How do Triggers help to form the habit-forming products?


This is the overview of the chapter-2 of the book, Hooked written by Nir Eyal. You can find the overview of the Chapter – 1 here.

New habits need a foundation upon which to build. Triggers provide that base. Triggers take the form of obvious signals like the morning alarm clock. A trigger is the motivator of a behavior. There are two types of triggers.
1. External
2. Internal

External triggers

Habit forming products first give hints of “call to action” to the users. External triggers are embedded with information, which tells the user what to do next. An external trigger may take the form of a prominent big button. For e.g. a large “Reply” button prompt in the email from Twitter. The email gives detailed and clear instructions on what to do next after reading the content. See the below figure.

The bigger "Reply" button

The bigger “Reply” button

More choices require the user to evaluate multiple options. Too many choices or irrelevant options can cause hesitation, confusion or abandonment. Reducing the thinking required to take an action increases the likelihood of the desired behavior.

Types of External Triggers

  1. Paid triggers
    Advertising, search engine marketing, and other paid channels can be called Paid Triggers. They’re generally used to get users attention and prompt them to act. Paid triggers are good to have but they can be costly ways to keep the users coming back.
  2. Earned triggers
    Earned triggers are free in that they can’t be bought directly. They often need investment in the form of time spent on public and media relations. Companies must keep their products in limelight to drive user acquisition through earned triggers, which is a difficult and unpredictable task.
  3. Relationship triggers
    One person telling others about a product or service can be a highly effective and beneficial external trigger. It can give you the viral growth that entrepreneurs and investors are looking for. People usually like to share/tell about the things they like, it can be a product or service or good offer or anything.
  4. Owned triggers
    Owned triggers are ultimately up to the user to opt into allowing these triggers to appear. For e.g. promotional SMS, email newsletter, app notifications, etc. It appears only if users want it.

Internal triggers

Unlike external triggers, you can’t see or touch an internal trigger. When a product becomes tightly coupled with a thought or an emotion, it leverages an internal trigger. Specifically, negative emotions are powerful internal triggers and influence our daily routine too much.

Positive emotions can also serve as internal triggers. They may get triggered themselves by a need to satisfy something that is bothering us. After all, we use products to find solutions to problems.

Once a strong association between internal triggers and your product is formed, you can say your product is on a right path. But these association is not formed overnight. It takes weeks or months for frequent usage.

Building for Triggers

Product designers must be knowing what pain or problem they’re trying to solve. The problem is the users’ internal trigger. A product owner must identify and focus on users’ frustration or pain point in an emotional way rather than building product features.

The ultimate goal of a habit-forming product is to solve the user’s pain by creating an association so that the user identifies the company’s product or service as the source of relief.

So, the internal triggers are the root cause of people use the habit-forming products. The 5 Whys can help you reach to the core.

  1. Why would someone want to use your product?
  2. Why would someone want to do that?
  3. Why does someone want to do that?
  4. Why does someone need to know that?
  5. Why would someone care about that?

Unpacking Instagram’s Triggers

Well, it’s nicely explained in the book. I would say that fear of missing out (FOMO) is the pain point (internal trigger) Instagram has solved. People love to share their memories in form of photos. Here, photos work as external triggers. But you should read the book to know how Instagram’s Internal and External triggers helped it to get millions of users. 🙂

Remember: To build a habit-forming product, makers need to understand which user emotions may be tied to the internal triggers and know how to leverage external triggers to drive the user to action.


Refer to the answers you drafted in the last “Answer these” section to answer the below questions.

  1. Who is your product’s user?
  2. What is the user doing right before your intended habit?
  3. Come up with three internal triggers that could cue your user to action. Refer to the 5 Whys Method described in this chapter.
  4. Which internal trigger does your user experience most frequently?
  5. Finish this brief using the most frequent internal trigger and the habit you are designing.
  6. What might be places and time to send an external trigger?
  7. How can you couple an external trigger as closely as possible to when the user’s internal trigger fires?
  8. Think of at least three conventional ways to trigger your users with the current technology (emails, notifications, text messages, etc.). Then stretch yourself to come up with at least three crazy or currently impossible ideas for ways to trigger your users (wearable devices, etc.).

For the detailed examples and better understanding, read the book, Hooked by Nir Eyal.

You can read the overview of Chapter – 1 here.

If you want to buy Hooked, get it from below links.

  1. Amazon
  2. Flipkart

You can also get it from digital book stores like Google Play Books, Amazon Kindle version, etc.

If you think this article is useful, please share it on your social profiles to help others find it and leave a comment. Thank you!

Gautam Lakum
Intrapreneur. Project coordinator at Multidots. Have experience of working on 7 web & mobile app products. Love traveling, sports, gadgets & photography.
You may also like
Product design
How to design Actions to produce the desired engagement?
Entering Startup
Habits and products – a strong relationship

Leave Your Comment

Your Comment*

Your Name*
Your Website