You wake up. You check Facebook, maybe your email. You have a shower, brush your teeth, make breakfast. Head in your car and go to work. Listen to the same playlist. Wear the same clothes in your wardrobe. And you don’t even think about it – you just do it.
Habits form the basis of our behaviour. According to one study published through Duke University in 2006, 40% of our behaviour is habitual. This isn’t always a bad thing. Barack Obama has said he only wears suits of two colours and eats the same breakfast to free up mental capacity for bigger decisions.
The holy grail for digital product makers is for their offering to become part of a customer’s habitual behaviour. Being a “must have” is one thing. Forming part of your customer’s unconscious behaviour is altogether different – it’s the jackpot.
Of course, it’s easier said than done. But for many businesses the ability to create a product or service so inviting users can’t help but interact with it daily, is actually closer than they realise. They just need to follow a simple principle:
Connect a user’s problem to your solution with enough frequency to make it a habit.
Entrepreneur and investor Nir Eyal, who founded two successful tech companies in the 2000s and taught at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, distilled this ability into a methodology he calls the “hook model”. (He wrote a best-selling book about it, too).
At its simplest form, the hook model describes how businesses can fundamentally change behaviour within their users, and create day-to-day habits around their products. The heart of the principle is that businesses should always seek to connect a user’s problem to your solution with enough frequency to make it a habit.
Eyal breaks the hook model into four main steps: trigger, action, reward and investment.
1. Trigger. This is either external, (something that queues an action – like an icon such as the “play” button on YouTube, or an email), or internal, (a subconscious urge that happens when the user is browsing through the product itself).
2. Action. Something that happens when the user expects a reward. For example, scrolling through your Instagram feed. (A critical part of the hook model, as it relies on crystal clear UX design).
3. Variable reward. The reward for the user changes on context, but provides an opportunity for the user to be hooked. For instance, most social networks like Facebook, YouTube or Pinterest, provide you with a combination of content that you want to see, along with other elements the network thinks you might like.Other rewards might be simple. On WhatsApp, for example, the reward is the ability to stay up-to-date with conversations.
4. Investment. By mixing the three previous elements, the user now has the ability to feed back into the network to make it part of their routine. (This could take the form of money, effort, time, or even feedback for the developers). This ensures they not only want to come back for the content, but they have a vested interest in doing so.
Baking the hook model into your product
Many startups might be fooled into thinking they can worry about creating habitual behaviour after a product is released. Unfortunately, by then it’s too late, (and at that point, businesses might be tempted into creating cheap gimmicks like under-baked gamification in order to get users logging in every day for the superficial thrill of a reward).
True “hook” based product creation starts with UX design at the forefront. Startups need to begin early by imagining who their ideal habitual users would be, and then ask themselves some key questions:
- What are the characteristics of such a user?
- How often is “habitual”? While some social networks might want daily users, others might not expect users to be on for weeks at a time.
- Think about the average user. Not the super users, or the infrequent ones, but those who would make up the bulk of your user base.
How are your users getting hooked?
Businesses need to put in research into figuring out what had their users hooked in the first place. After all, users come to apps and products through different methods, and there could be multiple hooks for a single product.
However, until you know for sure what is hooking your users, you’re just guessing. Look into what’s bringing in your users and then double-down on the most promising strategies.
For instance, as Eyal himself points out, Twitter – through constant research – was able to determine new users who followed more users were more likely to stay on the service longer. As a result, Twitter started recommending popular accounts to new users in order to get them started. Once they did that, usage increased.
Such a discovery was only possible because Twitter was constantly iterating and developing its hook process.
Creating “hooks” is a process
Constant research and optimisation is required for creating hook-based products. But for businesses with products already in the market, triggers and rewards are the easiest ways to get started. Even creating triggers such as emails or notifications can make a big difference.
Businesses can also create multiple types of rewards. For instance, marketing community GrowthHackers developed different types of feedback for contributors, and readers. (For that matter, GrowthHackers is also a good example of how engineering can create innovative triggers – the community developed a browser bookmarketlet for users to submit content, which constantly reminds them of the platform).
Ultimately, although creating a hook should be baked in from the start of developing, startups should realise this isn’t a destination, but a journey. Constant iteration, experimentation and refinement is critical for making sure your users turn your product into a habit.