Q&A Series: Nir Eyal - On Hooks and Habits
This past week we had the opportunity to grill Nir Eyal on his advice for growing businesses. His answers are the start of the Wishpond Blog's Q&A Series - a series we're very excited to be offering our readers.
Nir Eyal is a writer and thought-leader at the forefront of behavioral design and the author of the best-selling "Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products."
Nir is a regular contributor for TechCrunch, Forbes, Psychology Today, and a frequent speaker at industry conferences and Fortune 500 companies. He's taught at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and Design School and sold two technology companies since 2003.
His work has been described by Dave McClure (Founder of 500 Startups) as "an essential crib sheet for any startup looking to understand user psychology.”
His theory, outlined in "Hooked" reads something like this…
Your business' "hook" is an experience designed to connect the user's problem to your business' solution with enough frequency to form a habit. Creating habitual use (a behavior done with little or no conscious thought) is the ultimate goal for successful businesses.
Question: Can you give a quick breakdown of what the "Hooked" theory is all about?
The premise of my book, Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, is that the products we find most engaging have a basic design pattern called a Hook. Hooks are experiences that connect users’ problems to a company’s solution with enough frequency to form a habit. Hooks are in all sorts of products we use with little or no conscious thought. Over time, customers form associations that spark unprompted engagement or, in other words, habits. They move from needing external trigger like ads and other calls to action to self-triggering through associations with internal triggers.
Use of the product is typically associated with an emotional pain point, an existing routine, or situation. For example, what product do people use when they’re feeling lonely and seek connection? Facebook of course! What do we do when we feel uncertain? We Google! What about when we’re bored? Many people open YouTube, Pinterest, check sports scores, or stock prices -- there are lots of products that address the pain of boredom.
In the four step process I describe in Hooked, I detail how products use hooks to create these powerful associations. Hooks start with a trigger, then an action, then a reward, and finally an investment. Through successive cycles through these hooks, user habits are formed.
"Hooks are experiences that connect users’ problems to a company’s solution with enough frequency to form a habit."
Question: I can see how your "hook and habit" model could apply to thought-leaders, bloggers and consultants. Have you ever applied "hooking" strategies to your personal career?
It’s important to remember that new products don’t form habits out of thin air. When building a habit-forming product, designers should be sure they know what existing habit they’re replacing. There are only three ways to capture your competition's user habits. Either make the reward more fulfilling, send users through the hook faster, or cycle through the hook more frequently. The ability to do one of these three things to capture an existing habit is made possible by some change in interface. Therefore, teams need be careful not to adopt a new technology simply because it is the new, new thing, but to instead think critically within the hook model to understand how a new technology can improve the habit-forming potential of the product.
I don’t need my blog to be habit forming but I have used the principles I describe in the book to write my book. See: http://www.nirandfar.com/2014/11/mind-hacking-a-book-deal.html
"Teams need be careful not to adopt a new technology simply because it is the new, new thing, but to instead think critically."
Question: Are there businesses or industries for which the Hook model doesn't apply?
Not every business needs to create a habit, but every business that needs a habit needs a hook.
Designing habit-forming products isn’t easy and I wouldn’t recommend doing it unless your business model depends on it. For example, many of the companies I describe in the book like Facebook, Twitter, and others, would go out of business if they didn’t create and retain consumer habits. However, even if your company doesn’t rely upon a habit, there is still much to be learned from consumer psychology. You can essentially learn the fundamentals of user behavior from my book without necessarily needing to incorporate the entire Hook Model.
"Not every business needs to create a habit, but every business that needs a habit needs a hook."
Question: Do you think it's possible for an existing business to pivot towards a habit-forming strategy from a pre-existing, more traditional, marketing position?
Habits are good for the bottom line for a number of reasons and can be useful in several business contexts.
Sustained engagement yields higher customer lifetime value, greater pricing flexibility, and can supercharge growth. In addition, customer habits defend against encroaching competitors. When users form routines and dependencies around using a particular product, the company can create tremendous value.
"When users form routines and dependencies around using a particular product, the company can create tremendous value."
Question: You've touched before on a concern that "teams have become far too reliant on growth over engagement, even though for the vast majority of companies, retaining a marginal user is much better for the bottom line than acquiring a new user."
How do you determine when a brand should stop building/growing and start retaining?*
To follow up, is it possible for businesses to increase engagement without fundamentally remodeling product?
Every start-up hoping to be a big business someday needs growth, engagement, and market potential. All three are necessary but not sufficient. For example, a high-growth startup with poor user engagement is a leaky bucket. Meanwhile, a product with high user engagement but with limited market potential will get stuck serving too small a niche to get big. And finally, a company serving a huge potential market but with no way to capture the opportunity by growing and engaging customers, is just a team in waiting.
"Every start-up hoping to be a big business someday needs growth, engagement, and market potential."
Wrapping It Up
What I love most about Nir's theory and marketing philosophy is the idea that your business' success relies on you creating a relationship between your product and its user.
This informs everything you do as a marketer. Every interaction your user has, from top of funnel to bottom and beyond, is about ease-of-use, positive experiences, and reliability.
To start driving your own habit-forming product's success, you first need users. Wishpond's promotions, landing pages, popups and forms can help you get there. Click here to start a 14-day free trial and learn more.