Using the habit loop to shape Heritage Action's legislative scorecard

Nathanael Yellis By Nathanael Yellis • Last Updated May 18, 2021

My last post recommended The Power of Habit, which I recently finished. At the end of the post, I proposed a set of questions that connect the habit loop with marketing. Here's how we the habit loop guided development of our legislative scorecard website.

Heritage Action's Scorecard

In 2011, Heritage Action launched a legislative scorecard: a tool that shows how conservative Members of Congress are. Heritage Action's policy positions are the basis for the votes contained in the scorecard. The resulting percentages are hard-hitting, and a lot of people were surprised at the low scores among Republicans. But that's the point: if you look at votes, instead of rhetoric, many Republicans aren't all that conservative.

Desired habit: visit the scorecard weekly

The scorecard is updated in real time, meaning that soon after votes occurred, they are on the site and the score percentages are updated. Thus the scorecard is an improvement on the traditional scoring after a two-year Congress ends: by visiting the site weekly, people can see how their Members of Congress are performing in real time. Our goal was to build an audience of conservative activists that would visit the site every week that Congress was in session to see the latest.

Too much internet

In a world with a growing horde of frequently updated conservative websites, including several from Heritage Action, even the most ardent conservative activist needs a reminder to check the scorecard.

We started by doing the normal promotional activities, including email messages to our subscribers, paid advertising, and cross-promotion from other websites. But we needed more. We needed a site that functioned as its own cue and reward, so people would do the routine visit as a habit.

Enter the habit loop

Here's the thinking that lead us to introduce a wildly successful new feature.

Who is the person? A conservative activist who trusts Heritage, is concerned about Members of Congress doing what they say, and uses the internet frequently.

What's the core routine behavior we're looking for? A weekly view of a few Members of Congress on the scorecard site.

Does a habit already exist? Yes, activists are already surfing the internet for conservative political information on a weekly basis. We need the scorecard to be in that flow.

If yes, why would someone want to change? We have a better reward. The information contained on the site is different. It identifies the most important vote or two from that week and shows how all Members of Congress performed. This hard information is catnip for activists.

How will the person notice the cue? What about it compels them to do the behavior? Everyone is frustrated about Congress (even liberals). The specific cue is a desire for solid information: what did they do this week. That itch then becomes: how did my favorite (least favorite) Members of Congress vote.

What's the minimum necessary behavior at first? How much activity could the cue result in? The minimum is opening the site and clicking on a Member's page or a vote page. The behavior chain could include sharing the pages or even contacting the congressional offices for a defense of the vote.

How does the reward work? How long before the cue reappears? Upon reading the vote title and seeing the results, the reward is: I know the most up-to-date information. After another bunch of votes are cast, say over a week, the cue reappears because the information refreshes.

New feature: create your own reward via a watchlist

The key to getting people in the habit of visiting the site is to make the reward more clear, so we built a feature that let people save a list of Members of Congress for easy checking. The watchlist shows you the Members of Congress you want to see, and their most recent votes:

The watchlist is the reward in the habit loop: the one place where activists can see the scores most important to them and how the last few votes have gone. It makes the reward of fresh information personal, something each activist owns.

People with watchlists visit the site on a far more frequently than average visitors--exactly the routine we are looking for.

Next steps: building a cue

In our experience, most activists need an email reminder to trigger an online behavior. (I'd argue this is because people use email as a to-do list.) The next thing we'll build is an email that pings watchlist-owning activists when a new vote is added to the scorecard.

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