Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products?

25817 2019-06-05 14:15


What are habits? Do things just like doing no brainers. Businesses cultivating customer habits gain a significant competitive advantage. This book proposes The Hook Model describing how to form a user habit with four steps:

  1. Trigger
  2. Action
  3. Variable reward
  4. Investment

The Habit Zone

  1. Benefits of Habits

    1. Increasing LTV
    2. Providing Pricing Flexibility. Warren Buffett: People are less sensitive to the price of products they formed routines around.
    3. Supercharging growth. More is more principle: Linear decreasing of the Viral Cycle Time can speed up the user acquisition exponentially.
    4. Sharpening the competitive edge. 9x Effect: new product has to be 9x better than its existing competitor (which users have been familiar with) to win the market.
  2. Successful companies build the mind monopoly.

  3. How to identify the product’s habit-forming potential?

    • Not all software usage could form a habit. As presented above, only a behavior happens with enough 1) frequency and 2) perceived utility, a.k.a entering a habit zone, can help to make it a default behavior.
habit zone
  1. Habit-forming technologies often start as vitamins, but once the habit is formed, they become painkillers.

The Hook Model


What cues people to take action? Triggers.

  1. External triggers to attract users first
    1. Paid triggers
    2. Earned triggers
    3. Relationship triggers
    4. Owned triggers
  2. Internal triggers
    1. Related to thoughts, emotions (particularly negative ones), or preexisting routines
    2. people suffering from symptoms of depression used the Internet more.
  3. The goal of a habit-forming product is to kill or relieve the user’s pain.


How to initiate any behavior?

B = MAT (behavior = motivation + ability + trigger)
  1. Motivation
    1. Three Core Motivators. all humans are motivated
      1. to seek pleasure and avoid pain;
      2. to seek hope and avoid fear;
      3. and finally, to seek social acceptance and avoid rejection.
    2. examples
      1. Barack Obama’s Hope Poster
      2. Sex Sells
      3. Sports Ads
      4. Ads trigger negative emotions such as fear
  2. Ability
    1. Easier task leads to the higher adoption rate
    2. Six elements of simplicity
      1. Time
      2. Money
      3. Physical effort
      4. Brain cycles
      5. Social deviance
      6. Non-routine
    3. examples
      1. Login with Facebook
      2. Share with twitter
      3. Search with Google
      4. Snap a picture with iPhone lock screen
      5. Pinterest infinite scroll
      6. Twitter uses the homepage to encourage certain behaviors
  3. Daniel Kahneman: Four mental biases
    1. The Scarcity Effect: The appearance of scarcity affected their perception of value
      • e.g. Amazon “Only 6 left in stock.”
    2. The Framing Effect: The mind takes shortcuts informed by our surroundings to make quick and sometimes erroneous judgments.
      • e.g. Tasting the same wine, the higher the price, the more pleasure people will feel.
    3. The Anchoring Effect: People tend to anchor to one piece of information when making a decision.
      • e.g. 30% off
    4. The Endowed Progress Effect: people are more motivated when they believe they are nearing a goal.
      • e.g. Linkedin Progress Bar near to finish to improve your profile strength.

Variable Reward

  1. Principles in our brains
    1. When do people feel happy about rewards?
      • People feel happy not when they receive the reward itself but when in anticipation of it.
    2. Same rewards do not work over time. Fondness = familiarity + novelty.
  2. Three variable reward types
    1. The tribe: We seek rewards that make us feel accepted, attractive, important, and included.
    2. The hunt: We need to acquire physical objects, such as food and other supplies that aid our survival.
    3. The self: We desire to gain a sense of competency.
  3. Finding the proper variable rewards is not easy. Gamification is effective only when they really scratch the user’s itch.
  4. Maintain a sense of autonomy. Let the user choose what to do.
  5. Finite variability leads less engagement because they eventually become predictable. e.g. Zynga’s FarmVille. People usually don’t watch the Breaking Bad twice. Thus UGC is super valuable.


  1. The escalation of commitment: The more users invest time and effort into a product or service, the more they value it. Our labor leads to love.
    • e.g. The origami bidding game: those who made their own origami animals valued their creation five times higher than the second group’s valuation and nearly as high as the expert-made origami values
    • e.g. IKEA effect is a kind of cognitive dissonance. The more effort we put into something, the more likely we are to value it; we are more likely to be consistent with our past behaviors; and finally, we change our preferences to avoid cognitive dissonance.
    • E.g. social game mafia war
  2. People tend to use the product again if it stores values, which are
    • Content
    • Data
    • Followers
    • Reputation
    • Skill
  3. How to compound user retention? Loading the Next Trigger with virtuous loops.

Should I use the hook model?

manipulation matrix

How to apply the hook model?

  1. Pros and cons analysis based on the model
  2. Habit Testing
    1. Identify the user workflow
    2. Identify the habitual users’ workflow
    3. Experiment with promoting the habitual users’ workflow to more users.
  3. Observe yourself
  4. Find nascent behaviors that can go popular in the future


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