According to the New York Times, when Page looks at a potential company to acquire, he wants to know if the product is, like a toothbrush, “something you will use once or twice a day.”
Page clearly understands habits. As I wrote in my book, “Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products,” frequently used products form sticky customer habits. But what if your product doesn’t pass Page’s Toothbrush Test? Perhaps you’d like people to use your product or service frequently, but it just doesn’t make sense to do so.
A few months ago, I was hired to present at a gathering of 700 real estate agents. The master of ceremonies made a gracious introduction, saying, “Now we’ll hear from Nir Eyal, an expert on consumer habits. Nir is going to teach us how to make home buying and selling into a habit!”
The breath went out of me like I’d been punched in the solar plexus.
I trudged on stage and gripped the podium. “I’m sorry,” I said. “There must have been some misunderstanding.” I paused to catch my breath. “There is no way I am going to teach you how to make home buying and selling into a habit, because it has no chance of ever becoming a habit.”
I glanced over my shoulder trying to find the woman who’d introduced me, hoping she’d save me, but she was already slinking off the stage. I was stuck. I hadn’t prepared another talk, so I gave the planned presentation, based on my book.
I explained that home buying and selling doesn’t occur nearly often enough to become a habit. Furthermore, the very definition of a habit — a behavior done with little or no conscious thought — is the antithesis of the kind of overthinking that real estate transactions inspire.
As I finished my talk, I expected crickets. Instead, I received a generous round of applause and a small mob of real estate agents gathered around me as I got off stage. As the lights came up and the convention adjourned for a break, the agents peppered me with questions. They all had ideas to share.
“I know home buying and selling can’t be a habit,” one woman spoke up. “That’s fine. But what if I make a habit of doing something else related to home buying and selling?” I was intrigued.
Soon, other agents chimed in and built upon each other’s ideas, coming up with all sorts of ways to keep potential customers engaged. Their ideas helped me realize that even infrequently used products and services can keep customers hooked.