Hooked How to Build Habit-Forming Products(R)

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##Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products

ISBN: 1591847788: 2015-1-1 RATING: 9/10

The Habit Zone

  • Through consecutive Hook cycles, successful products reach their ultimate goal of unprompted user engagement, bringing users back repeatedly, without depending on costly advertising or aggressive messaging.

  • A trigger is the actuator of behavior—the spark plug in the engine. Triggers come in two types: external and internal. Habit-forming products start by alerting users with external triggers like an e-mail, a Web site link, or the app icon on a phone.

  • What distinguishes the Hook Model from a plain vanilla feedback loop is the Hook’s ability to create a craving.

  • The investment phase increases the odds that the user will make another pass through the Hook cycle in the future. The investment occurs when the user puts something into the product of service such as time, data, effort, social capital, or money.

  • Habits are defined as “behaviors done with little or no conscious thought.

  • The convergence of access, data, and speed is making the world a more habit-forming place. Businesses that create customer habits gain a significant competitive advantage. The Hook Model describes an experience designed to connect the user’s problem to a solution frequently enough to form a habit. The Hook Model has four phases: trigger, action, variable reward, and investment.

  • Like nail biting, many of our daily decisions are made simply because that was the way we have found resolution in the past. The brain automatically deduces that if the decision was a good one yesterday, then it is a safe bet again today and the action becomes a routine.

  • Fostering consumer habits is an effective way to increase the value of a company by driving higher customer lifetime value (CLTV): the amount of money made from a customer before that person switches to a competitor, stops using the product, or dies. User habits increase how long and how frequently customers use a product, resulting in higher CLTV.

  • The more frequently the new behavior occurred, the stronger the habit became.

  • So why haven’t more Google users switched to Bing? Habits keep users loyal. If a user is familiar with the Google interface, switching to Bing requires cognitive effort.

  • A company can begin to determine its product’s habit-forming potential by plotting two factors: frequency (how often the behavior occurs) and perceived utility (how useful and rewarding the behavior is in the user’s mind over alternative solutions).

  • A 2010 study found that some habits can be formed in a matter of weeks while others can take more than five months. The researchers also found that the complexity of the behavior and how important the habit was to the person greatly affected how quickly the routine was formed

  • Just as failure has many causes, success too can be attributed to a variety of factors. However, one aspect is common to all successful innovations—they solve problems. That may seem obvious, but understanding the kind of problem a new product solves can be a topic of much debate.

  • Painkillers solve an obvious need, relieving a specific pain, and often have quantifiable markets. Vitamins, by contrast, do not necessarily solve an obvious pain point. Instead they appeal to users’ emotional rather than functional needs.

  • Perhaps building painkillers, not vitamins, is always the right strategy. But like so many innovations, we did not know we needed them until they became part of our everyday lives.

  • A habit is when not doing an action causes a bit of pain.

  • In reality, the experience we are talking about is more similar to an itch, a feeling that manifests within the mind and causes discomfort until it is satisfied. The habit-forming products we use are simply there to provide some sort of relief.

  • Habit-forming technologies are both. These services seem at first to be offering nice-to-have vitamins, but once the habit is established, they provide an ongoing pain remedy.

  • Seeking pleasure and avoiding pain are two key motivators in all species. When we feel discomfort, we seek to escape the uncomfortable sensation.

  • Habit-forming products create associations in users’ minds—and that the solution to their pain may be found in your product’s use.

  • “I don’t have a problem or anything. I just use it whenever I see something cool. I feel I need to grab it before it’s gone.” - a Instagram user.


  • Habits are like pearls. Oysters create natural pearls by accumulating layer upon layer of a nacre called mother-of-pearl, eventually forming the smooth treasure over several years. But what causes the nacre to begin forming a pearl? The arrival of a tiny irritant, such as a piece of grit or an unwelcome parasite, triggers the oyster’s system to begin blanketing the invader with layers of shimmery coating.

  • External triggers are embedded with information, which tells the user what to do next.

  • PayPal knew that once account holders started sending other users money online they would realize the tremendous value of the service. The allure that someone just sent you money was a huge incentive to open an account, and PayPal’s growth spread because it was both viral and useful.

  • Proper use of relationship triggers requires building an engaged user base that is enthusiastic about sharing the benefits of the product with others.

  • Internal triggers manifest automatically in your mind. Connecting internal triggers with a product is the brass ring of consumer technology.

  • When bored, many people seek excitement and turn to dramatic news headlines. When we feel overly stressed, we seek serenity, perhaps finding relief in sites like Pinterest. When we feel lonely, destinations like Facebook and Twitter provide instant social connections.

  • In the case of internal triggers, the information about what to do next is encoded as a learned association in the user’s memory.

  • Products that successfully create habits soothe the user’s pain by laying claim to a particular feeling. To do so, product designers must know their user’s internal triggers—that is, the pain they seek to solve.

  • Do people really send text messages? Why do they take photos? What role does watching television or sports play in their lives? Ask yourself what pain these habits solve and what the user might be feeling right before one of these actions.

  • “If you want to build a product that is relevant to folks, you need to put yourself in their shoes and you need to write a story from their side. So, we spend a lot of time writing what’s called user narratives.” - Jack Dorsey

  • When it comes to figuring out why people use habit-forming products, internal triggers are the root cause, and “Why?” is a question that can help drill right to the core.

  • Why #1: Why would Julie want to use e-mail? Answer: So she can send and receive messages. Why #2: Why would she want to do that? Answer: Because she wants to share and receive information quickly. Why #3: Why does she want to do that? Answer: To know what’s going on in the lives of her coworkers, friends, and family. Why #4: Why does she need to know that? Answer: To know if someone needs her. Why #5: Why would she care about that? Answer: She fears being out of the loop. Now we’ve got something! Fear is a powerful internal trigger and we can design our solution to help calm Julie’s fear.

  • With repeated use, Instagram formed strong associations with internal triggers, and what was once a brief distraction became an intraday routine for many users. It is the fear of losing a special moment that instigates a pang of stress. This negative emotion is the internal trigger that brings Instagram users back to the app to alleviate this pain by capturing a photo. As users continue to use the service, new internal triggers form.

  • Triggers cue the user to take action and are the first step in the Hook Model. Triggers come in two types—external and internal. External triggers tell the user what to do next by placing information within the user’s environment. Internal triggers tell the user what to do next through associations stored in the user’s memory. Negative emotions frequently serve as internal triggers.

  • To build a habit-forming product, makers need to understand which user emotions may be tied to internal triggers and know how to leverage external triggers to drive the user to action.


  • Remember, a habit is a behavior done with little or no conscious thought. The more effort—either physical or mental—required to perform the desired action, the less likely it is to occur.

  • There are three ingredients required to initiate any and all behaviors: (1) the user must have sufficient motivation; (2) the user must have the ability to complete the desired action; and (3) a trigger must be present to activate the behavior.

  • The Fogg Behavior Model is represented in the formula B = MAT, which represents that a given behavior will occur when motivation, ability, and a trigger are present at the same time and in sufficient degrees.1 If any component of this formula is missing or inadequate, the user will not cross the “Action Line” and the behavior will not occur.

  • These and countless other ads use the voyeuristic promise of pleasure to capture attention and motivate action.

  • Consequently, any technology or product that significantly reduces the steps to complete a task will enjoy high adoption rates by the people it assists.

  • Take a human desire, preferably one that has been around for a really long time . . . Identify that desire and use modern technology to take out steps.

  • Ability is the capacity to do a particular behavior.

  • Naturally, all three parts of B = MAT must be present for a singular user action to occur; without a clear trigger and sufficient motivation there will be no behavior. However, for companies building technology solutions, the greatest return on investment generally comes from increasing a product’s ease of use.

  • The action is the simplest behavior in anticipation of reward.

  • For any behavior to occur, a trigger must be present at the same time as the user has sufficient ability and motivation to take action.

  • To increase the desired behavior, ensure a clear trigger is present; next, increase ability by making the action easier to do; finally, align with the right motivator.

Variable Reward

  • The third step in the Hook Model is the variable reward phase, in which you reward your users by solving a problem, reinforcing their motivation for the action taken in the previous phase.

  • The study revealed that what draws us to act is not the sensation we receive from the reward itself, but the need to alleviate the craving for that reward.

  • To hold our attention, products must have an ongoing degree of novelty.

  • Overflow works because, like all of us, software engineers find satisfaction in contributing to a community they care about.

  • The need to acquire physical objects, such as food and other supplies that aid our survival, is part of our brain’s operating system.

  • To relieve their curiosity, all users have to do is scroll to reveal the full picture. As more images load on the page, the endless search for variable rewards of the hunt continues.

  • Only by understanding what truly matters to users can a company correctly match the right variable reward to their intended behavior.

  • Platforms like YouTube, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter all leverage user-generated content to provide visitors with a never-ending stream of newness.

  • Most habit-forming products and services utilize one or more of the three variable rewards types: the tribe, the hunt, and the self.

  • Variable reward is the third phase of the Hook Model, and there are three types of variable rewards: the tribe, the hunt, and the self. Rewards of the tribe is the search for social rewards fueled by connectedness with other people. Rewards of the hunt is the search for material resources and information. Rewards of the self is the search for intrinsic rewards of mastery, competence, and completion.


  • The frequency of a new behavior is a leading factor in forming a new habit, the second most important factor in habit formation is a change in the participant’s attitude about the behavior.

  • Investments are about the anticipation of longer-term rewards, not immediate gratification.

  • Unlike physical goods in the real world, the software that runs our technology products can adapt itself to our needs.

  • The collection of memories and experiences, in aggregate, becomes more valuable over time and the service becomes harder to leave as users’ personal investment in the site grows.

  • The company found that the more information users invested in the site, the more committed they became to it.

  • If we could get users to enter just a little information, they were much more likely to return. The more data collected, the more the service’s stored value increases.

  • The cycle increases the value of the service for both sides the more the service is used. For many users, switching services means abandoning years of investment and starting over. No one wants to rebuild a loyal following they have worked hard to acquire and nurture.

  • The more users invest in a product through tiny bits of work, the more valuable the product becomes in their lives and the less they question its use.

  • Investments increase the likelihood of users returning by improving the service the more it is used. They enable the accrual of stored value in the form of content, data, followers, reputation, or skill.

  • Investments increase the likelihood of users passing through the Hook again by loading the next trigger to start the cycle all over again.

  • The Hook Model is designed to connect the user’s problem with the designer’s solution frequently enough to form a habit.

  • Let’s admit it: We are all in the persuasion business. Innovators build products meant to persuade people to do what we want them to do. We call these people users and even if we don’t say it aloud, we secretly wish every one of them would become fiendishly hooked to whatever we’re making.

  • Facilitators “build the change they want to see in the world.”

  • Peddlers tend to lack the empathy and insights needed to create something users truly want.

  • Facilitators use their own product and believe it can materially improve people’s lives. They have the highest chance of success because they most closely understand the needs of their users.

  • Peddlers believe their product can materially improve people’s lives but do not use it themselves. They must beware of the hubris and inauthenticity that comes from building solutions for people they do not understand firsthand.

  • Entertainers use their product but do not believe it can improve people’s lives. They can be successful, but without making the lives of others better in some way, the entertainer’s products often lack staying power.

  • Dealers neither use the product nor believe it can improve people’s lives. They have the lowest chance of finding long-term success and often find themselves in morally precarious positions.

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