Let’s say you’ve built the next big thing. You’re ready to take on the world and make billions. Your product is amazing and you’re convinced you’ve bested the competition. As a point of fact, you know you offer the very best solution in your market. But here’s the rub. If your competition has established stronger customer habits than you have, you’re in trouble.
The cold truth is that the better product does not necessarily win. However, there’s hope. The right strategy can crowbar the competition’s users’ habits, giving you a chance to win them over.
To understand how to change customer habits, we first need to understand what habits are and how they take hold. Simply put, habits are behaviors done with little or no conscious thought. Research shows almost half of what we do, day in and day out, is driven by these impulsive behaviors.
Consider just about any product you find yourself using without thinking and you’ll find a hook. Do you sometimes check your phone without really knowing why? Hook. Ever opened Facebook or Twitter to do just one thing only to find yourself scrolling and tapping 30 minutes later? Hook. Have you ever found yourself unable to stop playing a game like Candy Crush Saga or Angry Birds? Hook, hook, and more hooks.
Hooks have four basic parts: a trigger, action, reward and investment. User habits are valuable precisely because they do such a good job of keeping competitors out, making it exceptionally difficult for a new company to shake users from their existing routines. Here are the four ways fledgling products can win over users from the competition and successfully migrate them from one product habit to another.
1. Faster hooks.
In his book Something Really New, author Denis J. Hauptly deconstructs the process of innovation into its most fundamental steps. First, Hauptly states, understand the reason people use a product or service. Next, lay out the steps the customer must take to get the job done. Finally, once the series of tasks from intention to outcome is understood, simply start removing steps until you reach the simplest possible process.
Though it’s excruciatingly simple, understanding Hauptly’s first principles yield big results. Removing steps between the user’s recognition of a need and the satiation of that desire is at the core of all innovation, from the cotton gin to the iPhone. Products that can shuttle customers through the four steps of the hook more quickly than competitors, stand a good chance of winning them over to new routines.
For example, take the corporate collapse of Blockbuster at the hands of Netflix. Customers could watch the same movies at relatively similar prices from either movie rental company. Yet, the ease of having a film always ready to watch, versus needing to drive to a store to pick up the flick, delivered the reward faster. The ease of satiating the need and passing through the hook more quickly made all the difference. Movie enthusiasts migrated their habits to Netflix and Blockbuster subsequently filed for bankruptcy.
2. Better reward.
Our brains crave stimulation. Whenever an experience is more satisfying, more interesting, or more rewarding, we want more of it. Sometimes products establish new habits just because using them feels better.
For example, take Snapchat, the massively popular messaging app, which 77 percent of American college students say they use every day. The company is rumored to have turned down a $3 billion acquisition offer by Facebook, conceivably prompted by Mark Zuckerberg’s fear of losing his grip on college kids’ habits.
But why do so many users impulsively open Snapchat instead of Facebook? For many people, Snapchat is more rewarding. Whereas using Facebook involves scrolling through a cluttered newsfeed of ads, posts from distant acquaintances, and messages from tragically uncool relatives, Snapchat delivers pure high-octane excitement.
A defining Snapchat feature is that messages sent through the app can self-destruct — the receiver has just a few seconds to view the image before it’s gone. Facebook posts stay on the Net forever, whereas Snapchat gives users more freedom to share with, shall we say, indiscretion.
In a recent survey, 14 percent of users admitted to sexting on Snapchat. Though the study found that sharing pics of naughty bits doesn’t occur often, it is one example of what makes the app more enticing.
The ability to share spontaneous (and often embarrassing) images without fear they’ll linger on the web generates more interesting messages for the receiver and therefore increases the likelihood of using the app. If a user was to receive two messages simultaneously, one a message on Facebook and the other on Snapchat, it’s the more rewarding app that gets clicked.
3. Higher frequency.
Studies show behaviors done more often have a higher habit-forming potential while those done less often do not usually become routines. When it comes to pulling users away from their existing habits, products that can engage users more frequently than their competitors, have a better shot at bringing users back.
Every few years, a new way of engaging customers becomes possible. What I call an “interface change,” reshuffles the deck of user behavior and creates new opportunities to form habits. For example, successive interface changes occurred with adoption of the personal computer, then widespread Internet connectivity, then mobile devices, and now the coming of wearables. Each created an opportunity to shift customer behavior out of existing routines and into new, more frequently used interfaces.
When Amazon first began selling books online in the 1990s, it made shopping a more frequent behavior by putting the store inside the customer’s home via the Internet. Today, Amazon has become the world’s “everything store” and threatens all offline retailers with the ease and convenience of shopping for whatever whenever. In many households, dropping an item into their Amazon cart is something done nearly every day.
4. Easier in.
A characteristic of many habit-forming products is that they are easy to start and hard to stop. By breaking down some barrier to begin using the product, companies have found success wooing users away from competitors.
For example, though Microsoft Office is still the world’s most popular productivity software, the suite has come under attack by rivals such as Google and Apple who each removed a major barrier to start using their software by making it free and easy to use. When Google Docs first launched, it provided a fraction of the functionality offered by Office. But at the time using Office required downloading and paying for the software while Google Docs provided immediate entry.
Over time, learning how to use Google Docs, creating new files and inviting others to share those documents online, all made leaving difficult. The more the product was used, the more the habit took hold.
The Monopoly in the mind
Habit-forming products utilize four strategies to get inside users’ heads. By shuttling users through the four steps of the hook faster, better, more frequently, or by making it easier to start using the product in the first place, companies can wrestle user habits away from incumbent competitors.
Top Consumer Psychology Articles
- The New Norms of Business: Interview with Nathalie Nahai
- Can We Regulate Social Networks To Curb Addiction—Without Making Them Suck?
- So, You Want To Become a Great Product Manager? [Q&A with Jackie Bavaro]
- Will Clubhouse be a Habit or Has-Been?
- The One Fitness App That Hooked Me For Good
- Here’s How Fortnite ‘Hooked’ Millions
- How Apps Can Shape Your Future Self
- How Netflix’s Customer Obsession Created a Customer Obsession
- Want to Design User Behavior? Pass the ‘Regret Test’ First
- How to Trigger Product Usage that Sticks
- How to Get People to Help Each Other, Online and Off
- Here’s How Amazon’s Alexa Hooks You
- How to Use Psychology to Make Persuasive Video
- How to Use Personality Science to Drive Online Conversions
- The Unbelievable Future of Habit-Forming Technology
- The Secret Marketing Power of Evolutionary Psychology
- Don’t Ask People What They Want, Watch What They Do
- How Cognitive Biases Can Help (and Hurt) Your Business
- What Most People Don’t Know About Behavioral Design
- How to Start a Career in Behavioral Design
- Your World is Full of Placebo Buttons (and That’s a Good Thing)
- How to Build Technology that Feels Like a Friend
- 3 Pillars of the Most Successful Tech Products
- Here’s How to Ethically Manipulate Other People
- How Two Companies Hooked Customers On Products They Rarely Use
- How to Hook Users in 3 Steps: An Intro to Habit Testing
- Die Dashboards, Die! Why Conversations Will Reinvent Software
- The Secret to Sending Emails and Notifications That Work
- How to Win Your Competition’s Customers
- Hooked for Good: How Habit-Forming Products Improve Lives
- Good Products Start With Good Questions
- Human + A.I. = Your Digital Future
- Why ‘Assistant-As-App’ Might Be the Next Big Tech Trend
- People Don’t Want Something Truly New, They Want the Familiar Done Differently.
- 4 Ways to Win Your Competitor’s Customer Habits (Slides)
- Here’s Why You’ll Hate the Apple Watch (and the Important Business Lesson You Need to Know)
- The Secret Psychology of Snapchat
- The Psychology of Notifications: How to Send Triggers that Work
- How Technology Tricks You Into Tipping More
- Building Community Starts with Understanding People
- When Persuasion Becomes Deception
- Mastering Pricing Principles
- A Handy Behavioral Design Toolkit
- Onboarding Matters – Getting Users Engaged in your Product
- The Limits of Loyalty: When Habits Change, You’re Toast
- Dual Process Theory: Is Your Product the Elephant or the Rider?
- 4 Ways to Use Psychology to Win Your Competition’s Customers
- Web Psychology – The Science of Online Persuasion
- Developing User Empathy with Design Sprints
- The Real Reason “Stupid” Startups Raise So Much Money
- Understanding the Psychology Behind Game Design
- The Psychology Behind Why We Can’t Stop Messaging
- How to Do Effective User Research
- Context Driven Design (The “Context Effect”)
- The Psychology of a Billion-Dollar Enterprise App: Why is Slack so Habit-Forming?
- Writing Copy for Your Reader’s Brain
- Designing Habit-Forming Products
- Framing Reward is as Important as Reward Itself
- Games, Play, and Motivation
- How Scarcity & Impatience Drive Irrational User Behavior
- Should You Listen To Your Users or Your Data?
- Emotional Engagement – Designing with the Heart in Mind
- A Free Course on User Behavior
- It’s Not All Fun And Games: The Pros and Cons of Gamification at Work
- Product Psychology: The 3 Things Everyone Should Know About
- Getting Traction: How to Hook New Users
- Designing for Behavior Change Book Review
- The Sneaky Trick Behind the Explosive Growth of the Kardashian Game
- How Successful Companies Design for Users’ Multi-Device Lives
- The Link Between Habits and User Satisfaction
- What Triggers The Best Word of Mouth Marketing?
- What Tech Companies Can Learn from Rehab
- The Secrets of Addictive Online Auctions
- Teach or Hook? What’s the Real Goal of Online Education?
- Using Mind Control to Raise Startup Cash
- How To Build Habits In A Multi-Device World
- How To Cope with Your Insane Jealousy Of The WhatsApp Deal
- Why Do Fads Fade? The Inevitable Death Of Flappy Bird
- You’d Be Surprised By What Really Motivates Users
- Nostalgia: A Product Designer’s Secret Weapon
- How You Can Help Users Change Habits
- Is “Lean Startup” Right for Your Idea?
- Hunting for Habits: Keying in on smart design to make a product irresistible
- Are Companies Too Obsessed With Growth? How to Measure Habits
- Refresh: The App a Secret Agent Would Love
- Angel or Devil: Who’s Really Investing In Your Start-Up?
- In 10 Years, We Won’t Use Personal Technology
- 4 Simple Things I Did to Control My Bad Tech Habits
- “Yes, And”: The Two Words that Created a #1 App
- From Laid to Paid: How Tinder Set Fire to Online Dating
- What if In-App Purchases Came to Real Life?
- Hooking Users One Snapchat at a Time
- How To Save Your Startup From The “Spotlight Effect”
- Bible App: Getting 100 Million Downloads is More Psychology Than Miracles
- How to Boost Desire Using the Psychology of Scarcity
- Marketplaces & The Curse of the Network Effect
- Today’s Behaviors, Tomorrow’s Startups
- Venture Capital and The Superstitious Investor
- The Future is Driven by Interface Changes
- Why Business is Addicted to Habits
- Viral Loops Or Viral ‘Oops’?
- Making a Marketplace
- What Killed Turntable.fm?
- What You Don’t Know About Human Intuition Can Hurt You
- Designing to Reward our Tribal Sides
- New Video – “Hooked: Building Habit-Forming Products”
- How Technology is Like Bug Sex
- Ways To Get People To Do Things They Don’t Want To Do
- The Network Effect Isn’t Good Enough
- Mass Persuasion, One User At A Time
- How Investment Drives Engagement (Slides)
- Getting Your Product Into the Habit Zone
- Where Have The Users Gone?
- Infinite Scroll: The Web’s Slot Machine
- Designing User Habits Video
- Psychology of Sports: How Sports Infect Your Brain
- This is Your Brain On Boarding: How to Turn Visitors Into Users
- User Investment: Make Your Users Do the Work
- Behavior by Design Video
- When Designing for Good Is Bad
- Stop Building Apps, Start Building User Behaviors
- The Next Secrets of the Internet
- User Growth and Engagement: A Hacker Metric
- Spotting the Next Facebook: Why Emotions are Big Business
- The Billion Dollar Mind Trick: An Intro to Triggers
- Why Everyone Hates I.T. People
- Hooking Users In 3 Steps: An Intro to Habit Testing
- Abolish The Reference Check
- Variable Rewards: Want To Hook Users? Drive Them Crazy
- How to Design Behavior (The Behavior Change Matrix)
- How To Design For “Normals”
- The Hook Model: How to Manufacture Desire in 4 Steps
- User Habits: Why Startups Must Be Behavior Experts
- What Is, and Is Not, Your Product’s Job
- Pinterest’s Obvious Secret
- Personalized eCommerce Is Already Here, You Just Don’t Recognize It
- Where is the Web Going?
- The Developer Divide: When Great Companies Can’t Hire
- Being a Quitter Makes You a Good Entrepreneur
- Behavior by Design
- Why You Should Run Your Business Barefoot
- Are you a Startup Star, Wacko, or Wannabe?