Tag / retention

5318665531_b62722f817Imagine walking into a busy mall when someone approaches you with an open hand. “Would you have some coins to take the bus, please?” he asks. But in this case, the person is not a panhandler. The beggar is a PhD.

As part of a French study, researchers wanted to know if they could influence how much money people handed to a total stranger using just a few specially encoded words. They discovered a technique so simple and effective it doubled the amount people gave.

The turn of phrase has been shown to not only increase how much bus fare people give, but was also effective in boosting charitable donations and participation in voluntary surveys. In fact, a recent meta-analysis of 42 studies involving over 22,000 participants concluded that these few words, placed at the end of a request, are a highly-effective way to gain compliance, doubling the likelihood of people saying “yes.”

Cookie jar study demonstrates psychology of scarcity
Interested in boosting customer desire? A classic study that demonstrates the psychology of scarcity reveals an interesting quirk of human behavior that may hold a clue.

In 1975, researchers Worchel, Lee, and Adewole wanted to know how people would value cookies in two identical glass jars. One jar held ten cookies while the other contained just two stragglers. Which cookies would people value more?

Though the cookies and jars were identical, participants valued the ones in the near-empty jar more highly. Scarcity had somehow affected their perception of value.

There are many theories as to why this was the case. For one, scarcity may signal something about the product. If there are less of an item, the thinking goes, it might be because other people know something you don’t. Namely, the cookies in the almost empty jar are the num-numier choice.

Nir’s Note: This post is a little different from my normal writing. For one, its much shorter. You’ll notice I provide fewer citations and the ideas are less developed than my previous essays. This is intentional and I need your help. I’m considering writing a chapter on this topic in a forthcoming book but wanted to test the ideas with my most loyal readers first. Give it a quick read and tell me what you think. 

Habit-forming businesses must create user habitsHabits are good for business. In fact, many industries could not survive without them. The incentive systems and business models of the companies that make habit-forming products require someone gets hooked. Without consumer habits, these habit-forming businesses would go bust.

While most of us think of cigarettes or gambling as habit-forming products, the fact is, a much wider swath of industries rely on consumer’s using their products without thought or deliberation.

Viral Loops or Viral 'Oops'?Recently, MessageMe announced it had grown to 1 million users in a little over a week’s time. The revelation captured the attention of envious app makers throughout Silicon Valley, all of whom are searching for the secrets of customer acquisition like it’s the fountain of youth. “Growth hacking” has become the latest buzzword, as investors like Paul Graham profess it’s functionally that matters.

Clearly, everyone wants growth. To someone creating a new technology, nothing feels better than people actually using what you’ve built and telling their friends. Growth feels validating. Growth tells everyone the company is doing things right. At least that’s what we want to believe.

Good Growth, Bad Growth

Sometimes viral loops drive growth, because the product is truly awesome, while in other cases growth occurs for, well, different reasons. As an example of good growth, it’s hard to top PayPal’s viral success in the late 90s. PayPal knew that once users started sending money to each other, mostly for stuff bought on eBay, they would infect one another. The allure that someone just “sent you money” was a huge incentive to register.

Today, companies need more than just the Network EffectNote: I’m pleased to have co-authored this post with Sangeet Paul Choudary, who analyzes business models for network businesses at Platformed.info. Follow Sangeet on Twitter at @sanguit.

If there is one altar at which Silicon Valley worships, it is the shrine of the holy network effect. Its mystical powers pluck lone startups from obscurity and elevate them to fame and fortune. The list of anointed ones includes nearly every technology success story of the past 15 years. Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, eBay, and PayPal, have each soared to multi-billion-dollar valuations on the supreme power of the network effect.

But today, the power of the network effect is fading, at least in its current incarnation. Traditionally defined as a system where each new user on the network increases the value of the service for all others, a network effect often creates a winner-takes-all dynamic, ordaining one dominant company above the rest. Moreover, these companies often wield monopoly-like powers over their industries.

Personalized persuasion outperforms traditional persuasion methods“Successful entrepreneurs recommend reading this article about the persuasion techniques companies use to drive engagement.”

Scratch that, how’s this? “Tons of people are tweeting this article. Find out why.”

OK, here’s one more. “This article will only be on the TechCrunch front page for a few hours before fading into the information abyss.”

Perhaps your preference for one of the opening lines above is a matter of taste, but for companies leveraging the explosion of personalized data, it’s very big business.

Marketers are increasingly personalizing their products and services to meet their customers’ changing needs. But customization used in conjunction with powerful persuasion techniques is arming marketers with new weaponry to boost customer engagement and drive profits.

In the Habit ZoneAs the web becomes an increasingly crowded place, users are desperate for solutions to sort through the online clutter. The Internet has become a giant hairball of choice-inhibiting noise and the need to make sense of it all has never been more acute.

Just ask high-flying sites like Pinterest, Reddit, and Tumblr. These curated web portals connect millions of people to information they never knew they were looking for. Some have started monetizing this tremendous flow of traffic and though it’s too early to call winners and losers, their strategy of driving user engagement by creating daily habits is clear. These companies are following a plan implemented by web titans like Amazon and Google and are hoping to yield similar results.

Creating user habits leverages two critical factors that should be considered by every company attempting to build high-engagement products.

Variability keeps users engagedStep 1: Build an app. Step 2: Get users hooked to it. Step 3: Profit. It sounds simple and, given our umbilical ties to cell phones, social media, and email inboxes, it may even sound plausible. Recently, tech entrepreneurs and investors have started to look to psychology for ways to strike it rich by altering user behavior. Perhaps you’ve read essays on how to create habit-forming technology and figured you’d give it a shot?

Well hold your dogs Pavlov! Though I’m an advocate for understanding user behavior to build high-engagement products, the reality is that successfully creating long-term habits is exceptionally rare. Changing behavior requires not only an understanding of how to persuade users to act — for example, the first time they land on a webpage — but also necessitates getting them to behave differently for long periods of time, ideally for the rest of their lives.

Video from my recent talk about designing user habits, at the Designers + Geeks Meetup in San Francisco on August 1st, 2012.

Note: This Designing User Habits talk is similar to my “Behavior by Design” talk but has approximately 20% new material.

If you’re reading this over email and the video does not appear, click the link below:


Paying attention to user investment helps create products users loveThe belief that products should always be as easy to use as possible is a sacred cow of the tech world. The rise of design thinking, coinciding with beautiful new products like the iPhone, has led some to conclude that creating slick interfaces is a hallmark of great design. But, like all attempts to create absolute rules about how we should interact with technology, the law that design should always decrease the amount of effort users expend doesn’t always hold true. In fact, putting users to work is critical in creating products people love. This will be referred to as “user investment”, or “investment”.

Several studies have shown that expending effort on a task seems to commit us to it. For example, when buying a lottery ticket, players are able to either choose their own numbers or play a set of digits generated randomly. Certainly, choosing either option has no effect on the odds of winning. Traditional thinking would predict that the less effortful path would be the one users prefer.