At L2’s Consumer Behavior clinic last week, NYU Stern professor Adam Alter offered a few insights into what makes an experience irresistible. Here’s what brands could learn from his observations:

1. Add feedback. Everyone likes pushing buttons, even when they get nothing in response. That doesn’t mean you need to add a literal button to your site; it just means that interactive content generally gets more attention than static images.

2. Set goals. People are conditioned to strive for endpoints and then stop. When Philips Sonicare designed an electric toothbrush connected with a smartphone, so that when you brushed your teeth, a sparkly character danced on your phone, it was too successful: the kids who used it wouldn’t stop brushing. So the brand made a change. After two minutes, the sparkly character stopped dancing and pretended to go to sleep – prompting users to do the same.

3. Get social. What’s the difference between Hipstamatic and Instagram? Instagram’s built-in social network. Alter argues that the social version of any product is more engaging, and while there are certainly limits (do we really want to connect with friends while brushing our teeth?) it’s hard to deny that concern about what others think is a powerful motivator that can lead to continued engagement with a product.

Adam Alter

4. Add cliffhangers. Imbue your product with a story and make sure the ending isn’t apparent. Netflix does a stellar job with this. As soon as viewers finish one episode, the player auto-launches the next, motivating them to keep watching.

5. Turn everything into a game. One lawn care company got young kids to mow the lawns for elderly neighbors by giving them different shirts depending on how much they mowed. In the virtual realm, Cow Clicker started out as a parody of mindless Facebook games like Farmville, but quickly became more than satire. Although the game consisted of little more than clicking on virtual bovines, 50,000 users engaged with it – testifying to the power of gamification.

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