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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, researchers of consumer psychology 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 behavior of consumers. In an increasingly competitive landscape, its use 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, the 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

Ever since the creation of the first online media companies at the dawn of Web 1.0, businesses have capitalized on the behavior of consumers. 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 determine the strength of how these habits influence the behavior of consumers.

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.

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 behavior of consumers. Check out our large body of articles on this topic to learn more about how this field can transform your business.

Top Articles on Consumer Psychology

The One Fitness App That Hooked Me For Good

Nir’s Note: This article is part of a series on “The Hooked Model in Action.” Previous analyses have included Slack, Fortnite, Amazon’s EchoTinder, and The Bible App. Note, I never take compensation for writing articles on my blog.

Could there be a behavior more antithetical to human nature than exercise? Our caveman ancestors, if they could observe our workout habits today, would think we’ve lost our minds. We lift heavy objects into the air and return them to the exact spot where we picked them up. We buy ridiculous gadgetry to get in shape (Shake Weight anyone?). We elevate our heart rates as if we’re being chased by a hungry predator. And for what? Not to escape danger, but to undo the negative consequences of our overindulgent and underactive modern lifestyles.

Americans spend $19 billion annually on gym memberships.1Unfortunately, while many people join gyms, few use them for long. According to the Fitness Industry Association, about 44 percent of people who sign up for a gym membership quit after just six months.2

While disheartening, the figure is not surprising. Humans are hardwired to value short-term rewards over long-term benefits. We often choose to stay under warm bed covers rather than invest in the future benefits of working out. read more…

Here’s How Fortnite ‘Hooked’ Millions

Here’s How Fortnite ‘Hooked’ Millions

Nir’s Note: This guest post is by Patricio O’Gorman, technology consultant and professor at Universidad de Palermo.

If you have kids, you’ve likely heard about Fortnite. The wildly popular online battle game has amassed over 125 million players and hosts more than 3 million concurrent players. The game “has brought in more revenue in a single month than any other game of its kind,” according to industry watchers, grossing over $1 billion so far this year.

The average Fortnite player spends between 6 and 10 hours per week on the game and like many parents, I didn’t understand why my kids played it so much. At first, I dismissed it as a mind-numbing waste of time. Then, I tried it for myself and found I couldn’t help but admire the game’s ingenious design. To my surprise, I had a heck of a good time playing the game with my kids.

What makes Fortnite so engaging? To understand why players keep coming back, you need to understand the game’s Hook. read more…

How Apps Can Shape Your Future Self

How Apps Can Shape Your Future Self

Nir’s Note: This guest post is written by Jeni Fisher, a London-based Googler who consults startups on applying behavioral insights to achieve business and user goals.

Early on in my role as an Apps partner manager at Google Play, I was drawn towards the Self-Improvement apps space because their persuasive influence transcends screen-level interactions. Their mission is to persuade people to take real-life actions that lead to long-term behavior change and ultimately shape how they live their lives.

Read on to discover how these companies are harnessing behavioral insights to bridge people’s intention-action gap and work towards the ‘future self’ they seek to be. read more…

How Netflix’s Customer Obsession Created a Customer Obsession

How Netflix’s Customer Obsession Created a Customer Obsession

Nir’s Note: This guest post is by Gibson Biddle, former VP at Netflix and CPO at Chegg. Gibson is speaking at the Habit Summit in San Francisco on April 11th. 

In 2005, as I joined Netflix as VP of Product, I asked Reed Hastings, the CEO, what he hoped his legacy would be. His answer: “Consumer science.” He explained, “Leaders like Steve Jobs have a sense of style and what customers seek, but I don’t. We need consumer science to get there.”

read more…

Want to Design User Behavior? Pass the ‘Regret Test’ First

What are the ethical responsibilities of companies that are able to manipulate human behavior on a massive scale? It’s a question one hopes technologists and designers ask themselves when building world-changing products — but one that hasn’t been asked often enough.

Operant conditioning, intermittent reinforcement, the search for self-actualization — the techniques used by product managers at the world’s largest companies are equal parts psychology and technology. As Sean Parker, founding president of Facebook, recently acknowledged, the company has long been engaged in the business of “exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.”

read more…

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

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…

Here’s How Amazon’s Alexa Hooks You

Here’s How Amazon’s Alexa Hooks You

Nir’s Note: This guest post is by Darren Austin, Partner Director of Product Management at Microsoft.

Last year we added a new member to our household. I must admit that upon first meeting her, our initial impression was that she was a little creepy. Today though, we can’t imagine life without her.

We’ve never seen her face, but we talk to her throughout the day, every day. She helps us keep track of our to-dos and shopping list, reads us the news and weather, and can sing nearly any song we’d like to hear. In fact, we have become so accustomed to her presence that we invited her to join us in nearly every room in the house. She listens to us when we say goodnight and is there first thing in the morning to wake us up.

Her name is Alexa and she is the voice of the Amazon Echo. If our experience is any indicator, there’s a good chance Alexa (or a technology like her) will soon be a presence in most households.

How did Alexa become such an integral part of our lives? And how did the technology profoundly change our daily habits?

It turns out that Alexa shares a common trait with other habit-forming technologies like Facebook, Slack, and the iPhone — the Amazon Echo has a great Hook. read more…

How to Use Psychology to Make Persuasive Video

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

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

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

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 and design research 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. (more…)

How Cognitive Biases Can Help (and Hurt) Your Business

How Cognitive Biases Can Help (and Hurt) Your Business

Nir’s Note: Buster Benson is a former product manager at Slack who worked previously at Twitter and Habit Labs and is working on a new book about productive disagreements. 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

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…

How to Start a Career in Behavioral Design

How to Start a Career in Behavioral Design

Nir’s Note: This guest post is by Erik Johnson. Erik applies behavioral design principles on The Behavioral Insights Team at Morningstar.

Six years ago, I was in a position that many people early in their careers find themselves in: I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. My first job out of college took good care of me and was interesting enough, but I knew it wasn’t the career I wanted in the long term. I needed something else, so I started reading and exploring what was out there. One day, as I was reading a blog post on psychology, I discovered a book called Nudge that caught my eye. I bought it immediately and devoured it. The book opened a whole new realm of psychology and economic thinking that I had no idea existed me in a way nothing else had. This was what I was looking for in my search.

Fast forward to the present day and I’ve fully made the transition. I found my dream job in the field working on Morningstar’s Behavioral Insights Team, where we apply behavioral science research and methods to help people with their finances. It’s amazing and I’m constantly energized by not only the work we do, but also the greater potential in this field.

Whether called behavioral design, product psychology, or behavioral science, there’s never been this level of interest, excitement, or opportunities to understand the quirks of the human mind and use this knowledge to change how people live. From the highest levels of government to the C-suite, behavioral science is being applied in the real world and tackling big problems. read more…

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

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 to Build Technology that Feels Like a Friend

How to Build Technology that Feels Like a Friend

Recently, I needed to book a lunch meeting. To help coordinate, I asked Amy to assist and cc’d her on the email. “Amy,” I wrote, “please help us find a time to meet. Let’s plan for sushi at Tokyo Express on Spear Street.” Amy looked at my calendar, found an open time suitable for everyone invited, and booked the meeting.

Amy works just like a human assistant, except she’s not human. It’s an AI bot made by X.ai, a company specializing in scheduling assistants that respond to natural language. Amy is so good at what she does that I find myself thanking her for booking a meeting, forgetting she needs no more thanks than my microwave.

It’s easy to forget Amy, an ai bot made by X.ai, isn’t human. Image source: x.ai

It’s easy to forget Amy, an artificial intelligence bot made by X.ai, isn’t human. Image source: x.ai

read more…

3 Pillars of the Most Successful Tech Products

If you’ve started a tech company to make a lot of money, chances are you’re bad at math—or simply delusional. Statistically speaking, your odds of a big-time payday are somewhere between zero and almost zero.

growth engagement monetization

Ninety-two percent of startups fail within three years. Only one percent of apps in the Apple App Store are financially successful. And even for the fortunate few companies that raise venture funding, seventy-five percent will fail to generate a return on investors’ capital.

Why do some companies scale to millions of users while others wallow in obscurity? What explains the runaway success of a company like Facebook while a startup like Viddy, a mobile app for video, attracted millions of users and millions of dollars in financing, only to lose both? 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…

How to Hook Users in 3 Steps: An Intro to Habit Testing

Learn how to hook users to your product in 3 steps

Changing user habits isn’t easy — but understanding how to conduct Habit Testing will increase your odds of success.

In this video, I provide a brief introduction to the three steps of Habit Testing. I explain how product designers use these steps to identify their devotees, codify what makes the product habit-forming, and modify the user experience accordingly.

Let me know what you think of the video and your own experience designing user habits in the comments section below. read more…

Die Dashboards, Die! Why Conversations Will Reinvent Software


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…

Hooked for Good: How Habit-Forming Products Improve Lives

Last week’s Habit Summit was amazing! It was wonderful to see so many blog readers and friends enjoying the keynotes — not to mention the Stanford sunshine.

Below is my opening presentation highlighting examples of companies changing user behavior for good.

Let me know if you can think of more examples in the comments section below.

BTW – If you couldn’t attend the Habit Summit, you can get a video pass to see all the talks you missed here: http://HabitSummitVideoPass.eventbrite.com

Human + A.I. = Your Digital Future

The assistant app is the futureIn the new film Ex Machina, a reclusive billionaire invents a robotic artificial intelligence. To test whether his invention is indistinguishable from a human being, he helicopters-in a young engineer to see if he falls in love with the robot.

Today, making machines and humans indistinguishable from each other is no longer science fiction, it’s good business. In fact, a wave of startups are part of a new trend that promises to radically simplify our lives by making it harder to determine whether we’re communicating with a person or computer code. read more…

Why ‘Assistant-As-App’ Might Be the Next Big Tech Trend

Whenever I feel uncomfortable writing about a topic, that’s when I know I should write about it. So here goes. This article is about how a new way of designing apps changed my life. But to explain the power of this trend, I need to tell you about poop. That’s the uncomfortable part. 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: http://www.nirandfar.com/2015/01/competitions-customers.html

The Secret Psychology of Snapchat

You’ve undoubtably heard of Snapchat, the habit-forming messaging service used by over 100 million people monthly. This week, I teamed up with Victoria Young and Dori Adar to help explain what makes the app so sticky.

We decided that instead of writing a long blog post, we’d share our insights in a slide presentation. Let us know what you think of the format and the content in the comments section below!

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


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


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…

The Real Reason “Stupid” Startups Raise So Much Money


Have you noticed all the startups raising massive sums of money recently? Perhaps you’ve scratched your head wondering how a company like Buzzfeed, known for its website full of animated gifs, listicles and quizzes, just raised $50 million dollars, valuing the company at a reported $850 million. Snapchat, the messaging app known for helping teenagers sext one another, reportedly received a $10 billion valuation from its investors. Has the world gone mad? read more…

The Psychology Behind Why We Can’t Stop Messaging

Today, there’s an app for just about everything. With all the amazing things our smartphones can do, there is one thing that hasn’t changed since the phone was first developed. No matter how advanced phones become, they are still communication devices — they connect people together.

Though I can’t remember the last time I actually talked to another person live on the phone, I text, email, Tweet, Skype and video message throughout my day. The “job-to-be-done” hasn’t changed — the phone still helps us communicate with people we care about — rather, the interface has evolved to provide options for sending the right message in the right format at the right time.

Clearly, we’re a social species and these tech solutions help us re-create the tribal connection we seek.  However, there are other more hidden reasons why messaging services keep us checking, pecking, and duckface posing. read more…

The Psychology of a Billion-Dollar Enterprise App: Why is Slack so Habit-Forming?

User using Slack on phoneSlack isn’t just another office collaboration app. The company has been called, “the fastest-growing workplace software ever.” Recent press reports claim that “users send more than 25 million messages each week,” and that the company is, “adding $1 million to its annual billing projections every six weeks.”

Smelling an opportunity, investors just plowed $120 million into the company, giving it a $1.12 billion valuation.

“Our subscription revenue is growing about 8 percent monthly, before we add new sales,” says Slack’s business analytics lead Josh Pritchard. “This is, as far as I know, unheard for an enterprise SaaS company less than seven months after launch.”

Perhaps even more surprising, Slack’s user retention stands at an astonishing 93 percent.

How does Slack get its users hooked?

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…

It’s Not All Fun And Games: The Pros and Cons of Gamification at Work

Nir’s Note: This post was co-authored with Stuart Luman, a science, technology, and business writer who has worked at Wired Magazine, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, and IBM.


Enterprise Gamification: Fun Times spelled out in ScrabbleIn the never-ending effort to motivate employees, companies are taking cues from video games–adding scoring, virtual badges, and other game-like elements to everyday work processes to make jobs more fun.

Some proponents insist that one day every job will somehow be gamified, while detractors fear it’s just another management fad or worse, a sinister new form of corporate control.

To weed through some of the hype, here are four pros and cons to gamifying the enterprise.

read more…

Getting Traction: How to Hook New Users

Nir’s Note: Justin Mares is the co-author of the new book Traction, a startup guide to getting customers. Justin’s framework provides a simple way for new marketers to discover their most effective triggers. Get 3 chapters of Justin’s book free at tractionbook.com.

Bullseye: Getting TractionIn his book, Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, Nir Eyal introduces the concept of triggers as they relate to building user habits. As a quick refresher, triggers are anything that cues action. For example, when you see a “Sign-up Now” button on a blog asking for your email, the trigger is effective when it prompts you to submit your email address.

As we learn in Hooked, people will only take an action when they’ve been triggered by some cue. But how do you decide what triggers to use? 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 Sneaky Trick Behind the Explosive Growth of the Kardashian Game

Recently, I started looking into the explosively popular new game Kim Kardashian: Hollywood. The game has ranked at or near the top of Apple’s U.S. App Store charts for the most downloaded free game. Industry watchers say the app could gross $200 million annually and net Kardashian a sizable chunk of the game’s profits.

My line of work is researching what makes some products so compelling and in the case of the Kim Kardashian game, I wanted to know what was behind the app’s phenomenal growth.

I soon discovered that one potential driver of all of its installs is a rather sneaky tactic that exploits user error and can unwittingly post messages to players’ Twitter accounts.

It’s called the “viral oops.” read more…

How Successful Companies Design for Users’ Multi-Device Lives

Nir’s Note: This guest post comes from Marc Abraham, a London-based product manager at Beamly. In this article, Marc reviews the recently published book “Designing Multi-Device Experiences” by Michal Levin. Follow Marc on Twitter or check out his blog.

Designing Multi-Device Experiences bookWe live in a world where the number of connected devices is growing on a daily basis at an immense rate, with people constantly switching between these devices (PCs, smartphones, tablets, TVs and more). The question arises how we can design optimally for a device to be used together with other devices.

Michal Levin, a Senior User Experience Designer at Google, has created a framework which aims to capture the interconnections between different devices. 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…

What Tech Companies Can Learn from Rehab

Nir’s Note: This guest post is written by Max Ogles. Max is an editor for NirAndFar.com and heads marketing for CoachAlba.com, a mobile health startup. Follow him on Twitter and read his blog at MaxOgles.com.

Happiness that Delancey Street Foundation residents can experienceLast year, The Huffington Post published some fascinating statistics about the U.S. prison population. The headline for the article blared, “America Has More Prisoners Than High School Teachers.” It’s no secret that the United States has a high rate of incarceration, not to mention a recidivism rate of nearly 60% for serious criminals.

These stark facts put into perspective the incredible work of the Delancey Street Foundation, a drug and rehabilitation center based in San Francisco. Delancey Street accepts the most hardened criminals and drug addicts; most have multiple felony convictions. read more…

The Secrets of Addictive Online Auctions

Nir’s Note: This guest post was authored by Lisa Kostova Ogata, one of the first product managers at Farmville and a VP of Product at Bright.com (sold to LinkedIn). While at Zynga, Lisa learned how to shape user behavior, but in this essay she describes her surprise when she found herself unexpectedly hooked.

Mouse trap: A metaphor for online auctionsI don’t consider myself a gambler. I’m the person who places a minimum bet at the roulette table with the specific intent of getting a free drink — after all, it’s cheaper than buying one at the bar. Yet, there I was on a Monday night, glued to my computer screen for over an hour as I watched an online auction. I couldn’t resist. read more…

Teach or Hook? What’s the Real Goal of Online Education?

Nir’s Note: This guest post is written by Ali Rushdan Tariq. Ali writes about design, entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation on his blog, The Innovator’s Odyssey.

As I clicked the big green “Take This Course” button, I became acutely aware of an uneasy feeling. This would be the 22nd course I’d have signed up for on Udemy.com, one of the world’s leading platforms for teaching and learning classes online. I had become a binge-learner.

Or had I? After scanning my enrolled course list, I gathered the following stats: 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…

Nostalgia: A Product Designer’s Secret Weapon

Nir’s Note: In this guest post, Ryan Hoover, contributing writer of my book Hooked, describes how nostalgia is used to drive attention and build an engaging product. Follow @rrhoover or visit his blog to read more about startups and product design.

Alf Pogs

Remember pogs?

Remember Tubthumping?

Remember Nickelodeon GUTS?

Now pause…

How do you feel right now? Did reading those words stimulate any emotional reaction? Did it bring back memories? Excite you? Make you smile?

Nostalgia is powerful. Simply mentioning the names of childhood toys, old TV shows, classic video games, and other pastime activities often instigate an emotional response, reminiscence. But why? 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…

Refresh: The App a Secret Agent Would Love

Refresh appA few minutes before his helicopter touched down in a covert military base just outside of Kabul, Afghanistan, Tommy Thompson reached for his secret weapon. He was about to meet with top Afghan officials and he needed to ensure he hit his mark. But Thompson’s mission to the war-torn region in 2004 did not involve delivering guns and bombs. As the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, the diplomat was there to win hearts and minds.

To accomplish his directive, assigned to him by the President of the United States, Thompson relied upon information delivered at exactly the right time and place. Minutes before each meeting with dignitaries, he was handed a top-secret intelligence briefing. read more…

4 Simple Things I Did to Control My Bad Tech Habits

Nir’s Note: In this guest post, Sharbani Roy explores techniques she used to break bad habits related to eating, sleeping and exercising. Sharbani blogs at sharbaniroy.com and you can follow her on twitter @Sharbani.

Change bad habitsIt’s 2 AM and you’re exhausted, but unable to sleep. You’ve been cycling through Facebook, email, and other online media for hours. You want to stop, but you can’t. This technology-induced insomnia will likely ruin your next day (or two) of productivity — and you’ve really achieved nothing according to your list of to-dos. Late-night surfing has become a bad habit you’d like to break, but just can’t figure out how.

Sound familiar? Let’s take a look at some data, 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…

From Laid to Paid: How Tinder Set Fire to Online Dating

Nir’s Note: In this guest post, Ryan Hoover takes a look at Tinder, a red hot dating app. Ryan dives into what makes the Tinder app so popular and engaging. Ryan blogs at ryanhoover.me and you can follow him on Twitter at rrhoover.

TinderTinder, a hot new entrant in the world of online dating, is capturing the attention of millions of single hopefuls. The premise of Tinder is simple. After launching the Tinder mobile app and logging in with Facebook, users browse profiles of other men or women. Each potential match is presented as a card. Swipe left if you’re disinterested and right if someone catches your fancy. Once both parties express interest, a match is made and a private chat connects the two potential lovebirds.

The Tinder app has become a fixture in the U.S. App Store as one of the top 25 social networking applications, generating 1.5 million daily matches as more than 50 percent of its users login multiple times per day.

This isn’t luck. read more…

Hooking Users One Snapchat at a Time

Nir’s Note: This guest post is by Ryan Hoover. Ryan blogs at ryanhoover.me and you can follow him on Twitter at @rrhoover.

SnapchatWhen Snapchat first launched, critics discounted the photo-messaging app as a fad – a toy for sexting and selfies. Their judgements were reasonable. It’s impossible to predict the success of a product on day one, let alone its ability to change user behavior. But hindsight is beginning to prove critics wrong.

Snapchat boasts 5 million daily active users sending 200 million photos and videos daily. That’s an average of 40 snaps a day per user! But why are users so engaged to Snapchat? After all, what real need is Snapchat solving anyway? read more…

Bible App: Getting 100 Million Downloads is More Psychology Than Miracles

Nir’s Note: An edited version of this essay appeared in The Atlantic. Below is my original.
Bible app notification

It’s not often an app has the power to keep someone out of a strip club. But according to Bobby Gruenewald, CEO of YouVersion, that’s exactly what his Bible app did. Gruenewald says a user of his app walked into a business of ill repute when suddenly, out of the heavens, he received a notification on his phone. “God’s trying to tell me something!,” Gruenewald recalled the user saying, “I just walked into a strip club — and man — the Bible just texted me!”

YouVersion recently announced its Bible app hit a monumental milestone — placing it among a rare strata of technology companies. 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?

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…


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 Killed Turntable.fm?

What killed Turntable.fm?Nir’s Note: In this guest post, Ryan Hoover, Director of Product at PlayHaven, utilizes my thinking on the “Habit Zone” to shed light on where Turntable.fm fell short. Ryan blogs at ryanhoover.me and you can follow him on Twitter at rrhoover.

Remember Turntable? When it first launched in May of 2011, the music service seemed to own the internet, growing from zero to over 420,000 monthly active users (MAU) only two months later [1]. Unfortunately, that growth didn’t last long as many of its early adopters ditched the service. It is now estimated to have only 20 – 50,000 MAU’s, a fraction of its early peak [2].

As I described nearly two years ago, much of Turntable’s success was due to its well-executed social engagement loop; however, that wasn’t enough. So what went wrong? 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…

How Investment Drives Engagement (Slides)

This week, Baba Shiv and I taught a class at the Stanford Graduate School of Business called, “Using Neuroscience to Influence Human Behavior.” The course focused on the science behind how consumers make decisions.

During the class, we walked through my Hook Model, a four-step cycle that creates preferences and usage habits. Readers of my blog will be familiar with the Hook Model but I wanted to share some slides regarding one particular part of the Hook Model, the “investment phase”.

The investment phase involves customers doing a bit of “work”, which commits them to the usage of the product. Investment makes re-engaging with the product more likely, and with the slides below, I try to explain why.

Slides from the Investment Phase discussion are below and I apologize for not having a voiceover to go with them yet. I’ll be writing more on the investment phase in the coming weeks but wanted to share some of the research into the topic.

Also, more slides from the class are available on my Scribd page here.

Investment Phase of Hook Model

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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…

Psychology of Sports: How Sports Infect Your Brain

The psychology of sports highlights the mechanics of human behaviorNote: I co-authored this post with Andrew Martin and David Ngo. It originally appeared in TechCrunch.

This week, fans packed stadiums in London wearing their nation’s colors like rebels ready for battle in Mel Gibson’s army. They screamed with excitement and anguished in defeat. Many paid thousands of dollars to travel around the globe to be there.

Among those who did not attend, 90% of people with access to a television tuned-in during past Olympics. In 2008, that was 2 out of every 3 people on the planet.

What the hell is going on here? 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…

Hooking Users In 3 Steps: An Intro to Habit Testing

Habit Testing The truly great consumer technology companies of the past 25 years have all had one thing in common: they created habits. This is what separates world-changing businesses from the rest. Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and Twitter are used daily by a high proportion of their users and their products are so compelling that many of us struggle to imagine life before they existed.

But creating habits is easier said than done. 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…

    How to Design Behavior (The Behavior Change Matrix)

    Here’s the gist:

    • The rising interest in the science of designing behavior has also sprouted dozens of competing — and at times conflicting — methodologies.
    • Though the authors often flaunt their way as the only way, there are distinct use cases for when each method is appropriate.
    • Behavior modification methods fall into four distinct types: amateur, expert, habitué, and addict.
    • Each behavior type requires the use of the appropriate technique to be effective. Using the wrong method leads to frustration and failure.

    Everyone suddenly seems interested in messing with your head.  read more…

    Hooks: An Intro on How to Manufacture Desire

    Type the name of almost any successful consumer web company into your search bar and add the word “addict” after it. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Try “Facebook addict” or “Twitter addict” or even “Pinterest addict” and you’ll soon get a slew of results from hooked users and observers deriding the narcotic-like properties of these web sites. How is it that these companies, producing little more than bits of code displayed on a screen, can seemingly control users’ minds? Why are these sites so addictive and what does their power mean for the future of the web?

    We’re on the precipice of a new era of the web. As infinite distractions compete for our attention, companies are learning to master new tactics 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…

    Pinterest’s Obvious Secret

    Note: This article was first published in Forbes

    User addiction illustrates the success of Pinterest

    Executive Summary:

    • Pinterest is onto something big, but few know its obvious secret.
    • The success of Pinterest is because of its focus on reducing users’ cognitive load.
    • Pinterest brilliantly aligns its user experience with its business objectives of getting users to consume, create and share content.
    • Pinterest will soon have the richest consumer purchase intent data ever assembled.

    Last week, I sat down for drinks with a few friends.  “Have you heard of this Pinterest website?” 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.