Nir Eyal is the author of the book Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, which describe how we through designing for continuous cycles of triggers, actions, rewards, and investments, can build habit forming products.

I had the fortunate chance to take time out of Nir’s incredibly busy schedule, to ask him how to best get your customers hooked.

Briefly explained, Nir Eyals hook model consists of 4 steps that are connected in a looping cycle.

The 4 step hook model

  • Triggers are cues to action. They tell us what to do next and they come in the form of internal and external triggers.
  • Actions are the habitual behavior itself, the thing we do with little or no conscious thought.
  • Rewards are the reason we do the behavior, the thing that provides psychological relief.
  • Investments are things the user does to increase the likelihood of the next pass through the Hook.

They are all tied together in the Hook Model, an experience designed to connect the users problem with the product maker’s solution with enough frequency to form a habit.

External and internal triggers

Anders: You distinguish between external and internal triggers. What characterizes the process when users begin responding to internal triggers and how do you provoke it?

Nir: The premise of my book is that the products we find most engaging have a basic design pattern called a Hook. Hooks are experiences that connect users’ problems to a company’s solution with enough frequency to form a habit. Hooks are in all sorts of products we use with little or no conscious thought.

Nir Eyal explaining his 4 steep model to get users Hooked.

Nir Eyal explaining his 4 steep model to get users Hooked.

Over time, customers form associations that spark unprompted engagement, in other words, habits. They move from needing external trigger like ads and other calls to action, to self-triggering through associations with internal triggers.

Use of the product is typically associated with an emotional pain point, an existing routine, or situation. For example, what product do people use when they’re feeling lonely and seek connection? Facebook of course! What do we do when we feel uncertain? We Google! What about when we’re bored? Many people open YouTube, Pinterest, check sports scores, or stock prices — there are lots of products that address the pain of boredom.

In the four step process I describe in Hooked, I detail how products use hooks to create these powerful associations. Hooks start with a trigger, then an action, then a reward, and finally an investment. Through successive cycles through these hooks, user habits are formed.

Definition of habit

Ha · bit – a behavior done with no or little conscious thought

The hook model outside social software

Anders: You explain how recurring external triggers such as notifications help start a new loop in the hooked cycle. Notifications makes sense in social software, but what are examples of products that get people hooked via recurring external triggers on products that aren’t part of our social sphere?

Nir: External triggers are all around us. These are cues that provide the information for what to do next. Signs that direct our attention. Vending machines that tell us what to buy. Stores designed to get us to spend. Salespeople prompting us to action. All of these things (and more) give us the information and the impulse to do what’s next.

Nir Eyal. Author of Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products

Nir Eyal. Author of Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products

Habits versus conversion

Anders: When is it interesting to design for users creating habits, and when is it more interesting to aim for just a conversion?

Not every business needs to create a habit, but every business that needs a habit needs a hook

Nir Eyal

Nir: Not every business needs to create a habit, but every business that needs a habit needs a hook. Designing habit-forming products isn’t easy and I wouldn’t recommend doing it unless your business model depends on it.

For example, many of the companies I describe in the book like Facebook, Twitter, and others, would go out of business if they didn’t create and retain consumer habits. However, even if your company doesn’t rely upon a habit, there is still much to be learned from consumer psychology. You can essentially learn the fundamentals of user behavior from my book without necessarily needing to incorporate the entire Hook Model.

B.J. Fogg's Behavior model

Anders: You explain how B.J. Foggs behavior model (B = MAT) explains how a clear trigger and sufficient motivation must be present for a behavior to occur. Is it possible to cultivate motivation?

Nir: Boosting motivation is well within the realm of persuasive marketing. Though motivation is an area of debate for psychologists, Fogg tells us that all of us seek pleasure and avoid pain, seek hope and avoid fear, seek social acceptance and avoid social rejection. Modern advertising has focused on using one or more of these motivators to influence our behavior.

Getting the user to invest

Anders: Getting users through the investment phase of your model seems to me as the hardest part to implement. How do you start?

Nir: Perhaps the most frequently neglected step in building a habit-forming product is asking for an appropriate investment – it also represents the biggest opportunity companies often miss. An investment is when the user puts something into the product for a future benefit, not for immediate gratification.

Perhaps the most frequently neglected step [...] is asking for an appropriate investment - it also represents the biggest opportunity companies often miss.

Nir Eyal

For example, when the user takes steps to accrue data, content, followers, reputation, or skills by using the product, they are more likely to use the product again in the future. With repeated investments into the product, it actually gets better with use. Investments also load the trigger to bring users back through the hook again.

Anders: How do you best approach aligning business goals with user goals?

Nir: In one chapter of Hooked, I give a framework people can use to decide what kind of product is worth building a habit around. I give two criteria: first, is the product or service something you believe materially improves people’s lives? Next, do you yourself use it? If the answer is “yes” to both questions, then you are what I call a “facilitator.” I’m not saying successful businesses can’t be built by people who answer “no” to either (or both) of those questions, but I believe facilitators are not only in a sound moral footing, but they also increase their odds of success. Many of the companies I profile in the book — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google — were founded by facilitators.

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Anders Toxboe Author

As the head of Digital Development at DR (Danish Broadcasting Corporation) in Copenhagen, Denmark, Anders Toxboe builds awesome websites with his teams. He also founded and a series of other projects. Follow Anders at @uipatternscom.

1 comment

  • D41d8cd98f00b204e9800998ecf8427e

    Kim Baker on Jun 14, 2015

    Already read Nir’s book 3 times. It’s def. worth a read – or two!

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