About a decade ago, apps were fewer, and app-makers didn’t have to compete as much for user attention and loyalty. Today, there is an app for almost everything. With over 5 million apps in the Apple Store and Google Play Store, getting your app to stand out and cross the coveted 1 Billion download mark is an uphill task. Even if your app does not get unceremoniously uninstalled, it may just lie around unused and forgotten, causing your download figures to stagnate.
While getting your app to the top may sound like a daunting task, it is not impossible. The sooner you get started on the path, the easier it gets as you move along. There are scores of articles on the internet that talk about this, but having developed over 400 products over the last 15+ years, we are excited to share with you what it takes to reach that one billion downloads bar and maintain your customer base as you keep growing. These are approaches that we have ourselves tested, validated, and attained success with, by applying them to our client products and in-house technology ventures.
To cover each aspect in-depth with examples, tips, and case studies, we have broken down this blog into four parts. This is the first part of the series and it talks about building habit-forming parts. The following is the full list of blogs in this series:
Part I: Building Habit-forming Products
Part II: Pushing the Envelope on UI & UX
Let’s get started!
Part I: Building Habit-forming Products
Building Habit-forming Products Using The Hook Model
Take a moment to picture in your mind an app or a product that you simply can’t live without. Is it a social media app, like Facebook or Twitter? Is it a personal messaging app, like Whatsapp? Or, is it your Kindle, digital wallet, or smartwatch?
No matter which product comes to your mind, if you think about it more closely, two features of your favorite product will stand out from the rest.
1. Your preferred app is a part and parcel of your daily life, i.e. it keeps you coming back for more by ingraining itself into your habits.
2. The makers of the app keep updating it – not only to fix bugs but also to make the product more tuned to how you think and behave.
In his bestselling book, Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, Nir Eyal took a deep dive into the psychology of product development and usage. Today, we share with you Eyal’s four-step Hook model and the simple steps you can follow to make your products irresistible, habit-forming, and loved by customers.
The Hook Model focuses on creating a compelling experience instead of the product itself. It visualizes the product as a means to an end, i.e. the solution to a user problem, that becomes a habit through repeated interaction with the product and reaping the rewards associated with it. Habit-forming products harness human psychology and consumer behavior to engineer the way people and products co-create a better, smarter, and more productive future. The Hook Model postulates that a delightful and high-value product experience is the key to forming products that get customers hooked, and visualizes it as an outcome of four key steps: Trigger, Action, Variable Reward, and Investment.
Phase 1: Trigger
Every habit begins with a memorable first experience. Before a product becomes a habit, the user has to feel motivated to give it a go and explore its features. The trigger makes the customer try out a new product for the first time. In other words, it prompts the user to spend enough time with the product in the first instance to have a fair idea of the potential benefits the product has to offer if it becomes a daily habit.
Triggers can be external or internal. External triggers are usually in the form of marketing, advertising, and PR activities by the product owners. Internal triggers are the customers’ intrinsic needs that prompt the usage of a product.
Example: Our everyday need for relevant information keeps our thumbs on permanent scroll on Google. This is an example of an internal trigger. Another example is how our internal need to connect with people makes us want to login to Facebook and Whatsapp every day. Similarly, our desire to make payments faster and cashless makes us use apps like GPay.
To build a habit-forming product, you must connect your product’s external triggers to the customers’ internal triggers so that in the future, your users unconsciously associate your product with their internal triggers without even having to consciously think about it. This unconscious product association is at the root of habit formation in customers.
Phase 2. Action
Your customers have taken the first step by responding to a trigger – but now it’s your job to draw them in! In the context of the Hook Model, actions are the steps that users follow to reap a reward or benefit from your product that made them try it out in the first place.
Examples: Actions in the Hook Model include sign-ups, clicks, trials, and so on.
The key thing to remember here is that with our attention spans and patience levels coming down, the action phase should not tire the user out by being too long, complicated, or difficult. A few easy steps that are convenient to follow and make the process of reaching the reward as pleasant as possible should be the goal here.
Tip: Eliminate junk steps, filter out unnecessary information, and remove unnecessary hurdles. Make using your product a breeze, and your users will thank you for it.
Phase 3. Variable Reward
Your users have trusted you with action, and now it’s time for their reward. But, here’s the catch. Recurring rewards that are static and predictable will fizzle out after a while. It won’t keep your users interested in what you have to offer next, and bore them out of their wits in using your reward system. What’s the way out? Simple – make your product rewards variable.
Example: Have you noticed how e-commerce apps like Amazon have a never-ending spree of lightning deals, last-minute deals, combo offers, and festive offers on the app? That’s one way to keep the rewards fresh and relevant. Facebook’s constant innovation in the user interface has mostly been designed keeping in view the users’ changing appetite for rewards from social media usage.
Tip: Create a streamlined reward system that is clear and distraction-free by linking it to user actions, and then play around with it regularly to keep your users wondering what’s next. Take the opportunity to delight them with a pleasant surprise, but make sure that you do so by imparting real value and not just good looks.
Phase 4. Investment
Engagement is not a two-way street, and the Hook Model makes it clear. The beauty of this model is that it inspires you to make your customers invest their time, money, or attention into the product, even if it’s not a lot. Why? Because this ensures that they feel a shared sense of ownership and identify with your product more personally than just as customers.
Example: People tracking their meals and workouts on health and fitness apps, consumers setting their expense limits on digital wallets, and users personalizing their experience on Google products like Drive, Groups, and Gmail, are all examples of investment by the user that eventually amplify engagement and habit formation in the long run.
This, in a nutshell, is the secret to building products that generate loyal customers who become habituated with the features, functionality, and design elements of a product. There are many advantages to creating habit-forming products. To begin with, they maximize customer lifetime value (CLTV) by attracting long-term users. Habits are hard to break, so over time, habit-forming products become immune to switching customers. Such products also gain significantly through word-of-mouth reputation, since long-term customers often become advocates and brand ambassadors for the products they love.
In the next article in this series (Part II: Pushing the Envelope on UI & UX), we take a deep dive into how elegant, innovative, and highly-functional UI and UX design can lead to delightful products that sell themselves.