BOOK REVIEW: “Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products” by Nir Eyal
Seventy-nine percent of smartphone owners check their devices within fifteen minutes of waking up. Industry experts believe that we check our phones around 150 times per day!
How did we get here? How is it that some apps can control the minds of their consumers? What makes these products addictive?
Nir Eyal‘s Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products is a critical work in the increasingly important field of psychological marketing, particularly as it applies to the customer experience.
What is a habit? “Behaviours done with little or no conscious thought.”
The field of coercion is not particularly new, but what is troubling is that designers of so many of our familiar products are manipulating us in ways we have barely started understanding. They test our habits, and worse, actually nurture and create them. [Virtual reality, anyone?] They even mess with our moods.
Hooked is described by its author as a guide to building habit-forming technology, written for product managers, designers, marketers, and startup founders to provide:
- Practical insights to create habits that stick.
- Actionable steps for building products people love and can’t put down.
- Behavioral techniques used by Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and others.
The “first to mind” solution wins.
Here’s how the author explains the business rationale behind this:
A company that forms strong user habits enjoys several benefits to its bottom line… A cemented habit is when users subconsciously think, “I’m bored,” and instantly Facebook comes to mind. They think, “I wonder what’s going on in the world?” and before rationale thought occurs, Twitter is the answer. The first-to-mind solution wins.
The business benefits of habitual consumption are obvious:
- increasing customer lifetime value
- pricing flexibility
- growth through network effects
- competitive advantage (your customers are addicted to your product)
The author describes the process of building a habit-driven strategy as the Hook Model.
There are two types of triggers – external (an email for example) or internal (checking Facebook habitually)
To increase the odds of a user taking the intended action, the behavior designer makes the action as easy as possible, while simultaneously boosting the user’s motivation.
- Variable Reward
Variable schedules of reward are one of the most powerful tools that companies use to hook users. Research shows that levels of dopamine surge when the brain is expecting a reward. Introducing variability multiplies the effect, creating a frenzied hunting state, activating the parts associated with wanting and desire.
An action that improves the service for the next go-around. Inviting friends, stating preferences, building virtual assets, and learning to use new features are all commitments that improve the service for the user.
As a marketer, this book is a “must-read.” Read it alongside Sprint.
Hooked does a brilliant job in explaining how successful businesses engage their customers by creating and rewarding customer habits. Here are a few questions the author asks us to ponder:
- What habits does your business model require?
- What problems are users turning to your product to solve?
- How do users currently solve that problem and why does it need a solution?
- How frequently do you expect users to engage with your product?
- What user behavior do you want to make into a habit?
And, to his credit, the author does make a genuine effort to discuss the ethical dimensions behind this manipulation, with a section in the book titled “The Morality of Manipulation.” He asks the question point-blank: What responsibility do product makers have when creating user habits?
Again, the author does make it clear that:
- Consumers must understand how habit-forming technology works to prevent unwanted manipulation while still enjoying the benefits of these innovations.
- Companies must understand the mechanics of habit-formation to increase engagement with their products and services and ultimately help users create beneficial routines.
As a sidenote, I feel taking a moment to acknowledge Big Tobacco, the sugar lobby, and the beverage industries as yesterday’s champions. The future belongs to our digital addictions, and those who control them.
Eyal is now teaching us how to use psychology to win over our competition’s customers. The explanation for how Google Docs displaced Microsoft Office seems obvious now. Watch:
Eyal has also written a post on addict behavior change that may be instructive, should you find yourself a bit carried away.
Jenny Cheung is a freelance marketer and project manager based in Texas.