We develop habits for two reasons: they make the decision process easier, and they provide some sort of reward. Making decisions is a cognitively intensive task, so once your mind receives a reward from a certain decision, you will be more likely to make the same decision in the future, decreasing the cognitive load. This happens every fall and spring, when you decide what to watch on television each Wednesday night. At the beginning of the season you might try out two or three different shows. Once you find a show that you like, that will be what you watch on Wednesdays. You’ve made the decision and received the reward – you don’t need to make the decision again.
McDonald’s has spend decades of effort and billions of dollars to do the same thing: to create a simple answer in your mind, so that when you’re feeling hungry, the decision process becomes easier. They’ve associated their logo — the “golden arches” — with the smell and taste of burgers and fries. They have worked very hard to create consistent taste and quality throughout the chain. As a result, when some people see the McDonald’s logo towering over a highway, they can mentally taste and smell those burgers and fries. If they’re hungry, they may decide to pull over and grab a bite to eat. They make a quick decision about how to satisfy that need. And McDonald’s has encouraged that habit by making the purchase easy — you can find the nearest location by following signs on the highway and you can buy your meal without leaving your car.
That does not mean that we will automatically make a purchase. Some people are highly adverse to fast food. No matter what the price or level of convenience, they simply won’t eat it. All of who we are — all of our thoughts about fast food, our health, value, how we spend our money, the role model we want to be for our children — all of these things contribute to the decision to make a purchase. That does not, however, diminish the impact that decades of brand building by McDonald’s Corp. has made on our minds. The decision is still easier because we know exactly what the golden arches represent.
Larry found that he had a significant number of unhappy customers in his high-end residential landscaping business. His first thought was that his customers were dissatisfied with his lawn care, but after a few in-depth conversations he realized that his customers wanted much more than beautiful lawns. They spent a great deal on their houses and wanted to enjoy all the benefits of beautiful landscaping, including fresh herbs and cut flowers, seasonal fruit and vegetables, a place to play and an outdoor entertainment space. They also felt they were spending too much time dealing with different service providers and not getting enough service. They would hire one business to install trees and bushes, design beds and irrigation and take care of other long-term landscaping needs. Many would then have to hire another to keep the grass mowed, since the design firms weren’t interested in long-term maintenance. They had a hard time finding a third to tend to flower, vegetable and herb gardens and a fourth to prepare an outdoor space for an al fresco dinner. They wanted everything to do with landscaping to become more streamlined and simple.
Larry saw this as an opportunity to make the decision process easier for his current customers. He greatly expanded his business, offering a suite of services covering everything that could be done in the exterior of the home. He developed a simple online interface that allowed current customers to make special requests, which were then passed on to specialized teams. These requests could be as simple as “I want to grow heirloom tomatoes” or as complex as the wide range of services needed to “prepare my home for a wedding ceremony and reception.” Sales reps were assigned to neighborhoods, providing each customer with only one point of personalized contact. A new marketing campaign introduced this suite of services to new and existing customers and created a significant point of differentiation. By reducing the number of professionals they needed to hire, Larry enabled his customers to make only one decision: contact Larry’s Landscaping.