CTech Book Review: The Four Steps to Creating “Addicting Products”
Asaf Ronat is Vice President of Products at Pixellot, an Israeli AI-based automated sports production technology company. He joined CTech to share a review of “Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products” by Nir Eyal
Title: “Hooked: how to create products that create habits”
Author: Nir Eyal
In a nutshell, Nir Eyal’s “Hooked”, as the name suggests, provides the know-how to make users re-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, etc.
What drives us to check our phone as soon as we wake up? Why do we open Waze (a browser) automatically on every drive when we know the direction?
It explains how to move the needle from “just” providing value that the user enjoys, to the notion of finding a way to generate 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 susceptible to habits. By moving to habits, we influence customer behavior “behind the screens” without relying on expensive advertising, marketing and aggressive messaging. A habit, by definition, leads to more frequent use, which means viral growth, more frequent use, and sharing of a product. This allows the adoption of the product to grow exponentially. Moreover, once the use of a product is ingrained in the user’s behavior, it is easier to increase its price because the user may perceive switching to a new product as a boring 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-generating products” aim to change user behavior and create spontaneous engagement, encourage customers to use the product or service again and again, without relying on external influence such as advertisements, promotions, etc. forming products”: Trigger, Action, Variable Reward and Investment. I would summarize each:
Triggers engage our brain in performing a behavior. There are two types of triggers: external and internal. External triggers are easy to identify. They come in the form of SMS notifications, emails, etc. with a call to action. Internal triggers are more difficult to identify because they reside in the mind of the user. Using internal triggers requires a much deeper understanding of user motivations. Many internal triggers are associated with negative emotional states such as fear, boredom, and FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). Our urge to open a social media post every few minutes, presumably to check who “liked” our post, who commented on it, and how much, is a good example of an internal trigger.
Action is a behavior that a person performs in anticipation of a reward. It considers the key factors that influence how users perform tasks, focusing on the ease needed to perform an action and the psychological satisfaction the user derives from performing it.
The action is successfully described if – 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, coming weekend there is going to be a big discount on a new camera that I wanted (Motivation), I have a car to get to the outlet (capacity), the family trip has been cancelled, so I’m free (trigger). However, even if these take place and the action needed to complete the task is too complex, it may not take place. In this case, if the distance to the outlet is 200 km, I may decide that it is not worth it…
Another example presented in the book: connecting with Facebook authentication. According to his assessment, a motivation exists: the user wants to connect to a website. The possibility exists: if the user has a Facebook account. There is a trigger, the application presents the user with a login screen. Together, these factors can lead to user behavior that allows website owners to outsource their identity and access management functions while reducing the friction that users would otherwise encounter when logging into their website.
Dopamine rises when you anticipate a reward. A variable reward creates envy through the unpredictability of rewards. If the future is less predictable, your attention is focused and you anticipate possible outcomes. For example, when we receive a phone call at 2 a.m., our heart races a little and we try to remember if all our children have returned from their late night parties…
To increase the effect, a reward a user receives from a product should not be the same every time. Preferably, you never know what to expect, which makes the product new and exciting every time you use it.
Sometimes the anticipation of a reward attracts people more than the actual reward. While a video gamer expects to receive an item during a supply drop in Fortnite or a prehistoric hunter risks his life to hunt larger prey, humans embrace the potential of prizes.
During this phase, the user invests time, personal information and money. The importance of the investment is seen as a catalyst to improve subsequent interactions, so that it prepares them for their next activity. For example – on LinkedIn, the app presents users with a graph that illustrates the strength of their profile, encouraging them to provide more information about themselves. In video games, users can pay for credits that give them an advantage like weapons, superpowers, or farming equipment. People continue to expend their resources even after wasting resources to avoid the cognitive dissonance of realizing their previous bad decisions. Investments also create the bias of the sunk cost fallacy – when you put more effort or energy into something, it becomes harder to let it go or walk away. In this sense, a user’s investment in your product will make them more likely to stick with your product, even if there are better alternatives on the market.
This book has helped me design products over the years. It gave me another high-level (eye-catching) target for every new product launch and helped me ask the right questions:
How do we generate an internal trigger for our users? What internal triggers do our users encounter most frequently?
How do we incentivize the user to use (action) the value we provide? What resources limit your users’ ability to perform the tasks/actions that will become habits? Are our suggested actions easy enough? How to strike the right balance between rewarded value and the effort to obtain it?
How do we ensure that the rewards continue to amaze our users? What are three ways your product could increase users’ search for variable rewards?
How much “little work” (investment) is likely to be applied?
Two years ago, we started a new adventure at Pixellot, aiming to involve young athletes through a dedicated offer from Pixellot, called Pixellot You. The core value of Pixellot includes a way to automatically capture games and practices, create television-like game production (camera movements, zoom, graphics, etc.) and distribute it on a viewing platform. At “Pixellot You”, we have targeted the youth market in a D2C (direct-to-consumer) environment. It was, and still is, a great place to use the “hooked model” to set a roadmap that would eventually hook users up for a frequent, long-term relationship.
We analyzed ways to turn our offer into a habit that players cannot live without. In this reality, instead of chasing coaches and parents to buy the product through traditional marketing campaigns, we can leverage the “addicted” players themselves who would be the ones to convince them or the coach to buy it and use it. So if, for example, players get cumulative points/scores for their performances which have been recorded through the Pixellot You system, and which then entitle them to recognition and rewards, they will want to ensure that wherever they play, a Pixellot system will record them. .
The challenge was to describe how do we design a solution that “creates habituation”:
Trigger – How do we transform the behavior of the user, so the first thing he does after a game is to check the event page on the Pixellot You app (check who liked it?) What is -what will he miss if he doesn’t (temporary rewards? coach requests?)
Stock – How can we ensure that new users can start creating engaging content (family watching their child) without barriers (no app, no user, etc.)? How are users encouraged to take the next step and download the app for more engagement (motivation)?
Reward – How to keep surprising players every time they open the app after a game? Providing personal highlights of their awesome moments? Provide an alert of the best game in the game? Ask to share his moment with five people to earn more points?
Investment – How can we incentivize users to invest in providing more personal information, sharing highlights or acknowledging others, etc. How can we make our users resistant to change? (annual clips and stats to track their improvements over the year?)
The above is not complete without a methodology and complementary tools to validate these orientations or follow them. But that would already be on the next book report.
Who should read this book:
As a veteran product manager, I think this is a must read for any product manager, especially those building D2C products, but also for designers, marketers, startup founders, and anyone who strive to understand how products influence our behavior and create spontaneous engagement, so that users return to a product or service again and again.