The Product Paradox: What You Don’t Know About Consumer Psychology & Habits

One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned in the last decade is that we are far from rational creatures. We sometimes behave based on emotion and cognitive biases. To explain, let’s dip our toes into consumer psychology.

Shampoo, toothpaste, and soap are household items that had to keep up with consumer behavior to stay in business. Businesses realized that customers wanted a signal that the product had done its job. Although these products worked fine without foaming, people had a tendency not believe the product had done its job if it didn’t foam or tingle.

Toothpaste, in particular, had advanced to a point where foaming wasn’t necessary, but consumer research discovered that customers were so used to the foam that they wanted the foaming.

Having a signal creates craving. And craving is critical to how habits form. By getting customers to crave something, businesses get customers to get so used to a product that they keep buying it.

You may be wondering if this trick is manipulative. Is the product more valuable or is it just influencing customers? But in a way, the product is more valuable than before because they wanted an indicator. Plus, the business sells more product.

But perhaps, this trick could be used for bad habits or products, like smoking cigarettes or eating fast food. So, I want to challenge you to think of a good way to use a trigger to create a craving.

What’s fascinating about soap foaming is that it’s invisible. Most customers don’t realize the foaming does nothing. Along the same theme, great design also appears invisible. This Vox video will explain it.

So when you’re trying to form habits, find out how you can make it seamless and almost invisible. I built the habit of flossing my teeth by starting with one tooth a night after I brushed. The added effort was so little that it was seamless. I also knew exactly when to do it since the “signal” was when I finished brushing.

Now, let’s examine cake mix. Businesses made cake mix so convenient that all you have to do is pour the mix on a tray and bake it. However, this new cake mix wasn’t selling well.

Researchers found that the moms who bought the mix wanted a sense of accomplishment when they baked. Even though the cake mix saved time, it accidentally did not give the mothers a sense of contribution to the baking process.

In a similar way to the soap, the cake mix companies “regressed” their formula so that people had to crack and add eggs before baking. And that is what you’ll see on cake mix instructions to this day. So the next time you ask why something seems wrong or old, there may be more complicated reasons behind the surface.


People are often set in their ways. Rather than trying to change others, manage yourself. Rather than try to change the unchangeable, sometimes you just have to be smarter and let them do what they must.

For further reading on this phenomenon, check out the book The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.

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By Will Chou

I am the the founder of this site and I am grateful you are here to be part of this awesome community. I help hard-working Asian American Millennials get rich doing work they love.

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