How To Keep Your Cusotmers Hooked

Originally posted on the Digital Marketing Strategy Blog of UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School.


Product design ideas need a precise objective, is your product a vitamin or a painkiller?
This is the first question to ask yourself, if you want to build a successful product design.

Painkillers are about an obvious need, they aim at stopping a pain therefore are quantifiable and monetizable. Vitamins are about an emotional need, not about efficacy; it feels good taking them, but you are not sure of the result.

Habit-forming products start as pleasure seekers behaviours and then become pain alleviators. In this scenario your company should create the need. Then, and only then, should sell the remedy.

If your business model requires habits, the Hook model is one of the few product design ideas that can help you build better hypothesis about what your product should do. The Hook model is a practical framework developed by Nir Eyal, a strategy consultant and frequent Stanford lecturer based in Silicon Valley.

The “hook” is an experience designed to provide your solution to the user’s problem with enough frequency to form a habit.

In this article we will try to discuss Basecamp the Hook model and suggest its practical application, taking the example of Basecamp, one of the most popular Project Management SaaS developed by 37Signals. Basecamp helps managing projects, share documents and communicate within teams. For every step of the Hook model you will find practical Basecamp examples marked.

The Hook model has four parts in a continuous cycle:
Trigger, Action, Reward, Investment.

The Hook Model


You cannot just create habits, you create behaviours first. – Nir Eyal

In this context novelty is a liability, you need to meet users where they are. Triggers happen in two ways:

  • External – (as seen in previous articles: emails, location based marketing, calls to action etc.) they have the context of what to do in the trigger itself, they tell you what to do next
  • Internal – where what to do next is an association in the user’s mind.

Practical Example: Basecamp answers to the customer feeling of being overwhelmed by the amount of work and needing guidelines or a project roadmap.

You have to know your customers internal triggers to make them use your product exactly when they feel a specific internal trigger. The trigger is only the first step for successful product design ideas.


When talking about Action, the Fogg Behavior Model explains how to create individual behaviour. B.J.Fogg says that for every behaviour to occur there are always M.A.T. – Motivation, Ability, Trigger.

A) Motivation – If the user has enough motivation, the behaviour is easy enough and the trigger is present, it will happen. Motivation is the energy for action.

Practical Example: In Basecamp customers are motivated by the need for an organised project flow.

B) Ability – How easy it is for us to make the customer act? There are four product factors, which can help increase the customer ability: · Decreased time and money needed · Decreased physical and mental effort required · Social deviance (the more different it is from everything I have seen, the less likely I will use it) · Non-routine (doing something I already did in the past, makes it easier to do it again)

Practical Example: Basecamp satisfies this by featuring an easy online user interface both on desktop and mobile.

C) Triggers – Customer emotions

Practical Example: Team members may feel overwhelmed by their workflow, need to clear out which are the steps of the project and might need to gather more information from other team members. They want to work well and complete their tasks.

The Action phase is about the simplest action in anticipation of reward. It can be as simple as a login, searching, opening an app, scrolling. It’s a fundamental step in product design ideas.


We always want to predict what is going to happen to understand cause and effect Variability, on the opposite, messes with customer heads, causes them to increase focus and engagement and it’s habit-forming, which is a crucial element for product design ideas. This is what psychologists have called the “endless search”. Intermittent reward increases response rate. Variability spikes dopamine, which in turn drives increase response rate. That said, variable rewards drive the “endless search”, which Nir Eyal says, comes in three forms:

  • The Tribe – Search for social rewards, from cooperation competition, recognition, acceptance etc. Practical Example: getting positive feedback on Basecamp form other team members or their bosses

  • The Hunt – Search for resources, comes from primal search for food, translated into money and in modern society is now information. Practical Example: while working on a project, looking for resources on Basecamp

  • The Self – Mastery, consistency, competency, completion etc. They feel good within themselves

Practical Example: completing a task on Basecamp, check-marking it and visualising its completion


In this phase customers do a bit of work or pay with something of value inside the product (i.e. time, money, social capital, effort, emotional commitment, personal data). Investment is something that increases the chances that customers will pass through the hook and it’s too often left out in product design ideas. This can be achieved in many ways:

Loading the next trigger Storing value/content (i.e. project content in Basecamp). Technology appreciates with time. Habit-forming products, by storing value, get better with use. Creating preference – In this phase you don’t have to make things too easy, they will create preference if they need a bit of labor. Putting effort into a product increases our perception of the value of the product. As customers invest and put labor into something, they seek to be consistent with their past behaviours.

Practical Example: Basecamp solves the Investment phase by persuading its customers to further add complex and articulated projects. The product asks a good amount of effort to customers. Additionally, it keeps them in the habit process by storing critical project information that they will need to access again and work on, to complete the project.


In conclusion, Nir Eyal suggests a few important elements that have to keep in mind while applying the Hook Model to your product design ideas:

The product has still to solve a customer pain, that’s why you have to know their internal trigger and motivations There is no engagement without autonomy. People need to feel in control, otherwise they will bounce. Finite rewards decay. As rewards become predictable, they become less interesting. On the opposite, infinite variability tends to keep customers engaged for longer periods of time.

Basecamp creation of project content keeps being interesting because it displays more variability. Below you can find the Hook Model Canvas, which offers a very practical guide to design and effectively market products which will be habit-forming and keep the customer hooked.

The Hook Model Canvas

Is your product habit forming?
How will you use the Hook Model to improve its adoption?