Let's face it. We're addicted to apps. So much so that 80 percent of users turn to their apps up to 15 times a day and 18 percent use apps as much as 50 times a day, according to a 2015 survey by Dimensional Research.

Unfortunately, not every app becomes the next Facebook or Snapchat. Truly great, must-use apps have something that sets them apart from others: they get users hooked.

As the founder of Coplex, a company that co-creates with our clients in order to develop the next wave of big, innovative products, I understand that a product or service is nothing if people don't keep coming back for more. I recently spoke with Nir Eyal, author of the Bible for building habits -- Hooked: How To Build Habit-Forming Products. This is the guide you need to build engaging apps. His Hook Model boils down the secrets of must-use apps into four steps: identifying the triggers of use, the action of the user, the reward provided by the app, and the investment that gets users to return for more.


Here are three ways to create apps that are addictive:

1. Address a need.

It should go without saying that every product has to have a purpose. However, all too often, entrepreneurs forget that the purpose has to address a need in order for it to hold real value. No consumer is going to spend time or money on a product that doesn't give them something they want or even crave.

"It starts with the internal trigger," said Eyal. "That's the most important phase. I can't tell you how many times I walked into a product review and they tell me how amazing of a product they have. But, when it comes to the physiological trigger and the product, it's just not there."

Eyal's Hook Model addresses the importance of both internal and external triggers that encourage people to use certain apps. Maybe they're seeking a solution to a stubborn problem. Or maybe they're simply bored and looking for a little amusement. Whether it's entertainment, answers to problems, or a way to get a little human connection, a product needs to provide something the user lacks. And the more often that need must be met, the more habit-forming the product becomes. So ask yourself: what's the itch that the app scratches?

2. Have dependable functionality.

Never underestimate the damage a poor user experience can have on both a product and its company. Returning to the 2015 Dimensional Researchstudy, 80 percent of respondents said they would give a problematic app no more than three chances before giving up on it entirely. Furthermore, 37 percent of users said they would think less of a company's brand if one of its apps frequently crashed.

Given how competitive the Web services and app market is, that means you have to have functionality down pat. That includes having the product ready for the initial launch and also being prepared to deal with any technical issues that may arise later down the road. The easier and more reliable a product is, the quicker users will be to get hooked on it.

3. Get users invested.

Investment can involve more than just money. Customers and users also give their time and emotion to the apps they use. And that's what gets them hooked.

"A great example is Netflix and the binge-watching phenomenon," Eyal said. "The hook is already there. Netflix makes a recommendation, then it starts the next episode right away. And every episode has a cliffhanger that gets you invested. You have to know what happens next. You have to finish the series. Before you know it, the habit is formed."

The trick is figuring out how to get users invested and hooked on the product. For instance, a monthly subscription encourages users to get their money's worth. But accumulating thousands of followers that become a personalized source of entertainment, news, and support is also a form of investment. For Facebook, the investment was seven friends in 10 days. According to Chamath Palihapitiya, who started the original growth team at Facebook, if users had reached at least seven friends within 10 days of signing up, they were hooked.

In the end, the key to successful web and mobile products that people actually use is figuring out the hook.

"Not every successful product needs a habit," said Eyal, "but every successful product that involves habitual use needs a hook."

What other factors go into creating apps that people use over and over again? Share in the comments below!

Published on: Mar 15, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.