Nir Eyal wrote “Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products” based off his years of practical experience in Silicon Valley. As he witnessed hundreds of products either flop or succeed, Eyal decided to embark on a research journey to understand why people seemed to get attached to some products over others. Ultimately, he wanted to discover how product engineers are able to alter user behavior in order to achieve unprompted user engagement.
Eyal uses examples of products that we rely on, which include many popular phone applications. Social media has been able to alter human behavior and maintain a permanent residence in our daily routines. Think about the number of times you open Snapchat, Instagram, or Facebook every day: waiting on lines, walking to class, and even while you’re having a conversation with a friend face-to-face. We are “hooked” on these products and engage with them out of sheer habit.
Through years of research, Eyal has developed a model to represent the cycles that must occur in order to captivate users. The Hook Model, as he calls it, is made up of 4 parts: Trigger, Action, Variable Reward, and Investment. Each step of this process is used in experiences such as apps, sports, games, movies or even our jobs to keep us engaged.
Overview of Hook Model
(1) Triggers occur in two forms: external and internal. These are calls to action that alert users to use the product. External triggers are external and can include an email, app icon, or link, which are mainly part of the company’s marketing strategy. As users continue using the product and cycling through hooks, they begin to form emotional connections with internal triggers. For example, when you are feeling bored or socially disconnected, a solution to solve this “emotional itch” is to check Facebook or Instagram. These social media companies do not have to spend any advertising money to get you to open their app repeatedly once you are hooked because the emotional internal trigger has been established.
(2) Actions do not necessarily occur if somebody sees a trigger. There are plenty of times that we see links to download apps, yet decide not to. Eyal introduces a formula that explains this behavior. There are 3 requirements for a person to take action: motivation, ability, and a present trigger. If a trigger is presented to a user at the moment they have motivation to move forward, and the ease-of-use that allows them to do so, they will take action and progress in the Hook Cycle. As increasing motivation for users to engage can be time-consuming and expensive, many companies venture to give people greater ability to use their product. For example, instead of registering and signing up for every new site and game we use, we often encounter easy-to-use Facebook logins that allow us to use credentials we have already established. This cuts down the process to use a product tremendously, and allows users to quickly sign up without time to rethink their decision.
(3) Variable Rewards are one of the most fascinating aspects of the Hook Model. Eyal explains how products that do not interest the user with novel advancements and/or rewards will fail because they are not exciting. As Eyal writes, rewards must be variable and be one of these three types: Rewards of the Tribe, the Hunt, or Self. One of the best examples he used was “gamification.” Gamification is the use of gamelike elements in nongame environments. This practice can be seen in points, badges, and leaderboards that many apps are now using to entice users into a competitive and goal-oriented attitude. Many health apps are using these tactics to encourage users to walk a certain number of steps per day and compete with their friends. With badges awarded for reaching a certain goal, these apps keep users entertained with varying goals and rewards for accomplishments.
(4) Investment, the last stage of the Hook Model, is a phase in which users are engaged because of the anticipation of future rewards. When we pour time and effort into something, we tend to overvalue the outcome. Eyal explains that we value our work, so when we invest our work or money into a product, we justify that it must be worthwhile, giving even more value to the product. For example, when people spend real money on virtual video games such as FarmVille, they must logically justify that FarmVille is a fantastic app, otherwise they would not put their hard-earned money into a meaningless game. The Investment stage also serves to provide another internal trigger that cycle the Hook Model through once again, creating intrinsic habits.
I would absolutely recommend this book to everybody, it is an interesting and thought-provoking read. It is written not only in an informative tone, but also serves as a step-by-step guide with “Do This Now” bullet points at the end of every chapter. Personally, I loved this book because I am interested in the intersection between technology and psychology. Eyal also dives into the reasons why some products are more appealing and habit-forming than others. This is important if you want to start your own company, develop a product, or simply become more aware of how companies are able to change our natural instincts and behaviors through their cleverly designed products.