Larry Page (co-founder of Google) in an interview with NewYork Times talked about something called a Toothbrush test. He said that before acquiring a company he considers if the product is something people will use at least once or twice a day (like a toothbrush).
Is this something you will use once or twice a day, and does it make your life better?
While the second part of the statement is highly subjective and open to interpretation, the thing to ponder upon is the first part. If you carefully read the statement and combine it with the name it has been given, it becomes clear that what Larry Page is hinting towards is the idea of forming habits around a product or service. The formation of habits around products is not a new concept. However, it is not the easiest trick in the book. It is very difficult, if not impossible. Why do I say that?
Habit, as defined by the Merriam Webster dictionary, means 'a settled tendency or usual manner of behavior' or 'an acquired mode of behavior that has become nearly or completely involuntary'. Habit, by definition, is a thing or an action that over time has become a part of our behavior, or rather an extension of ourselves. For example, when was the last time that you took a while after waking up in the morning to decide if you are going to brush your teeth or not today? A lot of us who wear makeup on a daily basis are either desperately trying to or (if lucky enough) already are in the habit of removing off makeup before going to bed each day. Interestingly, habits are actions, that over the years, due to regular practice pertaining to motivation due to intrinsic or extrinsic factors, positive or negative reinforcements have become a part of or an extension of our personality and/or behavior. Most habits are acquired and are always a result of regular practice.
Firing up the Google search engine to look up something that we don't know, and opening Instagram to scroll through one's feed are some habits massively popular in the digital age. Formation of habits largely depends upon regularity and frequency of practice, which in turn is often fueled by rewards, the amount and intensity of influence, needs, and intrinsic factors like motivation. While most of us open Instagram at least once or twice every day, we don't necessarily post a picture on our feed or to our Stories daily and nor do we open Instagram to check and reply to the 'DMs'. The action of scrolling through the feed and liking pictures is mindless, but the actions of posting content and starting conversations with people on the same platform require some thought and deliberation.
It is very far-fetched to expect users to be habitual of using each aspect of your application every day. As long as they are 'hooked' to even a single feature or functionality offered by the product, you have hit home. When it comes to developing or changing habits of the users in relation to a product or service, it's always easier for frequently used popular products like Facebook, Snapchat, Pinterest, etc. But that does not mean it is equally difficult or nearly impossible for a new product to do so. There are a lot of things that people do not do daily, in fact, some actions or practices are annual or need-based.
People do not buy, rent, or sell houses every day unless they are a real estate agent or into some sort of property-related business. Similarly, people do not go to clinics and hospitals or consult with doctors every day. People also do not decorate their houses with earthen pots for Diwali or deck up their Christmas trees with ornaments every day. It is important to understand that to form habits it is not the action itself that matters, it is the intent, the motivation and emotional, intellectual, and social connection behind the action that is of paramount importance. The 2 ways to build customer habits around a product or service are:
This may sound very naive or simple but these two are the pillars of customer engagement.
WedMeGood is an Indian wedding planning application and websites and is a one-stop-shop for all your wedding needs. But most people only get married once in their lifetime or actively participate in the wedding of a family member only a few times in their lives. Acknowledging the sporadic need and usage of the product, WedMeGood serves their followers on Instagram the most beautiful, pleasing, and interesting content in the form of videos and photos throughout the year from the events they plan. One only needs to follow the WedMeGood Instagram page to get the most creative and beautiful ideas to plan a wedding. And the pictures and videos are fun to look at, even when you are married and do not know anyone who is getting married soon. WedMeGood uses its contents to keep the users engaged throughout the years and at the same time, the picture-perfect content serves as a portfolio for the quality that the company does.
The power of the community has successfully brought about revolutions in the past and continues to be one of the most powerful and important traits for the survival of the human race. People, by their very nature, love to gather around and talk about things they love, care about, or hate with other like-minded people. Yuval Noah Harari touts 'gossip' to be the determining element in putting Homo Sapiens ahead of other species in the race for survival.
In his best-seller book 'Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind', Harari claims that gossip, based on judgments, began our rule of the planet.
The discussions on Reddit and Quora are proof enough to the fact that the concept of community around concepts and ideas (real or imaginary) is still going strong. People take time out of their busy schedules to go to Book Clubs to discuss their favorite book or authors. In the digital age, users spend hours researching, developing, critiquing, and debating fan-theories or alternate theories about various shows and books. People often prefer and find it easier to work-out in groups. It is because in groups or communities people get a chance to openly express themselves in front of individuals who share a similar mindset about a topic or are equally vulnerable as they themselves are. These communities keep the users engaged and keep the image of the product or brand fresh in the mind of the users. The discussions and debates on online forums around the ending of Game of Thrones' final season kept both the viewer of the show and the readers of the book engaged for over a while they waited for the final season with bated breath.
I worked as a UX engineer on a project last year that revolved around the concept of content and community for customer engagement on a gardening app. The idea was to research and create the design for a mobile app that helps create a self-sustaining community of urban gardeners of all types. The concept was foolproof and refreshing, but harnessing the power of a community that too one that is self-sustaining is a difficult job. Now that I look back at the project, I realize that even with the combined intellect and UX research of about 25 Masters students combined the application would not have passed the Toothbrush Test.
Creating an independent community-driven application is all the way more challenging with the popularity of platforms like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Quora, etc. The questions that remain unanswered and open to discussion are:
Should we or should we not leverage the existing social media platforms to build a community?
If yes, to what extent? How do we integrate the various applications?
How do we preserve our brand image and not blur the line between the identity of our community and the social media platform?
Remember, if you will not keep your customers engaged and build a loyal user base, users will search on Google for the top 10 apps/products to do the job.