Today’s world is full of different technology products and services that have permanently entered the customers’ lives to make them easier and more efficient. The question is why some products hijack people’s minds and some do not? What is the receipt for building the strong relationship between the customer and the product? Nir Eyal explored the topic in his book “The Hooked: How to build the habit-forming products”.

What can we say about the book? For sure, it aroused controversy among people. One says Nir Eyal has great ideas worth to apply, others say it’s full of aggressive selling. But one must admit – it definitely has a well-constructed model of designing the products or services.

This model should be especially interesting for businesses that:

  • Have a product where habit forming is very important (consider self-improvement apps, fitness apps, language learning apps)
  • Want to improve user engagement and Customer Lifetime Value
  • Wish to better manipulate the prices or charges for the premium services
  • Strive for better growth and development

In short, the Hooked model has 3 principles:

1. The product should use triggers that prompt the user to take up specific actions.
2. The user’s actions should be rewarded.
3. If the user puts small initial investment (time or effort) in the product, it will build commitment.

Below we present the Hooked model with illustrative examples from the Headspace app. Headspace is a meditation app where successful habit formation benefits both the users (regular meditation practice) and the business (revenue from the subscription plans).

The Hooked Model explained

The Hooked model consists of four phases which need to appear in a consecutive manner:
TRIGGER->ACTION->VARIABLE REWARD->INVESTMENT

 

the hooked model trigger action investment variable reward

Source: https://www.alexandercowan.com/the-hook-framework/

1. TRIGGER

These are the things that tell us what to do. We can divide them into two types:

External triggers – the environmental signs that tell us what to do next using the cues in the screen e.g. buy now, install, go next, see more, etc. The design prompts us to take the action in the way it was intended.

Headspace example: Headspace uses push notification to remind users to meditate.

headspace notification you should get some headspace

Source: Headspace

Internal triggers – the associations that come from the inside of the user’s mind stored as memory. Most frequently those are negative emotions as boredom, uncertainty, dissatisfaction, loneliness – all of them prompt us to check the phone up to one hundred and fifty times a day.

Headspace example: Internal triggers for Headspace users are the negative feelings of stress or anxiety.

headspace anxiety illustration clouds moody stress

Source: Headspace

The reason for using the product is to make people feel better, to influence positively their mood.

When creating the products we should focus on the following question:

  1. How does it improve people’s lives?
  2. How does it make them richer and more productive?

And the most important:

  1. What is the internal trigger?

Additionally, to make the trigger become a habit, it has to appear at least once a week. The more often it appears, the more likely the product is to become a habit and succeed.

2. ACTION

Action is defined as the simplest behaviour enacted to get the reward. It is the simplest thing the user needs to do to get relieved (referred to Nir Eyal: “to scratch the inch”). It must be something as simple as scrolling, searching, pushing the play button.

Any behaviour to appear needs three different things to take place at the same moment:

TRIGGER – has already been discussed above (internal and external)

MOTIVATION – defined as the energy to make an action. Humans are motivated by fear, pain and rejection avoidance. What we seek is pleasure, hope and social acceptance.

ABILITY – the capacity to do certain behaviour. The easiest it is, the more likely people are to do the behaviour. This is why good user experience is so critical to the success of the product. People might be motivated but without ability, the product is useless.


There are six factors the ability consists of:

TIME – we should decrease the amount of time something takes;

MONEY – decrease how much money something costs;

PHYSICAL EFFORT – the level of physical effort taken by a user should be balanced;

BRAINS CYCLE – the harder something is to understand, the less likely the behaviour is to occur;

SOCIAL DEVIANCE – people are more likely to do something when they see others like them doing it;

NON-ROUTINE – users will be more likely to do something because they have done it before -> the more familiar the better

As Nir Eyal mentions, the more we do something – the easier it becomes – the more likely we will do it in the future. Therefore, the products should be as easy in use as it is possible.

Headspace example: Headspace provides great user experience. With only one click, users choose their mediations session. 

headspace dashboard keep going

Source: Headspace

Headspace example: Headspace offers meditation packs that have varying length. User can choose how much time he or she has to complete the action.

headspace mediatation session 7

Source: Headspace

3. REWARD PHASE

The reward phase comes after taking up the action. Thus, the product gives the user relief by satisfying their need. One thing is important, we should not satiate the users but leave them wanting more and encourage to engage with the product again and again. The variability of the reward keeps the user captivated.

There are three types of a Variable Reward:

#1 Tribe: search for social rewards (joy, competition, partnership, recognition, cooperation) e.g. liking a post

#2 Hunt: search for resources such as material possessions or information e.g. scrolling Twitter

#3 Reward of a self: search for self-achievement e.g. getting the next level, completing the mission, finishing the next accomplishment.

Headspace example: Headspace tracks user progress and achievements. As users learn how to meditate, they experience positive mental health benefits, which encourages them to continue using the app.

headspace goals achievement streak

Source: Headspace

4. INVESTMENT PHASE

If the user puts some time or effort in the product, the more likely he or she will be to use it in the future.

The purpose of this phase is to increase the likelihood of returning to the product. Through successive hook cycles, users form habits. We can facilitate it by:

1. Loading the next trigger
2. Storing value (improving the product as we use it) e.g. by putting the data, content, following other users

Headspace example: Users need to complete the basic pack of 10 meditation sessions. Once they invested their time and built the habit of meditation, they are more likely to pay for the subscription plan.

headspace unlock the library

Source: Headspace

 

When the habit-forming products get us to invest in them, it does not matter whether similar products come along. When we managed to build a strong relationship between the user and the product, it will result in loyalty, and this is even more valuable for some businesses than a huge amount of customers. For this reason, many products need to be linked to the customers’ emotions and feelings – this makes them indispensable. Such products or services do not require advertising expenditure as people begin to use them unconsciously.

The threats of inappropriate use

The purpose of creating habit-forming products is to build relationships with users. Unfortunately, there are some products that can harm the user due to the misuse of the Hooked model. Those products are created carelessly and cause threats for the potential users (designing for addiction).

Bonus – workshop questions

If your business model require users to form a habit, you should download this pdf. It contains workshop questions that will help you discover practical insights on how to apply the Hooked model to your product.