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Research: Designing the perfect notification for an app to support people quitting addictive habits

We've recently conducted some original research on the incredible impact that Health Notifications can have on our lives when it comes to beating cravings and addictions. We're excited to share our findings with you.

But first things first, we developed an app called Curb, designed to help people kick harmful habits like smoking, drinking, or gambling. It recognises risky situations for each individual person and sends out notifications to remind and reinforce motivation for quitting. It's like having a digital sponsor in your pocket.

To better understand the effectiveness of different notifications, we conducted an online survey with 150 participants. We asked them to imagine they were trying to quit a destructive habit or recall a time when they faced such a challenge. Then, we presented them with a series of notifications and asked them to rate their usefulness on a scale of 0 to 5. A score of 0 meant the notification was annoying, while a 5 indicated it would be incredibly helpful during a craving. You can take the survey here, and see the full results here. One size doesn't fit all Although we learned a lot of things, our overarching conclusion was that one size doesn't fit all when it comes to notifications! People responded differently to even the simplest messages. This led us to the realisation that extreme personalisation, made possible by cutting-edge AI developments, can remove the friction for those who might not otherwise use apps that don't cater to their specific needs.


The most powerful notification, scoring an impressive average of 4.0, was a personalised message written by the customers themselves and saved for moments of craving. Many participants loved the idea of using their own words to motivate themselves. They described it as being "like an alarm clock, set for when YOU behave to get up" and valued being reminded of "what I, myself, wrote to help myself in the future." It's all about self-belief and setting your own goals when it comes to treating and beating cravings


Another successful approach was using a streak, a technique commonly used in many types of apps to encourage user retention. More than 60% of participants ranked a streak notification highly, with comments like, "Seeing the days I've kept my resolution would be a great motivator," and "It encourages me to learn and stay positive." Statistics and streaks proved to be engaging and motivating for users.

But that isn't to say that it was universally popular, several respondents scored it zero with responses like: "It’s an incessant reminder of my (hopefully, past) addiction." and "Too long - and 47 days seems an age. Might get boring."


On the flip side, a less personal notification that simply encouraged a quick check-in with a vague statement like "you've taken fewer steps than usual today" received the lowest average score of 2.9. Participants found it "judgmental," "like nagging," and it could even trigger negative thoughts. When it comes to conquering cravings, staying positive and providing support are essential!


Best Practices for Using Health Notifications to Overcome Cravings and Addictions:

We discovered some pretty cool insights on using Health Notifications effectively. More than two-thirds of participants paid closer attention to notifications with an authoritative tone of voice. It seems that a little nudge in the right direction can go a long way! On the other hand, about one-third preferred a likeable tone. After all, a friendly approach can make all the difference in motivating and supporting people.

Notifications personalised based on the customer's location also ranked high in capturing user attention. Participants found it super helpful to see the connection between their surroundings, triggers, and behaviors. It's all about adding value and making users aware of how their environment influences their habits.

Notifications that used the customer's name, were personalised based on biometric insights, or were written by the customer themselves ranked the highest in capturing user attention. It's fascinating how personalisation can have such a varied impact when it comes to beating cravings. Remember, no two journeys to recovery are the same! Our theory We believe that quitting addictive habits is a time of such high friction for people, that even the smallest deviation from language that is acceptable and personalised to you can become a huge obstacle in your behaviour change process. Our mission is to remove as much friction as possible for every person who uses Curb, by learning exactly how and when our users need our support and interventions, and delivering them in the smoothest way possible. That's why we're diving deeper into this topic with ongoing research. We want to build out our knowledge of the nuances that go into each person's unique approach to behaviour change, and apply machine learning to help as many people as possible without sacrificing the detailed personalisation we think is fundamental to providing this kind of support.


If you're an investor, a clinician or work in health technology, we'd love to hear your thoughts on our research, get in touch with Jo Barrow or Dr David McLaughlan on LinkedIn.

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