Hook EyalDo you sleep with your phone by your head like I do? Until today I really had no idea why my technology is so ridiculously compelling. And now I have some answers. Do you know why you are checking your email all the time? Why are you on Google like every two minutes? It’s a hit, not much different from an addiction. You can create that habit among your customers, and more importantly, you can do it with content.

Nir Eyal, author of the book Hooked: How to Build Habit Forming Products, says when you break down the psychology of desire as it applies to products and services, there are external and internal drivers that cause us to behave like rats in a cage, pressing levers over and over like smack fiends. In the case of humans in 2014, we are checking our email, our Facebook and Twitter feeds, and heading over to ESPN for a quick check on our hometown heroes. We do these things with little or no conscious thought. They are habits. If you can create a product that successfully hooks users into a powerful habit loop, you can take that business right to the bank.

Habit informs so much of what we do. Why do you turn to Google instead of Bing, even though you can strip the branding off the two search engines to reveal almost no difference in function? Because Google is the habit.

Advertising and word of mouth are both external motivators. One is a whole lot cheaper. While both Kodak and Instagram are both in the business of capturing memories, Kodak spent billions of dollars and a hundred years hammering that point home with the concept of a Kodak Moment, while Instagram harnessed the power of other users to spread the gospel in a fraction of the time. Twitter doesn’t advertise, yet users return over and over.

In a recent webinar presented with RJMetrics, Eyal outlined the process that leads to habit. The Hook Model has four phases: Trigger, Action, Reward and Investment.

Contrary to common wisdom, those rats pushing levers in cages are not stimulating the pleasure center in the brain. It’s a bit darker and far more complicated. That pleasure center gets the hit during the anticipatory phase, and calms down once we receive the stimulus. It’s the craving that drives us, not the reward.

The most powerful motivators are internal ones, i.e., emotions. When we are lonely, we check Facebook. When we are unsure, we use Google. When we are bored, we click on YouTube. To get this right, you must know your customers’ internal motivators and supply a solution to their needs.

If you took Psych 101 you learned about partial reinforcement schedules. Rats whose lever pressing action elicited rewards only some of the time actually hit the trigger with greater vigor. Not only should your users get rewarded only some of the time, but also it’s more motivating if they don’t hit the jackpot every time they go looking. When you leave them wanting more, they’ll be sure to come back.The unknown, says Eyal, is fascinating.

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Finally, the investment phase, the act that closes the habit loop, is an important step that most product development teams overlook, says Eyal. Figure out a way to make it worth their while to come back. For example, when you send out a text, you are hooked until you receive a reply. Or when you load up your online music library, you will return. “If you are not asking your user for investment after the reward, you are missing a huge opportunity,” says Eyal.

Let’s consider the habit loop as it relates to content. Your customers have a desire; a thirst for knowledge. They Google a topic about which they want to know more. Your job as a content provider is to be there to fulfill that need. The more your content scratches that itch, the more your customers will want to come back. In your industry, what is driving your customers to search? You’re the answer dealer. You’ve got the good stuff. And next thing you know, they are coming back for more.

If you’d like to know more, check out Eyal’s Slideshare and his website.