Applying the Hooked model to mobile products

The Hooked model was popularized by Nir Eyal in his eponymous book. The aim of this article is not to explain the model but rather to try to present how we are incorporating it into our work as a mobile service boutique.

Cover of Nir Eyal’s book

Let’s face it: we’re all hooked

Hundreds of times we have all witnessed people arriving in a queue and instantly reaching for their phone to check Facebook / Instagram / Twitter / Candy Crush / Clash of Clan / Pinterest. Hundreds of times we have done it as well.

Tech companies have created habits and are luring us into thinking that their products solve boredom, frustration or loneliness. According to Nir Eyal, these are “internal triggers” and the exact starting point of the model.

Indeed, his model explains in a 4-step approach how products or services can create a virtuous loop that traps people in using the product as if it was a drug! See below the original canvas:

The Hooked model, as presented by Nir Eyal

We won’t explain the theory behind each step. Instead, we will take some applications that we use and try to see how and why they fit into the model.

The services we use the most are highly addictive

Vente-privee: the trigger of missing a good deal

Vente-privee is a well-known service in France and Europe. The concept is simple: each day, new “sales” are opening and will last for a certain amount of time (or until stocks last). Most of the time, a sale will showcase steeply discounted products such as a 80€ Patagonia jacket (instead of 220€).

Vente-privee has mastered the trigger: most of the time people will open the application not because they need something but because they want to make a bargain. Or , let’s face it: because they fear they will miss a bargain.

Captain Train: the simple action of looking for a ticket

The action is the simplest behavior in anticipation of reward. It could mean tapping the icon for opening the app. The easier the action, the more hooked users will be.

If users find what they want just after clicking on the app icon, it sounds like you’re on the good way. This can also explain why great user experience is always the simplest. A quick, straightforward action is always a good answer to a complex problem. For instance, Captain Train has deeply simplified the act of reserving a train ticket: the smallest action asked to a user is thus very simple and straightforward to accomplish. By doing that, they have drastically improved engagement on their application.

Captain Train and the easiness to search and book train tickets

Instagram: a great variable reward

Basically you have two scenarios:

  • If the action is just clicking the app icon, then the variable reward is the homepage of your app (i.e. your feed on Instagram).
  • If the action is a little bit more complex (i.e. searching a name on LinkedIn or looking for a train ticket between Paris and Brussels), then the variable reward is what users will see immediately afterward (i.e. the LinkedIn profile or the list of available trains).

The variable reward, as the name indicates, should make the user see something (= the reward) that is always different (= variable). Highly successful products are maintaining user interest by showing them a content that is always different. Sustaining variability in the reward is key.

A great example of variable reward is done by Instagram: as soon as you have clicked on the app icon, you are shown the last picture shared by the people you follow. Let’s suppose that you follow roughly 200 persons, we can easily suppose that it won’t take long before your feed sees a new picture popping… Thus, every time a user opens the app, he sees a different piece of content. This mechanism strongly strengthens the addiction to the service.

Linkedin: encouraging the Investment

We believe that this is the trickiest part of the model to master. The investment is a way to ask the user to perform something that will create a trigger in the future, either for him or for another user. It is the last step that will seal the loop.

Example of LinkedIn using triggers

LinkedIn is always asking users to invite relations for that very reason. Let’s say that Person A sends an invite to Person B. Person B receives a notification (external trigger) and accept it; then Person A receives a notification (external trigger as well). This creates a virtuous loop that will keep users engaged without LinkedIn having to do almost anything.

This creates a situation where the more you use the service, the higher are the chances either you or someone in your network will come back to using the service.


Why you need to be aware of this model

The Hooked model is a great tool for anyone trying to build an application. You can be a first-time entrepreneur, a senior mobile product manager or a CDO, the learnings taken from this model are deeply insightful.

The model sheds light on 5 insights that need to be taken into account while building a mobile service:

  1. The application has to solve at least one pain point. If not, it is highly improbable that the mobile service will be liked — or even used. A pain point can simply be characterized as a problem (real or perceived) by someone.
  2. The application needs to be simple enough that the user can perform a task in a couple of seconds. Not much is asked to the user before he can get the feel of the service. It is crucial to enable users to easily perform a first task in the app. No more than a couple of seconds should be needed for that.
  3. Once the action is performed, users must be shown pieces of content that are relevant and accurate. The content should always be different: users that are being delighted are more likely to re-engage with the app at a letter stage.
  4. Asking users to perform small actions is almost mandatory. Small actions could be something as simple as liking a picture. You need to make users actively engage with the service instead of passively using it. This will deepen their relation with the service, thus making them more likely to using it again.
  5. By performing a task, a user will either bring other users to the app or reinforce his probability of coming back to it. A trigger is created: The cycle is complete and the model becomes virtuous.

These tips need to be taken into account when building an app. Or more precisely, when thinking of your application, you need to find space for triggers, actions, variable rewards and investments.


The limits of the model

First of all, the model is better suited to B2C products (i.e. products targeted to final users like you and me) and even more to products with a social twist. It is “easy” to show a different content each time you open the app if you are Instagram because the purpose of the service is to share content. Let’s try to see which parts of the model should be kept and which should be modified.

Here, we are switching gear and focusing on a B2B mobile product. For the sake of the demonstration, we will pretend that we are developing an app for our sales team ; the app is called here SalesApp. Its purpose is to help the sales team in managing their existing customers.

Trigger

The trigger part of the model should always be kept in mind. It basically means that you need to do whatever it takes to deter users from forgetting your app.

This could be done thanks to numerous actions:

  • an e-mail redirecting them to the SalesApp
  • an announcement made during a team meeting for encouraging SalesApp utilization
  • a training session on tips and tricks for better productivity on the app

It’s important to be aware that the trigger for B2B mobile apps will mostly come from within the organization — be it your boss or your team. These are powerful triggers that should not be forgotten.

Action

As seen in the explanation of the model, the action needs to be so simple that anyone can perform it in a matter of seconds. This stays true within a B2B context. Here lies a huge opportunity for clever companies. Famous apps have been used and loved because of their interface (see Snapchat for instance). This needs to stay the same for your app: An easy usability (aka easability) needs to be achieved to attract and retain users.

SalesApp should empower your sales team. It needs to fulfill the main promise as well as all the features:

  • main promise: help the sales team in their day-to-day work
  • features: manage the sales pipeline, create actions, follow actions, modify pipeline, show and send presentations to customers, etc.

The easiness to perform actions is achieved thanks to a close collaboration between the development team and (future) users of the application.

Variable reward

Here, things get trickier. Depending on the service you are building, it will be hard to show a variable reward to your users. But you need to take this mechanism into account.

On SalesApp, one easily-performed action is to look for a customer and consult his “customer profile”. Once the profile is clicked, the application will highlight the last orders placed by the customer. Another variable reward could be to show graphes and statistics on the results of the sales team (be it one sales or the entire team). This will definitely be a way to motivate regular openings of the app.

The mechanism of “variable reward” has a strong impact on the conception of the project and the hierarchy of information inside the application.

Investment

Investment is a great way to personalize the experience inside the application. But when we are thinking of tools such as the SalesApp, it is harder to create this layer of investment. Because it is a work tool, users will complete these investment tasks: be it sending a mail to a customer, placing an order or exporting a dashboard.

It is the idea of “investment” that needs to infuse the conception of the mobile service.


At Applidium, we are constantly working on projects — be it in-house publishing or clients’ work. Both are nurturing our methodological approach. We will do our best to share other models more often!