Think about the products you use every day. Are you constantly on Twitter and Facebook? Do you always reach for a Diet Coke at lunch? The best, most successful products, according to Nir Eyal, are the ones that can form habits in their users: products that stay memorable and remain relevant in a world of seemingly infinite options. Eyal, a writer, investor, entrepreneur and business school professor originally from Israel, has turned his diverse career experiences into Hooked, a highly praised book on how companies can create-habit forming products that captivate users and make themselves indispensable. Here are the ten key insights from Hooked:
Habits are the choices our brain makes when we’re taking a shortcut.
Our brain forms habits for a good reason: automated responses to daily occurrences allow us to focus on other, more unexpected occurrences. But habits can take over our lives when we’re running on autopilot. If you’ve ever bitten your nails in response to stress or chirped, “Good morning!” on an evening run, you’ve fallen victim to the power of habit formation.
Habits help increase your Customer Lifetime Value.
Customer lifetime value, or CLTV, refers to how much money a company can make from a user until that person defects to a competitor, no longer needs that product, or dies. Creating habit-forming products is one way to help achieve a higher CLTV. If users turn to your product out of habit, they are less likely to succumb to the advances of your competitors. Think of the advantage, for example, that Google has over Bing. Loyal users are also more likely to recommend your product to their friends.
A behavior needs to enter the “Habit Zone” to become a true habit.
To be considered a true habit, a behavior needs to occur with enough frequency and perceived utility. No matter how much benefit we may feel we get from them, behaviors that are too infrequent never achieve the subconscious responses typical of true habits. As for the answer to the question “how frequent is frequent enough?” that’s specific to the product at hand.
The best habit-forming products turn vitamins into painkillers.
We feel the relief we get from taking a painkiller almost immediately; the benefit of taking vitamins is much more difficult to quantify, even though they improve our health. The best products turn vitamins into painkillers. At first, for example, Facebook provided the benefit of pleasure, but as users became more accustomed to the product, and checking Facebook became a habit, people began to check Facebook to avoid boredom or to satisfy a craving, too.
The Hook Model is Trigger, Action, Variable Reward, Investment.
A trigger kickstarts human behavior like a spark plug in an engine. That trigger prompts an individual to perform an action to anticipate a reward: the vitamin or the painkiller (or both). What differentiates the Hook Model from traditional feedback loops is that the reward is a variable reward: the hodgepodge of posts in your Facebook feed, or example, or the latest tweets. When a user contributes enough time and money to your product, they’ve provided you with an investment — and keep coming back in the future. The greater the investment, the more loops a user is likely to make through the Hook Model.
There are external and internal triggers. Habits are guided by internal triggers.
An external trigger comes from outside the user. Many are explicit: buttons on websites that say “click,” text on a vending machine that asks “Thirsty?” Advertising is a type of external trigger. So is the icon of an app on your phone. Habits, however, are largely cued by internal triggers. The desire to share a beautiful landscape with your friends might trigger your use of Instagram. Boredom might trigger a Facebook binge.
It’s not enough for a trigger to be present.
The user also needs to be sufficiently motivated to check out your product. Oftentimes, advertising helps provide that motivation, demonstrating that users should use your product to become more attractive and have more fun. You also need to heighten the ability of the user to perform the action. Is your product user-friendly? Is the interface simple and easy to understand? Put simply: Trigger + motivation + ability = action.
Provide a variable reward.
What differentiates the Hook Model from other feedback loops is that the reward is variable: the user receives a slightly different result each time the action is performed. Eyal argues habit-forming products utilize three different types of variable rewards: the tribe, the hunt, and the self. Rewards of the tribe create a sense of community, making us feel important and included (Facebook). Rewards of the hunt give us the satisfaction of searching for and finding an exciting piece of content (Pinterest, Twitter). And rewards of the self give us personal satisfaction (playing online video games, learning to code). But rewards don’t just need to be variable to be satisfactory: they need to also appeal to the audience you’ve targeted with your trigger.
Promote user investment via stored value, favorites and a sense of community.
The investment stage follows the variable reward, since users will want to reciprocate the receipt of the reward with their own input. By encouraging the user to store data, log favorites or accumulate followers on an app, an investment is made. When users make investments, they are more likely to continue traveling through the Hook Model loop.