Understand what drives user behavior.
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Resources for Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products
In an age of ever-increasing distractions, quickly creating customer habits is an important characteristic of successful products. How do companies create products people use every day? What are the secrets of building services customers love? How can designers create products compelling enough to “hook” users?
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 to stay relevant in users’ minds and lives. Today, just amassing millions of users is no longer good enough. Companies increasingly find that their economic value is a function of the strength of the habits they create. But as some companies are just waking up to this new reality, others are already cashing in.
A company that forms strong user habits enjoys several benefits to its bottom line. For one, this type of company creates associations with “internal triggers” in users’ minds. That is to say, users come to the site without any external prompting. Instead of relying on expensive marketing or worrying about differentiation, habit-forming companies get users to cue themselves to action by attaching their services to the users’ daily routines and emotions. A cemented habit is when users subconsciously think, “I’m bored,” and instantly Facebook comes to mind. They think, “I wonder what’s going on in the world?” and before rationale thought occurs, Twitter is the answer. The first-to-mind solution wins.
But how do companies create a connection with the internal cues needed to form habits? The answer: they manufacture desire by guiding users through a series of experiences designed to create habits. I call these experiences “Hooks,” and the more often users run through them, the more likely they are to self-trigger.
I wrote Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products to help others understand what is at the heart of habit-forming technology. The book highlights common patterns I observed in my career in the video gaming and online advertising industries. While my model is generic enough for a broad explanation of habit formation, I’ll focus on applications in consumer Internet for this introduction.
The trigger is the actuator of a behavior—the spark plug in the Hook Model. Triggers come in two types: external and internal. Habit-forming technologies start by alerting users with external triggers like an email, a link on a web site, or the app icon on a phone. By cycling continuously through these hooks, users begin to form associations with internal triggers, which become attached to existing behaviors and emotions. Soon users are internally triggered every time they feel a certain way. The internal trigger becomes part of their routine behavior and the habit is formed.
After the trigger comes the intended action. Here, companies leverage two pulleys of human behavior – motivation and ability. To increase the odds of a user taking the intended action, the behavior designer makes the action as easy as possible, while simultaneously boosting the user’s motivation. This phase of the Hook draws upon the art and science of usability design to ensure that the user acts the way the designer intends.
What separates Hooks from a plain vanilla feedback loop is their ability to create wanting in the user. Feedback loops are all around us, but predictable ones don’t create desire. The predictable response of your fridge light turning on when you open the door doesn’t drive you to keep opening it again and again. However, add some variability to the mix—say a different treat magically appears in your fridge every time you open it—and voila, intrigue is created. You’ll be opening that door like a lab animal in a Skinner box.
Variable schedules of reward are one of the most powerful tools that companies use to hook users. Research shows that levels of dopamine surge when the brain is expecting a reward. Introducing variability multiplies the effect, creating a frenzied hunting state, activating the parts associated with wanting and desire. Although classic examples include slot machines and lotteries, variable rewards are prevalent in habit-forming technologies as well.
The last phase of the Hook is where the user is asked to do bit of work. This phase has two goals as far as the behavior engineer is concerned. The first is to increase the odds that the user will make another pass through the Hook when presented with the next trigger. Second, now that the user’s brain is swimming in dopamine from the anticipation of reward in the previous phase, it’s time to pay some bills. The investment generally comes in the form of asking the user to give some combination of time, data, effort, social capital or money.
But unlike a sales funnel, which has a set endpoint, the investment phase isn’t about consumers opening up their wallets and moving on with their day. The investment implies an action that improves the service for the next go-around. Inviting friends, stating preferences, building virtual assets, and learning to use new features are all commitments that improve the service for the user. These investments can be leveraged to make the trigger more engaging, the action easier, and the reward more exciting with every pass through the Hook.
A reader recently wrote to me, “If it can’t be used for evil, it’s not a super power.” He’s right. And under this definition, habit design is indeed a super power. If used for good, habits can enhance people’s lives with entertaining and even healthful routines. If used to exploit, habits can turn into wasteful addictions.
But, like it or not, habit-forming technology is already here. The fact that we have greater access to the web through our various devices also gives companies greater access to us. As companies combine this greater access with the ability to collect and process our data at higher speeds than ever before, we’re faced with a future where everything becomes more addictive. This trinity of access, data, and speed creates new opportunities for habit-forming technologies to hook users. Companies need to know how to harness the power of Hooks to improve peoples’ lives, while consumers need to understand the mechanics of behavior engineering to protect themselves from unwanted manipulation.
(This is an excerpt from a prior post. The original post can be found here.)
Please feel free to check out some of my resources and articles related to the Hook Model below. You can also find additional articles about the Hook Model and Consumer Psychology here.
Top Articles and Resources for Hooked
Let me know what you think of the format below and please share with others.
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…
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
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 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…
My latest video overview of the “Hook Model”
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.
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Note: The “Desire Engine” is now referred to as the “Hook Model”.
I was honored to present at WordCamp this year but had to make do with the small amount of time allotted. I crammed my talk into a very short intro to the Hook Model that sounds like I’m talking while on fast forward. Enjoy!
If you’re reading over email and the video does not appear, click here: https://www.nirandfar.com/2012/09/desire-engine-in.html
Video from my recent talk about designing user habits, at the Designers + Geeks Meetup in San Francisco on August 1st, 2012.
Note: This Designing User Habits talk is similar to my “Behavior by Design” talk but has approximately 20% new material.
If you’re reading this over email and the video does not appear, click the link below:
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…
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…
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?
NirandFar is about the intersection of psychology, technology, and business. I call it "Behavioral Design."
I write to help companies design consumer behavior while educating individuals about behavior change and digital distraction. Feel free to read more about me here.
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