As most app developers know, retaining new users is the hardest thing to do. A Localytics study published in June 2014 showed app retention has improved 6% over the past four years.
But still, only 39% of apps are used 11 times or more, an improvement of 13% over the same period.
Here is a quick exercise which will help you check the retention rate of an app. Open your phone and check the home screen. What do you see?
The most frequently used apps are all on your home screen. Now slide to the second, third or fourth screen. The popularity and usage of apps goes down with every screen.
What makes us engage with certain apps? Why do some apps capture our attention while others don’t?
Nir Eyal’s popular Hook model is a guide to building habit-forming products. Nir defines the underlying pattern of how technologies hook us with our dependence and urge to repeatedly use a certain product.
We applied Nir Eyal’s Hook Model on the fundamentals of building habit-forming mobile applications.
Step 1 – Trigger
Knowing your customer’s trigger can help drive a habitual usage of your app. There are two kinds of triggers and you have to optimize your app for both.
External triggers tell the user what to do next – such as the Tweet or Buy Now button. Whereas internal triggers are a factor of the user’s perception, emotional status and their current situation. For example, even a negative emotion can be a powerful trigger – Instagram solves the pain of losing the moment. And that in turn drives a habit.
Nir explains in one of his blog post that effective triggers are ones which are well-timed, actionable and spark curiosity. Closer the timing of the external trigger is with the internal trigger, the sooner a user forms an association with the app.
For example, travel apps get active before a long weekend or holiday season and start sending coupon codes or best deals on flights and hotels. The apps know people might be excited to plan a trip at this point of time.
Step 2 – Action
Trigger an action from your user, who exhibits the desired behavior in anticipation of a reward. Users need to have a motivation to exhibit the desired behavior, which in turn is triggered by seeking pleasure, avoiding pain, seeking hope, avoiding fear, seeking acceptance or avoiding rejection.
Creating a trigger that invokes either of these emotions will help drive action in your app. Look back at the example of Instagram. Habits of users are driven similarly across other apps too – Facebook (seeking acceptance).
Step 3 – Reward
There are rewards and there are variable rewards. “Variable rewards seem to keep the brain occupied and providing an opportunity to plant the seeds of new habits,” says Nir Eyal. These can be segmented into three kinds – social rewards, search for resources and self-achievement.
Social rewards such as getting a ‘Like’ for a Facebook picture gives social validation and recognition.
The Yelp app is a great example of users searching for resources where the app lists the top-rated restaurants in their area, within their budget, and those that suit their taste.
Self-achievements are best demonstrated by games, but apps too are leveraging the psychology – striking off a completed task on the Any.Do app gives a feeling of accomplishment and provides personal gratification too.
Step 4 – Investment
Nir describes investment as future rewards that makes the next action more likely.
For example a message sent through WhatsApp is an open invitation for an external trigger. In anticipation of a relevant information (material reward), the user will open and reply (action) to the message.
Users invest in terms of time, money, effort, content, personal data, social capital or even emotional commitment. Inviting more friends, stating preferences, building virtual assets, and learning to use new features of the app are all investments.
Investments also helps to store some kind of value within your app that improves the app and its experience for the user. For instance, a personal finance app gets better with extended usage and so does its experience get better for the user when there are more comparison and reference points over a period of time the app is used.
The fundamentals are simple and deep rooted in psychology. The difficult bit is to understand the uniqueness of your app and its customers and what elements and factors can drive a habit.