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What Does It Really Take to Hook Consumers Today?

Chris Bye wasted no time in telling retailers at NRF that the industry as they know it is over—and hooking customers is nothing like it used to be either.

“The old traditional world of advertising has changed and we need to look at things through a new lens,” the design entrepreneur and CX strategist for Bye Design told attendees at the Big Show Monday.

And the key for companies to succeed today is to be customer-centric.

“Customer-centric companies win by building their products from the customer up and not from the product down,” Bye said.

Brands have to align with customer values, understand that what shoppers say and what they do are very different (which is why he recommends thinking twice about focus groups and the results they yield), and they have to figure out how to fit into the consumer’s existing life.

“It’s about getting in there and uncovering insights that lead to sort of unmet needs,” Bye said.

Nir Eyal, author of “Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products,” who also spoke in the session, said hooking customers today comes down to four simple things: a trigger, an action, a reward and an investment.

“There’s been a revolution in how customers tastes are changed,” Eyal explained. Incredibly habit-forming products like Facebook and Instagram don’t have TV commercials to grow their businesses, they create habits. And not through exposure, but through experience.

According to Eyal’s model, there are two types of triggers, external and internal. External triggers are things in our environment that tell us what to do next, “click here,” “buy now.” But in order for those to work, there has to be an association with an internal trigger where the information for what to do next is informed through an association in the user’s memory.

The most frequent internal triggers are emotions and, interestingly, what we do when we experience negative emotion triggers action.

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Eyal pointed to a study that found depressed people check email more. To further illustrate the concept, he said, when we are lonely, we go to Facebook, when we are unsure, we go to Google, when we are bored, we go to Pinterest, YouTube, stock prices—we seek relief instantly with the solution that’s in our pockets, he said holding up his smartphone.

So, Eyal posed, “What itch is your product scratching for the consumer?”

Action is the second thing that hooks consumers, the simplest behavior done in anticipation of a reward.

“Why do you think everything has a feed?” Eyal asked. Because it’s overly simple and the constant anticipation of a reward in the form of the next pin to add to a board, the next exciting story to read or the next scandalous Facebook post, keeps users repeating the action over and over and over again.

For any human behavior to occur, Eyal said citing computer scientist B.J. Fogg, we need motivation, ability and triggers.

Six key feelings motivate humans to action: seeking pleasure, avoiding pain, seeking hope, avoiding fear, seeking acceptance and avoiding rejection.

Consumers also need the ability, the capacity to do a particular action. Googling, using Pinterest and watching YouTube has become easy to do all the time because people are rarely parted from their phones.

“If your user isn’t doing the thing you want them to do, you can ask yourself, ‘Does the user have sufficient motivation and sufficient ability?’” Eyal said. “When the trigger is present, that trigger occurs. Every single time.”

When it comes to reward, the third element of hooking consumers, there’s a way to manufacture wanting, according to Eyal. And the way to do that is by mixing things up.

“A bit of variability, a bit of unknown, triggers wanting,” he said. “Variability spikes activity in the brain creating this desirous effect.”

There are three types of rewards that keep consumers attached: rewards of the tribe, rewards of the hunt and rewards of the self.

Rewards of the tribe are evidenced by social media. Part of what makes social media so habit forming is the unknown—the user doesn’t know how many likes or comments something will get, and that wanting to know keeps them hooked.

Rewards of the hunt are what come out of games of chance, like slot machines. The act of scrolling through ever-present feeds uses the exact same psychology as pulling the lever on a slot machine, Eyal said.

Rewards of the self are internally motivated. Games like Angry Birds are so addictive because there’s something fun about getting to the next level, Eyal explained, and most of us play the game of unread email, constantly checking just so the messages can be cleared away, much like crossing items off of a to-do list.

“It’s the search for mastery, consistency and competency,” Eyal said. But the key is, he added, “Leave a little bit of mystery around what they might find the next time they engage with the product.”

The fourth and final element of hooking a customer is investment, or something the user does to increase the likelihood of the next pass through the hook.

With Whatsapp, for example, there’s no immediate gratification when you send someone a message, but you are investing and loading the next trigger because a response is likely forthcoming and the user will get a little alert that they want to clear.

Moreover, Eyal said, “Habit-forming products appreciate in value, they get better and better over time.”

Like Pinterest, which adjusts and recommends things the user might like the more it learns about them based on previous pins, and like Twitter, where the more followers a user gets could allow them to charge more for certain services because of their reach.

“It’s not the best product that wins,” Eyal said. It’s the product that wins the monopoly of the mind that carries the day.”