How Product Managers Create Products that Hook Customers

by Chad McAllister

Some products we use are addictive. Email is a good example. It is a product many of us check frequently to see what next message we have. We also recognize that it sucks time from us, but we keep checking nonetheless. Facebook is another good example. It has created such strong user habits that some of us are left with virtual hives if we can’t check our newsfeed when we want. Such habitual behavior is not limited to digital products and technology startups. Many products can be designed with a customer experience that hooks customers and builds a loyal following.

Just how product developers and managers accomplish such changes in customer behavior is the topic of the book Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products. From the book’s description…

Hooked is a guide to building habit-forming technology, written for product managers, designers, marketers, and startup founders to provide: (1) Practical insights to create habits that stick, (2) Actionable steps for building products people love and can’t put down, and (3) Behavioral techniques used by Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and others.

The book was voted “one of the best business books of the year” by Goodreads readers and has been frequently recommended to me. It was time to talk with the author, Nir Eyal, and learn about how to hook customers. Nir Eyal has been a startup co-founder, a CEO, and now helps product teams build habit-forming products.

See link for podcast interview below.

The Hooked Model

The Hooked model stems from Nir’s interest in the intersection of human behavior and products that hook customers’ attention. He gained insights from his involvement in gaming and advertisement. Sometimes the techniques these industries used to influence human behavior worked and sometimes they did not. Those involved in the industries did not necessarily understand why certain techniques worked and others did not. He created the “Hooked” model to explain what does work.

Hooked Model for Product Development

The 4-step hook model is:

  1. Trigger: a cue to action that tells the user what to do next (e.g., “You got to see this video!”). A trigger leads to an action.
  2. Action: the simplest behavior done in anticipation of the reward (e.g., clicking on the link to see the video).
  3. Variable Reward: satisfies the customer’s curiosity or need for taking action. Adding a bit of variability creates surprise and enhances anticipation that keeps customers returning (e.g., mailing video updates weekly but varying the day they are mailed).
  4. Investment: for customers to be truly hooked, they must have some investment in the product themselves – some work they perform that helps create attachment to the product (e.g., enhancing or completing their customer profile).

Products with Repeat Engagement

The “Hooked” model applies best to products that require repeat engagement. This is clearly appropriate for many software applications and digital products (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, Google) but can also be incorporated in the service aspects of other products. Even if your product does not require a habit – repeated engagement – there still is much to learn from the study of human behavior and thinking in terms of hooks for building habits.  Further, any business can benefit from helping customers take the key action you want them to take and making it as easy as possible – decreasing the distance between problem and solution – need and reward.

An Example of Applying Hooked

A case study of a habit-forming product YouVersion — the most downloaded Bible app in existence — illustrates the use of the Hooked model:

  1. Trigger: after installing it, the app asks you to start a Bible verse reading plan. Later the plan sends you a notification telling you what to do first.
  2. Action: open the app to be taken to the verse in the reading plan.
  3. Variable Reward: the reward is in the content of the reading plan itself – what you will find or discover by reading the next verse and seeing what is in it for you. Variability is added by sending notifications on an irregular schedule.
  4. Investment: you are shown a progress meter of your advancement through the reading plan and given the opportunity to choose additional reading plans. Your progress influences the notifications you receive, encouraging you based on your pace through the reading plan.

Listen to the interview with Nir Eyal on The Everyday Innovator Podcast.

image credit: depositphotos.com
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Chad McAllister, PhD is a product innovation guide, innovation management educator, and recovering engineer. He leads Product Innovation Educators, which trains product managers to create products customers love. He also hosts The Everyday Innovator weekly podcast, sharing knowledge from innovation thought leaders and practitioners. Follow him on Twitter.

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