If there's one guy who knows about building products people love, it's Nir Eyal. Not only has he written a book about it--Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products--he teaches the subject at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. (He has also sold two successful technology companies.)

At the Next Web Conference in New York yesterday, Eyal dove into this subject. A great, habit-forming product, such as Uber, can have the power to change consumers' behavior. But how, exactly? "The hook is an experience designed to connect your user's problem to a solution," he said, and in order for you to do that, you need to follow four steps. Here's a look at each step and what it entails. 

What Habit Forming Products Do 

Habit-forming products accomplish four things. First, they "load" a trigger, or create the expectation for something exciting to happen and that it will improve over time. This in turn builds up value, which motivates a customer to come back, again and again. It's why 74 percent of WhatsApp downloads come from daily users, and why one in every eight people on Earth uses Facebook. To better understand this phenomenon, let's look at each action more closely.

Loading the Trigger 

Loading the trigger primes users to stimulate their nucleus accumbens, or the part of the brain that makes them feel good, Eyal said. You can liken this stimulation to the high one gets after laughing with friends, crossing something off your to-do list, or landing a raise. It's the anticipation of this feeling that compels people to try something new. 

It's important to note that a trigger, or call to action, can be internal or external, Eyal said. If it's external, there will be information embedded in the trigger itself, prompting you to take an action, such as "Buy Now," "Click Here," or email a friend. An internal trigger, as you might guess, involves some association in your memory, which can range from routines to situations to emotions to people. Negative emotions are particularly powerful (hence why depressed people check email more).  

When creating the trigger, entrepreneurs need to ask what it might look like. Is it scrolling down the news feed in order to find a good story? Or is it messaging a friend in order to get a response? Whatever it is, the trigger should supercharge the craving reflex so the user is primed to feel good. 

Improving the Product 

The more someone uses your product, the more he or she will invest in it, building up loyalty. That investment may not be money, but it will certainly be time and data. It's up to you to make the whole thing worthwhile, said Eyal. For example, Facebook gets more interesting with each friend you add, while Twitter becomes more useful the more you engage other users. Put simply, the more you use a product, the more it should reward your investment. Another good example is Pinterest, which becomes a veritable scrapbook once you've pinned several images. Likewise, Pandora improves its stations as you offer more feedback. 

Building a Reputation 

A reputation is "stored value that users can literally take to the bank," said Eyal. What makes this product worth using? What do customers think of it? The experience you create will shape how people think and feel about the product. 

Reloading the Trigger 

No product is habit-forming if it's only used once. So create a trigger that users will want to pull like a slot machine lever. Ask yourself, "What's the likelihood of the user going through the hook once again?" Eyal said. The answer should be a kind of reward that improves the product. Or go back a step and think about the motivation for using the product--is it to seek pleasure, avoid pain, challenge the mind, or try something new? "For any behavior, we need sufficient motivation, ability, and the trigger," Eyal said. 

Published on: Dec 11, 2014