Hook Model in Product Design – 4 steps to get users hooked

Do you also find yourself scrolling through Instagram first thing in the morning?

I do, I – who thinks building habits is hard and tiring – always do… 

I forget to write in my diary but never forget to check Twitter. 

Do some products become indispensable parts of our lives? More importantly, how can we make our product one of them? 

Here is the hook model manual: 

▶ What Is the Hook Model? – And who came up with it? 

▶ Stages of the Hook Model

▶ 4 Examples of Hook Model Used in Everyday Products

▶ 4 Steps to Getting Started with the Hook Model

Let’s get started then! 

What Is the Hook Model?

The hook model is a framework based on user behavior that aims to create products used by customers routinely. The goal is to establish an organic bond with users and make the product a part of their lives – a.k.a. to make them visit an application/ a website as a habit. It consists of 4 steps: Trigger, action, variable reward, and investment.

Who came up with the hook model?

Nir Eyal, a behavioral economist, is the founding father of the hook model. After graduating from Stanford in 2008, Eyal and his friends founded a company that places ads on social media platforms. 

That’s when he became interested in user psychology and behavior

He examined the successful products and companies of the time and tried to find a common pattern. 

Well, he did it. He found the ”hooks”. From apps to games – even movies, they’re everywhere, he says. 

In 2014, his book ‘Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products” got published, and he became one of the most influential names in product design. 

Stages of the Hook Model

It’s hard to form a habit and even harder to form it for somebody else -users.

First, you have to understand consumer behavior patterns. 

People have needs, and companies have the services. If these two sets (needs and services) overlap, then you don’t have to spend millions on advertising or aggressive messaging because users will come back again and again by themselves. 

Wondering how? Here are the 4 stages of the Hook Model 👇 

1. Trigger 

A trigger is the actuator of behavior – the first sparkle ✨

There are 2 types of triggers: internal triggers and external triggers.

External triggers are like invitations. They can be e-mails, paid ads, SMS messages, push notifications, or even recommendations from friends. Their purpose is to leverage internal triggers. 

Internal triggers are connections formed in the mind and emotional world of the user. Users associate external triggers with their pre-existing emotions and memories and create their own reasons to use the product. 

➡️ Suppose Bob receives a notification from Netflix when he is bored. He signs in to his account and comes across a chef movie. What a coincidence, his daughter happens to be a chef too! Whenever he sees the movie, he remembers his Netflix experience and his beloved chef daughter. And yes, Bob created his first positive feeling about the app. 

2. Action 

As Eyal states in his book too, for a user to take action once she is presented with the triggers, two things are required: motivation and ability. 

According to Fogg, a given behavior (an intended action) will happen only when all the elements of the formula (B=MAP) are present and sufficient. 

To increase the motivation of a possible user, product designers design products that are easy to use. A minimalist and user-friendly interface: no need to spend too much time on a website to understand, no need to think. 

In reference to Fogg’s theory, there are 3 core motivation drives 👇

Core Motivations

3. Variable Reward 

People love possibilities, different options, and surprises! 

Offering various rewards to your users at different times can bring them closer to you. Also, if users are aware of these future rewards, they will turn back to collect them.

Here is another motivation source: the anticipation of reward. 

Variable rewards can be categorized into 3 groups:

  • Rewards of the Tribe 

A.k.a. social rewards.

We are all connected, to humanity, including the one who loves solitude and a life away from people the most. 

”We’re meant to be part of a tribe, so our brains seek out rewards that make us feel accepted, important, attractive, and included”.

Eyal – Rewards of the Hunt 

These rewards are the acquisitions such as information and special deals

People visit Pinterest again and again to find content similar to previous searches. Or Wikipedia, every day, millions of people jump from one link to another. 

Maybe different from the hunts in ancient times, but chasing discounts on amazon is also a kind of hunting.

  • Rewards of the Self 

Lastly, self-satisfaction

We love keeping everything under control. That’s why checklists and to-do lists make us feel comfortable and content. 

If you make users feel in control of certain things and satisfy them through completed tasks, it will be much easier for them to feel the need for your product. 

4. Investment 

In the last stage of the hook, we ask users to invest in the product – not like stakeholders, ofc. 

The investment comes in the forms of time, data, effort, subscription money, or social capital.

The purpose is to improve the services and customize them according to the user’s needs. It’s like recommending a tweet from NY Times to a user who loves to follow news on Twitter. 

They can make the trigger more appealing and individualized and the reward more exciting and desired. 

According to studies, effort -labor- increase the value of a certain thing. If you let your users invest in an app, then they’re more likely to form a daily habit of using it. 

4 Examples of Hook Model Used in Everyday Products

Hooks… Successive hooks… 

Some products are designed to make you step into a hook you just got off. 

They understand your needs and meet them. They are easy to use and also exciting, full of new rewards. 

Here are 4 examples of them 👇

#1: Netflix

netflix logo

How many times did you lose track of time and finished a whole season in one go? Or have you ever continued to watch a series that you actually didn’t like much just because you’ve come so far? 

If the answer is yes, it’s because of Netflix‘s successful ”hook” utilization.

Let’s take a closer look 👀

👉 Trigger:

The external trigger here can be a notification, an e-mail, or even the app icon itself. 

And the internal trigger is the fact that you’re bored/tired and want to relax and have fun. 

So you received the external trigger successfully and have enough motivation to continue with the ”action” phase. 

👉 Action: 

Open the app. 

You can continue watching a series you’ve already started, choose a new one, or let AI pick something for you if you’re not in the mood to decide. 

The interface is easy to use and provides -almost- limitless options. 

👉 Variable Rewards:

You can get social rewards such as belonging to a group that talks about the series you’ve just watched. 

Or, having seen a beautiful movie might be the actual reward for you too. 

👉 Investment: 

You have started a new series -or progressed in a series you’ve been watching. 

So you invested your time and probably will want to see the end of it. 

Also, with the autoplay feature, Netflix gives you another trigger: ”Next episode playing in 10 seconds.” You see a possible reward: the next episode’s storyline and a photo from an interesting scene stand just there. You can get it if you invest more time.  

So what will you do? 

#2: TikTok

tiktok logo

Another famous product practicing Nir Eyal’s hook model is TikTok. With millions of personalized videos, TikTok presents you with a world of your own. A world that you don’t want to leave… 

Here is how 🤔

👉 Trigger: 

Let’s assume the external trigger is a TikTok video sent by a friend. You received the message and wanted to check the video because the friend who sent it is a fun person. 

So your motivation (internal trigger) is to laugh with a friend. 

👉 Action: 

You need to create an account, but as it takes less than a minute, it’s not a problem for you. You create your account -maybe even download the app- and then watch the video. Voila! One of the simplest actions in the world. 

👉 Variable Rewards: 

-Make your day. 

It’s the motto of TikTok. Making a normally dull and ordinary day a pleasing and memorable one.  

TikTok takes you on a product hunt. You scroll down to find the funniest video, the most beautiful karaoke performance, the cutest dog video… 

👉 Investment: 

In the previous phases, the product pulled you deep inside by giving little rewards each time you took an action (liking a video, writing a comment, following someone, etc.). 

The more you spend time and interact with the content the more you will see videos that attract you, which means you will get rewards (happiness, fun, inspiration, etc) that resonate better with you. And at the end, TikTok will have a good connotation for you: a valid reason to use the product, an internal trigger. 

#3: Duolingo 

duolingo logo

I constantly get eager to start learning a new language. 

Spanish, Italian, French… 

The language changes but the source I head for doesn’t: Duolingo. It’s like a condition; I should use Duolingo if I want to learn a language, any language. 

But how did Duolingo create this condition in our minds? How do form customer habits?

Here is how:

👉 Trigger:

If you’ve already installed the app and started learning, Duolingo reminds you to take a quick lesson constantly via e-mails and notifications. 

So once you get the external trigger, the internal trigger steps in: enthusiasm for learning a new language. 

👉 Action:

Lessons are short, activities are fun in Duolingo. As you complete them one by one, you feel your progress and improvement, thus, get motivated to keep going.

👉 Variable Rewards:

You get to learn a new language. You can go on a world tour, meet new people, or advance in your career. What you want to achieve next is up to you, but Duolingo promises you a ”free, fun, and effective way to learn a language!”. 

👉 Investment: 

The more you spend time in Duolingo and take the lessons, the more achievements you collect and go up on the scoreboard. 

To make the learning process more interesting for the users, Duolingo keeps track of the users’ progress and lets them challenge their friends. 

#4: Flo Health

Flo Health logo

Flo, with its 230 million users, is one of the most popular female health and period tracker services. Millions log their symptoms every day, chat with others about various topics, from female health to jewelry, and read reproductive health insights written by professionals. 

Let’s take a look at how they get all these users to use their services on a regular basis.

👉 Trigger:

Flo reminds you to log your symptoms every day. Also, it sends notifications to let you know about new blog entries.

As for internal triggers, you can have various motivations. 

– You might want to keep track of your period. 

– You might want to learn about your reproductive system or sexual health. 

– You might want to ask other users questions about their experiences and recommendations. 

👉Action:

Each notification sent by Flo takes you directly to the related page. If you receive a reminder to log your symptoms, one click on the notification takes you to the symptoms page. Or, when you get a message that tells you your monthly report is ready, you can directly go to your Flo assistant and get your report instantly. 

You don’t get lost in the app, it’s easy to navigate. 

👉Variable Rewards:

The app prepares weekly/monthly reports as you log your symptoms. Also, you get predictions about possible symptoms and mood changes during your period. 

So you can be prepared when your period starts. 

👉 Investment: 

The more users log their symptoms regularly, the more accurate reports and insights they get about their period. 

So the investment comes as data provision.

4 Steps to Getting Started with the Hook Model

It is very important to design products in a way that creates a habit for users.

Because as you can see, products that understand and meet user needs keep their customers.

The Hook model ensures that users use and invest in a product by triggering at certain points and giving various rewards that motivate users further to continue using the product.

If you want to get started with the hook model, here is what you should do:

Step 1: Make sure your product/service is flexible and inclusive. 

Let’s assume you’re a game platform that provides free access to various games for a monthly subscription.  

Your target audience consists of gamers that enjoy different types of games. If you do not offer various games from different genres, then users might not prefer to keep their subscription after some time. 

One of many reasons why people love Netflix is the pool of options with lots of different genres of movies and TV shows.

Step 2: Offer special deals and award your customers.

You cannot earn if you do not show your customers/users that you care about them. 

Flo offers special deals to their users -even the ones that do not have premium accounts. And it actually helps to bond with (potential) customers. 

By doing that, you can get your users to invest in the product and keep them on the hook. 

Step 3: Divide and conquer! Make sure it’s easy to use the product. 

The more difficult and time-consuming it is to do a job, the less likely it is to be done. 

So, keep the actions easy and separate.  

Suppose you have a fitness and wellness app that tracks activities. In that case, a user should be able to log their activities without having to answer questions about how much water they’ve drank today o take quizzes on misconceptions about cardio exercises. 

Let your customers use the product feature they want, don’t rush and pile up on them.

Step 4: Keep in touch with your users. Do not let them set aside your product and forget about it. 

In today’s world, it is not enough for your product to be liked anymore. 

There are many distractions that take your customers away from your product, even more competitors! 

You need to remind your services are worth using and paying for. 

Send personalized external triggers, inform your customers about new features, and show them what miracles can happen if they invest time and money into your product. 

Conclusion

It’s not easy to stay in the market among other thousands of competitors. 

Triggering customers/users at the right time is not enough; you need to make sure they enjoy the experience and will come back again – a.k.a keep them on the hook. 

👉 If you want to read more on the topic, you may check Nir Eyal’s blog


Frequently Asked Questions


What is a hook in UX?

A hook is a habit-forming, 4-phased product design model. It takes the users through 4 stages (trigger, action, various rewards, and investment) respectively so that the product becomes a habit in their daily lives. It helps to keep users loyal to the product without making any extra investments and increases retention rates.


What are the 4 stages of the hooked model?

#1 Trigger: It consists of 2 types of triggers: internal triggers and external triggers. In this stage, users are presented with various stimuli (external triggers) to use the product, such as notifications, e-mails, and SMS messages. 

 #2 Action: The act of using a certain feature of the product. E.g., sharing an article on a blog, adding a task to a to-do list, watching a TikTok video, etc. 

#3 Variable rewards: Achievements collected by users as they continue using the product. 

#4 Investment: Time spent in an app, data provided to a certain service, subscription fee, etc. 


How do you make a hook model?

In order to apply the hook model to your product, first, you need to make sure that the stages of the model (trigger, action, variable rewards, and investment) are available in your product and can be followed by your customers. If one of the elements is missing, users will get out of the hook and won’t stick to your product. Go through each of the 4 steps, and control your product sends triggers that draw users’ attention, it is easy, and fun to use and allows users to earn achievements/rewards, which will motivate them to invest more in the product at the end. 

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Ceren Kurban

Ceren is a Creative Content Writer at UserGuiding. She writes about the latest development in SaaS and product. She decided to pursue a career in journalism and content upon seeing The Bold Type. When she is not writing, you can find her gossiping with stray animals or listening to the Alvin and the Chipmunks covers of random songs