Activate Takeaways: Nir Eyal on Building Habit-Forming Products

Nir Eyal speaking at Activate

How can you get people to keep coming back to your business?
At Activate Nir Eyal, author of Hooked, spoke on how businesses can build habit-forming products using his “hook” model.
The hook has four components, and these four components would make up the bulk of Nir’s talk.
hook model
You can watch his full talk in the video above.
In this recap, we’ll walk through the fundamentals of the hook model—and show you some ways you can put it to work in ActiveCampaign.

Step 1: Internal and external triggers

Every behavior you do—every action you take—is influenced by triggers.
Triggers are, simply, the things that spur us to take action. There are two categories of trigger.
Internal triggers are internal states. Being bored, tired, sad, angry, hungry, or happy can be a trigger.
External triggers are things in our environment that remind us of our internal triggers. A push notification on your phone is an external trigger.
A product cannot create internal triggers, because it can’t go inside your brain to rearrange stuff. But it can help activate the internal triggers you already have—or connect to them.

Step 2: Action, motivation, and ability

Everyone takes lots of actions every day. In the context of product creation, however, an action is specifically defined as “the simplest behavior done in anticipation of a reward.”
How simple? Really simple. Nir gave three examples.

  • Scroll on Pinterest: Looking for more content
  • Search on Google: Looking for answers
  • Hit play on YouTube: Looking for entertainment

Stanford professor BJ Fogg has stated that every human behavior follows a formula: B = m + a + t.
Behavior = motivation + ability + trigger.
The version with less math: A human behavior occurs when enough motivation to complete that behavior is present, when the behavior is easy enough to complete, and when there is a trigger for a behavior.
Every behavior. Everything you want your user to do, must have these three basic elements: motivation, ability, and a trigger. If an action doesn’t happen, it’s because one of those three is missing.
Nir Eyal motivation ability
9 times out of 10, people assume that motivation is the missing factor. But, Nir argued, the missing factor is usually ability. When it’s easy for people to figure out what to do, they’re more likely to actually do it.
You can increase the incidence of desired actions by asking “what’s in your customers’ way.”

Step 3: Variable rewards

Activate attendees enjoyed a brief neuroscience lesson, as Nir walked the audience through the research on a part of the brain called the nucleus accumbens.
The main takeaway? The nucleus accumbens is related to rewards and pleasure. But it doesn’t activate when people feel pleasure—it activates when they expect to feel pleasure.
The difference is crucial. A mountain of research in psychology and neuroscience shows that variability of rewards actually increases the incidence of behavior powerfully.
What does that mean? It means that an action your user takes isn’t guaranteed to be accompanied by a reward.
When you check Facebook or Instagram, there’s no guarantee that you’re going to see something you like.
But you keep checking.
Because it might be there.
That’s the power of a “variable schedule of reinforcement.”
Note: To be effective, rewards must be related to the internal trigger that led to the action.

Step 4: Investment

If you’ve designed a great trigger, action, and reward system—you still aren’t done with your product.
Investment is the idea that the value of a product goes up the more someone uses it. It can happen in two ways.

  • Leading to the next trigger
  • Storing value within the product

If you send a message on WhatsApp, you have made an investment that leads to the next trigger—getting a response from the person you messaged.
If you’ve built up a bunch of Twitter followers, you have an investment in Twitter—because that’s where all of your fans are.
Dropbox becomes more valuable as you consolidate your files within it. Ebay becomes more valuable if your seller reputation is high. Mint, the personal finance app, is more helpful the more historical data it has.
Investment brings people back into your hook.

How can you create a “hook” with ActiveCampaign?

If you look at the four stages of Nir Eyal’s hook, you might notice that they rely on something ActiveCampaign is extremely good at—timing. Even if you aren’t building an app or a tech product, you can still use the idea of a “hook” to keep people engaged with your business.

  • ActiveCampaign can be the reward for taking an action
  • ActiveCampaign can be the external trigger of the hook

Reward people for taking action

ActiveCampaign lets you collect all kinds of information about what action people are taking. Because you know what actions people take, you can use automations to send rewards.
For example:

  • A contact visits a product page on your website. You use site tracking to add them to a “product interest” segment, and send them updates on deals for that product.
  • A contact hits a certain number of purchases. You follow-up with an automation that offers them a discount on products they might be interested in.
  • A contact watches one of your videos. You use an integration to send them more content they might like.

When it comes to product interest, we put together several pre-made automations that you can import and use within ActiveCampaign.
Hook Reward ActiveCampaign
What’s the broader lesson for ActiveCampaign? Look for actions you want to reward.
How can you reward people for taking desirable actions, like opening your emails, reading your content, or making a purchase?
Any action you can track in ActiveCampaign can be rewarded by some kind of follow-up—which you can automate…using ActiveCampaign.

Using ActiveCampaign as an external trigger

ActiveCampaign has multiple ways to message your audience:

  • Emails
  • SMS messages
  • Site messages
  • Facebook Custom Audiences

How does that tie into the hook model? Each type of message is a different way to start a habit loop—each can serve as an external trigger.
If people take actions on your website that signal they might be interested in what you have to offer—send them a message inviting them to a consultation or demo.
If someone submits a form, take advantage of “sign-up momentum” by following up with a call or automated email—a trigger to get them to take the next action in your funnel.
A key point of Nir’s talk was that external triggers are only as effective as the internal triggers they connect to.
ActiveCampaign can serve as the external trigger. Knowing which internal triggers to target takes audience research, and is part of your big, bold, brave marketing message.

Conclusion: Building habits for good

Nir closed his talk by acknowledging an uncomfortable truth: building habit-forming products is a form of manipulation. As people who create products, we all have a responsibility to solve problems and work to design healthy habits.
When we design those products, we need to ask 5 questions.

  1. What’s the internal trigger that the product addresses?
  2. What’s the external trigger that activates the internal trigger?
  3. What’s the simplest behavior done in anticipation of a reward?
  4. Is the reward fulfilling and does it make people want more?
  5. How do you get people to “invest” and return to the product?

Habits can be used for good. May the best hook win.

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