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The "Hooked" model: How to get users hooked on your product

May 13, 2021
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Photo by Wendy Wei from Pexels

To become a master of customer engagement, any small business or entrepreneur must understand and execute Nir Eyal's "Hooked" model, which is essentially a sequence of four events that influence consumer behavior. The concepts behind this model are relatively simple, but putting them into practice in the real world is quite challenging. A big reason why so many startups fail is an inability to drive brand loyalty and build a solid base of repeat customers.  

Another key term in this context is micro-interactions, which are small tasks taken with a product to achieve a goal. A customer following the steps of the "Hooked" model must complete a series of micro-interactions to reach the reward stage.

Step 1: Trigger

As the first step in customer engagement, a trigger serves as a nudge towards doing something. For all the writers and movie buffs out there, think of the trigger as the inciting incident. Subsequent events would be impossible without a trigger to set the events in motion. Additionally, triggers fit into one of two categories, internal or external. 

An internal trigger occurs in one's own mind or body and inspires action. For example, let's say you're at a concert. You're having a great time, and you want to share this fun experience on Twitter. That is an internal trigger. 

On the flip side, an external trigger is something outside of yourself that influences behavior. For example, an advertisement for a Twitter selfie contest at a concert is an external factor intended to drive behavior. 

At the beginning of a customer relationship, external events are usually responsible for engaging newcomers. Then, as the customer relationship develops and brand loyalty grows, internal triggers occur more frequently. 

Step 2: Action

An effective trigger will lead to action, which is a behavior performed in pursuit of an incentive. Motivation and ease are critical factors that influence whether a customer completes an action. 

For example, the better the prize, the better chance an externally motivated concertgoer would actively participate in a selfie contest.

A concertgoer's level of internal motivation to Tweet a selfie will depend, in large part, on their social media presence and platform experience. Someone with a ton of followers who can personally post a picture in seconds will complete the task quickly and reap the rewards of social media engagement. But someone with very few followers and a weak grasp of the platform will be much less motivated to complete the action.

Step 3: Variable reward

Now we're getting to the good part! The reward refers to the incentive or benefits the customer earns by completing an action. It's variable in this case because to entice the customer, a reward must be new and unexpected. In this sense, compensation quality will directly affect participant motivation and the likelihood of reaching the fourth step of the "Hooked" model.

Following the concert example from earlier, an internally motivated concertgoer will thrive off the likes, retweets, and attention gained by posting a selfie on Twitter. Social media engagement is the reward in this case.

An externally motivated concertgoer would be more willing to participate in a selfie contest on Twitter if the prize was something high-value. like a set of Air Pods, instead of something like a bumper sticker. Alternatively, if the music venue gave out the same little trinket for every Twitter selfie contest, concertgoers will become bored and lack the motivation to participate.  

Settling on a reward can be tricky because it must satisfy the customer and leave them wanting more at the same time.   

Step 4: Investment

The final step to complete the "Hooked" engagement cycle is investment. At this point, the customer has reached the loyalty stage where they are fully committed, recommending the product to others and spending the time and effort to become more advanced users. 

An internally motivated person with a Twitter account may become fully invested in the social media platform when they hit a certain number of followers and grow their presence enough to earn the highly-coveted blue checkmark verification. This success leads the customer to use a product, like Twitter, even more. From here, the engagement cycle repeats itself over and over again, as new triggers present themselves and lead to additional rounds of action, variable reward, and investment.

Here at 3Digit Creative, we believe a great deal in Nir Eyal's work and encourage anyone reading this blog to check out his book "Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products." To boost customer retention, the team at 3Digit facilitates the cyclical nature of the "Hooked" model through thoughtful and exhaustive usability research and product development. 

3Digit is a small agile product design shop based outside of Baltimore, MD. We focus on designing user-centered digital products for mobile and web applications, as well as physical prototyping for early-stage startups and entrepreneurs. Our approach relies on research and rapid prototyping to help businesses turn their ideas into reality.