Asaf Ronat is VP of Product at Pixellot, an Israeli automated AI-based sports production technology company. Joined CTech to share a review of Nir Eyal’s Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products
Title: “Addicted: How to Develop Habit-Forming Products”
Author: Nir Eyal
From where: home
In short, Nir Eyal’s Hooked, as the name suggests, delivers the know-how on how to get users to engage with the product over and over again. The philosophy, practical tools and examples presented in the book are based on an analysis of successful products such as LinkedIn, iPhone, Google, Twitter, Pinterest and more.
What motivates us to look at our phone first thing when we wake up? Why do we automatically open Waze (a navigator) every time we drive, even though we know the direction?
It discusses how to move the needle from “just” providing value that the user enjoys to the idea of finding a way to create a new “habit” for the user. A “habit” is a mental state in which we spend most of our waking hours. We don’t actively think about walking, breathing, driving… When we’re on autopilot, we’re more prone to habit. By shifting to habits, we are influencing customer behavior “behind the screens” without depending on costly advertising, marketing and aggressive messaging. A habit, by definition, causes more usage, which means viral growth, more usage, and sharing of a product. As a result, product acceptance can grow exponentially. In addition, once the use of a product is ingrained in the user’s behavior, it is easier to increase the price because the user may find switching to a new product a tedious task. How many customers would switch from an iPhone to an Android phone just for the price?
The book has been praised by many well-known entrepreneurs such as Eric Ries (The Lean Startup), Dave McClure (500 Startups) and Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten (The Next Web).
“Habit-forming products” aim to change user behavior and create unsolicited engagement to entice customers to use the product or service again and again without relying on external influences such as ads, promotions, etc. Creation of products”: Trigger, Action, Variable Reward and Investment. I would summarize each:
Triggers stimulate our brain to perform a behavior. There are two types of triggers: external and internal. External triggers are easy to identify. They come in the form of text notifications, emails, etc. with a call to action. Internal triggers are harder to identify because they reside in the user’s mind. Using internal triggers requires a much deeper understanding of user motivations. Many internal triggers are linked to negative emotional states such as anxiety, boredom, and FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). Our urge to open a social media post every few minutes, probably to check who has “liked” our post, who has commented on it and how many, is a good example of an internal trigger.
Action is behavior that a person performs in anticipation of a reward. It takes into account key factors that affect how users perform tasks, emphasizing the ease required to perform an action and the psychological satisfaction the user derives from it.
The action is successfully outlined when – 1. the user has a clear motivation, 2. the user can complete the action, 3. a trigger is present to activate the behavior. For example next weekend there is a big discount on a new camera that I wanted (motivation), I have a car to reach the outlet (skill), the family trip was canceled so I’m free (trigger ). But even when they do, and the action required to complete the task is too complex, it may not happen. In this case, if the distance to the outlet is 200 km, I can decide that it’s not worth it…
Another example presented in the book: Login with Facebook authentication. According to his assessment, there is a motivation: the user wants to log into a website. It is possible: if the user has a Facebook account. There is a trigger, the application presents a login screen to the user. Combined, these factors can result in user behavior that allows website owners to outsource their identity and access management functions while reducing the friction that users would otherwise experience when logging into their website.
Dopamine surges when you expect a reward. A variable reward creates desire through the unpredictability of the rewards. When the future is less predictable, your attention is focused and you anticipate possible outcomes. For example, when we get a phone call at 2:00 a.m., our heart skips a little and we try to remember if all our kids got home from their late night parties…
To increase the effect, a reward given to a user for a product should not be the same every time. Preferably, you never know what to expect, making the product new and exciting every time you use it.
Sometimes the expectation of a reward lures people more than the actual reward. When a video game player expects to obtain an item in a supply drop in Fortnite, or a prehistoric hunter risks their life to hunt larger prey, people realize the potential for prizes.
During this stage, the user invests everything from time, personal information, and money. The importance of the investment is perceived as a enabler for improving subsequent interactions so that they are prepared for their next activity. For example, on LinkedIn, the application presents users with a graphic that illustrates the strength of their profile and encourages them to provide more information about themselves. In video games, users can pay for credits that give them an advantage such as weapons, superpowers, or farming equipment. People continue to expend their resources even after previously wasting resources to avoid the cognitive dissonance of recognizing their past poor choices. Investing also breeds the misperception of sunk costs – when you put more effort or energy into something, it becomes harder to let go or back out. With that in mind, a user’s investment in your product will make him/her more likely to stick with your product, even if there are better alternatives on the market.
This book has accompanied me in product design for years. It provided me with another (hooked) high-level goal for each new product initiation and helped me ask the right questions:
How do we generate an internal trigger for our users? Which internal triggers do our users experience most often?
How do we influence the user to use (trade) the value we provide? What resources are limiting your users’ ability to perform the tasks/actions that are becoming habitual? Are our proposed actions simple enough? How do we strike the right balance between the rewarded value and the effort to obtain it?
How do we make sure the rewards keep surprising our users? What three ways could your product increase user search for variable rewards?
What “bit of work” (investment) is likely to be applied?
Two years ago, we at Pixellot started a new journey with the aim of involving the youth athletes through a special offer from Pixellot called Pixellot You. Pixellot’s core value includes a way to automatically capture games and exercises, create TV-like production of games (camera movements, zoom, graphics, etc.) and distribute them on a viewing platform. With Pixellot You, we targeted the youth market in a D2C (direct-to-consumer) environment. This was, and still is, a great place to use the “hooked model” to outline a roadmap that would eventually win users over to a frequent and long-term relationship.
We analyzed ways to turn our offering into a habit players can’t live without. In this reality, instead of chasing the coaches and parents into buying the product via traditional marketing campaigns, we can get the “addicted” players themselves to persuade them or the coach to buy and use it. So, for example, if players are receiving cumulative points/scores for their performance, recorded via the Pixellot You system, which later grants them recognition and rewards, they will want to ensure that they are recorded by a Pixellot system wherever they play will .
The challenge was to outline how we design a solution that is “habit-forming”:
Deduction – How do we transform user behavior so that after a game, the first thing he does is check the events page in the Pixellot You app (check who liked him?). What will he miss if he doesn’t (temporary rewards? requests from the trainer?)
Plot – How do we ensure that new users can get started with interesting content (family looking at their child) without any obstacles (no app, no user, etc.)? How are users encouraged to take the next step and download the app for more engagement (motivation)?
Reward – How do we surprise players every time they open the app after a game? Do you offer personal highlights of their great moments? Provide a notification about the best game of the game? Request to share their moment with five people to earn more points?
investment – How do we get users to invest in more personal information, share highlights or give credit to others, etc. How do we make our users resilient to change? (annual clips and stats to monitor their improvements throughout the year?)
The above is not complete without supplemental methodology and tools to validate or track these directions. But that would be for the next book review.
Who should read this book:
As a seasoned product manager, I believe this is a must-read for any product manager, especially those developing D2C products, but also designers, marketers, startup founders, and anyone who wants to understand how products influence and create our behavior unsolicited engagement, so users keep coming back to a product or service.