Our Insights Post 5 mins Dave Thorpe The 3 Keys to Creating User Habits that Increase Revenue User engagement is key to driving success with every digital product. If our audience doesn’t engage with our platform it will not matter how useful a tool it would be to our users. They will simply not benefit from it and it will fall by the wayside of so many other innovative, creative digital products. User engagement is so important that entire agencies have set up to help digital products engage with their target audience. However, getting users engaged does not have to be complicated! The strongest driver you can create in your audience is a habit. Once your users use your product as a habit, they are likely to continue to do so for a very, very long time. Breaking habits is extremely difficult once established and even when we consciously try to break habits it can take months to do so. Most habits exist because our brains want to be efficient or because they make us feel good — so for most habits we create there isn’t a desire to break them. Social media is driven by habit. As we are a social species, we want to see what our friends are doing and interact with them. This is the goal that drives us to adopt social media platforms. Then we enjoy the experience of speaking to distant contacts and looking through the “window” into what is going on in the worlds of our friends so we come back and back and back. We form a habit! Then over time our social media becomes diluted with people we care less about — but the habit is formed so we still use social media. In fact, in 2020 the average user spent over 2 hours a day on social media. So we can see how powerful habits can be. Repeat customer actually help business grow more than new customers which is why it is important to build habits. The questions are: What psychological principles do social media platforms use to create those habits? And how can we use those same principles to create habits in our users that lead to increased revenue and success for our mobile apps?The 3 Elements That Create Habits Cue/Trigger Routine Reward (REPEAT) These three things create all our habits. Let’s take the example of eating. Cue/Trigger = Hunger Routine = Eat (normally several times a day) Reward = Feeling satisfied or not hungry anymore. The habit of eating comes out of necessity. When we are babies we eat when the trigger of hunger tells us too. We cry to get our parents attention because we are hungry and we are fed. This is the very start of creating a habit. As we age we know we will be hungry if we do not eat regularly so we create a routine to control the trigger of hunger by having set meals a day. We also reward ourselves with food with treats or deserts which we enjoy. Then we start the same process all over again tomorrow, the habit has been created. Now we obviously need food so it is for convenience that we create our food habits. The principles for any habit are the same — whether it’s a bad habit such as smoking or a good habit like early morning runs, the habit was created with these three elements. How you harness these 3 elements in your digital products will determine whether you successfully create habits for your users. 1) Cues & Triggers Cues or triggers are what set off our habit. There are two types of triggers: internal and external. Both are great at helping us form habits, but the internal habits are the amazing sauce in our recipe for success. External Triggers First let’s discuss external triggers. These are more noticeable and you see them everyday from digital products trying to get you to build habits. They are obvious and semi-intrusive, but they are also extremely effective. Push notifications are a great external trigger. Our article on “How to not ruin push notifications for the rest of us” talks about ways to create compelling push notifications that engage your audience. However the real purpose beyond that initial interaction is to build a habit. Going back to our social media app. When you start using an app like Facebook, they will send you push notifications all the time — for new likes, messages, and friends — but over time these will become less frequent. This is because they know you have formed a habit. You are engaging regularly without the triggers required. This is where external triggers become a nuisance and need to be used carefully. If you have an external trigger firing after a habit has been formed they begin to have the opposite effect. This is where you will need to be aware how your users are interacting. Other examples of external triggers include emails, ads, and CTAs in partner products, which all encourage your users build habits with your apps.back to engage and help them take the first step in forming a habit. Internal Triggers Internal triggers are even stronger but are less noticeable. Internal triggers are based on how things make us feel. Emotions and routines power these triggers and the actions we take from them are based on decisions we make independently. With internal triggers the user themselves is making the choice. This is based on desire or need and these triggers can only be achieved if your offering within your product can create one of the above. In our social media example, the desire is to be informed, to see what’s happened since you were last online. Other types of products like Ecommerce are also based on desire; shopping releases endorphins which make us feel good so we continue to do it. Need is more difficult to create as a desire within digital products but online food retailers will have need as the trigger if they can build the habit through external triggers and excellent service. Remember: If you can make your app into something that is internally triggered, then you have formed a habit. 2) Routines Routine is obvious, all habits are built on routine. So the story needs to go as follows: Trigger fires User engages Repeat New trigger fires User engages Repeat This is a routine and if this routine is consistent and repeated, you will begin to create the habit. The routine will need to be tested and iterated within your app or website to find the right balance for your audience. All routines are different for different products, and each product you use will use different routines to capture their audience. To start depending on your product somewhere between daily or weekly triggers to help your audience engage and begin to build habits. 3) Rewards The final piece of the habit-making puzzle is “reward,” which is often forgotten by digital product developers. Most people believe the trigger repeating over and over again is enough to build a habit. Users will quickly lose interest and unless your offering is incredibly compelling and satisfying, it won’t be enough. Reward is crucial in building habits; just ask anyone who has trained a puppy with sausage treats. This reward is what helps them with positive association of the triggers you are putting in place. I’m not suggesting you offer your users sausages to build habits, you should be offering rewards. In a previous article we discussed some motivators based on Cialdini’s principles of persuasion — and each of these can be turned into a reward. For example, Unity is the sense of being part of something, which is an incredible motivator. If your users engage, maybe they get some exclusive membership or freebie to a webinar as part of your offering. Maybe they get a badge on their profile to make them a significant user. In a previous article we discussed some motivators based on Cialdini’s principles of persuasion — and each of these can be turned into a reward. For example, Unity is the sense of being part of something, which is an incredible motivator. If your users engage, maybe they get some exclusive membership or freebie to a webinar as part of your offering. Maybe they get a badge on their profile to make them a significant user. Here are three types of rewards you can offer: Social Rewards: Social media does this well by showing users some of their friends are playing games within the platform (this also taps into Cialdini’s third principle of social proofing). You can see how the motivators can tie in with building habits and giving the sense or reward for taking action on a trigger. Resource Rewards: Ecommerce and mobile games do this well with discounts or giving away free in-game currency for using their triggers. This is an example of Cialdini’s principle of reciprocity. Achievement Rewards: You can also go one step further, depending on your product, and create real investment for the user. We begin to take ownership of things we can contribute to ourselves and the sense of achievement and mastery (getting better at what we are doing) is a powerful feeling that we can tap into when using rewards. Gamification is a great reward system and building this into your product core function is a great way to build habits, regardless of using triggers, and will help build an engaged audience. You can see how the motivators can tie in with building habits and giving the sense or reward for taking action on a trigger. This will make future triggers (and ones even without rewards) a more positive experience for the user. So to summarize the steps below show what is required to build a habit. Trigger a response. Create a routine for your triggers and your platform to reinforce the message. Reward your user for taking action on your triggers so they build up a positive association with them and then repeat/refine the process to find what works best for your users. Why is building habits in your users so important? Building habits is important because, even though we focus most of our efforts on finding new customers, it’s actually easy to keep current customers coming back. Repeat customers spend more, cost less, and help promote your business. This is the same across product and service businesses and almost all digital products behave the same. When it comes to mobile applications especially, if someone isn’t engaging with your app on a daily basis, they will probably uninstall it. This is why building habits is key to boosting revenue from the group most likely to buy from you — your current customers.