On top of building habit-forming products – be the scratch to your customers’ itch

An old wrestling expression says that you can’t get pinned when you’re on top. Being consultants we constantly read interesting books, try out promising techniques and follow new courses to stay on top of things so you, our customers, stay on top and don’t get pinned down.

This week we look at “Hooked – How to Build Habit-Forming Products” by Nir Eyal. It’s to the point and a must-read for strategic consultants, marketers and experience designers but especially for business owners interested in driving customer-engagement.


Why would you want a habit-forming product?

A habit is, basically, a behavior done with little or no conscious thought (or when not doing an action causes a bit of pain, an itch). Imagine that users turn to your solution without considering anything else. That would:

  • increase customer lifetime value
    User habits result in longer and more frequent use of your product ensuring a higher customer lifetime value
  • provide your with pricing flexibility
    When users come to depend on your product the price of it becomes less important
  • supercharge growth
    Users continuously using your product because they find value in it are more likely to tell their friends about is reducing the Viral Cycle Time –the amount of time it takes a user to invite another user- an important factor to increasing growth. 
  • sharpen your competitive edge
    Habits die hard. Users routinely using your product are less likely to switch to another solution

You want these benefits too? Let’s have a look at what is required.

How to create a habit-forming product?

You need to create an experience designed to connect your user’s problem to a solution frequently enough to form a habit.

Remember my blogpost on instilling a behavioral change in your audience? It explained the circle of change.


In order to instill a behavior in your target audience you need 3 things:

  1. The right trigger at the right time.  
  2. An easy process/routine to accomplish your goal/ get a reward
  3. A reward worth taking the required action for
    As a habit is, basically, behavior done freque,ntly with little or no conscious thought it comes to no surprise that the Hooked-model is basically, identical to the circle of change with an extra element added to the mix. 
  4. A small investment of the user


The more times a user goes through the Hooked-cycle of trigger, action, variable reward and small investment the more the chance increases that a habit will form. Let’s have a look at the four ingredients required to form habits involving your services or products.
The right trigger
The first thing you require is the right trigger: it reduces the thinking required to take the next action.
External triggers first
As long as users have not established a habit around your product, you have to rely on external triggers to get your user to go through the Hooked-cycle. Think of:
  • paid triggers like search engine marketing and other paid channels to prompt users to act
  • earned triggers by time spent by your company on public media channels creating often short-lived spikes of interest
  • relationship triggers by referrals from friends and family prompting people to act
  • owned triggers like the app of your company on your customer’s cell phone, the newsletter customers have subscribed to etc…

But you don’t want to keep depending on (often costly) external triggers You want to bring back users repeatedly with unprompted user engagement. Impossible? Not when you’re successful in tightly coupling your solution with a particular feeling, emotion, thought or an existing routine.  If you’re capable of doing that, you’ve created an internal trigger 

Internal triggers 

Internal triggers manifest automatically in your mind. They are most often negative emotions like a feeling of boredom, loneliness, frustration, confusion, etc… and instigate a slight pain, an itch you want to scratch so you scratch to quell the negative sensation by grabbing the solution you have used many times before: the product associated as the scratch to your itch. Do it often enough and you get a habit, a persistent routine.

Not convinced? What do you do when you are waiting somewhere? You probably grab your smart phone and open Instagram, WhatsApp, your inbox,….  Sorry to say but you are hooked. :-)  

An easy action

The second thing you require to form a habit is an easy action. The action must be easier than thinking. 
According to the Fogg Behavior Model in order to get a behavior you need 

  • a trigger to cue an action, 
  • the ability to do a particular action and 
  • the motivation to take the action

According to Dr. B. J. Fogg there are six factors that influence the difficulty of a task (and the ability to perform it).

  1. Time: how long it takes to complete
  2. Money: the fiscal cost of taking an action
  3. Physical effort: the amount of labor involved in taking an action
  4. Brain cycles: the level of mental effort and focus required
  5. Social deviance: how accepted the behavior is
  6. Non-routine: how much the action matches/disrupts existing routines

Increasing the ability is done by simplifying the process. This is done as Denis J. Hauptly suggests in his book “Something Really New: Three Simple Steps to Creating Truly Innovative Products” by

  1. Understanding the reason people use a product or service
  2. Laying out the steps the customer must take to get the job done from intention to outcome
  3. Removing steps until you reach the simplest possible process.
A variable reward

The third required ingredient is a variable reward: you reward your users for the action taken by solving a problem reinforcing their motivation. 

The best reward is variable. Variability sparks our interest as it breaks the cause and effect pattern we have come to expect.  It increases activity in the nucleus accumbens and spikes levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine driving our hungry search for rewards. We do not so much crave the variable reward itself but the anticipation to it. 

The author has a well thought out way of categorizing rewards in three types:

  1. Rewards of the tribe: we are wired to seek rewards that make us feel accepted, attractive, important and included.  (Facebook anyone?)
  2. Rewards of the hunt: we are wired to seek resources and get intoxicated by the pursuit. (Twitter or Pinterest anyone? “Ooh, nice tidbit of information.” “Ooh, nice example of how to decorate the living room.”)
  3. Rewards of the self: we are wired to search for mastery and completion. (That’s why so many are inclined to open all the messages in their inbox or to play video games.)

It’s worth brainstorming on how to align your solution’s rewards with one of the three types above.

A small investment

Last but not least, you require a small investment from your user to increase the chance of forming a habit.

When we get a reward we are likely to reciprocate the kindness by doing a small investment in the understanding that the service will get even better the next time. The small investment is about the anticipation of longer-term rewards.

Users are prompted to do a small investment, to put something of themselves, of value into the system. Value can be stored in a variety of forms.

  1. Content (e.g.: playlists, likes,… )
  2. Personal data
  3. Skill (time and effort to learn to use a product)


  • we irrationally overvalue our own efforts. 
  • we seek to be consistent with past behaviors 

little investments can lead to big changes in future behaviors. Every time we put something of ourselves (thus of value) into the system it increases the likelihood of us using the product again and of a successive pass through the hook cycle thus increasing the chance of the action -and using your product or service- becoming a habit.


First, Nir Eyal’s book is a must-read if you are interested in increasing your customers’ engagement. It summarizes tons of research in a very concise manner making it extremely applicable to your business. 

Second, well it’s your choice –of course- but I suggest to never, ever start a project again without having thought about

  • how to align your solution to your client’s goals, 
  • your user’s internal triggers and the pain you need to solve
  • how to trigger your user at the right moment (first with the right external trigger but having used the solution different times with the right internal motivator), 
  • how to make the required action as simple as possible and 
  • how to make the user invest a little bit of himself.

Make these questions an integral part of your discovery phase before you write your RFP. Not sure how to answer the questions above, make use of our expertise and make answering these questions a project phase of your RFP. We’d love to help your customers get hooked to your solution that improves their lives.


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The Reference is nothing without its customers. Melexis is the stock market-listed global player in the semi-conductor and sensors industry for whom we facilitated future company growth by updating the brand, building the completely new corporate website and giving shape to the use of online channels. Read more about this client.