How can you capture the market’s attention and make sure your customers keep coming back and interacting with your product?

You make your product a habit.

First, let me just say that a guy named Nir Eyal wrote a book about this topic called “Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products.” It’s a manual for creating products people love, and most of the ideas in this blog are from Eyal’s research.


Make products addictive

Being a workaholic, a drug addict, a sports fan or a gym rat. These are all different habits built on the same psychological underpinnings.

You might think “habit” implies something negative. And it’s true—habits are often BAD habits. Think of “mind games” used to manipulate people and exploit them. But you can also use the psychology of habit formation to build behaviors that make people’s lives better. Marketers can use psychology to promote healthy habits and valuable services.

Good advertisers know how to push your buttons. The psychology at work here is the same with addictions.

Every industry—particularly an online service, app or technology-based product—is dependent on changing user behavior from what it currently is to what you (the entrepreneur) want it to be.

Why can’t kids stop playing video games when they should be sleeping or studying? Why can’t people stop using Facebook, Twitter and Instagram? What’s the underlying psychology at play here? What is it about these products that keeps us coming back time and time again?

When you have the impulse to do a behavior with little or no conscious thought, you have a habit. When you’re using a product without any kind of prompting , you’re hooked.


Marketing is applied psychology

Are you struggling to build a great product or service?

Yes, make the best product you can. But let’s be clear: There is no relationship between being good and getting paid.

When most of us launch a business, here’s the typical line of thought: “I’ll just make the best product I can and then everybody will come and use it.”

That’s BULL. That’s not what happens—particularly with tech products. There is no rule anywhere that says the best product wins. The winner is the one that owns the mind monopoly. The one that’s first to mind.

Example: A good coder could re-invent Twitter in just a few days. In fact, similiar apps existed before Twitter, but Twitter was the one to lay claim to the mind share. It did it buy building habits, by creating  a mental association that compels its users to engage with the platform unprompted.

We used to have to pay for the market’s attention share (through advertising). But now, companies are building mind monopoles not through advertising but by changing user preferences with positive experiences. Facebook doesn’t advertise on TV, right? They don’t have to.

Think about why.

Twitter, Facebook, and drug addiction all work by “hooking” the user. A good hook has four elements: The trigger, the action, the reward and the investment.

A trigger tells your brain to go into automatic mode. When I feel bored, I check ESPN scores or I look at stock prices on my phone. I usually don’t really care (at that moment) about sports or the stock market, but it’s just a habit I have. When some people feel lonely, they check Facebook. When they are uncertain, they check Google.

These are triggers. An internal trigger is something like boredom. An external trigger is something like a push notification on your phone that tells you to check an app.

The action is the habit itself. Buying the lottery ticket. Opening up the app on your phone. It’s the desired user behavior.

The third element is the reward. That’s the thing that makes the user remember the “habit loop” so the whole process can be repeated in the future. A variable reward is a reward that doesn’t always happen, such as winning the lottery. Winning doesn’t happen often—but it happens often enough to reinforce the habit of buying scratch-off tickets. (By the way, the most addicting habits feature variable rewards).

To use the gambling example again, look at slot machines. The uncertainty of the reward is what keeps the user coming back. The mystery is the attraction. The feed on Facebook or Instagram gives a high degree of variability, employing the same psychology that works for gambling. You might have no “likes” or comments, or something you posted this morning might have been shared 100 times. You never know.

Finally, there’s sometimes an investment element that lets the user put something into the product in anticipation of a future benefit. Take Slack, for example. You send a message. You don’t get points or any immediate prize. But you get the hope of a reply down the road. The investment is what the user gives away in exchange for the experience.

Remember, a habitual user actually wants to invest in the experience. Facebook users willingly give the platform SO MUCH information about themselves, because they feel like they belong and like they have ownership.

The more work a user puts in to something, the more he likes it. Science tells us that people have an affinity for something they built themselves. It’s called “The Ikea Effect.” Even if it’s a cheap piece of crap set of shelves, the fact that YOU built it with your hands makes you value it and treasure it.

As a product creator, ask your users to invest (and not financially). If you don’t, you’re missing an opportunity. This investment can take the form of “user ratings” (think the reputations of hosts on AirBnB or sellers on eBay). These ratings are “stored value” that enable users to get more from your products in the future.


What is an actionable way to use this knowledge?

Any good marketing strategy must have a structure, and the hook model of habit formation is a simple structure you can use. Your strategy should be all about changing product experience so that users are self-triggered. Once you figure that out, you’ll have less need for expensive/annoying ads.

The best way to discover opportunities is to observe current habits and consider how new interfaces will make for a better hook. Find a way to make scratching the user’s itch easier, faster, or more rewarding. You need to understand the psychology driving customer behavior rather than just asking them to tell you.

So many good products shoot themselves in the foot because they make the desired action difficult for the user. Come up with a friction-free interface for your customers to use. Make the action easy and painless. This is where you want to think about good design. Eliminate friction. Reduce effort for the user. Make the behavior easy to do.

Remember: habits are not accidents. The best services and products are designed to be habit-forming. If you don’t understand habit formation, your technology is controlling you, instead of the other way around.