Conversely, participants with a broken streak were less likely to persist when their broken streak was highlighted than when it was not.
The streaks apparently have an impact beyond influencing behavior. We found that participants with an intact login sequence experienced a greater sense of accomplishment than participants whose activity was not recorded at all or who had a broken login sequence. They were also more likely to continue using the app and to recommend it to a friend.
Indeed, the desire to maintain striae is so strong that almost half of the participants were willing to engage in an undesirable activity, such as watching an advertisement, to maintain their striae or repair their broken striae.
Implications for business
Our research is the first to demonstrate that the journey, rather than the destination, often becomes a goal in itself. People tend to become very attached to the process of achieving a specific outcome, which is essentially chronic. They see their perseverance in the process as a sign of self-efficacy worthy of pride and accomplishment.
Our findings offer several takeaways for companies in terms of consumer and employee engagement.
Companies might want to avoid highlighting broken streaks to consumers, for example by not sending notifications to alert them when they break a streak – a surprisingly common practice in many apps. It may also be a good idea to define Sequences more broadly, such as allowing multiple exercises or games to count towards a Sequence, rather than limiting the behavior of Sequences to a single type of activity. Companies may want to be more flexible in delineating sequences – counting behavior weekly rather than daily, for example.
These tweaks would help keep consumer trends intact and encourage them to stick around and engage. But beware of defining streaks too loosely – most people need enough of a challenge to get and stay motivated.
How should companies mitigate the fallout when consumers inevitably interrupt their login streaks? Rather than letting consumers blame themselves, as our studies show, companies could communicate to users that they are partly responsible for the disruption. They could also offer consumers the option of repairing their streaks. For example, Duolingo lets users purchase a “streak gel” with in-app currency so they can keep their streak intact as a preemptive if they miss a day of language learning.
Keeping employees engaged and motivated has become an increased urgency in the face of the big resignation and remote work. One solution could be to gamify motivation. An organization that wants employees to come back to the office more often for in-person interactions could encourage employees to log their days in the office and reward staff who come in, say, three consecutive days a week for a month with small prizes.
Likewise, companies that hire on-demand workers, like Uber, could motivate drivers and food delivery people by tracking their streaks. This could be something as simple as highlighting the number of consecutive days or hours the individual has worked and rewarding those who reach predetermined thresholds with bonuses.
Freelancers or employees who work from home most of the time could motivate themselves by using apps that monitor productivity, tracking specific behaviors that lead to a desired outcome, and creating meaningful streaks for them. For academics, for example, this might mean routinely writing research papers that would eventually be submitted to a leading journal or publication.
In short, tracking and highlighting streaky behaviors can benefit both the tracker and the trackee. By tapping into the psychology behind people’s obsession with keeping footage alive, companies can make more profits, consumers can achieve their goals, and employees can be more productive. How’s that for a winning streak?
Alixandra Barach is Visiting Associate Professor of Marketing at INSEAD. She is also an Associate Professor of Marketing at NYU Stern School of Business.
Jackie Silverman is an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Delaware.
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