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Hooked, Nir Eyal

How to build habit-forming products

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  • Habits are automatic behaviors triggered by situational cues: things we do with little or no conscious thought.
  • Companies should try to form stronger user habits and build products that help people do things they already want to do but, for lack of a solution, don’t do. Attaching a product to an internal trigger is key.
  • The abundance of data and the speed at which we use it has turned the world into a more habit-forming place.
  • When a question comes to mind, we automatically search Google before searching our own minds; we look for instant gratification on social media when we feel lonely or left out. These are examples of internal triggers.
  • Experiences designed to connect the user’s problem to a solution usually form a habit. This process is called the Hook Cycle.
  • Experiences start with a trigger, external or internal, and are followed by an action. After the action, a variable reward is received before reaching the end with an investment for future interaction.
    • Trigger: actuates a behavior, can be external or internal
    • Action: describes the behavior carried out in anticipation of a reward; to make an action more likely, we need two things: ease of doing and motivation to do
    • Variable reward: rewards should be variable; feedback loops are all around us but predictable ones don’t create desire; it’s the variable quality that makes us come back for more
    • Investment: increasing the odds that the user will make another pass through the Hook Cycle, investment is made when the user puts something into the product (time, data, effort, money); investment implies an action that improves service for the next go-round
  • Habits are good. Increasing customer lifetime value (CLTV) is necessary to a company’s success. Maximizing CLTV through habits is key.
  • The best time to start charging users for your products is after they’ve formed a habit. Giving up has to be a bigger pain than coughing up the price you’re asking.
  • Short viral cycle time (time it takes a user to invite another user) makes all the difference. Products that become part of people’s everyday lives spread through a population like wildfire.
  • Habits are a competitive advantage. Changing/defining customers’ routines make companies less susceptible to outside attacks. Successfully changing long-term user habits is exceptionally rare; old habits die hard. Take the example of Bing vs. Google: adapting to the Bing interface is what slows usage down; the actual software is not slower at all.
  • Triggers can be internal or external. External triggers contain information (tell us what to do next) and form internal triggers.
  • External triggers:
    • Paid triggers: advertising, SEO … effective but costly.
    • Earned triggers: can’t be bought directly but require investment in the form of time spent on public and media relations.
    • Relationship triggers: mouth-to-mouth can be very effective.
    • Owned triggers: the user allows the trigger to appear.
  • Internal triggers:
    • Happen automatically, are emotionally driven and drive to action without users noticing. Information about what to do next is activated by an association in the user’s memory.
  • To initiate action, doing must be easier than thinking. Three ingredients are required to initiate action: motivation, ability and trigger.
    • Motivation defines the level of desire to take action.
    • Ability is the capacity to carry out a particular behavior. Steps to completing a task should be kept to a minimum to attain high adoption rates. Enabling the user to take action is a key factor of success.
    • Companies should understand heuristics: knowing the mental shortcuts people take to form opinions and make decisions is vital.
  • What draws us to act is not the sensation we receive from the (variable) reward, but the need to alleviate craving for that reward. According to the author, there are three different variable reward types:
    • Rewards of the tribe: seeking acceptance by our peers (user-generated content websites).
    • Rewards of the hunt: the need to acquire physical objects, such as food, for survival is part of our brain. We can compare this to modern day twitter scrolling, machine gambling, etc.
    • Reward of the self: the sense of achievement and competency.
  • Beware of finite variability! Never make the same thing twice; don’t wrap the same thing in a different kind of paper.
  • The more time and effort invested in a product, the more valuable it becomes for users (IKEA effect). Get your user to agree to something easy before asking him to sign up for the real deal.
  • Asking users to do a bit of work comes after they have received variable rewards, not before.

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