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Monday, March 30, 2015



 keystone (noun) key-stone central stone in arch

According to Wikipedia “The term is used figuratively to refer to a central element
of a larger structure (such as a theory or an organization) that locks the
other elements in place and allows the whole to be self-supporting.


Our postulation is that “behavior objectives are the keystone habit
to building
a performance-driven culture and brand.”


Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit – Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, introduces the concept of “keystone” habits. Basically, keystone habits are bedrock habits that cause other habits to flourish. According to Mr. Duhigg, “cultures grow out of the keystone habits in every organization, whether leaders are aware of them or not.” Marketing can capitalize on this idea of keystone habits to develop a performance-driven culture.


The Power of Keystone Habits

Keystone habits have the power to trigger change. Exercise is an example of a keystone habit. When people begin to exercise, and achieve results, whether it is a loss of weight, increase in energy, a feeling of achievement, etc., it triggers other healthful habits. Exercising spills over into making conscious choices in nutrition, getting sufficient rest and even taking more care in hygiene and appearance.


Keystone habits create small wins that encourage widespread changes. These small wins provide rewards that serve to encourage change in other related areas. Having your running clothes laid out in the morning and putting them on when you get out of bed, regardless of how tired you feel, is a small win that serves to help inspire you to continue out the door. Telling yourself that today you are only going to do a slow mile keeps you from turning back to bed and once your jog begins that small win helps propel you on to more mileage during your run. These small wins lead to other positive changes. When you get back from a successful jog it encourages you to pass-up the donuts, or bagels, for a nutritious breakfast. One small win, having your running clothes laid-out for when you wake to get you out the door, cascading into another and yet another positive action.


The Keystone Habit – Behavior Objectives

In order to ring the cash register (i.e., make a sale) we first have to trigger a customer behavior. We refer to these behaviors as “marketing objectives” or its derivatives (e.g., communication behavior objective). These include switching or conversion, adoption, repeat purchase, compliance, trade-up, persistency, among others. Stimulating customer behaviors drives performance in the marketplace. Yet few organizations and marketers think about and/or make choices regarding the customer behaviors they need to drive incremental sales, achieve their business objectives, generate a positive return on investment to leverage resources and/or measure performance against a SMART expectation (i.e., Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant to achieving business objectives of sales, market share and profit, and Timebound). As a result of not focusing on behavior objectives these organizations and their brands wallow in ignorance squandering precious resources, mounting opportunity losses and eroding organization and brand health.


A “Brief” Illustration

Most creative briefs will contain an “advertising objective.” (If yours doesn’t what the hell do you think you’re doing and how is it possible that senior management allows this?) However, on examination, few identify a customer behavior as the objective. Instead, one might find “convince that …” which is a strategy not a behavior objective. Or, one might find a rationale for advertising, such as to support a launch, which is not a behavior objective. Or one might find a SMART objective but it is not a relevant behavior objective for the advertising (e.g., build awareness, which is a media objective!).


Different objectives require different messages if they are to be realized. For example, if we want to drive adoption of using mouthwash our message will need to communicate the benefits of adopting this practice. On the other hand, if we want to stimulate switching to our brand of mouthwash then we need to communicate our advantages versus the target-customer’s current choice. In other words, the specific behavior objective will inform our messaging. Additionally, it informs the selection of all our marketing mix elements and initiatives.


Be Smart and Make Them SMART

As noted above, we need to make our behavior objectives SMART. This serves to develop a performance-driven culture in a number of important ways.


  • First, it enables us to establish a link back to achieving the business objectives. It gives us a handle on whether we are likely to realize our financial goals and expectations.
  • Second, it provides us with a measure of productivity for each of our intended actions. We can determine the estimated ROI for each of our initiatives, which will help us optimize resource allocation.
  • Third, it provides a basis for measurement against expectations, leading to an understanding of what works and, in turn, accountability for building the business and helping make achievement of future plans more predictable.


How Behavior Objectives Build a Performance-Driven Marketing Culture

Once we adopt the habit of demanding behavior objectives it should cascade into a number of other critically essential habits. Asking for the SMART behavior objective will trigger the following questions:


  • Target Segmentation - Whose behavior (as in target-customer) are we targeting? As Phillip Kotler has stated, “if you are not thinking segments you’re not thinking marketing.”
  • Plan Achievement - How will this contribute to achieving our business objectives? We can do the math to determine if it is relevant to, and capable of, achieving our business objectives.
  • Productivity - What is the expected ROI of the initiative? This provides a financial basis for choosing among the marketing mix elements and initiatives at our disposal to ensure sound stewardship in helping optimize resource allocation.
  • Compelling - Is the intended messaging and/or execution of the initiative capable of achieving the SMART expected behavior objective? This will encourage marketers and the organization to demand and assess whether they have a relevant, differentiated message appropriate for the behavior objective, and ideas for all initiatives that can compel triggering the behavior and its achievement of the goal.
  • Knowledge - How do we know the initiative worked/will work? A performance-driven culture is a knowledge-based culture. It only chooses to do those things that will deliver predictable “positive” results. There is no knowledge or predictability without measurement. There is only speculation and ignorance.



If you are really interested in developing a performance-driven culture then here are some thoughts for your consideration:


1.  Adopt and make behavior objectives a keystone habit for your organization and/or brand.



2.  Demand for all marketing proposals and plans:


  • What is the SMART behavior objective?
  • Who is the target-customer?
  • How will this contribute to the development of your business objectives
  • What is the expected ROI for the proposed initiative?
  • Does the specific strategy (e.g., messaging), proposed initiatives and their execution serve to differentiate your offering and contain ideas that will compel customers into action and lead to the achievement of the SMART behavior objectives?
  • What evidence do we have of performance against our expectations?




3.  Test, test, test initiatives before incorporating them into your marketing plan. This will enable you to develop an arsenal of proven initiatives to improve predictability of results for plan achievement.




4.   Read the Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.


While I was aware of this book (it has been a best seller!) I didn’t believe it would be of value to me as I am a highly disciplined marketer and individual. However, during a recent workshop I conducted for MBA students at the Notre Dame Mendoza School of Business one of the participants commented that my illustration regarding how communications work made her think of this book. She recommended that I read it. So, I followed her recommendation and I’m so pleased that I did. If I get one idea out of a book I consider it well worth the read. I got many good ideas out of this book that I will make a habit of incorporating into my personal and professional life. If you are an “active” reader (one who translates learning to apply to one’s life) this book will be well worth your read too. My hat is off to Mr. Charles Duhigg. Thanks!



If you are interested in developing a performance-driven marketing culture for your organization and/or brand then consider our MBO (Marketing by Objectives) Brand Activation workshop. If you’d like more information on this program please reply to this DISPATCHES’ article.


Make performance a habit by adopting behavior objectives as your keystone habit.




Richard Czerniawski & Mike Maloney

Richard Czerniawski

430 Abbotsford Road

Kenilworth, Illinois 60043

tel 847.256.8820 fax 847.256.8847

reply to Richard: or



Mike Maloney

1506 West 13th

Austin, Texas 78703

tel 512.236.0971 fax 512.236.0972

reply to Mike: or

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