Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The Hook Model


The book, “Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products”, is one of my favorites as it provides a well-structured model in building something people addict to. Impressively, for me, it pointed out the problems I had faced while building new things, and explained reasons behind.

This post is my study note of reading the book.

Why Habit

Habits are “behaviors done with little or no conscious thought”. By forming a habit for users in using the product, the company can gain following benefits:
  • increasing customer lifetime value (CLTV)
  • providing pricing flexibility
  • supercharging growth: people are more likely to share
  • sharpening the competitive edge: products that change customer routines are less susceptible to attacks from other companies

Habit Zone

  • frequency: how often the user us the product
  • preceived utility: how useful and rewarding the behavior is in the user’s minde over alternative solutions
Habits cannot form outside the habit zone.

“Are you building a vitamin or painkiller?”

Answer: “Successful products or services seem at first to be offering nice-to-have vitamins, but once the habit is established, they provide an ongoing pain remedy.”

Notice: not all the products or services need to form habits, ex. insurance products.

1. Trigger


External triggers are embedded with information which tells the user what to do next.
  • paid triggers: advertising / search engine marketing (habit-forming companies tend not to rely on paid triggers for very long)
  • earned triggers: favorable press mentions, hot viral videos, and featured app store placement (require investment in the form of time spent on public and media relations)
  • relationship triggers: one person telling others about a product or serivce (a highly effective external trigger for action)
  • owned triggers: app icon, email newsletter, subscribe (prmopt repeat engagement until a habit is formed)


Internal triggers are attached to existing behaviors and emotions.
  • when users form habits, they are cued by internal triggers
  • designer must know their user’s internal trigger (the pain they seek to solve)
  • “we often think the Internet enables you to do new things, but people just want to do the same things they’ve always done.”
  • what people say they want (declared preferences) are far from what they actually do (revealed preferences).
  • “user narratives”: “5 Whys Method” (keep asking whys)
  • negative emotions frequently serve as internal triggers

2. Action

The Fogg Behavior Model


  • [M] motivation: the energy for action (seek pleasure or avoid pain), and the right motivators create action by offering the promise of desirable outcomes
  • [A] ability: simply start removing steps until you reach the simplest possible process
  • [T] Trigger: mentioned above
To pick from M, A, T: always start with ability.

Ease / Simple

Influence simplicity:
  • time
  • money
  • physical
  • brain cycles
  • social deviance (how accepted the behavior is by others)
  • non-routine (how much the action matches or disrupts existing routines)
Good examples
  • logging in with facebook
  • sharing with the twitter button
  • searching with google
  • taking photos with the apple iphone
  • scrolling with pinterest

Brain Biases (Heuristics and Perceptions)

Heuristics are shortcuts we take to make quick decisions.
  • the scarcity effect: the appearance of scarcity affected their perception of value (“n items left” tags on Amazon)
  • the framing effect: the mind takes shortcuts informed by our surrounding to make quick and sometines erroneous judgments (ex. famous violin player at subway)
  • the anchoring effect: people often anchor to one piece of information when making a decision (buy more not always cheaper)
  • the endowed progress effect (profile strength interface on Stack Overflow)
Note: Mental Notes help designers build better products through heuristics.

3. Variable Award

Without variability, we are like children in that once we figure out what will happen next, we become less excited by the experience.

Many habit forming products offer multiple types of variable rewards:

Type: The Tribe

Fueled by connectedness with other people
Our brains are adapted to seek rewards that make us feel accepted, attractive, important, and included.
  • Facebook like / comment / share
  • Stack Overflow: contributing to a community (no one knows how many will be received from the community when responding to a question)

Type: The Hunt

The search for material resources and information
The need to acquire physical objects, such as food and other supplies that aid our survival, is part of our brain’s operating system.
  • machine gambling
  • Twitter (users scroll and scroll and scroll to search for variable rewards in the form of relevant tweets)
  • Pinterest (cut-off pictures at bottom)

Type: The Self

The search for intrinsic rewaords of mastery, competence, and completion
Their self-determination theory espouses that people desire, among other things, to gain a sense of competency (peosonal form of gratification).
  • video games: master the skills, desire for competency by showing progression and completion
  • email: mastery, completion, and competence moves users to habitual and sometimes mindless actions

Important Considerations

Variable Rewards Are Not a Free Pass found that people didn’t want to use a Q&A site to make money; however, Quora: social rewards work.

Only by understanding what truly matters to users can a company correctly match the right variable rewrds to their intended behavior.

Maintain a Sense of Autonomy
“But you are free to accept or refuse”
  • If failed: Reactance, the hair-trigger response to threats to your autonomy.
  • Too many companies build their products betting users will do what they make them do instead of letting them do what they want to do.
  • Companies that successfully change behaviors present users with an implicit choise between their old way of doing things and a new, more convenient way to fulfill existing needs
Beware of Finite Variability
“Predictable after use”
Experiences with finit variability become less engaging because they eventually become predictable.
  • FarmVille: CityVille, ChefVille, FrontierVille, … failed (new games were not really new at all)

4. Investment

The more users invest (time, data, effort, social capital, money, etc.) into a product or service, the more they value it. The reasons are:
  • we irrationally value our efforts (IKEA effect: people tend to like things they build on their own)
  • we seek to be consistent with our past behavior
  • we avoid cognitive dissonance
Notice: Asking users to do a bit of work comes “after” users have received variable rewards, not before.

Storing Value

  • content: memories and experiences, ex. itunes collection
  • data: information generated, collected, created by users, ex. songs, photos, news clippings
  • followers: ex. Twitter
  • reputation: monetizable, ex. vender reputation on eBay, TaskRabbit, Yelp, Airbnb, etc
  • skill: once users have invested the effort to acquire a skill, they are less likely to switch to a competing product, ex. photoshop
If users are not doing what the designer intended in the investment phase, the designer may be asking them to do too much.

Loading the next trigger

Habit-forming technologies leverage the user’s past behavior to initiate an external trigger in the future (reengage the user).

The Morality of Manipulation

Instead of asking “can I hook my users?”, we should ask: “should I attempt to?”

The Facilitator

Healthy habit.
If you find yourself squiming as you ask yourself these queations or need to qualify or justify your answers, stop! you failed.”
In building a habit for a user other than you, you can not consider yourself a facilitator unless you have experienced the problem firsthand.
Build the change they want to see in the world

The Peddler

Would I actually find this useful?” the answer to this uncomfortable question is nearly always no, so they twist their thing until they caan image a user they believe might find the ad valuable.
Peddlers tend to lack the empathy and insights needed to create something users truly want.
Often the peddler’s project results in a time-wasting failure because the designers did not fully understand their users.
Beware of the hubris and inauthenticity

The Entertainer

Art is often fleeting; products that form habits around entertainment tend to fade quickly from users’ lives.
Entertainment is a hits-driven business because the brain reacts to stimulus by wanting more and more of it ever hungry for continuous novelty.

The Dealer

The only reason the designer is hooking users is to make a buck.
Ex. casinos and drug dealers.

Habit Testing (Existing Products)

Building a habit-forming product is an iterative process and requires user-behavior analysis and continuous experimentation.

Step 1: Identify

Dig into the data to identify how people are using the product.
Who are the product’s bahitual users?” (the more frequently your product is used, the more likely it is to form a user habit)
Don’t come up with an overly aggressive prediction.

Step 2: Codify

Codify these findings in search of habitual users to generate new hypotheses, study the actions and paths taken by devoted users.
You are looking for a Habit Path - a series of similar actions shared by our most loyal users.

Step 3: Modify

Modify the product to influence more users to follow the same path as your habitual users, and then evaluate results and coninue to modify as needed.

Discovering Habit-forming Opportunities

Creating a product the designer uses and believes materially improves people’s lives increases the odds of delivering something people want. Pual Graham advises entrepreneurs to leave the sexy-sounding business ideas behind and instead build for their own needs: “Instead of asking ‘what problem should I solve?’ ask ‘what problem do I wish someone else would solve for me?’”

Enabling technologies

Wherever new technogolies suddenly make a behavior easier, new possibilities are born.

Interface Change

Many companies have found success in driving new bahit formation by identifying how changing user interactions can create new routines.
“Live in the future”: Google Glass, Oculus Rift, Pebble watch, etc.


Some nice or interesting sentences I found in the book:
  • Viral cycle time is the amount of time takes a user to invite another user, and it can have a messive impact
  • If you only build for fame or fortune, you will likely find neither. Build for meaning, though, and you can’t go wrong.
  • There’s a pain for the fear of missing out (FOMO).
  • 26 percent of mobile apps in 2010 were downloaded and used only once.
  • Behaviors are LIFO - “last in, first out.”

My Own Thoughts

1. Timing

In the last chapter of the book, the author suggest that we should keep eyes on emerging technologies and seek oppertunities. This remind me a TED Talk, “Bill Gross: The single biggest reason why startups succeed”, where the speaker claimed “timing” is the most important factor of a successful startup company. Both of them hold the same view on believing “timing” is the key of a successful startup.

2. Facilitator for All Team Members?

An interesting question popped up while I was reading the manipulation matrix part. The author suggested that it’s better to work as facilitator, so the maker himself/herself will have a deeper understanding of the product.

However, in real experiences, this might hold true only in the beginning - when there’s only one person on the team. As the project grows, people join into the team, and it’s impossible that everyone suffers from original problem that the team is trying to solve. That is, an designer of a video game startup company doesn’t have to like playing video games.

So, I raised the confliction I found here to one of my friends. She replied that, in a product group, some are facilitators while some are peddlers. For those peddlers, it’s okay that they haven’t experienced the problem the group is trying to solve as long as they agree with the team. That is, the point is whether the team has a same milestone instead of all being facilitators.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks!!!This is a very detailed and useful sight! Thanks again for sharing!
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