Create User-Retaining Products in 4 Steps With the Hook Model

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It’s no secret that humans are habitual creatures. Not only do habits have a substantial impact on our daily routines, but they also influence how we interact with our favorite apps and products.

And at the end goal of each habit, there is a reward. For example, when we drink our sip of coffee in the morning, we feel energized and ready to tackle our tasks for the day. Or, when we feel stressed, we might decide to meditate as a way to calm ourselves down.

Following the hook model allows you to create better products that retain more users by replicating this same rewards system that drives so many of our habits. It does so by leveraging human psychology to create products and apps that customers can’t put down.

What Is the Hook Model?

The hook model is a process created by startup entrepreneur and behavioral economist Nir Eyal to develop habitual products that always bring users back for more. That way, you’ll increase user retention and optimize your product for high-repeat use.

Eyal first showcased this model in his book Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, which was entirely based on his research and experience in the startup and online advertising world. He divides his approach into four steps: a trigger, an action, a variable reward, and an investment.

The main idea behind the hook model is that it connects user problems and emotions to a habitual routine, which increases retention. That way, you manufacture the user’s desire to make your product an essential part of their life.

Take a look at your own daily routines. If you want to contact a friend or family member, your first reaction is likely to use a messaging app like WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger. Or, if you want to keep up with the latest politics, you’re likely to hop on a platform like Twitter.

The 4-Step Process of the Hook Model

The four steps that consist of building habitual, high-frequency products with the hook model include:

Step 1: Trigger

The trigger is what first sparks the action of your user and gets them to find a solution for their problem. There are two types of user triggers in the hook model: external and internal triggers.

External triggers consist of information provided during the product experience that informs the user on what to do next. Examples include in-app notifications, emails, SMS messages, or even paid advertising. Internal triggers, on the other hand, are triggers aligned with existing emotions and behaviors. It could be any challenge or pain that the user experiences frequently and wants to solve.

So, how do external and internal triggers work together to “hook” the user? The goal of external triggers is simply to get the attention of the user. They’re also helpful in showing the user how your product works and its benefits. Let’s say, for example, that a user runs across a billboard promoting Instagram’s app. Interested, they proceed to download the app on their phone. That’s the external trigger.

Then, the internal triggers create the desire to come back to your product within the user by producing thoughts and emotions each time they log into your product. These feelings become an integral part of the user experience which contributes to creating the habit. As the user logs into Instagram, they hop on the explore tab, where they access billions of pieces of engaging content, from travel pictures to funny memes. It’s a form of stimuli that becomes a source of excitement they can access at any time. That’s the internal trigger.

Step 2: Action

The action is what follows after the user’s trigger. According to the Fogg Behavior Model that Eyal references in his book, two critical factors push the user to take action: motivation and ability.

After the trigger, the user needs a source of motivation to take the desired action. Examples could be the desire to solve a daily challenge or the hope of something good about to come.

Ability consists of making your action simple for the user by reducing their effort, so they quickly move to the next step of the hook model. In the case of Instagram, all the user has to do is click on a picture in the explore tab to look at it and scroll down to see other content — it’s all effortless.

When it comes to motivation and ability, you can’t have one without the other. If the motivation isn’t high enough, then users have no reason to use your platform. At the same time, if the ability is too tricky and users have to go through loops and holes to understand how your product works, then they’re less likely to complete your action.

Let’s go back to our previous Instagram example after the user has already engaged with internal and external triggers. One day, as they’re sitting home, they start to feel bored with nothing to do. During this moment of boredom, they start to remember the excitement they felt going through Instagram’s explore page. Now motivated to escape their boredom, they easily hop back on the platform and go through its infinite amount of content to entertain themselves.

Step 3: Variable Reward

During this step of the hook model, you’re rewarding the users for taking the desired action to encourage them to come back. However, you’re also adding variety to the mix, making the reward less predictable to boost desire. Doing so gives the user a reason to use your product again.

When users post a picture on Instagram, they can get various rewards for their actions. These rewards can be likes, comments, or even re-shares from other people on the platform. Each time the user refreshes their feed for updates, they don’t know what kind of engagement they’ll get.

Intrigue is so powerful when it comes to manufacturing desire because it leaves the user wanting more. If the product experience becomes too predictable, then the user won’t keep using it.

Step 4: Investment

The more times a user experiences the variable rewards, the more likely they will make it a habit. Once the user has experienced variable rewards from your product, the next step will be to invest more time to set them up for the next trigger.

Here are examples of what making your user invest more time within your product could look like:

  • Getting users to sign up for your email list and receive updates
  • Accumulating followers on a social media page
  • Adapting a video sharing platform’s algorithm to the preferences of its users
  • Creating a loyalty program where users can collect points

The goal of making the user invest is to boost the chances that the user will go through another trigger and search for more rewards. In the case of Instagram, more followers mean more social approval for others, which drives people to continue using the app.

YouTube’s algorithm makes their users invest by organizing their feed with recommendations based on previously watched videos. It encourages the user to come back in search of even more exciting content, creating a never-ending feedback loop.

More Examples of the Hook Model in Action

Here’s how other top companies are leveraging the hook model to create products that engage and retain users:

Uber

Trigger:

Uber’s target audience has a desire for a safe and cheap way to get around, whether it’s for work, meeting up with friends, or going to their hobbies. They also want to avoid the frequent parking problems that can come each time they try to get somewhere. The good thing about these triggers is that they’re associated with a challenge that the user often experiences, which optimizes the app for frequent use.

Action:

To get started with Uber, all the user has to do is type in the address they want to go to, select a ride, and they’re set. They also get the option to rate their driver’s service based on a star-rating system once the ride is over and provide tips. It’s a straightforward process for the user so that they can understand how the app works quickly.

Variable Reward:

Customers can get rewards such as discounts that they can use for Uber Eats, a food-ordering app. It makes Uber feel like more than just a ride-sharing platform to the user. They also can share unique referral codes for their friends and family.

Investment:

The platform comes with its Uber Rewards loyalty program, which allows users to gain points for each dollar they spend that they can then use on future rides. It gives them a reason to continue using the app for future use.

The Bible App

Trigger:

As part of its product experience, The Bible App sends users daily reminders as triggers to read its verses. For the user, they can often associate these reminders as a source of relief and emotional peace.

Action:

To make things more readable during the user’s Bible study, significant parts of the Bible are divided into small parts to make it easy to digest for the user. It also puts the most interesting parts of the Bible first, so the reader doesn’t get bored too quickly.

Variable Reward:

Random verses are chosen each day within the app, making the experience less predictable and more exciting. Each time a reader completes a reading assignment, the app sends a “Day Complete” message to the user and adds a checkmark to their calendar.

Investment:

The app allows users to commit to a reading plan, pushing them to continue using it to fulfill their commitment. It also hosts a social community where other readers can talk and connect.

Retain More Users by Maximizing the Power of Habit

The hook model allows you to design products that retain more users, which increases customer lifetime value and revenue for your company. So, the next time you’re working on product development, think about how you can integrate the hook model into the process, and make sure that your product has all four stages.