One theme that comes up repeatedly in what I read, and thus write, is the importance of Triggers. In my February analysis of Jonah Berger’s book Contagious, I discussed how triggers are one of the five core elements to creating a product with word of mouth. Then in June, I discussed Nir Eyal’s bestseller, Hooked, in which the author builds a model on creating a habit-forming product; triggers represent one of four phases of the model. Given the importance of word of mouth (virality) and habit (retention) as two of the three core components of customer lifetime value (LTV), this highlights the crucial role that triggers provide in success.
The role of triggers in virality and retention
Triggers are reminders for people to talk about our product, game or ideas. In Berger’s book, triggers are the foundation of word of mouth and contagiousness. For example, you may regularly show images of your game with coffee, so that people will think about and start discussing your product when they go to Starbucks.
The first step of Eyal’s Hook Model of retention is triggers. Triggers cue the user to take action. There are two types of triggers: external and internal. Habit-forming products start by alerting users with external triggers like an email, a website link or the app icon on a phone. An external trigger communicates the next action the user should take. Online, an external trigger may take the form of a prominent button, such as the Play Now button on many games. When users start to automatically cue their next behavior, the new habit becomes part of their everyday routine.
Using triggers to improve LTV
Given the importance of triggers to two of the three core inputs of LTV, it is crucial to optimize your use of them. The first step is to build a product that integrates triggers. In the game space, Candy Crush Saga and Farmville are two great examples of this strategy. The theme for both games were common items that people see and think about on a regular basis (not farming but food staples). Not only is the theme of the product important, but so is the product itself. One of the reasons Yelp is so successful is that every time you visit a restaurant, the meal itself serves as a trigger to use the app. An example from the music space is Rebecca Black’s song “Friday,” which used the day of the week (which everyone experiences) as a trigger to make a mediocre song a huge success. Another example would be licensing an IP from a television show people watch weekly and tying it to your product. Thus, every time people watch the show it will serve as a trigger to use your product (note how recurring TV shows are much better triggers than movies or other event IP that are typically viewed only once).
The second area where you should optimize your use of triggers is marketing. By attaching to a routine or something unrelated that people are doing regularly, you piggyback onto that activity and create more triggers for them to use or talk about your product. Probably the classic example is the milk industry’s marketing to make cookies a trigger to drink milk. Smart marketing has allowed the milk industry to “own” cookies. Another example is Gatorade and (American) football. With sponsorships around football games, it has become the main drink that non-professionals drink when playing football (or even watching it). These triggers also generate word of mouth, as people are likely to start discussing Gatorade when also thinking about football. From a marketing perspective, identify potential triggers for your product and then build a campaign to connect your product with the trigger in customers’ minds.
A post by Lars Lofgren of Kissmetrics lays out some triggers that you can use, both in product development and marketing. The ones I consider most interesting are:
- Associate your product with pleasure.
- Associate your product with the avoidance of pain.
- Associate your offering with something new, as novelty is a strong trigger.
- Associate your product with answering a burning question for the user.
- Associate your product with reducing effort, as your brain is always looking to minimize its effort.
- Create a common enemy, often your biggest competitor, so they become a trigger for you.
- Build a community, so it serves as a trigger to drive people to your product.
- Generate controversy, as small amounts draw people in to a product.
There are many ways to create triggers. The key is integrating them both into your product itself and your growth strategy.
- Triggers are crucial to both creating a product with good retention and generating word of mouth.
- Triggers are reminders for people to use or talk about our product, game or ideas.
- Creating triggers should not only be central to your marketing and growth efforts but also integrated with your product development.