UX researchers are all aware of the importance of user behavior. And one of the things that are observed in UX is the people’s habits, which are the basis of human behavior.

In this article, The Hook Model Framework, we will discuss what this framework is about and how it became the holy grail of product designers and product developers.

We will also discuss the following topics:

Every day when we wake up, most of us tend to check our mobile phones, then we take a shower, and make our breakfast. All these things we do before we go to work.

We do not even think of doing these things. We just do it. This is what we call “habit”.

Based on a study by Duke University, 40% of our behavior is formed by habits. These habits are what UX researchers and product designers, and developers aim for--- to be part of the habitual behavior of humans.

Habits are defined as automatic behaviors that are triggered by situational cues. Habits are also things we do with little or no conscious thought.

While being a “must-have” is one thing. You also need to target how to form your product as part of your customer’s unconscious behavior.

This is easier said than done. However, a lot of businesses already can create a product or service that users find inviting and interact with it daily.

Thus, this is not impossible to achieve when you just need to follow a simple principle, which is to introduce and connect a user’s problem to a solution with enough frequency so it can become a habit.

Most companies that attach “internal triggers” enjoy several benefits to their bottom line. These companies change the user behavior by providing users a series of guides called ‘hooks’, wherein the more often users run through these hooks, the more likely they are to form habits.

This is where the Hook Model Framework came to use.


What is the Hook Model?

The framework was founded by Nir Eyal, a professor at Stanford School of Business and the founder of two known tech companies in the 2000s.

He describes the Hook Model is the simplest form of how businesses can ultimately change the users’ behaviors to create daily habits around their products.

The heart of the Hook Framework is that businesses should always find ways to connect a user’s problem to their product, providing a solution with enough frequency to make it a user habit.

As previously explained, the hook framework is a four-phase process that companies use to form habits through consecutive hook cycles. This is where successful products reach their ultimate goal of unprompted user engagement, bringing users back repeatedly, without depending on costly advertising or aggressive messaging.


How Does the Hook Model Work?

The Hook Model is comprised of 4 cycles:

1.   Trigger (External or Internal)

2.   Action

3.   Variable Reward

4.   Investment

As the customer experience these phases, habits were built in the process. After the cycle is completed, the customer’s habits have been reinforced. The product has become more valuable to the customer.

Here’s how it works:

Trigger

The trigger serves as the spark plug or the actuator of a behavior. It comes in two types: external and internal.

Some examples of habit-forming technologies, which start by alerting users include external triggers such as email, a link on a website, or the app icon on a mobile phone.

The continuous cycling of these hooks results in users forming associations with internal triggers, which then become attached to existing behaviors and emotions.

Not for long, users find themselves internally triggered every time they feel uncertain.  This internal trigger becomes part of the users’ routine behaviors and thus habits are formed.

Action

Once the trigger is applied comes the intended action. In this case, companies leverage two pulleys of human behavior: motivation and ability.

To increase the chances of a user taking the intended action, the UX designer commonly designs the action as easy as possible while at the same time boosting the user’s motivation.

This phase of the Hook cycle is focused on the art of usability design. The goal is to ensure that the user will act the way the design is intended.

Variable reward

The huge difference between the Hook cycle from the Feedback loop is the ability to create ‘wanting‘ in the user.

We can see feedback loops everywhere. However, the predictable ones do not create the desired action.

Let us have an example to explain this more: The predictable response of a fridge light turning on when opened does not drive the user from opening it again and again.

But when we add some variability to the mix like a surprise treat that magically appears whenever the fridge is opened this will create intrigue in the user and will result in the user opening the door again and again.

From this explanation, we could learn that scheduling Variables in the form of a variable rewards is one of the most powerful tools that successful product or service companies use to hook their users.

This thought of action agrees with research that shows levels of dopamine surge when the brain is expecting a variable reward.

Introducing variability multiplies the effect, creating a frenzied state, and activating the parts that are associated with wants and desires.

We could associate this with several classic examples of slot machines and lotteries. But you may also notice variable rewards of the hunt are prevalent in habit-forming technologies as well.

Investment

This is the last phase of the Hook cycle, wherein the user is asked to do a bit of work. This phase has two goals when it comes to engineered behavior.

The first goal is to increase the likelihood of the user making another pass through the Hook cycle when presented with the next internal or external trigger.

The second goal is when the user’s brain is filled with dopamine from the anticipation of a reward in the previous phase, it’s time to make the user pay.

The investment generally comes in the form of asking the user to give some combination of time, data, effort, social capital, or money.

However, the Hook cycle is very different from a sales funnel with a set endpoint. The investment phase is not necessarily about the consumers paying and moving on with their day-to-day tasks.

It is more about implying a trigger action variable reward that improves the service for the next go-around. This comes with rewards of the self, inviting friends, stating preferences, building virtual assets, and learning to use new features are all commitments that improve the service for the user.

All these investments are leveraged to make the internal or external trigger more engaging, the action easier, and the variable reward more exciting with every pass of consumers through the Hook cycle.


The role of the Hook model in user research

When it comes to conducting user research for a product or a service, the researcher usually tries to find out the users’ motivation, behavior, needs, desires, pain points, etc. towards the product or the service or while using it. 

The product cycle commonly has these three phases:

1.     Discovery

2.   Development

3.    Live

 Let us evaluate how the Hook framework is applied to each of these product cycles:

Discovery Phase

In this phase, we are trying to know and understand the users. This is the phase where the needs, desires, problems, habits, and motivations of the users are established.

All the four components of the Hook model are applied in this phase to help understand the users’ needs that cause triggers, the user behavior towards the product, and the kind of reward that motivates the users enough to invest in the product.

This is where the UX team meets and discusses what strategies are applied to form user habit forming products or services to fulfill the users’ needs and hook them in the process. We can also say that a human-centric design approach is taken into consideration here.

User Research Methods: One-on-one interviews, ethnography research, diary studies, surveys, etc.

Development Phase

This phase generates product ideas, information architectures, user flows, conceptual models, wireframes, and paper prototypes of the products.

You can expect the marketing and sales strategies are also formed in the development phase.

In this phase, UX researchers play a crucial part in being with the users, the designers, and every stakeholder that is involved with the product. The UX researcher should ensure that everyone in the team is aligned and is moving towards the same goal in building habit forming products.

In this phase, the UX researcher’s roles include but are not limited to talking with the users, and conducting interviews during the product testing. and watching the users interact with the prototypes to get insights from them. The UX researcher should also ensure that the product being developed is aligned with the users’ needs, behaviors, desires, etc. Lastly but very important, UX research should also ensure that the product hooks the users.

In the development phase, the UX researchers act as the bridge that connects the users with the product, design, marketing, and sales team.

User Research Methods: Technology Acceptance Model (TAM), A/B testing, rapid prototype testing, desirability testing, card sorting, etc.

Live Phase

In this last phase of the product design cycle, the product finally goes live where the end-users will be using the product in the real world.

In this phase, the UX researchers study how effective their created hook is, along with several potential weaknesses in the product or service which may have an effect and may reduce the chances of habit forming.

UX researchers also check the benefits of the product for the end-users and how users are interacting with the product--- like was the product easy to use? Are there any pain points? How happy are the users when interacting with the product, etc.?

These insights help make improvements to the product or service and iterations will keep happening with the help of continuous UX research insights making sure the users stay hooked with the product.

User Research Methods: Usability testing, eye tracking, one-on-one interviews, surveys, competitor analysis, etc.


Questions that identify potential weaknesses in the habit forming of the product or service

The right questions are very important when it comes to identifying any potential weaknesses in the habit-forming of a product or service.

Take note of the following questions that can help you achieve this:

Does the internal trigger frequently prompt the users to act?

Is the external trigger cueing the users when they are most likely to act?

Is the product design simple enough to make the users act on it easily?

Does the anticipation of reward satisfy the users’ needs and at the same time leave them wanting for more?

Do the users invest a bit of work in the product, storing a value to improve the experience with the use and loading the next trigger?

If you can identify where your product or service is lacking in terms of habit forming, then you can easily focus on developing improvements to your habit forming product or service where it matters the most.


How to use the hook model for building great products or services

If you plan to use the Hook Model in order to establish a firm foothold for your product or service, take note of the following:

Utilize both external and internal triggers

Some companies utilize mostly external triggers like emails, online advertisements, apps, discussions, connections, sharing content, and even tweets. However, you can also incorporate and fully utilize internal triggers by finding out what your target customers are already trying to do. Just guarantee that these triggers are easy for them to utilize.

We can take several examples of external triggers such as an online ad appearing on the user’s Facebook feed, or a comment on a post on a post or blog.

In this case, you should know that the target customers will be checking in at the site. You may then offer other related items to what they are looking for, making it easier for them to get everything that they need in one place.

When employing these triggers, make sure all external or internal triggers are always aligned. This means that the triggers must complement each other, and be engaging or catchy enough to encourage them to respond to a call to action.

Make it easy for customers to take action

In the previous example, a single click on the photo from an online ad also involved a series of simple clicks that will lead to the online marketplace or website. As you may notice there is nothing complicated about this whole customer experience journey.

Do not make things complicated or customers will be turned off when they have to jump through a lot of hoops just to get the information that they want.

Additionally, your website should have a user-friendly and attention-grabbing user interface. Remove any possible barriers and just place the mechanisms that are very simple but still encourage users to take action.

Offer your customers fulfilling incentives

This way, you motivate users or customers to invest in data, effort, social capital, and money in your habit forming products or services.

You should also consider answering these questions:

What additional perks will your customers get if they stick around on your website?

What are the variable rewards of the tribe that your customers are likely to get if they invest money, send in reviews, or refer friends and family to the website?

Add these to your customers' buying experience to keep them coming back for more.

When it comes to designing your customers’ rewards of the tribe, try to make them very “rewarding” in every sense.

Nir Eyal said that the most frequently overlooked phase of the Hook Model is the investment phase. While most companies successfully come up with external or internal triggers that motivate users to take action, check out their habit forming products, and get these users to spend money on these products, after that, most often users are sent on their way.

These companies fail to re-engage the customers after they have already taken the money. And re-engagement is very important to keep the customers’ momentum of spending money on the product, including referring other customers to buy.

One efficient way to re-engage the customers is to find ways that will encourage the customers to check back in again and putting the Hook model to good use means that the business is able to keep its customers interested and engaged in the products or services.


Conclusion

We’ve learned that turning regular products into habit forming products can be a challenge, but it is not impossible to get done with the help of the Hook Model.

Given that there are products and business models that do not really require the formation of users’ habits, often, though, they are.

By utilizing the Hook model, you can create a product with a strong wanting, desire, or craving from your customers. In such an event, the customers will come to notice your product, invest in it, develop an attachment, and keep coming back to it.

This Hook method is like “manipulating your customers’ perception”. However, this model is not really about manipulation, especially in cases when your product is able to deliver its selling propositions, meaning what is it for your users. The benefits that users get from your product.

If you can make an effort to fully understand how to successfully create the habit-formation of your product or service, the more chances you can build and offer great products or services to your target customers. Additionally, you can also establish a more competitive advantage since the Hook model framework helps you build a loyal customer base.

Mary Ann Dalangin

About the author

A content marketing strategist and a UX writer with years of experience in the digital marketing industry.

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