Nir Eyal On How Products Hook Customers—And Build Advocacy

0f5425b-2In most companies, sales is responsible for creating growth, while customer success fosters long-term loyalty. Marketing plays a role in both generating demand and engaging customers over their life-cycle (which we’ve written about before).

What’s often forgotten is the power product design has to create habits that foster loyalty and advocacy. When users to unconsciously use your product every day, they become addicts—or advocates, as we like to call them—who will tell their peers about your tool.

So, how can brands hook fans on your products?

Nir Eyal, author of Hooked: Building Habit-Forming Products, is an expert on behavioral design and habit formation. Nir’s background in video game design and advertising has given him special insights on the connection between psychology, technology, and business. “I’m always interested in how technology can increase customer involvement and engagement,” he says.

His unique perspective is the reason we invited him to speak at Advocamp 2015, the first-ever event focused on how companies can create life-long brand advocates to grow revenue. (Click here to watch Nir’s Advocamp AmpTalk presentation.)

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Below, Nir shares how your brand can tap into product design secrets to create an army of loyal advocates.

The new model for product adoption

Nir says technology adoption models in the business world have changed because of the rising demand for user-friendly interfaces – a phenomenon known as the consumerization of the enterprise. “It used to be that products were bought and used from the top-down. Now, frontline employees find tools and form habits around them, causing them to be adopted from the ground up.” If the product makes life easier, and forms a habit, managers are more likely to take notice and adopt the item for themselves or their teams.

This is why designing a product that engages users and forms a habit is critical. Product design can contribute to your brand’s ability to grow through word of mouth, since one hooked user will eagerly tell others about their experience.

So, how do you design an addictive tool?

product_hook_habit_forming_loop_advocacy_nir_eyal_15Creating a habit-forming loop

In his book, Nir outlines the four-part framework of how products form habits: trigger, action, reward and investment.

1. Trigger

The trigger reminds people to take an action. An internal emotional trigger is the “fear missing out” that causes people to log into an application for news. An external trigger would be a notification of some kind that pushes people to visit a website or social network. Make sure your product has appropriate internal and external communication triggers for customers.

2. Action

The action, which is done in anticipation of a reward, can be as simple as opening an app, or scrolling through a feed. Define what this action is and keep it as easy as possible.

3. Reward

To make customers repeat the action, there must be a reward that swiftly follows. Nir recommends using variable rewards to keep customers engaged. “Scrolling through a feed or getting an update on an app are variable rewards because you’re not quite certain what will happen the next time you log in,” says Nir.

4. Investment

Finally, comes the investment. This is when users put time, effort or thought into tailoring your product to their needs by entering their personal data or accruing followers. This commitment causes them to come back to the product when they are triggered again—which kick-starts the habit-forming loop once more.

If you’re not sure how to apply this framework to your product, don’t panic: Nir says not every application needs to form a habit. However, if you’re building a tool you hope people will use without being prompted, this model is useful, even if you only use pieces of it.

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The ultimate reward? Variability

Building an element that constantly changes into your product is one of the most powerful ways to reward users and get them to invest. “A lot of companies only think of the functional requirements of their product, and not about how to make it consistently interesting,” says Nir. Variability is the reason we log onto social networks, like Facebook or Twitter. “They introduce surprise and mystery about what you might find every time you engage with the product.”

One of the variable reward types, which Nir calls “rewards of the tribe,” fulfills our need to be part of a community. “We have empathy and sympathy built into our brains for a reason: we’ve survived as a species because we help each other. We care about what other people think.” Nir says this is why people spend time answering in-depth questions on websites like Stack Overflow. Instead of payment, the helper may receive up-votes, knowledge, or clout in the community.

Building a product that includes an element of community recognition can help form a long-term habit—as long new content is always available. “When the variability is gone, and things are predictable, people stop participating,” says Nir.

Incorporating a powerful psychological reward into your model will create a tribe of devoted advocates.

Realize there are things your customers can’t tell you

While listening to customer feedback can improve your product or service, Nir points out that unconscious behaviors also play a role in getting customers hooked. “The fundamentals of consumer psychology can help you build the right products not only by understanding what users tell you they want, but by what they’re unable to articulate.”

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