Benefits ≠ Reinforcers

For those making health and education products, a fatal conflation is between benefits and reinforcers. The benefits your product can deliver are distinct from the reinforcers you must employ to get people to stay engaged with your product.

Human action comes in two forms:

  1. goal-directed action
  2. automatic action, of which habits are a species

You can present your benefits to the user to motivate goal-directed action. You say, “Hey consumer, want to be sexier? Use this product, and you will be sexier!” Now the user may choose to use your product because he wants to be sexier.

But to turn use of your product into a habit, which is what will sustain long-term engagement, you need reinforcers. Your benefits are terrible reinforcers because you can’t precisely control when they’re delivered. What you need is the digital equivalent of an animal trainer’s clicker. A reinforcer (which has been paired, in the subject’s mind, with some other stimulus that the subject already finds reinforcing) that you can deploy with temporal precision immediately after the behavior was performed. And that doesn’t quickly satiate the subject.

Once you develop a wieldy reinforcer like this, you can use it to reinforce the behaviors that you want to turn into habits.

Now you’re on your way to retention.

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