You need to tap into your customers’ subconscious to keep them coming back

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When your app or website was just a tiny seed of an idea, you probably had big plans for how people would use it. As you built and tested it, you envisioned your product becoming as integral to users’ lives as brushing their teeth or checking their emails. At least that was the hope. But making your product a recurring part of users’ lives is easier said than done.

To understand why, we must first look at the mechanisms of human behavior. According to the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, approx 40% of people’s daily actions are not tied to conscious decision-making. Instead, they are initiated automatically by situational cues and other triggers. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Rather, it is a way of categorizing the myriad decisions we have to make every minute, every hour, and every day. For example, eating the same thing for breakfast every morning frees up our mental capacity for more important decisions.

The question is, how can you make your product so inviting that users have no choice but to incorporate it into their subconscious routines? This is especially important today, as McKinsey & Company discovered more consumers have switched brands in 2022 compared to 2021 and 2020. Moreover, 90% of them plan to continue to do so. Here are three tips for creating product usage habits in your users so they are more likely to stick with your brand:

Related: 5 ways to set good habits that really stick

1. Dive into your product usage data

No amount of self-study or controlled testing will teach you more about your user journey — the good, the bad, and the ugly — than product usage data (ie, the information users generate when they interact with your product). From geolocation to session duration to completed tasks, these rich insights span countless types of data and actions.

For example, when you open the Grubhub app, it doesn’t just record your food order. It also looks at where you were when you opened the app, which features you explored versus which you bypassed, how long it took you to choose between chicken nuggets and a burger, and how long it took for your order to be fulfilled and delivered.

If that sounds like a lot of data, that’s because it is. But when this wealth of information is segmented and analyzed, it can help you tap into your product’s information habit-forming ability. To do this, you need to plot two key product usage data points: frequency (ie, how often users repeat a certain behavior) and perceived utility (ie, how useful and rewarding users find that behavior).

However, plotting these points is only step one. Next, you need to understand the bigger story behind the actions and what they tell you about the user journey. For example, imagine that users click a specific button more often. Can you link those button clicks to higher retention among that group? That might tell you that the button is a “sticky feature”, or a reliable engagement driver that encourages repeated use. With that information, you can more easily identify and clean up the friction points in your product to deliver more value and encourage repeat use.

Related: Using data analytics will transform your business. Here’s how.

2. Implement user-facing reminders

Unfortunately, product development is not a “build it, and they will come” situation. If you want your product to become second nature to users, you need to develop a messaging strategy that taps into intrinsic motivators and helps users break through inertia.

Take 15Five for example. The team management software platform allows employers to track their employees’ goals through weekly check-ins. Employees must log into their accounts on a specific day to answer a series of questions and set goals for the week ahead. But how does 15Five build and maintain engagement with its platform after check-in? Well, mid-week it sends each employee an email reminding them of their goals.

Since employees were the ones who set the goals, the memory acts as an intrinsic motivator to elicit action for completing or modifying goals. The messages 15Five uses are effective because they are inherently user-centric: View your goals. And even if employees don’t open the app themselves, the email urges them to at least think about progress toward their goals.

We know this kind of messaging works. For example, the language learning platform Duolingo encourages users to practice daily via notifications continue their learning journey. The company’s research shows that these reminders and streaks are highly motivating for users.

Related: People like to play games. Use these 4 psychological hacks to keep customers coming back for more.

3. Use hooks to turn behavior into habits

Turning conscious behavior into unconscious habits ultimately comes down to repeatedly linking your users’ problems to your solution. This methodology is what tech Nir Eyal called the “crochet modelin his book “Hooked.” The hook model consists of a four-stage process with sequential cycles:

The first stage is the internal (for example, user intentions or goals) or external (for example, a “buy now” button) triggers that elicit a certain behavior. The second is the completed in-app behavior or action in anticipation of a reward. The third stage is the variable reward, or the result of taking an action that makes users want more (for example, connectedness or physical products). Fourth, there is the investment sweetening the deal for future cycles through the hook model.

When building hooks, you need to get to the heart of each stage in the cycle. For example, when looking at internal triggers, ask yourself what users want and what pain points your product alleviates. If, on the other hand, you’re brainstorming external triggers, focus on what brings people to your specific product.

Try not to overcomplicate things when looking at actions. Instead, look for the simplest action users can take when a reward is involved. Remember, if users don’t have enough motivation or skill to complete the action, they won’t. When it comes to the variable reward stage, ask yourself how you can fulfill the reward without ending up in the finite variability realm. The last thing you want is for your experience to become so predictable or boring that users have no reason to return.

While variable rewards are about instant gratification, investments are more focused on long-term rewards. So consider how much work users are willing to put into your product to enjoy those lasting rewards. Consider, for example, a product like Pinterest. A user can find satisfaction in an individual image on the platform, but that image alone is not what ensures lasting engagement. Instead, the collection of images on all of their Pinterest boards makes the platform more valuable and harder to leave. That is the investment.

Every’s dream is to run a business that is indispensable to customers’ lives — but that takes more than just a good product. Habits are made, not born. So follow these three tips and watch as customers begin to incorporate your offering into their routines.