A Short Virtual Coffee with Nir Eyal

Hooked on Brands: A (Short) Virtual Coffee™ with Nir Eyal

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Nir Eyal spent years in the video gaming and advertising industries. I first became aware of his work through his articles (his work can be found in Harvard Business Review, The Atlantic and TechCrunch) and his blog. In the book “Hooked” he promulgates a process that he says successful brands can embed in their products and communication approaches to subtly encourage shifts in customer behaviour.

Habits are one of those subjects that intrigue marketers. How do we get our brands onto the “to do” lists of busy people with short attention spans and access to extensive choice? Then, having got their attention and their loyalty, how do we keep them? According to Eyal, “Forming habits is imperative for the survival of many products. As infinite distractions compete for our attention, companies are learning to master novel tactics to stay relevant in users’ minds. Amassing millions of users is no longer good enough. Companies increasingly find that their economic value is a function of the strength of the habits they create.”

The Hook Model

Absolutely agree. Share of mind (and potentially market) is increasingly dictated by share of day. But knowing that and achieving it are two different things. And that’s the focus of this new book. The secret to achieving habit leadership, says Eyal, lies in pulling consumers into what he’s dubbed the Hook Model. The Model itself consists of four steps:

  1. Trigger – the actuator of the behaviour. Triggers cue behaviours into becoming part of consumers’ everyday routines.
  2. Action – the behaviours that consumers take in order to receive a reward.
  3. The Variable Reward – the creation of craving through unpredictable feedback loops.
  4. Investment – the investment that consumers make – in time, data, effort, social capital or money – that improves what they subsequently receive.

Talking with Nir Eyal

Here’s some excerpts from our conversation:

Mark: So tell me Nir, what’s the difference between a habit and a ritual?

Nir: A ritual is “a religious or solemn ceremony consisting of a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order,” whereas a habit is “a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.” When it comes to the context of product design, I define habits similarly, as impulses to do behaviours with little or no conscious thought.

Mark: What’s driving The Hook Model in your view?

Nir: Three macro-trends are making the world a potentially more addictive place. Companies are able to collect more data about user behaviour, interactive technology is more accessible, and the transfer of this data (back and forth) is happening faster than ever before. These three things — data, access, and speed — send users through “Hooks” faster and more frequently, and therefore have increased the addictive potential of all sorts of products and services.

Mark: Is The Hook Model applicable to any product? If not, how would it change for other products?

Nir: Lots of products are habit-forming. The impulse to watch television at the same time of night, cheer for your local sports team every season, have your favourite cup of coffee from Starbucks each morning, visit your favourite store when you feel stressed, or even attending religious services each week, are all examples of behaviours we do with little or no conscious thought, out of habit.

Not every business needs to form a user habit, but every business that forms a habit needs a Hook.

That being said, not every business needs to form a user habit, but every business that forms a habit needs a Hook. The bar is very high for habit-forming products, lots of things have to go right and not many companies do it successfully. Of course, those who do it right create tremendous amounts of value. However, even if your company doesn’t require a habit, understanding consumer psychology and applying even parts of the Hook Model to your customer experience can improve your odds of success.

Mark: Which brands are winning the war to change customer routines? And what types of brands are losing?

Nir: To date, companies have relied upon expensive advertising to drive consumer action. They’ve associated their brands with an attribute they hope customers will value above competing products. But recently, a new crop of companies have found they can bring their users back not through brand-building ads, but through the experience of using the product itself. Companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest don’t use their brand to compel use. Instead, these companies take users through the four steps of the Hook to form habits.

Mark: Finally, how long does a new habit last before people revert to an old habit? What are the implications of this for products?

Nir: Habits are powerful but they often don’t last forever. To borrow an accounting term, we know that habits are LIFO, last in, first out. That is to say the habits we’ve most recently acquired are the first to go when circumstances change. For businesses, this means they need to maintain constant vigilance for the next competitor who could potentially capture the habits they’ve cemented with their customers.

The basic framework I describe in my book also illustrates how companies can wrestle user habits away from entrenched competitors. There are four potential strategies to displace an existing customer habit: new competitors can design products to shuttle through the four steps of the hook faster, better, more frequently, or by making it easier to start using the product in the first place.

More about Nir Eyal

If you’d like to find out more about The Hook Model, you can buy Nir’s new book from here (non-affiliated link).

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