Hooked in 10 Minutes


I enjoyed Nir Eyal’s book. However, I needed to apply it to an application I was designing so created the following summary intended to summarize the book’s principles as applies to defining new features. Read the book. But use this summary to save time applying it.

Starting with the End in Mind – An App Design Model Based on Nir Eyal’s Hooked

Hooked provides a model for creating application experiences that both gain and keep users. The following summarizes the Hooked model and maps it to potential new product features

The Value of User Attention and Focus

Applications built to support positive behaviors get user attention and focus that translate directly into:

  • A willingness to pay for features
  • Referrals

The Value of Long Term Engagement

Keeping users engaged is a function of creating positive user habits and is a source of direct competitive advantage.

The ultimate goal is to increase customer lifetime value (CLTV). However, designing for habitual adoption requires patience.

Overcoming Existing Habits – 9X better for 5 months

Research shows that replacing an old habit requires the new habit to be 9x better. Otherwise, people migrate back to the old habit. Habits take between a few weeks to about 5 months to form. So a new approach has to both engage users frequently and deliver value.

Two factors turn behaviors into habits:

  • Frequency
  • Perceived utility.

Creating a New Habit

When we think about offering a “pain killer” we should recognize that in today’s attention-deficit world, “scratching an itch” is like relieving pain. Think “checking email.”

Habit forming products often start as “nice to have itch scratching” that turn into “must have” solutions providing continuous pain relief. Again, think of email. The Hooked Model defines four phases in which this takes place:

  • Triggers – prompt the user to do something
  • Actions – allow the user to act quickly and easily
  • Variable Rewards – compel users to return: “what happens next?”
  • Investments – retain users via their own time/effort spent.

Addressing each phase in application design leads to habit-forming solutions that benefit users and the provider. Rather than copying features, we must focus on understanding the inherent drivers behind successful habit forming triggers, actions, variable rewards and investments for our target users.

Simply put, by design the app must increase in value to users the more they use it.


There are two types of triggers:

  • External – manifests via prompt, e.g., a relationship trigger that sends a notification request to users to:
    • Rate something
    • Report on something
    • Many other possibilities.
  • Internal – manifests via “auto emotions” or “scratching the itch”
    • Negative (most powerful): boredom, loneliness, frustrated, confused, indecisive, feeling left out; discomfort (e.g., checking email or social media sites, or seeing what’s new for inspiration)
    • Positive (also effective): desire to share, feeling connected, in the loop, appreciated, valued (e.g., report on a win! Let everyone know there’s something new! Let everyone know where those marketing $s go!)


To initiate action, the “doing” must be easier than “thinking.” The formula for inducing action is: B = MAT, where:

Behavior occurs when:

  1. The user has sufficient motivation
  2. The user is able to complete the action
  3. A trigger is present

Motivation: all humans

Seek Avoid
Pleasure Pain
Hope Fear
Acceptance Rejection

Ability is capacity to do something. Factors influencing:

  • Time
  • Money
  • Physical Effort
  • Brain Cycles
  • Non-Routine

What is it preventing the user from achieving the desired outcome? How can this be overcome? Answering these questions is key to successful design.

Variable Rewards

Users seek novelty and an element of mystery or unpredictability in the outcome. Without it, lower usage rates occur (i.e., preview to next TV episode). Functions contributing to variable rewards include:

  • Tribal Activity – participating with others helps create unpredictability
  • Hunter Activity – searching for available content and updates
  • Self Improvement Activity – getting better at something useful or meaningful.


The more users invest in a solution, the more they value it. We irrationally value our own efforts. Users prompted to put something of value into a system increase the likelihood they’ll continue using it. Twitter “following” is a good example of a simple investment that leads to increase likelihood that a new user will check Twitter later.

This phase increases friction – unlike the Action Phase. This should come after the user has experienced variable rewards ideally. Timing is critical. Key is to instill in the user an understanding that the service will get better with both continued use and personal investment.

Classic Examples of the Model in Action

Aside from the most classic example: email, other apps show the model in action.

Toyota Prius: Users quickly get addicted to MPG performance with the dashboard displaying how they’re doing as they drive. Direct economic incentive plus the gaming aspect has changed the driving experience.

iTunes/Radio: Illustrates the power of personal investment and personalized triggers. Adding content is a major driver for user stickiness for iTunes / Radio users. Once users have created a library, personalized suggestions provide triggers leading to additional user investment. Personalization also provides variable reward experience by showing how the technology adapts and improves based on user investment.

Linkedin: Shows how easy investment leads to commitment. Users experience various external triggers prompting them to complete their profiles. Once they’re complete, users tend to use the service a lot more than if they don’t according to Linkedin. It has added variable reward via content streaming from groups and individuals and other means.

Twitter: Twitter’s technology could be built in a day. So it’s not the technology but rather the investment by users in building hundreds of followed and follower people that creates the stickiness. It provides variable rewards primarily via continuous UGC streaming variety to everyone. It provides Self Improvement motivation via the 140 character limit; and Tribal and Hunter activities by definition.

Any.do: less well known, this app illustrates how effectively notifications can be worked into the user experience. Pleasant, thoughtful notifications suggest users: plan their day at 9am; or complete next steps following a scheduled meeting and many other great ideas.


User Motivation to Try – First Use

The starting place for design success is with a solid narrative as to why a busy user would choose this app over the existing solutions in place today.

The Why Tool – asks the question “why?” 5 times to drill to the “heart” of the user’s motives:

  • Why does Mary use this app?
    • So she can optimize her time
  • Why?
    • So she can have more time to focus on closing
  • Why?
    • So she can be relevant to her colleagues and CEO
  • Why?
    • So she can be a direct part of the organization’s success
  • Why?
    • Because the alternative is hellish: unappreciated effort and chaotic execution.

Mary will consider using the app over alternative tools to avoid pain (chaos, frustration, inefficiencies) and to experience pleasure (connection with others, recognition for contributions, relevant to her colleagues).

Who Are App’s Habitual Users?

User                        Frequency            Triggers

Sales                        Daily                        ?

Executives            Weekly                    ?

Trigger and Actions Functionality

TAF: Feature 1…

TAF: Feature 2…

TAF: Feature 3

Variable Reward Functionality

VAR: Feature 1…

VAR: Feature 2…

VAR: Feature 3…


Talk Nerdy

In her brilliant, five-minute Ted talk, this communications teacher nails it: when describing your great idea, lose the jargon and bullet points and add images to convey relevant, easily grasped concepts. You’re not dumbing ideas down; you’re distilling what matters most. Enjoy.

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The Wild World of Marketing Automation

According to Gartner, CMOs will soon influence more IT-related budget decisions than CIOs. Software as a service has lowered the barrier to decision making based on technical merits since the application’s “backend” is the vendor’s responsibility, not IT’s. Instead, consideration of features and benefits for marketing users now gets the spotlight, as it should.

So while marketers don’t have to bother IT folks as often when they onboard new automation tools, new challenges arise. The marketing automation landscape grows daily. Keeping up with it all can be a full time job.

To help, I have divided the landscape into four functional areas:

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Some vendors have come up with solutions to address the entire process. Players like Adobe for example, have the market position and resources to address all aspects of automation. Other “platform” vendors include digital asset management specialists like Saepio, as well as sales and marketing platform vendors like Salesforce.com, Marketo, Infusionsoft, and others.

However, the reason many companies resist going the platform route is too much risk involved in committing to a single vendor. The more you go down that road, the more committed you become to that vendor’s roadmap and vision of YOUR business process.

The “Functionally Specialized Automation Highway”

Alternatively, most companies end up plying what I call the “functionally specialized automation highway.” In this scenario, the company picks and chooses automation solutions where they need it, when they need it.

This approach often occurs due to specialized needs the organization has for say, sophisticated content production needs of an online publisher, or heavy focus on video streaming production. The more specialization in the business, the more likely the organization will require specialized automation tools.

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The downside of this approach is integration. Sooner or later as these systems mature, the need for integration will only grow. And while most come with application programming interfaces to one another, the “devil is in the details” on getting them to work well together.

Furthermore, some of these systems, like Newscred, Kapost, InsightSquared or GoodData come with large price tags in the tens of thousands of dollars minimum. So the evaluation to buy these solutions is nearly as significant as an end to end platform buy. In any case, marketers have been given a lot more latitude. With it comes a lot more responsibility.

A Living Legend on Optimism

I met a living legend this evening. Dr. Donald Pinkel stopped by the foundation I’m involved in at the request of his number one admirer, Frank Kalman, the foundation’s executive director. He was joined by his wife, pediatric oncologist Cathryn Howarth, MD. They are both now retired.

dr donald pinkel

Dr. Pinkel was literally the first doctor to cure childhood leukemia. He was the founding director and CEO of St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee from 1962 to 1973. The hospital was nearby where Martin Luther King Jr. was killed in 1968. Dr. Pinkel was the first to racially integrate a facility of this kind in the south.

He was the first to envision and establish a completely free facility for all the children and their families admitted. This included, room, board, and transportation in addition to all medical costs. This was and still is the only free medical center of its kind in the U.S. today. These are just some of his many accomplishments.

He shared how when he was a boy, his mom took him to a priest to help address his “unruly” behavior and the priest asked him to say the St. Jude’s prayer every day. St. Jude takes care of the most desperate situations – the last resort. So when he was invited to head St. Jude’s, he knew it was meant to be.

Perhaps the most important thing he shared was how critical attitude is in overcoming even the most difficult challenges, like cancer. He sees pessimism as the enemy and one of four obstacles to overcoming cancer. He see optimism and hope as critical to success.

It’s easy to sometimes overlook the most obvious ingredients to success, especially when we’re faced with big challenges – like to our health, career, or making the world a better place. I left that room very clear on one thing: optimism is a learned practice and high art we can all access any time, under any circumstances. Why live life without it?

New Power Models and Values

What explains the phenomenal growth rates we see in AirBnB, Uber, Kickstarter and participation rates in movements like Occupy Wall Street and the Climate Action march in NYC? Activist and former McKinsey consultant, Jeremy Heimans explains it’s “new power models and values” surfacing today in his Ted Talk: What New Power Looks Like. He shows how innovative models combine with new values to create viral adoption and participation.

Examples of what distinguishes the characteristics of “old power” vs “new power” models is summarized nicely in this slide:

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He also showed examples of “new power values” driving adoption of and participation in these models.

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He then showed how old and new power compares using some examples in this slide:

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Check out the talk here:

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Making Sense as a Service – Stride Health

I came across a new health care insurance startup I was excited to learn about. Try making anything about health insurance enjoyable. Stride Health is attempting to make the process of choosing a plan just that. God bless them.

In a minute, you go from entering a simple profile: gender, zip code, marital status, family size, and you’re presented with plans from least to most expensive. Then you see “apples to apples” comparisons you can understand in seconds. Wow.

I spent hours calling and emailing my broker with far less satisfying results. I like my broker. But I’m not sure they can compete with simplicity. We’ll see when I receive the bottom line comparison of plans presented by both.

I can’t help but marvel at Stride Health’s mission. They spent months pouring over the industry as outsiders. Like Khan Academy’s founder did by taking and then explaining traditional math and science classes to start his ball rolling, we see value added by “making sense as a service.”

At the foundation I’m involved in, the Kids’ Cancer Research Foundation, we constantly simplify and explain complex research to ourselves and others as a way of prioritizing, with the help of a medical advisory board of course, the most promising clinical trials. Our donors look to us to simplify this decision-making process. They want to contribute but have no idea where to give.

We’re all in the “explaining business” now. The sooner we realize it, the better.

Stride Health’s video is worth the watch too. Check out this young guy climbing buildings with no insurance! Fortunately for him and us, he now has a plan, via Stride Health of course.

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Post Dreamforce Thoughts

Heard at the show: “I’m still not sure what Salesforce is but they sure seem to be on to something big.”

At the last Dreamforce, the 15 year old Salesforce announced it’s first $1 billion quarter. With a $32 billion market cap, the company will continue as the primary software-as-a-service driver and shaper for some time to come. So whether you understand their core application or not, they matter to us all.

Customer Success was prominent as a show theme. We’ve heard this promise before of course – it’s all about us customers. The new twist features data analytics to better understand what we want and need.  They announced Marketing Cloud, a repackaged Exact Target offering which tells how this will transform large enterprise marketing. Pardot remains as the marketing automation offer for small and medium enterprises.

Data.com announced new features and a tighter relationship with Dun and Bradstreet’s offerings. They now help make sense of all the information a company has on a customer or prospect that may be internal to the organization – like last contact, or email sent to a prospect – and everything that might be available out there on the public web about you. So when a sales or support person engages with you, they should know everything there is to know. Kind of scary but inevitable.

There was A LOT more. With 145 thousand in attendance and hundreds of sessions, it was overwhelming. Choosing what to attend was a major undertaking and something I hope will improve before the next one. The show iPhone app was good but could be better.

The luminary lineup was excellent. I take my hat off to Mr. Benioff and the team there. Way to lead the software industry with genuine inspiration. Exactly what the industry and the world needs.

Dreamforce Keynote

Marc Benioff Living His Dream