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The Marketer's Guide to Consumer Psychology

What is Consumer Psychology?

Like many business owners and product developers, you have probably found yourself wondering how it’s possible to appeal to a wide range of customers with seemingly unique needs. While you cannot appeal to every individual all of the time, it is certainly not the case that consumers behave in completely unpredictable ways. In fact, psychological researchers have invested countless hours of research into identifying patterns in consumer behavior. These patterns can help you take the guesswork out of designing and marketing your products.

The field of consumer psychology allows marketers and product designers to understand the behaviors of consumers. In an increasingly competitive landscape, the use of consumer psychology in product design plays a key role in determining which products and services are most successful at driving adoption. In addition to increasing customer adoption rates, consumer psychology principles can help increase customer retention rates beyond the point of initial sale. Conversely, effective applications of consumer psychology in product design can minimize customer churn, the process by which customers decide to stop purchasing a product they previously bought.

By becoming better-versed in consumer behavior patterns, you will watch your customer churn rates drop so that you can spend less time worrying about replacing lost customers and more time designing better products.

Get Consumers into the Habit of Using Your Product

Habits are good for business. In fact, many industries could not survive without them. 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.

Ever since the creation of the first online media companies at the dawn of Web 1.0, businesses have made money from their users’ behaviors. However, Web 1.0 companies measured themselves on pages viewed and CPM rates, rather than the strength of their user habits. This left them vulnerable to attack from social media companies, which plundered their user base as the web evolved. Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, armed with an arsenal of consumer behavior weaponry including hot triggers, variable rewards, and social proof, eventually dominated the Social Web.

Today, companies must build habit creation into their products and business models. Not only are users inundated by distractions, but also the acquiring of users is harder than ever before.

Habits are one of the ways the brain learns complex behaviors. In order to allow us to focus our attention on obtaining new insights, neuroscientists believe habitual behaviors are moved to the basal ganglia, an area of the brain associated with actions requiring little or no cognition. Habits form when the brain takes a shortcut and stops actively deliberating about the decision being made.

A recent study at the University College London, concluded that the more frequently a new behavior occurred, the stronger the habit. Google search provides an example of a service built upon a frequent behavior creating users habits. Internet searches occur so frequently that Google is able to cement its tool as the one and only solution in the habitual users’ mind. Users no longer need to think about whether or not to use Google, they just do.

Developing a customer habit of using your product will yield a growing base of active and engaged consumers. Simple metrics, such as retention rate and cohort analysis, can be applied to new consumers to determine the strength of these habits.

This introduction to consumer psychology and designing for customer retention offers just a small sampling of the countless marketing and product design tactics you can utilize to tap into the consumer’s subconscious. Check out our large body of articles on consumer psychology to learn more about how this field can transform your business.

Top Articles on Consumer Psychology

How to Trigger Product Usage that Sticks

Nir’s Note: This guest post is by Janet Choi, Senior Manager of Product Marketing and Content at Customer.io


Meditation, like any healthy habit, takes repetition to stick. But while the folks behind Calm, a meditation and mindfulness app, knew their product’s core value was helping people to learn and build a meditation practice—initially they didn’t put too much thought into the practice part of it all.

That changed when they dug into their behavior data and discovered that users who had taken pains to schedule a daily reminder in the app’s settings were much more likely to stick around. When they proactively prompted new users to set a daily reminder after completing their first meditation session, Calm saw a 3x increase in daily retention — and according to their analytics platform Amplitude, this boost impacted weekly and monthly retention as well.

Calm increased the success of their product by making it easier for their users to remember to use the app for its core product value.

If you make web or mobile products, you’re actually in the business of task management. You’re counting on your product to become a recurring part of your customers’ lives. In order to accomplish that, you have to motivate your users to build a new habit. read more…

How to Get People to Help Each Other, Online and Off

Nir’s Note: This guest post is by Max Ogles, who writes at MaxOgles.com.

On March 27, 1964, Kitty Genovese was brutally attacked and killed in the open streets of New York City. What makes Genovese’s story so tragic is that police later discovered numerous people were aware of Genovese’s distress but never came to her aid. Though the total number of witnesses is disputed, the story stands as an example of the bystander effect, the psychological phenomenon where people are less likely to assist if they know others are around.

But there’s good news. A 2011 research study showed that the bystander effect can actually be reversedWhile it’s unlikely you’ll witness a murder, the bystander effect can occur online as well as off. Understanding how to get people to help one another is important for anyone building an online community.

Let’s take a closer look at why the bystander effect occurs and the critical research that shows how to reverse it. read more…

How to Use Psychology to Make Persuasive Video

Nir’s Note: This guest post is excerpted from Nathalie Nahai’s best-selling book, Webs Of Influence: The Psychology of Online Persuasion.


A film, a piece of theatre, a piece of music, or a book can make a difference.
It can change the world. 

– Alan Rickman, Actor

What Makes Video Special?

Compared to other media types on the web, video is unique in the immediacy with which it can convey a vast amount of emotional and informational content to its viewers. By virtue of the fact that video is an instantaneous form of communication, it has the advantage of being able to create a shared experience, in which people can watch the same thing at the same time, wherever in the world they might be. As with all social content, enabling people to participate in such a way can create a profound sense of connection and community, which can help generate word of mouth and amplify the reach of your message.

Unlike images or copy, video (and audio) set the pace at which a story or message is delivered. Although it is true that people can stop watching whenever they choose, the analytics tools built into video hosting platforms are making it easier than ever before to assess when people are bouncing away. This means that you can track exactly how far individuals get through a piece of content before they stop consuming it, which may help infer why the video isn’t engaging its viewers as expected. This can then inform the process by which you optimise your media, making video one of the most trackable forms of web content, as well as one of the most emotive. read more…

How to Use Personality Science to Drive Online Conversions

Nir’s Note: This guest post is by Vanessa Van Edwards, lead investigator at the Science of People — a human behavior research lab. This exclusive book excerpt is from Vanessa’s new book, Captivate: The Science of Succeeding with People, which was recently named as one of Apple’s Most Anticipated Books of 2017.


We all want more conversions. More sign-ups, more sales, more clicks. And so we obsess over calls to action, user flow, and user-centric design. But there is one tool most entrepreneurs, web designers, branding experts, and copywriters forget to take into account—personality.

Understanding the science of personality can help attract, retain, and convert your ideal user. Before diving into how understanding personality can improve your company, it’s worth noting that there is a lot of bunk out there about personality. Myers-Briggs, DiSC, enneagram, all of those models have shown little or no peer-reviewed evidence1.

However, when it comes to established science about personality, look to what psychologists call, “The Big 5.” The Big 5 personality traits have been rigorously studied and tested for thousands of published studies. In short, this theory posits that everyone ranks high or low in 5 specific personality traits:

    • Openness: How adventurous, creative or open to new ideas someone is.
    • Conscientiousness: How organized, detail-oriented or orderly someone is.
    • Extroversion: How much someone likes being around people, how outgoing and talkative someone is.
    • Agreeableness: How easy going someone is, how cooperative they are and how easy it is for them to be on a team.
    • Neuroticism: How much of a worrier someone is, how reactive and emotionally stable they are2

read more…

The Unbelievable Future of Habit-Forming Technology

Nir’s Note: Jane McGonigal is a game designer at The Institute for the Future and bestselling author of Reality is Broken and SuperBetter. She’ll be speaking at the upcoming Habit Summit in April. (You can register here!) In this interview with Max Ogles, McGonigal discusses impact of future technologies on behavior, habits, and the way we design products.

Q: You recently worked on a project designed to visualize the future of technology. The idea was that using some future, not-yet-existent product, nicknamed FeelThat, people could actually share emotions with each other. (Here’s a link to the video.) What was the thinking behind it?

Jane McGonigal: This is a project with Institute for the Future to look at some of the emerging technologies that are being prototyped, tested, and innovated right now. We try to imagine where technologies might take us in a decade or more if they became widespread and popular. We use a process to collect signals, or “clues,” about the future that suggest things that might have the potential to change our lives down the road. Then we try to extrapolate where these signals will lead if they’re amplified. The video is the result of gathering around 50 different signals, such as technologies that are sensing or collecting data on our emotions, sharing them with others, or technologies that stimulate us neurologically so we change our feelings in real time.

All of that combined was in the story that you saw. But shortly after we shared the scenario and did the research, Mark Zuckerberg leaked that he started a new internal research and development group specifically to do what we showed in the video. So this may just be what we’re all doing in the future. read more…

The Secret Marketing Power of Evolutionary Psychology

Nir’s Note: Gad Saad is a professor of marketing at Concordia University and the author of The Consuming Instinct. He’ll be speaking at the upcoming Habit Summit in April. (You can register here!) In this interview with Max Ogles, Saad discusses the role of evolutionary psychology in modern marketing.

Q: Let’s start with a simple question: What is evolutionary psychology?

Gad Saad: Evolutionary psychology is applying evolutionary theory to understand the human mind. Evolution is typically used to explain all biological diversity, from how flowers evolved, to how a particular trait of an animal evolves. For example, why does the peacock have its tail that way that it does? The exact same tools of biology apply when we’re trying to understand the human mind. Put simply, evolutionary psychology is the pursuit of understanding the human mind through an evolutionary lens.

Q: Now to dive deeper, what are some of the specific tenets of evolutionary psychology?

GS: The first thing that evolutionary psychologists argue is that the forces of natural selection and sexual selection that are operative in biology can be used to explain psychology. In the game of life, there are two things that need to happen: First, I need to survive, then I need to mate. I can only extend my genes if both of those things happen. We uncover the adaptive problems that humans would have faced recurrently in the past, that would result in the human mind developing computational systems to solve these problems.

Secondly, evolutionary psychologists argue that the human mind is an amalgamation of both domain-general mechanisms and domain-specific mechanisms. Domain general mechanisms are things like intelligence, which can be transported across domains. You can use intelligence to solve a calculus problem and also to read literature. Evolutionary psychologists argue that the human mind is also comprised of domain-specific mechanisms. This means that the human mind would also have specific computational systems to solve adaptive problems such as avoiding predators, seeking nutritious foods, etc. Domain-specific mechanisms are like a Swiss army knife, with many types of blades for specific functions. read more…

Don’t Ask People What They Want, Watch What They Do

Nir’s Note: Irene Au is a design partner at Khosla Ventures and former Head of Design at Google, Yahoo, and Udacity. She’ll be speaking at the upcoming Habit Summit in April. (You can register here!) In this interview, she chats with Max Ogles about design strategy for startups.

Q: You have an impressive background as a designer at Google, Yahoo, and now at Khosla Ventures. Could you describe how your design role translates in venture capital?

Irene Au: As entrepreneurs start to recognize how crucial design and design thinking are to the success of their company, they are motivated to understand how to hire good designers, how to position them inside their organizations, and what this means for their product and development.

My role is to help our portfolio companies become successful, particularly as it relates to designing user experience. I wrote an e-book on design and venture capital that discusses this emerging role designers have at venture capital firms.

Q: At a VC firm, most of your work is with entrepreneurs. What would you say is something that they commonly misunderstand about design?

IA: Without a doubt, the most common gap for entrepreneurs is around the use of design research. Design research is all about understanding who you’re building for and what their needs are. With design research, we seek to understand “What are the users’ behavioral patterns and motivations?” and then “How can we anticipate their needs, solve problems for them, and build the experience in a way that fits with their workflow, mental models, and usage patterns?” Companies don’t invest enough in user research because they don’t realize how important and useful it is. read more…

How Cognitive Biases Can Help (and Hurt) Your Business

Nir’s Note: Buster Benson is a product manager at Slack who worked previously at Twitter and Habit Labs and is working on a new book about cognitive biases. He’ll be speaking at the upcoming Habit Summit in April. (You can register here!) In this interview, he chats with Max Ogles about how cognitive biases affect product design.

Q: You recently compiled and organized a list of more than 200 cognitive biases — our tendencies to think and act in quirky ways. What is it that draws you to biases?

Buster Benson: The list of cognitive biases on Wikipedia has been something that I return to a ton, but I have always been frustrated with not having figured it out—not understanding really what it all was to me. A few things bothered me. One of them was my hunch that there aren’t two hundred of them, that there’s actually a much smaller set.

Another one is the quirky nature of this fact that biases are self-referencing systems. We’re trying to understand a broken thinking process with a broken thinking process. It just delights me to see that. I haven’t figured it out, no one else has figured it out, but people are walking around thinking they figured it out. I like to be able to battle that a little bit.

Q: You founded Habit Labs, then worked at Twitter and now Slack. Can you think of a specific example of a bias that you encountered while you were building something?

BB: At Twitter I worked on analytics which is a really interesting one because analytics is data. Any time something is producing data, you become highly sensitized to how that data will be received, then you start to curate it. On analytics, I worked on trying to get “impressions” out. I wanted to get the number of times that people see tweets, available to all users especially business and pro users that are trying to optimize their audience. I fought for many, many months to justify that strategy because on the one hand, data is super valuable to our users because the faster the feedback, the faster you iterate, the faster you learn, the faster you master. We want our users to master their Twitter presence. read more…

What Most People Don’t Know About Behavioral Design

Nir’s Note: Susan Weinschenk is a behavioral scientist, author, and speaker at the upcoming Habit Summit in April. (You can register here!) In this interview, she chats with Max Ogles about some of the overlooked principles of behavioral design.

Q: You’re the author of the book, One Hundred Things Every Designer Should Know About People. What’s the one takeaway from the book readers get most excited about?

Susan Weinschenk: One thing that often surprises people is the important role of peripheral vision.

We’ve all been trained to pay attention to design in terms of what people are looking at, with the idea that the central part of the screen is the most important real estate. For many years, when I would teach in workshops, we would talk about primary real estate on the screen and how to use that. And that’s all in central vision. So I think that people haven’t understood, necessarily, how important our peripheral vision is.

Q: And what, specifically, is important to understand about peripheral vision?

SW: We take in information in our peripheral vision. We take it in mostly unconsciously; we react to emotional images or messages and danger in our peripheral vision and our peripheral vision is actually deciding where we should look next. And that’s all happening unconsciously and we just don’t realize it.

When product people realized that, they can go back and ask, “Wait a minute, what do we have on our screens in peripheral vision?” People often want to think about that and apply that right away because it’s pretty basic. 

Q: In your consulting practice, you help companies conduct behavioral design audits. What are some of the most common deficiencies that you discover?

SW: Whenever you are designing something you want people to do a particular thing like press that button there, or sign-up, or make the purchase, or whatever you’re designing for. But there’s so much going on in a project. One of the things people miss is they lose sight of the “micro moment.”

I’ll say, “Okay guys, the person, they’re on this page, exactly what is it you want them to do here, and have you done everything you can to make sure that thing happens?” There’s a tendency that that micro moment gets lost. read more…

Your World is Full of Placebo Buttons (and That’s a Good Thing)

All products and services, everything we buy and use, have but one job—to modulate our mood. The fundamental reason we use technology of all sorts, from stone tools to the latest iPhone, is to make us feel better. To prove the point, consider how perception of relief is tantamount to actual relief. Consider the so-called placebo button.

Take, for example, the lowly crosswalk button. When we find ourselves at an intersection, waiting for a light to change, we tap the button, sometimes more than once. Most people believe these buttons are connected to some master control box that will signal the light to change so we can cross the street. In truth, these buttons often do nothing.

The crosswalk button is a relic of the age before computer-controlled traffic signals. In New York City, for instance, “the city deactivated most of the pedestrian buttons long ago,” a New York Times article reported in 2004. Of the 3,250 walk buttons in the city at the time, some 2,500 were not functional. And yet, the Times noted, when faced with the buttons, “an unwitting public continued to push.”

Your World is Full of Placebo Buttons (and That's a Good Thing) Click To Tweet

Then there are elevator buttons. Have you ever noticed someone pushing the call button on an elevator when it’s already lit? I must admit I’ve done it myself. Particularly when I’m in a rush, I want to make sure the button has been pressed correctly—as if there were a way to press it incorrectly. It’s a wholly irrational response, yet in the moment, I can’t help myself. When I push the button, I feel better. read more…

How Two Companies Hooked Customers On Products They Rarely Use

Larry Page, CEO of Alphabet (the company formerly known as Google), has a quirky way of deciding which companies he likes. It’s called “The Toothbrush Test.” According to the New York Times, when Page looks at a potential company to acquire, he wants to know if the product is, like a toothbrush, “something you will use once or twice a day.”

How to Make a Customer Habit of Your Infrequently Used Product

Page clearly understands habits. As I wrote in my book, “Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products,” frequently used products form sticky customer habits. But what if your product doesn’t pass Page’s Toothbrush Test? Perhaps you’d like people to use your product or service frequently, but it just doesn’t make sense to do so. read more…

Die Dashboards, Die! Why Conversations Will Reinvent Software

pablo

In years to come, conversations will breathe new life into software—particularly the boring enterprise tools millions of knowledge workers begrudgingly use every day. Conversational user interfaces (CUIs) work because of our familiarity with messaging. Even the most technically complex interactions can look as simple as getting an SMS text when presented as a conversation.

There are three benefits conversational user interfaces have over traditional software and we believe these lessons can inform and inspire the redesign of countless online services. read more…

4 Ways to Win Your Competitor’s Customer Habits (Slides)

After the slide presentation I posted about “The Secret Psychology of Snapchat” received such a warm response from readers, I decided to create another set of slides. This presentation is about how to win over your competition’s customer habits. I hope you enjoy it.

For a deeper analysis, see this previous article I wrote on the topic: https://www.nirandfar.com/2015/01/competitions-customers.html

The Psychology of Notifications: How to Send Triggers that Work

Nir’s Note: This post was co-authored with Ximena Vengoechea. Ximena is a design researcher at Twitter and will be speaking at this year’s Habit Summit

iphone

In his famed experiments, Ivan Pavlov trained his dogs to associate mealtime with the ring of a bell. Pavlov found he could elicit an involuntary physical response in his dogs with a simple jingle. Every time his bell rang, the dogs began to salivate.

Today, the beeps, buzzes, rings, flags, pushes, and pings blasting from our phones prompt a similar response. They are the Pavlovian bell of the 21st century and they get us to check our tech incessantly.

However, as powerful as these psychological cues are, people are not drooling dogs. Your product’s users can easily uninstall or turn off notifications that annoy them.

What makes an effective psychological trigger?

read more…

How Technology Tricks You Into Tipping More

smartcab

You are unconsciously paying more. (Photo credit: Digital Dispatch)

My taxi pulled up to the hotel. I got out my credit card and prepared to pay for the ride. The journey was pleasant enough but little did I know I was about to encounter a bit of psychological trickery designed to get me to pay more for the lift. Chances are you’re paying more, too. read more…

The Limits of Loyalty: When Habits Change, You’re Toast

Hooked user“I’m endlessly loyal,” my wife said, staring straight into my eyes. But she wasn’t talking about our marriage — she was pledging her allegiance to a piece of software.

“I’ll never quit Microsoft Office,” she told me. “It does too much for me to leave it.” For a moment I wondered if her husband had engendered the same reverence, but then I remembered things at Microsoft aren’t all wine and roses. In fact, the conversation with my wife was sparked by a debate over switching from Office to Google Docs for our home business.

Apparently, we aren’t the only ones considering other options.  read more…

4 Ways to Use Psychology to Win Your Competition’s Customers

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. read more…

Framing Reward is as Important as Reward Itself

Carrot hanging from a threadOn May 1, 1981, American Airlines launched its frequent flyer program AAdvantage. Since then, a flood of loyalty programs have attempted to bring customers back through rewards.

Today, you can become a card-carrying member of just about anything: hotels, supermarkets, drugstores and pizza chains. If you’re in a store, chances are someone will ask, “Would you like to join our rewards program?”

Marketing professors, store managers and executives are still not sure how effective these initiatives are. read more…

A Free Course on User Behavior

Free Course on User Behavior: Product Psychology

I do quite a bit of research, writing, and consulting on product psychology — the deeper reasons underlying why users do what they do. I also frequently teach and speak on the topic. Invariably, after each talk, someone approaches me and asks, “That was very interesting. Now where do I learn more?” read more…

Designing for Behavior Change Book Review

Nir’s Note: This guest post comes from Marc Abraham, a London-based product manager. In this article, Marc reviews the recently published book Designing for Behavior Change by Stephan Wendel. Follow Marc on Twitter.

Designing for Behavior ChangeBehavioral economics, psychology and persuasive technology have proven to be very popular topics over the past decade. These subjects all have one aspect in common; they help us understand how people make decisions in their daily lives, and how those decisions are shaped by people’s prior experiences and their environment. A question then arises around what it means to change people’s behaviors and how one can design to achieve such change. read more…

The Link Between Habits and User Satisfaction

Nir’s Note: In this essay, Ryan Stuczynski and I discuss the relationship between habits and user satisfaction. Ryan was the Director of Analytics at Fab and today leads growth for theSkimm. Follow Ryan on Twitter or Medium.

Here’s the Gist:

  • People have limited bandwidth when it comes to mobile app usage and habits matter for long-term engagement.
  • Usage frequency helps explain whether a company is successfully creating user habits.
  • Companies able to create more frequent usage habits enjoy higher user satisfaction as measured by Net Promoter Scores.

In the company’s first quarter earnings call, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg told Wall Street investors, “almost 63% of people who use Facebook in a month, will use it in a given day.” He continued, “another stat that I think is actually quite interesting is we track how many people use Facebook not just every day … but what percent of people used it 6 days out of 7 days of the week. And that number, for the first time in the last quarter, passed 50%. So, that’s pretty crazy, if you think about it … read more…

What Triggers The Best Word of Mouth Marketing?

Nir’s Note: Jonah Berger is a marketing professor at the Wharton School and author of the New York Times bestseller Contagious: Why Things Catch On.  Contagious explains the science behind word of mouth, how six key factors drive products and ideas to become popular, and how you can apply that science to get your own stuff to catch on.

Camel from GEICO; great word of mouth marketing

Whether you run a small business or work for a large one, and whether you sell a product or offer a service, everyone wants their stuff to catch on.

More users, more sales, and more growth.

But why do some products and ideas become popular while others fail? And how can we harness that science to make our own products and services more popular? read more…

How To Build Habits In A Multi-Device World

Devices that build habitsNir’s Note: Michal Levin asked me to write this essay for her new book, Designing Multi-Device Experiences.

Allow me to take liberties with a philosophical question reworked for our digital age. If an app fails in the App Store and no one is around to use it, does it make a difference? Unlike the age-old thought experiment involving trees in forests, the answer to this riddle is easy. No!

Without engagement, your product might as well not exist. No matter how tastefully designed or ingeniously viral, without users coming back, your app is toast.

How, then, do you design for engagement? read more…

Why Do Fads Fade? The Inevitable Death Of Flappy Bird

Nir’s Note: Parts of this article are adapted from Hooked: A Guide to Building Habit-Forming Products.

Game Over screen in Flappy Bird On February 8, 2014, an app called Flappy Bird held the coveted No. 1 spot in the Apple App Store. The app’s 29-year-old creator, Dong Nguyen, reported earning $50,000 a day from the game.

Then, the Vietnamese developer sent a shocking message. In a tweet many dismissed as a publicity stunt, Nguyen wrote, “I am sorry ‘Flappy Bird‘ users, 22 hours from now, I will take ‘Flappy Bird‘ down. I cannot take this anymore.” And as promised, Flappy Bird disappeared the next day.

This is not the way success typically ends. read more…

You’d Be Surprised By What Really Motivates Users

Face in a computerNir’s Note: This article is adapted from Hooked: A Guide to Building Habit-Forming Products, a book I wrote with Ryan Hoover and originally appeared on TechCrunch.

Earlier this month, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone unveiled his mysterious startup Jelly. The question-and-answer app was met with a mix of criticism and head scratching. Tech-watchers asked if the world really needed another Q&A service. Skeptics questioned how it would compete with existing solutions and pointed to the rocky history of previous products like Mahalo Answers, Formspring, and Aardvark.

In an interview, Biz articulated his goal to, “make the world a more empathetic place.” Sounds great but one wonders if Biz is being overly optimistic. Aren’t we all busy enough? Control for our attention is in a constant tug-of-war read more…

How You Can Help Users Change Habits

Nir’s Note: This guest post comes from Stephen Wendel, Principal Scientist at HelloWallet and the author of Designing for Behavior Change. Steve’s new book is about how to apply behavioral economics to product development. Follow him on twitter @sawendel.

Help users change habitsIt can be extraordinarily difficult to stop habits head-on. Brain damage, surgery, even Alzheimer’s disease and dementia sometimes fail to stop them.[1] But why are they so difficult to change? read more…

Hunting for Habits: Keying in on smart design to make a product irresistible

Nir’s Note: In this guest post, Ryan Hoover describes the design decisions and strategies used to build a habit-forming product, largely influenced by the learnings on this blog.  Follow @rrhoover or visit his blog to read more about startups and product design.

Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fud

Recently, Nathan Bashaw and I launched Product Hunt, a daily leaderboard of the best new products. As two product enthusiasts, we wanted to create a community to share, discover, and geek out about new and interesting products. But to make it a success, we knew we had to make it a habit, a product people would use every day. read more…

Are Companies Too Obsessed With Growth? How to Measure Habits

Nir’s Note: In this guest post, Abhay Vardhan, discusses how to measure the strength of user habits with cohort analysis and retention rate. Abhay is a founder of Blippy.com and blogs at abhayv.com. Follow Abhay on Twitter @abhayvardhan.

How to measure habits: cohort analysis of PinterestForDogs

Imagine an entrepreneur showed you the graph to the right for his new app called, “PinterestForDogs.”

You would think PinterestForDogs is doing quite well, right? Well, it depends.

A common mistake entrepreneurs make is to focus too much on user growth. Instead, it is often more important to ask: “Is the product creating a habit so users keep coming back?” and “How do we measure the strength of such a habit?” read more…

“Yes, And”: The Two Words that Created a #1 App

Nir’s Note: In contrast to last week’s post on the power of saying “no,” Eric Clymer shares how a creative attitude helped his team build a #1 ranked app. Eric was the lead developer of the “A Beautiful Mess” app and is Partner at Rocket Mobile.

'Yes, And' helped create a #1 appIn improv comedy, there are really only two words that matter: “Yes, and.” You share a premise, form a scene, create a character, and if everything works out right, kill the audience. Then, you try and do it again with another, “Yes, and.”

Before I began developing for iOS, I performed stand-up and improv as a hobby. I never thought “Yes, and” would apply to the development of software and how to work with clients. But, in my best Louis CK voice, “It TOTALLY did.” read more…

How to Boost Desire Using the Psychology of Scarcity


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?https://twitter.com/JulesMaltz

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.

It’s About Context

read more…

Temptation

TemptationHow do products tempt us? What makes them so alluring? It is easy to assume we crave delicious food or impulsively check email because we find pleasure in the activity. But pleasure is just half the story.

Temptation is more than just the promise of reward. Recent advances in neuroscience allow us to peer into the brain, providing a greater understanding of what makes us want.

In 2011, Sriram Chellappan, an assistant professor of computer science at Missouri University of Science and Technology, gained unheard of access to sensitive information about the way undergraduates were using the Internet. His study tracked students on campus as they browsed the web. Chellappan was looking for patterns, which not only revealed what students were doing online, but provided clues about who they were.

“We believe that your pattern of Internet use says something about you,” read more…

The Future is Driven by Interface Changes

Nir’s Note: In this guest post Ryan Hoover takes a look at how interface changes drive innovation. Ryan blogs at ryanhoover.me and you can follow him on Twitter at rrhoover.

Interface changes can result in great opportunities for new startups and existing businessesWhat do motorized vehicles, broadband internet, and smartphones have in common? These technologies all introduced new forms of user interface, transforming its user’s daily lives and behaviors.

I’ve been studying Nir Eyal’s work and recently read his article on the power of interface changes. As stated in his post, interface changes have the potential to radically change user behavior, disrupt incumbents, and enable new opportunities only imagined in film and sci-fi novels.

If you’re building a new startup or operating an existing business, read more…

Why Business is Addicted to Habits

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, read more…

What You Don’t Know About Human Intuition Can Hurt You

What you don't know about human intuition can hurt youNir’s Note: This guest post is by Francesca Gino, an associate professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School and the author of “Sidetracked: Why Our Decisions Get Derailed, and How We Can Stick to the Plan

A few years ago, Joe Marks, then Disney’s vice president of research, visited Tokyo Disneyland and was puzzled by a particular behavior he observed there. Park visitors were standing in line, often for many hours at a time, outside a shop in the park’s Frontierland. Marks found out that they were waiting to buy an inexpensive (less than $10) leather bracelet on which they could have a name painted or embossed.

Why were the bracelets in such demand? Joe wondered. And why weren’t other stores in the park selling the same bracelets, so that Disney could improve visitors’ experiences by reducing their wait time? In Joe’s mind, the company needed to make the popular product more easily available.

As it turned out, Joe’s intuition, though supported by standard economic theory about supply and demand, was wrong. read more…

Designing to Reward our Tribal Sides

Our brain seeks out social rewards, especially for our tribeWe are a species that depend on one another. Scientists theorize humans have specially adapted neurons that help us feel what others feel, providing evidence that we survive through our empathy for others. We’re meant to be part of a tribe and our brains seek out rewards that make us feel accepted, important, attractive, and included; all in the form of social rewards.

Many of our institutions and industries are built around this need for social reinforcement. From civic and religious groups to spectator sports, the need to feel social connectedness read more…

How Technology is Like Bug Sex

Crowd at Consumer Electronics Show

The CES swarm.

This week, thousands of people swarmed the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Looking from above, the scene resembled an insect infestation of scampering masses in a hive of the latest must-haves.

When considering our complex relationship with technology, perhaps it is useful to reflect upon read more…

Ways To Get People To Do Things They Don’t Want To Do

There are 3 ways to get people to do things they don't want to doA reader recently asked me a pointed question: “I’ve read your work on creating user habits. It’s all well and good for getting people to do things, like using an app on their iPhone, but I’ve got a bigger problem. How do I get people to do things they don’t want to do?” Taken aback by the directness and potentially immoral implications of his question, my gut reaction was to say, “You can’t and shouldn’t!” To which his response was, “I have to; it’s my job.”

This gentleman, who asked that I not disclose his name, is the corporate equivalent of the guy the mob sends to break kneecaps if a worker doesn’t do as they’re told. For the past decade, he has run the same methodical process of cajoling, and at times threatening, people to do things they don’t want to do. “It’s really unfair and mean. I know it is,” he said. “But people have to comply or else people get hurt.” read more…

Mass Persuasion, One User At A Time

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, read more…

Getting Your Product Into the Habit Zone

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, read more…

Infinite Scroll: The Web’s Slot Machine

The infinite scroll is the magical design pattern todayA few years ago, everyone was clicking. Today, we’re all scrolling. Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram, and Medium – it seems everyone is getting on the infinite scroll bus. What is it about this magical design pattern that has so many consumer web companies using it?

Not too long ago, users were forced to reload pages to progress from one piece of content to the next. Web designers were advised against creating websites with information appearing “below the fold”, the portion of the page underneath what is displayed on the screen. As mobile phones and tablets gained wider adoption, it looked like the swipe might become standard fare. But that’s all changed now. Today, designers are read more…

This is Your Brain On Boarding: How to Turn Visitors Into Users

User onboarding is a crucial four-step process to master in order to see more effective user adoptionBefore you can change the world, before your company can IPO, before getting millions of loyal users to wonder how they ever lived without your service, people need to onboard through an effective user onboarding process. Building the on-ramp to using your product is critical in every industry, but few more so than in the ADD world of web and mobile apps. Distractions are everywhere, vying for user mindshare and threatening to pull them off the road read more…

User Investment: Make Your Users Do the Work

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 read more…

Behavior by Design Video

This presentation of my “Behavior By Design” talk was made possible by Innovation Endeavors, an early-stage venture fund in Palo Alto. Thank you to the Innovation Endeavors team for hosting me.

Also, special thanks to Paula Saslow for the fantastic video production.

NOTE: If you are reading this over email and you don’t see the video, click here.

Stop Building Apps, Start Building User Behaviors

We must build user behaviorsDo you get the feeling apps are getting dumber? They are, and that’s a good thing. Behind the surprising simplicity of some of today’s top apps, smart developers are realizing that they’re able to get users to do more by doing less. A new crop of companies is setting its sights on changing user behaviors; the small behaviors in your life, hoping to reap big rewards.

They’re using the best practices of interaction design and psychology to build products with your brain in mind. Here’s how they’re doing it: read more…

User Growth and Engagement: A Hacker Metric

Don't Your Eyes Off The Growth Hacker MetricIf you’re like me, you’ve had enough of the Facebook IPO story. For tech entrepreneurs struggling to build stuff, the cacophony of recent press is just more noise. That’s why when my friend Andrew Chen posted an insightful analysis of Facebook user data, I was happy to get back to learning from what the company did right instead of debating what its bankers did wrong.

Chen calculated Facebook’s historical ratio of daily active users (DAU) to monthly active users (MAU) and the stats are startling. read more…

Spotting the Next Facebook: Why Emotions are Big Business

Spotting the Next Facebook

Today Facebook will sell shares in one of the biggest tech IPOs in history. New investors will gobble up the stock to get a piece of the global phenomenon famously started in Mark Zuckerberg’s dorm room in 2004. But while owning the stock will have quantifiable value when it trades on the open market, few buyers will be able to say truthfully that they understood the value of the company just a few years ago.

Ask yourself candidly, what did you think of Facebook the first time you landed on its homepage? Were you blown away? Could you see how it would fill a gaping need in the lives of nearly a billion people? If you’re honest with yourself, read more…

The Billion Dollar Mind Trick: An Intro to Triggers

Note: I’m proud to have co-authored this post with Jason Hreha, the founder of Dopamine, a user-experience and behavior design firm. He blogs at persuasive.ly

Internal triggers are key to building widely-adopted productsYin asked not to be identified by her real name. A young addict in her mid-twenties, she lives in Palo Alto and, despite her addiction, attends Stanford University. She has all the composure and polish you’d expect of a student at a prestigious school, yet she succombs to her habit throughout the day. She can’t help it; she’s compulsively hooked. read more…

Variable Rewards: Want To Hook Users? Drive Them Crazy

Variable Rewards: Want To Hook Users? Drive Them CrazyHere’s the gist:

  • Rather than using conventional feedback loops, companies today are employing a new, stronger habit-forming mechanism to hook users—the Hook Model.
  • At the heart of the Hook Model is a variable schedule of rewards: a powerful hack that focuses attention, provides pleasure, and infatuates the mind.
  • Our search for variable rewards is about an endless desire for three types of rewards: those of the tribe, the hunt and the self.

read more…

User Habits: Why Startups Must Be Behavior Experts

NOTE: This post originally appeared in Techcrunch

Here’s the gist:

  • In the age of infinite online distractions, successful web businesses must generate new user habits to stay relevant.
  • The strength of a web company’s user habits will increasingly equate to its economic value.
  • Forming strong user habits is more important than viral growth.
  • The Curated Web will run on habits.

Face it; you’re hooked. It’s your uncontrollable urge to read more…

Personalized eCommerce Is Already Here, You Just Don’t Recognize It

NOTE: This post originally appeared in Techcrunch. (Photo credits)

Personalized eCommerce is already here

Reading Leena Rao’s recent article on Techcrunch about the personalization revolution, you get the sense that the tech world is waiting for a bus that isn’t coming. Rao quotes well-known industry experts and luminaries describing what needs to happen for e-commerce to finally realize the promise of personalized shopping, a future where online retailers predict what you’ll want to buy before you know yourself.

Ironically, Rao and her pundits are missing the zooming race car that’s speeding by them read more…

Behavior by Design

A few weeks ago, I presented to the California Nutrition Education Program, a great group of educators working to help Californians lead healthier lives.  My presentation was about how to use the Fogg Behavior Model along with some of my own techniques to design healthful habits in oneself and others.

The presentation is below.  Please excuse the unpolished speaker notes.

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