Chrome’s Shiny, but is it enough to Break a Habit?

How ironic!

After going on at length about how Google’s competition is the victim of the search juggernaut’s ability to make searching Google a habit, now they’re running up against the same brick wall with the introduction of Chrome.

With the introduction of a new product that’s vital to future strategies, one has to account for cognitive lock in and habitual behavior. Let’s do a walk through of two examples.

Searching by habit

First of all, my Google analogy. Using Google as a search engine isn’t a conscious choice, it’s habit. We don’t think about it, we just do it. And because we don’t think about it, you can’t take a rational approach to convincing us to do otherwise. You have to disrupt the playing out of the habitual script. And you can’t just disrupt it once. You have to destroy the script completely and permanently.

So Microsoft’s Cashback scheme was doomed to failure from the beginning. It was a rational appeal based on Microsoft’s offering to pay you an incentive for using their search engine. It’s a fundamental human appeal and, on paper, appears to make sense. The problem is, sense isn’t really enough to change habits. Here’s what will happen. Someone will hear about the Cashback offer and may actually rationally suspend habitual behavior in order to try Live Search. Their autopilot will be switched off and they’ll consciously take over the controls. But we’re programmed to revert to autopilot in order to save energy. So unless the experience offered such a tremendous benefit that it’s worth our while to continue to rationally keep our hand on the controls, we’ll turn our attention (remember, attention is a one task at a time proposition, so we have to be very judicious about where we choose to spend it) to other things and go back to autopilot behavior. Cashback would have to blow away our previous search experiences, giving us a benefit worthy of investing the time to create a new habit. Cashback simply didn’t raise the bar enough.

What Goes Up will probably Come Down

So, with that psychological foundation, one could predict with a fair degree of confidence what would happen with the introduction of Cashback. There would be a temporary blip upwards in marketshare as the least loyal of Google’s habitual users consciously decided to give it a try, and then because the experience wasn’t a revolution in search, habitual behavior would take over and they would go back to Google. Marketshare would quickly return to previous levels. In fact, because there are a number of subtle psychological scripts built to help us maintain our habits (habits are a evolutionary advantage because they allow us to function with less cognitive effort) we might even become more frequent Google users and less frequent Live users. The bounceback could actually cause Live to lose marketshare.

Now, let’s look at what actually happened. The early summer introduction of Cashback seemed to be the answer to Live’s woes, as Compete’s Jeremy Crane was quick to point out.  Marketshare took a quick jump upwards. But two months later, Cashback’s initial glow is quickly fading. Search users are switching their auto pilots back on, and the default setting is Google.

Chrome Plated Strategies

Now, with the introduction of Chrome, Google is facing exactly the same challenge. They’re calculating that Chrome will have what it takes to break the Explorer or Firefox habit. And exactly the same pattern is emerging, as people take Chrome for a spin to decide whether it’s breaking-habit-worthy. And at this point, the answer seems to be no.

There’s one potential difference here. Chrome is much more than a browser. Google has a shiny future planned for the web app interface. If they raise the bar enough, people may make the investment required to break their existing habit and reform a new one around Google’s browser. But don’t expect any big marketshare shifts until that bar is raised.

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