Getting Users Hooked

MELINDA ELMBORG • SEP 21, 2020

I did a survey this summer: I asked the founders what they want help with for their startup. I created a long list of options including sales, metrics, marketing, and product development.

There was actually a tie for what they requested most! It came as no surprise that “How to generate traffic with inbound marketing” was at the top. What did surprise me, though, was that startup founders also wanted to know “How to build product users love and return to.”

I was faced with the challenge of putting into words something I knew through experience but had difficulty explaining.

Knowing what the founders needed, I bought a new book to read during my August vacation this year: Hooked by Nir Eyal. And let me tell you, I was hooked! This book was a series of “aha!” moments for me. It explained why I see some startups struggling to make their product stick, while others seem to do it effortlessly.

It put the knowledge I have from years of experience into terms I could share with the founders I work with.

That’s what I want to share with you today! I want to show you what I learned from this book, including the most common mistakes I see founders make. If you want to find out more about how tech changes users behaviour and habits, and how to harness that for your product, keep reading!

For you to get started into the process of making your product into a habit for customers, Click here to access the Hook Model Template and identify the hooks in your product.

 The Hooked model is split up into 4 different steps: Trigger, Action, Variable Reward, and Investment.

It’s a model that relies on all of the working parts in conjunction to be successful, so don’t fool yourself into thinking you can pick and choose. This works because it is a whole process!

The Hooked Model

Initial Trigger

The hook begins here! The first step is the initial trigger that prompts the user to perform an action. And this trigger consists of two equally important parts.

The first, and more straightforward, is the external trigger. It is something that will queue the next action. An initial external trigger is what people usually call marketing. This can take the shape of ads, sales, content marketing… You name it! Any way that you make potential users aware of your product.

The second trigger, the one that tends to get overlooked, is the internal trigger. In this case, the information of what to do next is contained within the associations in the user’s memory.

This is arguably the more powerful of the two triggers because it is how we develop habits. Our emotional response to a given situation prompts us to take certain actions.

Because emotions responses are so personal, it’s important for founders to understand exactly what kind of internal trigger they’re forming an association with. For example, Instagram intentionally forms an association with a user’s FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out. By providing a response to that negative emotion, the user’s internal trigger to use Instagram is prompted.

That simple bit of insight has powerful results!

So when you’re marketing your product, use that opportunity to develop an effective trigger that potential users will respond to. You want people to get triggered by your initial trigger!

But make sure that your trigger is relevant… it needs to respond to a real problem that they have or a subject that they’re interested in, otherwise they won’t be prompted to take action.

Speaking of…

Action

The next step is action! But what exactly does that mean? Well, action is made up of 2 parts: Motivation to perform the action, and the ability to do it.

In the framework of the Hooked model, Eyal describes action as “The simplest behaviour in anticipation of a reward.”

It does not have to be complex, either. It can be something as simple as pushing a button.
And let me tell you — one of the most common mistakes I see founders make is demanding far too much from their users when they first come to your website or download your app. New users are
not looking for a chore… So keep it simple! Make it something that only needs a few clicks to be done.

To make sure they’re motivated, you need to inform users what the reward of the action will be. Of course, the larger the action the more motivation they’ll need!

But remember: As I said before, the Hooked model is a complete system. So even if a user’s motivation and ability are high, without the trigger to prompt action, nothing happens.

Now that you’ve prompted them to take an action, you have to give them something for their effort… reward them!

Variable Reward

Investment does not always come in the form of money. For a user, an investment is any sort of commitment to your product. That might be something like creating an account, signing up for an email newsletter, or even just adding info to a profile!

One of the other important aspects of an investment is that it stores value. As a user invests in a product, whether that’s data, music, followers, etc., the product becomes more valuable to the user. That value strengthens the users’ habit of engaging with the product. In some cases, that investment becomes a reputation, and reputation can become real monetary value.

A user that stores value in your product is a user taking an action in anticipation of a future reward. It loads a new trigger so that when the time comes, the user responds, and the cycle begins again.

A word of caution: The biggest mistake that I see among founders is that they demand the user to make an investment, while the user has no idea if the reward will ever come! Without anticipation, they have no reason to take action, and so the whole thing falls apart.

For Nir Eyal, those are the 4 steps of the Hooked model, but I’d like to add one more for you to think about…

Investment

Investment does not always come in the form of money. For a user, an investment is any sort of commitment to your product. That might be something like creating an account, signing up for an email newsletter, or even just adding info to a profile!

One of the other important aspects of an investment is that it stores value. As a user invests in a product, whether that’s data, music, followers, etc., the product becomes more valuable to the user. That value strengthens the users’ habit of engaging with the product. In some cases, that investment becomes a reputation, and reputation can become real monetary value.

A user that stores value in your product is a user taking an action in anticipation of a future reward. It loads a new trigger so that when the time comes, the user responds, and the cycle begins again.

A word of cautionThe biggest mistake that I see among founders is that they demand the user to make an investment, while the user has no idea if the reward will ever come! Without anticipation, they have no reason to take action, and so the whole thing falls apart.

For Nir Eyal, those are the 4 steps of the Hooked model, but I’d like to add one more for you to think about…

Retention Trigger

This step is what I call the Retention Trigger. This can come in the form of an alert, notification, or email, and it’s a crucial external trigger that helps turn a one-time user into a returning user!

The goal is to activate the user’s internal trigger so that every time they feel a certain emotion, they open your product. Before that happens, you need to keep on sending external triggers.

New users need to go through the hook cycles x number of times to create their new habit, and these external retention triggers will facilitate the reactivation of this cycle. When they finally make a connection between opening/using your product and the feeling they get from using it, they’ve developed an internal trigger.

From then on, using your product will reinforce those feelings. That’s when they’re hooked!

Do you see how powerful this can be? This simple process can turn your product into an everyday essential for your users.

But you might be wondering how to identify exactly what you need at each step of the process… If you want to turn your product into a habit for your customers, click here to access my ready-to-use template to map out all the hooks so that you can redesign your product such that the user is taken through one hook after another.

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About the Author: 

Melinda Elmborg was a Venture Capital Investor at the French VC firm Daphni. To help founders build, grow and raise capital to their startups, she switched careers to become a startup coach. In 2018, she started Startup Action. 

Based on her learnings, she has developed The Startup Action Framework that guides startups from launch to exponential growth.

So far, over 400 founders have already joined one of her workshops and thousands of founders have taken advantage of her templates and guides to succeed with their startup.

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