Build Sticky Products with Behavioral Psychology – The Discourse #14

How to apply Atomic Habits to building products

In The Discourse, I try to apply concepts from different domains and see how they apply to build products.

In today’s edition, we’re going to look at how to apply principles of behavioral psychology and productivity to product management. Let’s go!

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How to make sticky products?

‘Atomic Habits’ by James Clear has been a foundational book for me to establish healthy habits in my daily life. I was curious to see how I could use the same principles to create habit-building products.

Now, the assumption is that the habits you're trying to build in someone is positive and not just to crave their attention.

Let's look at how we can apply the Four Laws of Behavior Change explained in Atomic Habits:

Make it obvious

You can think about this in 2 ways.

First, make the app obvious in the user's life.

The common cues are time and location. This can be done through notifications and emails to re-engage someone and remind them about the product. But remember, do not overdo it with multiple notifications.

Second, make the primary use case obvious when they are in the app.

For example, Snapchat's primary use case is taking pictures and posting. What they pioneered was to keep the camera screen as the home page.

Make it attractive

Make the proposition attractive by highlighting the benefits.

This includes aspects of marketing, app descriptions, walkthroughs, videos, copywriting, emails – essentially any content that sells the value prop of the app.

HBR breaks down the elements of value four categories: functional, emotional, life-changing, and social impact. You can extract more value as you go higher up the pyramid.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs and elements of value, both suggest that a sense of belongingness is an important part of how we function as humans.

We, being social animals, tend to imitate the habits of three social groups - close (family and friends), the many (tribe), and the powerful (those with high status).

That's why communities are an integral part of product building today. For e.g., Roam Research, a new-age note-taking tool also has a Slack community and its users are a part of what is known as #roamcult.

Make it easy

Reduce the number of actions required to complete something.

If you first look at needs and map the customer journey from the real world which is then translated to an app workflow, you'll be able to identify places in which you can optimize and reduce the number of decisions that the user has to make. This is all in an effort to reduce the cognitive load of the user so that using the app becomes easier.

As an example of reducing cognitive load, read the Psychology of Onboarding with an example of HEY, the new email service from Basecamp.

Defaults work – look at autoplays on Netflix, YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram Stories. 

Make it satisfying

The first three rules are to get you to do the habit the first time.

But, this last rule will make you repeat the habit.

Reward users for doing the action through copy, animation, colors.

Let's take an example of a no-code app that I created, called Mind Health. When I complete the challenge-negative-thinking workflow, I feel more at peace and clear-headed, and this is the reward that I experience. Along with this, I’ve added a GIF of a checkmark. It gives me a sense of achievement and this positivity makes me come back and repeat the workflow.

Another example is Google Pay. It has a very rewarding animation at the end of the payment workflow, which combines sound with visuals and animations, and it's become distinct. So, whenever you hear the sound, you'll actually associate it with a payment being made.

Think of products the same way as building habits.

Make it obvious, make it attractive, make it easy, and make it satisfying!


That's it for today. Let me know how you liked this article. Comment on this and I would love to discuss it with you!

If you’ve not yet read Atomic Habits by James Clear, please do. It’s a foundational book on building better habits.

Talk to you soon!

— Kavir

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