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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 Echo, Tinder, and The Bible App. Note, I never take compensation for writing articles on my blog. Could there be a behavior 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...

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...

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...

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....

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...

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...

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...

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...

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...

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...

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...

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...

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:...

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...

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...

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...

How to Build Technology that Feels Like a Friend

How to Build Technology that Feels Like a Friend

It’s impossible to ignore all the buzz about AI bots. Last month, Facebook’s David Marcus announced that over 30,000 bots have been built since the opening of its Messenger app to bot developers in April. Other companies like Google, Amazon, and Slack are welcoming bot-building developers to their platforms with open arms.

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. Ninety-two percent of startups fail within three years....

Here’s How to Ethically Manipulate Other People

Are we using behavioral design (and ethical manipulation) for good? How do we know? Now that we have the power to profoundly change peoples' habits through technology, how do change behavior ethically? Manipulation Matrix In this short video, I talk to Amir Shevat,...

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...

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

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...

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...

The Secret to Sending Emails and Notifications That Work

In this video I discuss the psychology of sending good triggers. The video is based on an earlier post written with Ximena Vengoechea. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hoKIcGVnSBo What do you think? What are some examples of well-timed triggers? Let me know in the...

How to Win Your Competition’s Customers

About a year ago, I wrote an essay about how to win your competition's customers habits. Today, I'd like to share a quick video of the ideas in that article. Let me know what you think about this format and if you'd like to see more videos like this one......

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...

Good Products Start With Good Questions

Nir's Note: My friend Jake Knapp just published a fantastic book titled, Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days. The book details a process he and his colleagues at Google Ventures use to quickly go from idea, to prototype, to live...

Human + A.I. = Your Digital Future

In 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...

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...

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....

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...

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...

How Technology Tricks You Into Tipping More

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...

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

“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...

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...

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...

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...

Framing Reward is as Important as Reward Itself

On 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,...

A Free Course on User Behavior

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...

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. In...

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. Behavioral economics, psychology and persuasive...

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...

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. We live in a...

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...

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,...

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. Last year, The Huffington Post published some fascinating...

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...

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....

Using Mind Control to Raise Startup Cash

Nir's Note: This guest post is written by Michael Simpson. Michael is the co-author of The Secret of Raising Money, which he wrote with Seth Goldstein. Raising money for a startup is like sex. The more unattainable you seem, the better your chances of getting lucky....

How To Build Habits In A Multi-Device World

Nir'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...

How To Cope with Your Insane Jealousy Of The WhatsApp Deal

Wednesday was my birthday. It should have been a great day. My wife and daughter had prepared a delicious breakfast, I had lunch with close friends, and I finished up some writing and client work. At the end of the day I headed to San Francisco to enjoy a swanky...

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. 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...

You’d Be Surprised By What Really Motivates Users

Nir'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...

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. Remember pogs?...

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. It can be...

Is “Lean Startup” Right for Your Idea?

Nir's Note: Lyle McKeany is an entrepreneur writing and working on an early-stage startup. In this essay, he shares his experience using lean startup methodologies with my Hook Model at the Lean Startup Machine conference. This article also appears today on Pando...

Are Companies Too Obsessed With Growth? How to Measure Habits

#logo 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. Imagine an entrepreneur...

Refresh: The App a Secret Agent Would Love

A 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...

Angel or Devil: Who’s Really Investing In Your Start-Up?

This article originally appeared in the Harvard Business Review A friend called me heartbroken, crying. She had spent months looking for investors to fund her fledgling startup and now she had a big problem. Someone was ready to give her the money. Trouble was, the...

In 10 Years, We Won’t Use Personal Technology

Nir's Note: In this guest post, user experience designer Aaron Wilson, discusses a deep flaw of our digital devices and makes an audacious prediction about the future of consumer technology. Follow Aaron on Twitter @aarowilso. No one wants to make a mistake like the...

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. It’s 2 AM and you’re exhausted, but unable to...

“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 a Partner at Rocket Mobile. In improv comedy,...

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. Tinder, a hot new entrant in the...

What if In-App Purchases Came to Real Life?

What if In-App Purchases Came to Real Life?

Nir’s Note: In this guest post, Jonathan Libov explores free-to-play apps with in-app purchases, and takes a wry look into our future. You can connect with him on Twitter at @libovness or visit his website, Whoo.ps. Three-card Monte is a classic street hustler's game....

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. When Snapchat first launched, critics discounted the photo-messaging app as a fad - a toy for sexting and selfies. Their judgements were...

How To Save Your Startup From The “Spotlight Effect”

Nir's Note: This guest post is by Max Ogles, a writer and entrepreneur based in Utah. Connect with him on Twitter at @maxogles. In the beginning of 2010, when daily deals site Groupon was really hitting its stride and copycat businesses were popping up left and right,...

How to Boost Desire Using the 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...

Marketplaces & The Curse of the Network Effect

Ethan Stock lived the Silicon Valley dream. He had recently sold his company to eBay and emanated the tanned skin and relaxed composure you'd expect of someone who just cashed a big corporate check. But as we sat across from one another in a Palo Alto...

Today’s Behaviors, Tomorrow’s Startups

Nir’s Note: In this guest post, Ryan Hoover takes a look at how new behaviors are shaping tech opportunities. Ryan blogs at ryanhoover.me and you can follow him on Twitter at rrhoover. Startups that build a product attached to nascent behaviors have an opportunity to...

Venture Capital and The Superstitious Investor

Nir's Note: This guest post comes from my friend Jules Maltz, a General Partner at Institutional Venture Partners (IVP), a late-stage venture capital firm based in Menlo Park. In this article, Jules admits something few people are brave enough to say here in Silicon...

Temptation

How 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...

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. What do motorized vehicles, broadband internet, and smartphones have in common? These...

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...

Viral Loops Or Viral ‘Oops’?

Recently, MessageMe announced it had grown to 1 million users in a little over a week's time. The revelation captured the attention of envious app makers throughout Silicon Valley, all of whom are searching for the secrets of customer acquisition like it's the...

Making a Marketplace

A Checklist for Online Disruption On November 13, 2012, Bill Gurley, a partner at Benchmark Capital, posted a remarkable essay on his blog. In it, he described the, “10 factors to consider when evaluating digital marketplaces.” Given the tremendous value marketplaces...

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...

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

Nir'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...

Designing to Reward our Tribal Sides

We 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...

How Technology is Like Bug Sex

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,...

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

A 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...

The Network Effect Isn’t Good Enough

Note: I'm pleased to have co-authored this post with Sangeet Paul Choudary, who analyzes business models for network businesses at Platformed.info. Follow Sangeet on Twitter at @sanguit. If there is one altar at which Silicon Valley worships, it is the shrine of the...

Mass Persuasion, One User At A Time

“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...

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...

Getting Your Product Into the Habit Zone

As 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...

Where Have The Users Gone?

Step 1: Build an app. Step 2: Get users hooked to it. Step 3: Profit. It sounds simple and, given our umbilical ties to cell phones, social media, and email inboxes, it may even sound plausible. Recently, tech entrepreneurs and investors have started to look to...

Infinite Scroll: The Web’s Slot Machine

A 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...

Designing User Habits Video

Video from my recent talk about designing user habits, at the Designers + Geeks Meetup in San Francisco on August 1st, 2012. Note: This Designing User Habits talk is similar to my "Behavior by Design" talk but has approximately 20% new material. If you're reading this...

Psychology of Sports: How Sports Infect Your Brain

Note: 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...

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

Before 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...

User Investment: Make Your Users Do the Work

The 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...

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....

When Designing for Good Is Bad

We in the design business love when people do what we want. Nothing is more satisfying than when a user intuitively understands what to do with what we've built. At the heart of good design, however, is understanding what the user really wants to get done. But what of...

Stop Building Apps, Start Building User Behaviors

Do 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...

The Morality of Manipulation

Let's admit it, we in the consumer web industry are in the manipulation business. We build products meant to persuade people to do what we want them to do. We call these people "users" and even if we don't say it aloud, we secretly wish every one of them would become...

The Next Secrets of the Internet

Right now, someone is tinkering with a billion dollar secret -- they just don’t know it yet. “What people aren’t telling you,” Peter Thiel taught his class at Stanford, “can very often give you great insight as to where you should be directing your attention.” Secrets...

User Growth and Engagement: A Hacker Metric

If 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...

Spotting the Next Facebook: Why Emotions are Big Business

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...

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 Yin asked not to be identified by her real name. A young addict in her mid-twenties, she lives in Palo Alto...

Why Everyone Hates I.T. People

Quick: what’s the biggest bottleneck in your company? Yup, we both know it’s the Information Technology department. Let’s face it, nobody likes IT people. For all of their technical wizardry, IT is where good ideas go to die. We follow their onerous documentation...

Hooking Users In 3 Steps: An Intro to 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...

Abolish The Reference Check

Congratulations! You’ve definitely found a winner. Don’t let the candidate return the call and make an offer immediately before someone else does. This scenario has actually happened to me a few times. It’s the best predictor of the quality of candidate I’ve ever seen. We immediately made offers to those candidates and without fail they turned out to be our best hires.

Variable Rewards: Want To Hook Users? Drive Them Crazy

Here’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...

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...

How To Design For “Normals”

Note: This post originally appeared in Techcrunch. I’m proud to have co-authored this post with Katy Fike, PhD.  Dr. Fike is a gerontologist, systems engineer and Partner at Innovate50, a consulting firm helping companies create products and services for the 50+...

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...

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...

What Is, and Is Not, Your Product’s Job

Recently, my mom came for a visit.  She read my blog and discovered her son has a crazy habit of running barefoot.  After some convincing, she begrudgingly accepted my rationale, especially after I showed her that a nice Jewish professor at Harvard said it’s ok. But...

Pinterest’s Obvious Secret

Note: This article was first published in Forbes 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...

Where is the Web Going?

Here’s the gist: Disruptive web innovation comes from changes in interface. Interfaces, which make information easier to understand by mainstream users, create world-changing companies. The next stage of the web is the Curated Web, which like the stages before, will...

The Developer Divide: When Great Companies Can’t Hire

(Photo credit) Lately, I’ve noticed a startling paradox in Silicon Valley.  I see shitty companies hiring more engineers than they know what to do with, while other, great companies struggle to fill open roles.  Now my definition of “shitty” is completely subjective,...

Being a Quitter Makes You a Good Entrepreneur

This post is part 3 of a 3-part series.  See part 1 here and part 2 here. When we look at successful entrepreneurs, it may appear that they spend their lives relentlessly driving towards a singular goal.  We assume the path to success was a straight shot, lined with...

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...

Why You Should Run Your Business Barefoot

This post is part 1 of a 3-part series.  See part 2 here and part 3 here. When I run, I don’t wear much clothing.  Just my tighty whities and an old pair of Umbro shorts.  I don’t wear shoes. Why I don’t wear shoes while running is another topic, but by the looks I...

Are you a Startup Star, Wacko, or Wannabe?

This week, I had the pleasure of presenting to the latest class of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs at the Founder's Institute.  I discussed my thoughts on what entrepreneurs should do first when starting a new venture.  Here is the video of the talk along with my slides...