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May 2015

Identify the Habit Loop

By | Digital Psychology | No Comments

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Not so Rational People

Research over the past  10 years has increasingly shown that humans don’t behave rationally. Paying £2.95 for a Starbucks latte, when there are lower Habit Looppriced, higher quality alternatives available does not make sense. Understanding this behaviour in the physical and digital worlds is essential for creating successful digital products.

The work by Dan Ariely in his book “Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions“, explores this behaviour further. Daniel Kahneman in his 2011 book,  “Thinking, Fast and Slow” identifies 2 modes of thought  “System 1” is fast, instinctive and emotional; “System 2” is slower, more deliberative, and more logical.

Habits & Hooks

Over the past 2 years I’ve been following the work of Nir Eyal and applying some of his ideas on recent projects.  I  become aware of his work after the first Habit Summit in 2014. The Hook model that he writes about has been useful for evaluating and thinking deeper about the value of digital products.

Digital products have particular characteristics that are unlike anything we’ve experienced previously. The ability to profoundly influence the behaviour of the product consumer is a unique ability that digital products have. They become truly habit forming,

The comment made a few years ago by Nicolas Carr is very relevant today, “The Internet is an interruption system. It seizes our attention only to scramble it.”

Digital products that make use of the capabilities of the Internet can do harm as well as good. The Hook model provides a way to better understand the nature of digital product adoption.

Identifying the Habit Loop

The premise of the Hook model is to identify the components that will enable the digital product to become habit forming, in a positive way. From my experience so far, the Hook model can be applied to Apps, Websites, WebApps, Dashboards and similar digital products.The key components are:

  • The trigger
  • Action
  • Reward
  • Investment

If you are thinking of an App for example, the mistake many make is to dive straight into interface design and programming, before doing any research. The ability to provide information for each of the 4 components above allows you to identify the habit loop for your digital product. The following sections provide a set of questions that are useful to ask when doing the initial research.

The Trigger

Asking questions about what the internal and external triggers will be is a very useful starting point. If you can’t identify the triggers that will lead to your App becoming part of a customers daily actions, then the value of the App needs to be questioned. An external trigger is something the uses sees, hears, feels or smells. In the digital world, it’s usually an Email, Tweet, Facebook notification, YouTube video or similar that initiates a need. An internal trigger is caused by the way a person feels e.g.. I feel bored, so I turn to YouTube for a short burst of LOL cat watching. Ask yourself the following:

– For my App, what are the external and internal triggers?

– How would I create at least one internal and external trigger?

–  Can I measure the impact of a trigger? Is it working?

I found it useful to ask the questions about triggers when developing user personas. They are a very useful addition to the UX research stage.

Action

Once the trigger has caused a need  e.g. I see a Tweet about total immersion swimming on YouTube, I take action. This action needs to be as easy as possible i.e. have very low cognitive load and a fast path to a reward – in this case, satisfaction from learning via the video. I almost subconsciously click the link to be taken into my YouTube app, where I happily watch the video and related ones. The UX designer really comes to the fore here. It is their job to make the action step as smooth as possible. Questions to ask here:

– Is the design of the interface for your product as intuitive as possible?

– Can any more steps be eliminated when asking the user to complete a task?

– Is the path to the reward clear to the user?

The techniques from Interaction Design combined with Behavioural Psychology is a useful way to ensure the steps for action are effective.

Reward

Turns out that we humans are suckers for rewards and specifically something called variable rewards. Nir Eyal describes it very aptly using the fridge example. While the light going on when opening the fridge is interesting, imagine if every time you opened your fridge, a new item of food would magically appear. You’d be addicted to opening the fridge!

Our brains light up on the chemical dopamine, the feel good neurotransmitter. Providing a variable reward causes us to return to an action in seek of more. The infinite scrolling page is one example. Pinterest were the first to really capitalise on this. Providing endless content for us to visually feast on. Questions to ask relating to reward are:

– What reward are you offering after the action?

– Are there multiple reward types you can offer?

– Where is the variable reward element?

The subject of reward is steeped in psychology and it’s useful to refer to papers on reward mechanism to find a specific reward niche that makes sense for your product.

Not all products can offer variable reward, there are may examples of digital products that are hugely successful by decreasing variable rewards. They focus intensely on solving the users problem which in itself is reward enough.

Investment

The final step of the Hook model is investment. The user invests in the product by storing value e.g. capturing data, social sharing, contributing time and other similar activity. This increases the value of the product. It also helps make the product more rewarding by making future use faster through storing of preferences and past usage. Questions to ask are:

– What investment are you asking from your potential users? Time, data, money?

– How to users store value?

– What steps will they take to load the next trigger?

4 Steps to “Hook” Users

In summary the 4 steps are:

Step 1: Trigger a behaviour

Step 2: Perform an action

Step 3: Provide ideally a variable reward for the action

Step 4: Capture value in the product

Using the questions above will help to check the viability of each step and determine how habit forming your digital product truly is.