According to a scientific study, it can take about 18 days before people can form a new habit. And it takes 66 more days for this habit to become a reflex action. If you take this in the context of mobile app use, you can say that it’s quite easy since daily app use is about 56% of smartphone owners and 26% of tablet owners. With an average usage time of 30 hours a month, you can say that app use is already habitual.
That is good, right? A majority of smartphone users basically have a daily app habit. There’s a “but” though: are these users returning to the same app day in and day out? This is actually an important question. As an app publisher, you want your app to be sticky – to be addictive. So you want your app to be the app that users return to every day.
There’s a science to how apps become addictive. It basically boils down to “triggers”, actions and cues that can get an app user hooked to the app. But triggers are useless if there are any positive reinforcement in the form of rewards. It’s a cycle of trigger, hook, and reward. But how can an app effectively execute this cycle to the point where triggers are no longer necessary, where app use basically becomes as natural as brushing one’s teeth?
Some of the Ways Apps Use to Hook Users
- Personalization options don’t just give users a sense of ownership but also a sense of control. They can decide to some extent what content they want to access, how and when to access it. The more the app is aligned with their goals, needs, and schedule, the easier it is for them fit the app into their daily routine.
- Provide entertainment value. Humor is one way to deliver an engaging content, but it isn’t always applicable especially with content like news.
- Repetition of simple actions. The less effort the brain exerts on thinking about trivial things, the more efficient it is on solving complicated things. And since routine tasks take little to no mental effort, the brain’s reward receptors activate every time we perform these tasks, conditioning us into performing it often.
- Replacement of an existing habit. It is easier to replace an existing habit or behavior than creating one. With the advent of technology, especially of apps, a lot of habits like note-taking had been digitized.
- Constant reminders. Most successful apps utilize simple but effective re-engagement strategies. One of these strategies is the use of push notifications. This regular stream of updates gives the illusion of new information, reigniting the user’s interest in the app.
Brands that are Part of Users’ Daily App Habits
There are apps that are designed to cultivate new, good habits in users. But there are also apps you least expect to stick on you. These are apps that somehow have a straightforward function and features, yet you find yourself developing a habit of daily app use. Soon, you notice that the app itself had become a part of a daily app habit you can’t just shake off.
Let’s take a look at how these three apps became so addicting:
Fun is a word you won’t normally associate with a weather app. But Poncho somehow pulled it off. This weather app delivers daily weather and traffic alerts through text, in-app messaging, email, and more. Aside from the ease of its multi-channel and multi-platform integration, Poncho gives a personalized, witty, and somehow cute updates. The app’s eponymous mascot, Poncho the cat gives the app a cute touch without crossing the line and appearing girly. The various pop culture references and puns also give an upbeat and current feel. Aside from the entertainment value it provides, the Poncho app is also big on personalization. It asks users for information that is relevant to how they want to use the app and how the app can help in their daily lives. Users can also schedule updates around their daily routine.
Many experts consider the Starbucks apps as the pioneer in the implementation of mobile payments for retail outlets. Who knew that something as innocuous as ordering a cup of coffee can evolve into a profitable digital venture? Transactions on the Starbucks app account for over 50% of all company-owned store transactions in the U.S. What it basically did was replace one part of a lot of American’s routine: waiting in line at cafés.
The people behind Snapchat revealed that their main user demographic of 18-34 years old are “…more likely to follow trends.” This may mean that they are basically teetering on uncertainty, that their users may leave them any moment because they are, by nature fickle-minded. But here they are, with 161 million daily active users by the fourth quarter of 2016. Even if that number steeply declines by the first quarter of 2017, it’s still undeniable that Snapchat has staying power – it’s the daily app of choice for its target demographic. Not just that, but the app’s users are so into it that they open the app more than 18 times a day. All sessions last from 25 to 30 minutes.
The app has a very effective “hook sequence” that its targeted users find very rewarding. It has a certain novelty that other messaging apps cannot provide. The reward of just seeing random “Snaps” is enough for its users to actually replace other modes of communication. A 2014 data on college-age Snapchat users reveal that 37% use the app for “creativity” purposes. About 27% use it to keep in touch and 23% said that it is “easier than texting”.