Game of Cults: How to Build an Email System That Triggers Desired Reader Behavior

BJ Fogg is the man behind tiny habits (not atomic habits). He’s a Stanford professor who examines behavior change.

Before I talk more about tiny habits and gameful habit-building, let me set the context of where we are in the series.

We are coming to the end of Part I: The Individual. There will be one more article to conclude what we have explored thus far. Then, we will move on to Part II: The Group and Part III: Gamification to explore how to motivate the many.

I want to jump ahead and close the loop early so that this journey makes more sense.

Using your email system to craft a rewarding customer journey 

Whatever you call it—influence or persuasion—you need it if you want to change people’s behavior.

Existing habits, good or bad, are powerful. Getting someone to adopt reading your work is a habit change, and getting them over that hurdle changes their routine from your obstacle to your defense.

It all depends on what side of that behavior you are on.

In our case, we are talking about the customer journey. It begins by getting a suspect to become a prospect, meaning a potential customer identifies as a reader who may be interested in your books but hasn’t yet clicked “Buy Now.”

We need to encourage them along until they’re where we want them. Of course, it’s to buy a book, but they aren’t there yet.

They haven’t even read your free reader magnet or 99-cent book.

That’s because the obstacle isn’t a financial one. The obstacle is in one’s busy day. Their reading time is limited. Even a voracious reader sees the time they have as precious. That’s what you look to win.

pexels jeshootscom 714701

Time is the expense. The unspoken question is, “Will the time be worth the experience?”

So, how do we get them to say “Yes?”

We need to get them to make small efforts with good results, starting with when they open your first email and read the first sentence. Was the experience good?

Did it get them to do the next thing you needed—read the first paragraph?

Did the first paragraph set them up to read that whole email?

What was the email payoff?

Most first emails are about housekeeping and getting the reader to do things. Sometimes, many things.

Why should they do those things—any of them?

If you don’t give them a reason, they won’t keep reading.

So let’s change it up.

What if your first email was nothing more than delivering on your brand promise?

Not, “Hey, go download my book and read it,” but a micro-story that delivered a story experience.

Then, a link. “If you liked this story and would like another, click this link, and I’ll send it tomorrow.”

What if your first five emails were delivered that way and never once asked the reader to do or buy anything outside of a PS with a link to your story magnet?

What if you signed off with “No story today” at the end of those five days… unless you go read my story magnet? At the end of that story would be a link to get the reader onto your main list.

That email model uses BJ Fogg’s B=MAP model. Behavior equals motivation, aptitude, and payoff.

Motivation is out of your control. Most people have the aptitude to open and read an email, and the payoff is your instantly delivered story. The behavior we are building is them opening your email.

I believe we rush past building foundational behaviors and opportunities to secure trust. If I told you that it took twenty-five emails or eighteen months to get someone to buy your book, would you build a system designed to do that?

How long have you hung around brands with fleeting attention before you bought?

Every morning, I delete scores of emails that I give brief attention to because, from time to time, they have an offer I want. That’s all their email deserves.

Other emails have VIP folders to capture them. I know when they arrive, and I anticipate the message. They get my full attention because, over time, they’ve earned it. They started just like the other guys, but when they got my attention each time, they didn’t squander it with a 10% off coupon or a list of books I had to sort through. The reward was obvious. Thus, they won another bit of trust and attention.

pexels vlada karpovich 4050298

Are you designing your marketing system to influence a reader in tiny ways?

I mentioned earlier that I needed to touch on gamification at this point, even though we will explore this more later.

How can you make your emails or communications rewarding and joyful? Fogg’s tiny habit model suggests that you must have a payoff. There needs to be a burst of dopamine or flood of serotonin—a virtual high-five—when readers check out your content.

In my earlier example, you have a story payoff. Each email read delivers a beginning, middle, and end. You rewarded a prospect with an impromptu story and showed your brand promise. In some cases, that one shot will get them to take further action, but expect that it won’t.

Give them the option to tell you if they liked it or even read it by clicking a link. Those that click get rewarded with added content. When the rat hits the bar, it gets a treat—Skinner’s operant conditioning.

Building these systems takes time and revision. Once done, the systems do the work for you automatically and scale as your audience builds.

This isn’t a quick fix. There is no hack. System-building is hard work, but it leads to slow, sustainable, compounding growth.

This is how you scale. Improving your reader magnet readthrough from one to two percent is a 100% improvement. That will double the number of readers who will potentially buy your first book.

That one improvement means that every promotion you participate in will do better.

Suppose you begin to break down the tiny behaviors you want to instill and create processes that follow the B=MAP model. In that way, you’ll influence behavior and begin to make it your reader’s idea rather than pulling them along.

One more thing…

Create a map of hurdles for your process. What is the hurdle? What is the risk? Do this from the first point of contact to your book to a sale.

You’ll be surprised by how many hurdles there are and how little you do to help mitigate the risk. Be realistic about the risk and how to help a prospect overcome it.

Reading time is more precious than money; that’s why free books don’t get read. It’s not that they don’t value your book—they just can’t see it being worth their time. Earlier I gave the example of winning trust and attention through a series of short email-based stories.

​​​​​​​As you move through the process, see how the Fogg model can guide you to influence and change habits in a small way.

Read: Final Thoughts on ‘Part 1: The Individual’ and an Exciting Introduction to ‘Part 2: The Group’