Build habit-forming products

1. Use customer research like surveys to find what motivates your customers to use your product.

Standard motivations are: Seeking pleasure, avoiding pain, seeking hope, avoiding fear, seeking acceptance and avoiding rejection. For example, if you offer a SaaS product, customer motivation might be to complete a necessary task with a minimum of effort.

2. Brainstorm triggers that can prompt users into using your product.

The most powerful triggers are negative emotions. People who are depressed check their email more often, seeking a positive boost. People who are feeling lonely check Facebook to look for a sense of connection. In the example of a SaaS product, the trigger might be a reminder that tax time is looming and finances need to be documented.

3. Develop specific actions that users can take in response to the triggers you came up with.

These actions need to be as low-friction as possible to require as little motivation as possible. Factors that can affect how difficult a task seems: Time, Money, Physical effort, Brain cycles, Social deviance and Non-routine. For example, if you ask a customer to complete an unfamiliar task at the end of their day when they want to switch off mentally, they’ll find it more difficult to start than a familiar task at the start of their day, when they’re fresh and focused.

4. Build variable rewards that provide an instant, temporary mood boost to your users.

When we anticipate a reward, we experience a type of stress that’s pacified when we receive said reward. Variable rewards amp up the anticipation and the stress, making us want the reward more. There are many options to pick from: Social rewards: empathetic joy, partnership, competition. We value recognition and cooperation. An example is Reddit’s award system: people literally pay money to be able to hand out awards that recognize well-written, interesting, or funny comments and posts. Resource hunt rewards: material rewards like a variable cash payout, informational rewards like finding the answer to a question. For example, playing poker machines, going op-shopping, using Pinterest. Self-achievement rewards: mastery and competency rewards like leveling up in a game, consistency, and completion rewards like organizing an inbox. These rewards shouldn’t offer lasting fulfilment, but a temporary one.

5. Develop opportunities for customers to invest in your product so that they can get better value from the product with more effort, or receive new triggers in response to their actions.

We value things more when we’ve put more work into them. Investments can include things like: Money, Personal data, Social capital, Time, Effort, Emotional commitment and content. Opportunities to invest through new triggers are offered on social media when someone receives a reply to a message or follows a new person. Opportunities to invest through better value are offered on SaaS platforms when taking time to configure the product leads to a seamless user experience, or in games where playing the game gives better in-game equipment, leading to the user being able to tackle bigger (more rewarding) challenges.

6. Continue encouraging customers to move through the cycle of trigger, action, reward, and investment to build a desire to keep consistent behavior and attitudes.

Once we start investing in an activity, we want to continue so that we can avoid the cognitive dissonance of incorrect attitudes. We value the activity because of the investment, and we keep doing it so that we keep receiving rewards.