ReadingThe Cable

DIP 022: Creatures (and creators) of habits

By February 14, 2020 No Comments

👋 Hi. Between every MSCHF drop and Ani Acopian’s Amazon Dating, subversive digital satire is having a moment. It’s both a distraction from and commentary on current events, and a reminder of how delightful online experiences can be. operates in a similar space, creating digital escapes that tap into a very specific kind of early internet nostalgia. As always, reply with questions, comments, or thoughts about anything you read here.

The Chips 🐛

The Dip 🐨

I had heard good things about Kate McLeod’s body stone moisturizer, but it wasn’t until it landed on Into The Gloss’ Top 25 list that I decided to try one (technically two, to offset shipping costs). Clean ingredients and thoughtful packaging aside, it was the experience of using the stone that had me sold: it offers a connection with and awareness of your body that traditional moisturizers don’t. I was hooked on the mindfulness it facilitates, and it got me thinking about how products can become habits or facilitate habits, and what a product needs to be in order to be conducive to a new routine.

Everything you need is already inside you

I discovered Nimbo Alto by way of its yoga mats. They’re minimal and modern, with vertical lines to guide alignments and a contrasting square meant to serve as a space for meditation. At the bottom of every page is the following statement:

You don’t need any of the objects we design to re-train your attention muscles; you just need the motivation to work at it (even just a little) every day. That’s why we also create art exercises, meditation prompts, and thought starters on our site.

The idea that products can facilitate experiences is not new. But the belief that brands can facilitate habits and lifestyle changes independent of any transaction and through messaging alone — and the fact that brands are being forthright about it — is, and feels important.

Nimbo Alto’s tools for mindfulness and habit-nurturing content fall in line with the Pattern Brands ethos (see: DIPs 008, 013, and 016). Pattern operates according to the belief that tools lead to action. Its first brand, Equal Parts, encourages cooking by selling accessible products coupled with an SMS hotline. Its second brand, Open Spaces, is meant to facilitate home organization with bins, boxes, and a meditative guide that’s like a less prescriptive KonMari.

In both cases, it’s possible to explore the brand ecosystem without first making a purchase. Equal Parts made its SMS hotline available to anyone shortly after launching and Open Spaces’ guide is published on its site for anyone to use.

Neither Equal Parts nor Open Spaces’ products are revolutionary. They don’t introduce features that fundamentally change the way you cook or organize. Instead, they’re driven by attractive, intuitive design and a quiet delight similar to the one that stems from buying a micro-luxury like Byredo hand soap or Cire Trudon candles. There are less fancy yet equally functional alternatives, but Pattern’s goods scratch an aesthetic itch. And in many cases, making the conscious choice to invest in a product that’s nicer than it really needs to be can make you happier with it and more apt to use it.

Tools of the trade

Nimbo Alto and Pattern offer products that facilitate, but are not themselves, habits. It’s similar to the same way that Away luggage doesn’t make you travel more, and owning a Casper mattress doesn’t mean that you’ll sleep more. Marketing is doing the heavy lifting. The motivation to create change still falls on the consumer.

But some products can develop into habits. In thinking about how and why, I came up with a highly unscientific list of qualities that a product likely needs to meet:

  1. It offers something that other products don’t, whether functionally or aesthetically,

  2. Using the product has a tangible impact on the user,

  3. The product does not demand too much change from the user and may slip seamlessly into an existing routine,

  4. And the cost of the product does not exceed the perceived value of the first and second points combined.

This is broad, yet it’s also incredibly difficult to check all four boxes. In my own life, the only digitally native products and brands that have been embedded into my daily routine for at least a year are Ritual and Cocofloss.

Kate McLeod’s body stones and Crown Affair’s hair oil are recent additions that feel like they’ll have staying power. What’s interesting is that they’re also both educational tools: in using them, they teach you to take better care of yourself. In the case of body stones, it’s proof that high-quality, natural ingredients can be really effective. With Crown Affair, I’m finding that the products facilitate knowledge and empowerment. My hair has long been mildly chaotic and frizz-prone, but the simplicity of Crown Affair’s core set is motivating me to take ownership over my hair, and maybe even figure out how to control it.

Get hooked

In marketing materials, brands will sometimes say that it takes 21 days to form a habit. But there’s more to forming habits than simply using a product. It has to fit into the consumer’s life and do so on their own terms.

You can’t manufacture a habit (though Juul is an exception). There’s no way to force consumers to use something, no matter how thoughtful or efficient or effective it may be. Marketing draws them in, but their individual needs, preferences, and interests ultimately dictate how much they’ll value a product.

It’s also easy to conflate habituation and loyalty. Products that are habits rank higher on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs than products to which a person is loyal. A product that becomes a habit facilitates some sort of optimization — physical, psychological, or otherwise.

But even that is subjective. The things that work for me and the things that I love won’t — and shouldn’t — offer the same feeling to others. Ultimately, emotional resonance is what influences how willing someone may or may not be to allow a product to become an essential part of their routine.

Still hungry?

Real Dip 🐓

Anchovy-shallot tomato jam.

Slice six shallots and a few cloves of garlic. Add them to a pot with olive oil and heat over medium-low until everything collapses into mush, about 15 minutes.

Sprinkle in as many red pepper flakes as you can tolerate and a drained tin of anchovies. Stir to let the anchovies dissolve.

Add a small can of tomato paste, salt, and pepper. Stir until everything is combined. Don’t let the tomato paste burn.

Pair it with pasta, roasted potatoes, and good bread.

Thanks for snacking,

— Emily 🐳


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