Creating habit-forming products

    I continue, as I believe, a good habit of sharing notes from read books.
    Letters will be many, but worth it. She tried to cut as much as possible, leaving the useful and not losing the essence, but it still happened a lot.

    A little about the book: it was written easily and interestingly, a little water and a lot of useful examples. At the end of each chapter practical advice is given (they are in the article too).

    The title of the book speaks for itself and does not require a detailed description, so we immediately go under the cat!

    There are four stages of the hook model:

    1. Trigger (internal, external);
    2. Act;
    3. Variable remuneration;
    4. Investments.

    1. Triggers

    Habits require a basis on which they will be developed. Triggers become such a basis and a stimulus for behavior change.

    A trigger is a signal to the consumer to perform an action, they are triggered at the first stage of the hook model.

    There are two types: external and internal.
    An external trigger is some information that attracts the user's attention and encourages them to perform the required action.

    An internal trigger is a definite association that is fixed in the brain of the consumer and encourages him to take action. Negative emotions often act as internal triggers.

    To create an addictive product, you need to understand what the user's emotions can be tied to internal triggers and how to use external triggers to induce him to action. 

    External triggers

    The external triggers contain information that tells the consumer what to do next. An external trigger indicates what action to take. Often this is extremely straightforward.

    On the Internet, an external trigger can take the form of a well-marked element like the big orange “Enter” button.

    It is worth remembering that in the presence of a large number of options, the user has to evaluate them all. When there are too many of them or they are poorly formulated, they can cause irritation, confusion or the worst - the refusal of any actions.
    The less you need to think to perform the next action, the higher the likelihood that it will be executed unconsciously.

    Types of external triggers 

    To encourage a client to perform the required actions, companies can use four types of external triggers:

    1. Paid triggers 

    To attract the attention of users and encourage them to act, advertisements, contextual advertising and other paid channels are widely used.

    Paid triggers are an effective but costly mechanism. Companies that develop addictive products tend not to rely on paid triggers in the long run, since the cost of returning consumers is not able to withstand most business models. Organizations typically use paid triggers to attract new customers, and then seek their return using other types of triggers.

     2. Free Triggers

    These triggers are free in the sense that they cannot be bought directly, but often require investment in the form of time spent on communication with the public and the media.

    Effective ways to attract attention include positive press responses, popular viral videos, and successful posting of the application on the App Store. Companies can convince themselves that increased downloads or a jump in sales means long-term success, but usually the fame caused by free triggers is short-lived. In order for free triggers to constantly attract new customers, companies must always keep their products in the spotlight, and this is a difficult task with an almost unpredictable result.

    3. Relationship Triggers 

    When one person tells another about a product, this can be a highly effective external motivator for action. Often, it is the recommendations of friends or relatives -
    in the form of an electronic invitation, Like on Facebook, or simply good advice - become a key component of technology distribution. Relationship triggers can create a viral hyperstroke, which all entrepreneurs dream of.

    4. Embedded Triggers

    Embedded triggers occupy a stable place in the user's environment. They constantly come across his eyes, although it is the consumer who decides whether to let them in his life.

    For example, an icon on a mobile phone screen, an e-mail newsletter, or an application update notification appears only if the user wants it. And as long as a person is ready to receive such triggers, the company that initiates them, in fact, is guaranteed to attract his attention. The introduction of triggers occurs only after users create an account, leave their email address in the process of subscribing to the news, install the application, or in some other way confirm their readiness to maintain contact. 

    The task of paid and free triggers, as well as relationship triggers, is to attract new users. The task of the implemented triggers is to ensure their constant access to the product until the habit is formed. Without embedded triggers and the tacit consent of the consumer to their constant appearance, it is difficult to encourage him to use the product so often as to change behavior and form a habit.
    When the habit is formed, users are controlled by other triggers - internal.

    Internal Triggers

    Internal triggers occur when a product becomes closely associated with people's thoughts, feelings, or previous experiences.

    Unlike external triggers, which use external stimuli, internal ones cannot be seen, heard or touched. They appear in the brain automatically. The ability to associate internal triggers with a product is an aerobatics for consumer product developers.

    Emotions, especially negative ones, are powerful internal triggers that strongly influence our behavior. Boredom, loneliness, disappointment, confusion and indecision often provoke a feeling of discomfort or irritation and lead to unconscious actions designed to suppress negative feelings.
    Positive emotions also act as internal triggers.

    In the end, using any products, we strive to solve some problems. The desire to have fun is the need to get rid of boredom. And the desire to share good news is an attempt to establish and maintain social ties. Our goal as product developers is to solve the problem of consumers, to help them get rid of pain, to relieve the "itch." If users find a product that alleviates their pain, over time they will form strong positive associations towards it.

    Gradually, such connections become a habit, and the person begins to turn to the product under the influence of certain internal triggers.
    As soon as the idea that the product is a solution to the problem, the brain itself will return to it without needing external triggers.

    Creating Triggers

    Addictive products alleviate a particular problem, eliminating the very specific pain. To achieve this, developers need to know the internal triggers of consumers, that is, to understand what pain they are trying to get rid of.
    The ultimate goal of addictive product developers is to save the user from pain, creating the feeling that the source of relief is this product.

    First, a company must identify a specific source of anxiety or pain in terms of emotions, and not product features. But how to do that? The best starting point is exploring the motivations underlying successful addictive products. This is necessary not to copy them, but to understand exactly how they solve user problems.

    Common needs are universal and not affected by time. But to find them, talking to users is almost useless. They themselves do not know what emotions are guided. People just don't think about it. You will come across the fact that “declared preferences” (what they say they want) are very different from “real preferences” (what they actually do).

    Here is what Erica Hall, author of Just Enough Research, writes: “When research focuses on what people really do (watch videos about cats), rather than what they would like to do (create professional-quality home video), your opportunities. "

    Looking for opportunities - look for such discrepancies. Why do people send SMS? Why take pictures? Why turn on the TV, what role does it play in their lives? Ask yourself what pain helps to muffle these habits and what a person should feel before performing one of these actions. What would a consumer like to achieve using your product? Where and when will it be used? What emotions influence its use and become a trigger for appropriate actions?

    The primary role in developing the right product is played by a clear description of consumers - their desires, emotions, the context in which the product is used.
    Another way is to ask yourself the question “why?” Until you get to the emotion underlying desire.

    When you need to figure out why people use addictive products (that is, getting to the bottom of internal triggers), the question “why?” Can help. Imagine that for the first time you are creating such a fantastic technology like e-mail. The target user is a busy middle manager named Julie. We described Julie in detail and, with the help of this verbal portrait, respond to the “why?” Series.

    Why number 1 Why does Julie want to use e-mail? Answer. To send and receive messages. 

    Why number 2 Why would she want to do this? Answer. Because she needs to quickly share information. 

    Why number 3 Why does she want to do this?Answer. To know what is happening in the lives of her colleagues, friends and relatives.

    Why number 4 Why does she want to know this? Answer. To understand whether you need it.

    Why number 5 Why does it bother her? Answer. She is afraid of loneliness.

    Now we have something! Fear is a powerful internal trigger. We are able to design our product to help Julie ease this fear. Of course, we could have come to a different conclusion by starting to question about another person, changing his portrait, or otherwise formulating questions. Only a clear understanding of the user's needs will help to formulate the requirements for the product. Now, knowing the pain of the consumer, we proceed to the next stage of testing our product in order to understand if it makes it easier.

    Practice. What to do?

    Answer your questions:

    •  Who uses your product?
    •  What does the consumer do before the habit you are trying to form should work?
    •  Offer three internal triggers that can push the consumer to action using the “Five Why” method
    •  What internal triggers does your consumer encounter most often?
    •  Complete this short description by inserting the most frequent internal trigger and the habit you want to form into it: “Every time a user (internal trigger), he (the first action caused by the habit being formed)”.
    •  Go back to the question of what the consumer is doing before the habit you are trying to form should work. What place and time can you choose to send him an external trigger?
    •  How can the external trigger with the internal be combined as closely as possible in time? Think of at least three familiar ways to send a trigger to your user using available technologies (e-mail, notifications, SMS, etc.). Then fantasize and offer at least three incredible ideas regarding the transfer of a trigger (wearable computers, biometric sensors, pigeon mail). Perhaps these fantasies will push you to new approaches that are not so insane.

    2. Action

    The next stage of the hook model is the action phase.
    The trigger - internal or external - of course, tells the user what he should do next. However, if the consumer does not do this, the trigger will be useless. In order for a person to follow a signal, the rule “easier to do than to think.” Remember, it is characteristic of habit not to think at all. The more effort - physical or mental - is required to perform the action you need, the less likely it will be executed.

    If action is so important to build habits, how can a developer force a user to act?

    There are many theories that describe what drives human behavior. But we will consider the model of Professor BJ Fogg, director of the laboratory of motivational technologies at Stanford University, because it relatively simply describes the motives of our actions.

    Fogg says: to initiate any actions requires the presence of three ingredients:

    1. The user must have sufficient motivation;
    2. He should be able to complete the required action;
    3. Need a trigger that activates it.

    1. Motivation

    A trigger is a signal to perform an action, and motivation determines the strength of the desire to commit it.

    And although the nature of motivation is an endless subject for the debate of psychologists, Fogg argues that our desire to perform an action is given by three key motivators.

    He believes that all people want to have fun and avoid pain, have hope and avoid fear, receive social recognition and avoid social rejection. These two sides of each motivator can be considered levers that increase (or decrease) the likelihood that a person will perform a particular action due to strengthening or weakening his motivation.

    2. Opportunity

    In his book “Something Really New: Three Simple Steps to Creating Truly Innovative Products”, Denis Houptley divides the innovation process into fundamental steps. First, he offers to understand the reason why people use the product. Then - describe the steps needed by the consumer to get the result. And when the task sequence from intention to implementation becomes clear, it is advised to start removing links in the chain until it becomes as simple as possible. People will quickly adopt a technology or product, where fewer steps are needed to achieve a result. According to Hopetle, the easier - the better.

    Fogg describes six “elements of simplicity,” factors that influence the complexity of a task. Here they are.

    1. Time: how much is required to perform an action.
    2.  Money: the financial cost of the action.
    3. Physical effort: the amount of labor associated with performing an action.
    4.  Mental effort: mental tension and concentration needed to perform an action.
    5.  Social acceptability: how much this action is approved by society.
    6.  Unusual: According to Fogg, this is “the degree of conformity of an action to a habitual behavior.”

    In other words, it is necessary to determine what makes it difficult for the consumer to perform the required action?

    Maybe it is limited by time? Does he feel sorry for the money? Is he exhausted after work? Is the product too complicated to understand? Will the social environment of the user regard such an act as unacceptable? Or does the action deviate so much from the habitual behavior of the consumer, which scares him with its unusualness?

    All of these factors may vary depending on the people and the surrounding context, but developers need to answer the question: what is missing for our users to take the next step? Product development with a focus on simplifying consumer life reduces resistance, removes obstacles and helps push a person to action.

    Practice. What to do?

    Answer the questions, and also perform the suggested exercises:

    •  Follow the path that users of your product should move from the moment they feel the internal trigger until the desired result is obtained. How many steps separate them from the desired reward? How simple is the whole process? And when compared with competitors' products?
    •  What resources limit the ability of your consumers to commit actions that should become a habit: - time; - money; - physical effort; - mental effort (too hard); - social acceptability (non-standard); - unusual (too new)?
    •  Brainstorm to find three real ways to make it easier for clients to perform the required actions.
    •  Consider how heuristics can be applied to increase the likelihood of making habit-forming actions.

    3. Variable remuneration

    The third stage of the hook model is the variable reward phase. On it, you reward the user by solving his problems and heightening the motivation to take the desired action again. 

    It is not the satisfaction received from the reward that leads to action, but the desire to get rid of the passionate desire to receive it.

    Three types of variable rewards

    1. Tribal remuneration Tribal

    remuneration is a striving for social approval, fueled by maintaining connections with other people.

    We treat a species whose individuals are dependent on each other. Rewards from the tribe, or social rewards, arise through connections with other people.

    Our brain is set to strive for approval, which allows us to feel in demand, attractive, important and involved.

    Many social institutions and market branches are built around this need for social support.

    When publishing a post, tweet and pin, people tend to social approval and anticipate it. It is the likes and comments of readers that become the reward of the tribe for those who share content and motivate them to continue writing.

    The reward of the tribe makes a person constantly return to the product and want more.

    2. "The reward of prey"

    Remuneration of prey - the desire for the possession of material resources and information.

    The need to extract material objects (food and everything else that we need to survive) is built into the “operating system” of our brain. But if earlier we were chasing animals for food, now we are striving for another. Products can be bought for a long time, and recently information has also been exchanged for money.

    The mining reward existed long before the invention of computers. But today we are faced with numerous examples of variable remuneration associated with the desire to possess various resources and information. This desire instills in us the same sense of purpose as in the hunter of the San tribe, running for prey.

    Example: Twitter 

    Many modern online products are based on a “feed”, a summary of new content. The endless stream of information, presented in the form of a news feed, which can be scrolled, forces the user to start chasing the prey.

    Twitter feed, for example, is filled with various content, both uninteresting and close to the user. This changeability provides a temptingly unpredictable experience. Here you can accidentally come across a particularly interesting news, but you can not find anything. Still, the hunt for new information continues. After all, all that is needed is the movement of a finger or the rotation of the mouse wheel. And users scroll, scroll, scroll information in pursuit of variable remuneration in the form of an interesting tweet

    3. Internal reward

    Internal reward - the desire for internal satisfaction from their own skills, abilities or completeness of a business.

    Observe a person who spends a lot of time assembling a puzzle about the size of a dining table. You can see how his face distorts the grimace of discontent, and even hear the curses uttered in a whisper. Although ready-made puzzles do not promise any reward, for someone the process of finding the right part is an amazing and fascinating task.

    The work of Edward Desey and Richard Ryan states that internal reward is nourished by “internal motivation.” Their theory of self-determination is that people, among other things, want to satisfy a sense of competence. And if we add an element of mystery to this goal, the task will seem even more attractive.

    Example: Video Games 

    Internal rewards are the defining component of video games, where players seek to hone the skills they need to complete a route. Transitions to a new level, gaining additional strength and other game elements meet the player's needs for a sense of competence, since they show the progress made and confirm the progress towards the end of the game.

    Example: Email 

    An example of how striving for mastery, completeness, and competence forces users to do familiar and often meaningless things.

    Do you check mail for no reason? Perhaps you unknowingly decided to open it to see if new letters are waiting for you? For many, the goal to strive for is the minimum number of unread messages.


    Products that are characterized by limited volatility are becoming more predictable and over time lose their appeal in the eyes of consumers. For products that can provide infinite variability, user interest does not fall.

    The task of variable remuneration is to meet the needs of people and thereby encourage them to use the product again and again. 

    Practice. What to do?

    1. As part of an open interview, find out from five clients what they like about your product, what makes it so good.

    Are there any moments when he pleasantly surprises them?

    What makes them feel particularly satisfied?

    2. Learn the steps that a person takes, accustomed to using your product. What result (reward) weakens his pain?

    Does remuneration solve its problem while supporting the user's desire for more?

    3. Brainstorm in search of three ways to increase your customers' desire to receive variable rewards using:

    •  Tribal reward - approval from other people;
    • Loot reward - material items, money or information;
    • Internal rewards - skill, completeness, competence or consistency.

    4. Investment

    Investment is when a user invests something in a product: time, data, effort, social capital, or money.

    The final stage of the hook model, critically important in terms of creating addictive products.

    The point at which consumers are asked to work a little. That is, to invest something valuable in the system, which increases the likelihood of his continued interest in the product and successful re-passing through the hook model cycle.

    On Twitter, for example, an investment takes the form of a subscription to another user's tweets. No immediate reward is expected to reinforce this action - neither asterisks nor insignia. Subscribing is an investment in service that increases the likelihood that a person will visit Twitter again.

    And at the investment stage, some efforts are expected from the consumer. This, of course, is in conflict with the established opinion among developers that user interaction with the product should be as easy as possible (to occur without effort). In general, this is the right approach, as well as my advice as much as possible to facilitate the user's life during the action phase. However, at the investment stage, a request to the consumer should be made some efforts after he receives a variable reward, and not before him. Timing in this case is critical. By offering the user an investment after the reward, the company gets the opportunity to exploit the main feature of human behavior.

    In one study at Stanford University, two groups of participants asked to answer a series of questions using a computer.

    The first group got the computers that really helped people. In the second, they were programmed to give confusing answers. After the assignment, the participants switched places with the cars. Now computers asked people for help with answering questions. In the course of the study, it turned out that those who got useful computers in the first stage helped them then twice as often. That is, it turned out that reciprocity characterizes relations not only between people, but also between man and machine.

    It seems that in the course of evolution, people developed a propensity for mutual aid, since this increased the chances of survival. As it turned out, we invest in products for the same reasons as in relations with others. The investment stage is based on the consumer’s understanding that the service will become better as a result of the use and personal contribution to it. It's like a friendship: the more effort people put in, the more both sides gain.

    Types of investments

    Storing Value 

    Unlike products in the real world, software that manages our gadgets can adapt to our needs. To become better and more pleasing to consumers, addictive products use investments made by people. The fact that users add valuable information to the product (this process can take many different forms) increases the likelihood of its reuse.


    Each new status, like, photo and video of the visitor appear in his chronicle, forming the history of his impressions and interaction with other people.

    As users continue to share their information and receive someone else's, the archive of their virtual life keeps growing. Over time, this collection of reminders about interesting points and experiences becomes increasingly valuable for a person. Consequently, it is harder for him to leave the resource and he is investing more and more in it.

    LinkedIn found out: the more a person writes about himself on the site, the stronger he becomes attached to it. As Josh Ilman, the company's former senior product manager, said, “if you were able to convince a user to add just a little bit of data, the likelihood of his returning to the site is greatly increased.” The little effort involved in providing information about yourself creates a powerful incentive to re-apply to the service.


    Reputation is a form of stored value that users can literally put in a bank.

    On electronic trading platforms like eBay, TaskRabbit, Yelp and Airbnb, people with negative ratings are treated very differently than those with a good reputation.
    This often determines what price the seller will receive for their goods.

    Reputation here is a form of stored value that increases the likelihood of service reuse. Whoever the user - the seller or the buyer, the reputation of its ties to the resource, in which he has invested so much effort in order to maintain their high quality assessment of


    One form of investment and stored value is time and effort spent exploring a product. When a person has a new skill at his disposal, it will become easier for him to use the service.

    Take, for example, Adobe Photoshop - the most common program for professional image editing. For their creation and processing it has hundreds of complex functions. At first, using the program is not easy. But as you get acquainted with it, users investing hours in watching training videos and reading manuals get more and more experience. Their effectiveness is growing. And they begin to feel their skills (internal reward). Unfortunately design professionals, most of this knowledge is not useful for competing applications. Having invested so much effort in acquiring a new skill, people are unlikely to agree to switch to other programs.

    As with any other stage of the hook model, the investment stage should be approached with caution. You should not assume that you received a blank check for setting the user difficult tasks. Rather the opposite.

    And here, as in the case of the stage of action, in order to get the right behavior from the consumer, product developers must make sure that they have both motivation and opportunities for that. If the user does not do what the developers want from him, then they require too much.

    I recommend to break the investment into small steps and start with simple tasks, gradually increasing the complexity of the actions in subsequent cycles of the hook model.
    However, the investment stage is needed not to force the user to fork out and then allow him to switch to other matters. Rather, it should be such actions that improve the product in the eyes of the user and set the stage for his return.

    Practice. What to do?

    • Take another look at the sequence of user actions for your product. What little effort should he make to be more likely to return to you?
    • Brainstorm and identify three ways to make a small investment in your product so that the user can:
      - load the next trigger;
      - to increase the value of the resource due to the storage of data, content, database of readers and the acquisition of new knowledge.
    • Determine the time it takes for a loaded trigger to prompt users to return to your product. How can this time be reduced to shorten the cycle of passing through all stages of the hook model?

    Testing habits

    If you are developing addictive products, answer the following questions in writing:

    •  What habits are required for your business model?
    •  What problem does the consumer solve your product?
    •  How do users solve this problem now and why does it require a solution?
    •  How often will consumers access your product?
    •  What actions of people do you want to turn into a habit?

    To test habits do not necessarily have a real product.

    However, it is difficult to draw clear conclusions without having a comprehensive understanding of how people use your design. The steps below assume that you have a product, consumers, and some significant data to analyze.

    Step 1. Determine

    The first question when testing habits: who usually uses your product?
    Remember: the more often they turn to it, the greater the likelihood of habit formation.

    First, determine what it means to be an ardent fan of your product. How often should it be used? The answer to this question is very important and can greatly influence your point of view. To help determine the audience and criteria for use can open data about similar products and solutions. If such data are not available, reasonable assumptions can be made - but realistic and honest.

    Do not allow too aggressive forecasts that are valid only for super users. You need a realistic look at how often the typical consumer will interact with the product. Having decided how often people should use your product, immerse yourself in the study of numbers and find out how many and which users satisfy this condition. The best way to do this is to apply a cohort analysis to measure changes in consumer behavior during future product iterations.

    Step 2. Code

    Hopefully, you have identified several users who meet the criteria for common usage. But how many should there be? My rule of thumb is five percent.

    And although your share of active consumers may turn out to be significantly higher, this amount is quite enough for normal business operation. However, if even five percent of users do not find the product valuable enough to use it according to your expectations, you have obvious problems. Either you incorrectly determined the circle of consumers, or the product should return to the development stage.

    But if the number of fans has exceeded the specified threshold, the next step is to encode their actions while using the product. This is to understand how they got hooked. Consumers will interact differently with your product.
    Even if their flow is relatively homogeneous, the casts of their actions may differ.

    Identify several common behaviors based on where visitors come from, when they register, how many of their friends use the service, etc.

    Carefully read the data in search of patterns. You are looking for the “path of habit” - a sequence of similar actions characteristic of your most loyal users.

    For example, Twitter developers have long noticed: as soon as a new user subscribes to 30 people, he enters Rubicon, after which the chances of his loyalty to the resource increase dramatically.

    Each product has its own set of actions that a dedicated fan must perform. The goal of the search for the “path of habit” is to single out the crucial ones for turning a regular user into a devoted fan. Thanks to this, you can adjust the application and begin to encourage this kind of action. 

    Step 3. Change

    So, you are armed with new knowledge. It's time to revise your product and find ways to direct new users along the same “path of habit” that existing fans have paved.

    These include improving the registration stage, changing the content, rejecting some functions or, conversely, increasing the emphasis on one of them.

    Twitter used the results obtained in the previous step to change the process of “the emergence of new consumers on board”, encouraging them to immediately subscribe to someone.

    Testing habits is a continuous process that can be launched when adding a new function or a new iteration of a product. Track different cohorts of users and compare their actions with those who have already formed a habit. This will help you understand how your product should evolve.

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