The Hook Model of Behavioral Design
Creating Habit-Forming Products
What product or service do you use that you just can't live without? Is it your smartphone? Facebook? Netflix? Spotify?
You might find that using these products is second nature. You use them without even thinking about it. In short, you're hooked! But what is it about them that keeps you coming back for more, time and time again?
One possiblity is that they are "habit-forming" products. This means that you enjoy them so much that they have become essential to your day-to-day life, and that using them has become a habit.
In this article, we discuss what it takes to create and market habit-forming products. And we examine how you can develop them using the Hook Model.
About the Hook Model
The Hook Model is a four-step cyclical process for designing successful, habit-forming products (see figure 1). It was developed by video gaming and advertising expert Nir Eyal in his 2014 book, "Hooked."
Figure 1: The Hook Model Cycle.
Source: Eyal, N. (2014). 'Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products,' New York: Portfolio.
The cycle is loosely based on psychologist B.J. Fogg's Behavior Model, which shows the steps that need to be taken before people's behavior can change and new habits can form. Eyal adapted this model to explain what it takes for a customer to become "hooked" on a new product.
The Hook Model cycle has four key stages:
- The trigger: the customer is prompted to interact with a product by an external trigger (email, paid advertising, etc.) or an internal trigger (feelings or emotions).
- The action: for the hook to work, the customer must be motivated by the trigger to take action, and be given the ability to do so. For instance, by subscribing to a company's newsletter, he or she is given access to interesting news stories, data and information.
- The variable reward: the customer's action is rewarded. For example, his name is added into a prize draw or he receives a "like" or comment back.
- The investment: the reward encourages the customer to invest in the product in anticipation of more rewards. She might add more information to her LinkedIn or Facebook profile, for instance.
The Benefits of the Hook Model
Today's marketplace is crowded and noisy, but the Hook Model helps brands to cut through the commotion, to grab customers' attention, and – most importantly – to keep it.
Creating products that are habit-forming will mean that customers are more likely to interact and engage with your brand, and to stay loyal to it.
The more journeys through the cycle that the customer goes through, the stronger his bond will be to your product, and the more likely he will be to "self-trigger." This can help you to reduce long-term marketing spend and the need for a "hard sell."
How to Apply the Hook Model
In this section, we look at a four-step approach for applying the Hook Model to your product strategy:
1. Create Trigger Moments
The first step is to develop a trigger – something that sparks the customer to act. This could be an external trigger or an internal one:
- External triggers: these can be a call to action such as an email reminder, a website link, a "like" button, branded advertising, a personal recommendation, and so on. These should suggest that users will gain positive rewards for using the product.
- Internal triggers: these are triggers associated with thoughts, emotions and feelings. For example, loneliness might prompt someone to connect with friends on Facebook; hunger might prod her to order a pizza; or a need for information could lead her to use an online search engine.
Initially, a customer will likely be persuaded to use your product by an external trigger. But, after several journeys through the Hook Cycle, he will start to associate your product with internal triggers.
This means that every time he starts to feel a certain way, he'll turn to your product. Over time, this will become part of his routine and he will be "hooked." Essentially, using your product will become a new habit.
2. Make It Easy for Users to Act
Two key things are needed to get people to act: motivation and ability.
First, you need to motivate your customers to act by enticing them with something desirable. There are three core motivators that encourage people to act:
- Seeking pleasure and avoiding pain.
- Seeking hope and avoiding fear.
- Seeking social acceptance and avoiding social rejection.
Social media platforms, for example, trigger the human need for connection, and security software firms play on people's fears of cybercrime.
- How long does it take for a customer to take action?
- How much does it cost her to take action?
- How simple/straightforward is the action?
- How does the action fit in with her existing routine?
People will unlikely take action if you make them "jump through hoops." So, think about how many steps they have to take to interact with your product, and try to reduce areas of friction or delay.
Amazon's single-click purchasing, for example, allows users to order products with just one click of a mouse. And self-service checkouts in supermarkets mean that customers can pay for their items without waiting in line.
3. Be Generous With Variable Rewards
One of the reasons people respond to a trigger is because of the prospect of a reward. So, don't disappoint them!
Variable rewards can be a great way to build customer loyalty and to entice people to keep coming back for more. They can also make your user experience more exciting and engaging.
For example, think about the unpredictability of slot machines, or the use of different "badges" and rewards in games that players can earn once they've hit certain targets.
There are three types of variable reward that you can use:
- Tribe rewards: these are social rewards that involve connecting with others. Tribe rewards might include gaining a particular status or level within a gaming community, or having a post "liked" on Facebook and "liking" one in return.
- Hunt rewards: users need to search for these types of rewards. Shopping apps or price comparison sites are examples of Hunt rewards.
- Self rewards: these are intrinsic rewards of mastery, competence and completion. For example, online learning courses, puzzle apps and games help people to improve their skills and enhance their knowledge.
These three types of reward can overlap. For example, a learning app might help you to acquire new skills (Self) by encouraging you to seek out hidden information (Hunt) and share knowledge with a community of learners (Tribe).
4. Develop Opportunities for Investment
Now that you've got your customer interested, you need to get him to invest in your product. This will require him to do a bit of "work." He needs to "pay" you back with something valuable, such as his time, money, effort, or personal data.
An investment might include sending a tweet to your company, filling in more of his Facebook or LinkedIn profile, writing a review, or inviting contacts to connect.
But to get your customer truly "hooked," you need to go one step further. You need to use his investment or feedback to improve your product, so that he is persuaded to use it again.
For example, as a customer adds further detail to her LinkedIn profile, she is rewarded with more relevant content, such as news stories, job opportunities, and potential connections. This becomes a trigger to continue to add more detail to her profile and build up her professional network. And so on and so forth!
If you can leverage the investments that people make to build stronger, more enticing triggers and rewards, you'll increase the chances of encouraging them to use your product habitually.
Take care not to ask too much of your users. Go overboard, and they'll regret ever responding to your trigger in the first place.
For instance, if you want someone to sign up to your weekly e-newsletter, don't ask for too much personal information. You'll obviously need his name and email address, but asking for further details of his address, job position, salary, and so on may put him off because of the additional time and effort involved.
The Hook Model was proposed by Nir Eyal in his 2014 book, "Hooked." It describes a four-step cyclical strategy that you can use to design and market products that are "habit forming."
By encouraging customers to pass through the cycle time and time again, their loyalty and desire for the product increases, until eventually they become "hooked" on it.
The four stages of the cycle are:
- Trigger: the initial call to action. At first customers are prompted to act by an external trigger (an email reminder, "like" button, or other paid advertising). But subsequent cycles tend to depend on internal triggers (feelings or emotions).
- Action: the customer is motivated to take action and is given the ability to do so.
- Variable reward: the customer earns the reward that was promised by the initial trigger.
- Investment: the customer interacts with the product. For instance, by sharing data, engaging with the company on social media, or spending time using the product. These actions can, in turn, persuade the customer to go through the hook cycle over and over again.