Game of Cults: The Customer Onboarding Experience and Rewarding Super Fans

Last week, I shared that the first stage of the game is discovery. Your prospect discovers what possibilities you offer, and you find out if the prospect is worthy.

Not all visitors are worthy. We seek people with a brand affinity who repeatedly buy to increase lifetime value.

It’s not that we shun one-time buyers or discount buyers. They just don’t compound the way repeated readers compound. They are treated differently.

A well-structured game automatically paces with the prospect’s interest and scales as more prospects discover your offering. You give them the time, information, and “choice” to continue towards where they see the best fit.

The next stage is onboarding, where you indoctrinate and retain the right people.

These “stages” have crossover. They don’t have a clear distinction, especially in these early stages, when we evaluate prospects against our best customer criteria.

While we will treat everyone “like” a customer, not all are customers and shouldn’t be categorized as such.

We also need to help them understand how to play our game—the activities that we reward and penalize.

Let’s get tactical with some tangible practices you can put to use.

New customer acquisition

A powerful feature of cumulative advantage is that you retain more audience and reduce churn, resulting in bigger successive launches.

This doesn’t eliminate the need to cultivate new readers. It makes recent reader acquisition more powerful because you scale faster with less attrition.

Often, we confuse direct response advertising for new customer generation. Sure, you can get the occasional buyer from your direct ad to a sales page and close them, but that’s a tough row to hoe.

The lack of attention and the level of trust required results in a low conversion rate.

Is it possible to write ad copy so well that a person clicks on your perfect Amazon sales page where your perfect cover and book description get the reader to do some cursory review checking and read the Look Inside sample?

Of course.

How much can that be optimized, and does it fail to deal with the more significant issues of buying online?

We don’t impulsively buy as marketers wish us to. How often have you bought because you’ve been pixeled and converted?

I want to feel in control and educated about my purchases, even if you have used cult tactics and reflexive control to influence my choices and made me think I was in control. I still feel like I’m in control. I have agency, and you are a trusted brand helping me.

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I need the illusion of control and the feeling of trust to make the purchase.

If you let me down after the purchase, I will be dissatisfied and never buy again. However, if you fulfill my need, I will begin to trust you even if I faked myself into trusting you more.

Trust is an emotion

What if you were to build a discovery and trust-building site that you control?

The idea of the Game of Cults is to create a game that purposefully creates brand cultists through self-indoctrination and trust-building. First, I earn your attention. Then I get your money.

Rather than sending your advertising to sales pages you don’t control, use your lead generation budget to drive traffic to lead generation and nurturing on your website.

“But I’m in KU, and I need to sell them a book!”

Of course, you do, but if there is no trust, there will be no sale.

I recently got an email from a social media manager trying to get their client on my podcast. It was a well-written email listing the awards and accomplishments of the potential guest, along with what was important to the guest.

The email missed the mark because at no point did they tell me what they would do for me or my audience. It could have been as simple as Hey, I go on your podcast, and you come on mine.

That’s not helpful to listeners, but there is something in it for me in the way of some exposure.

We do the same with our marketing. We have decided we are now selling our book, so let me blast you to a sales page I don’t control that is designed to sell a visitor something, even if it’s not my book.

We want selling to be superfluous. Buying becomes a need for your readers. An obvious choice to continue the experience.

We assume that anyone who comes to our website knows what to do and why.

Bad assumption…

What if you ran lead generation ads or participated in newsletter swaps with links that led to simple pages that articulate your brand promise and then delivered on that promise in a mobile-ready format?

No opt-in, just a sample story a few thousand words long that would keep me interested for ten to fifteen minutes and leave me with an experience of your work.

Not a sample chapter but a story with a concentrated beginning, middle, and end—a micro-story that gets me that first easy win.

In video games, they don’t start you out against the boss. They give you tasks that are more aligned with getting you comfortable with learning the controls and navigation of the game.

In that process, you are rewarded and earn status and skills that will help you as things get more complex. They strive to keep you in a sweet spot of challenge where you feel you are within your capabilities yet challenged.

In our case, we are looking to level them up through trust and attention. From a free story that they will download and read to a decision about becoming a paying customer, then get them through multiple paid reading experiences.

By getting them through a micro-story, you reduce the number of downloads and names on your list but increase your reader conversion (those that read your free book).

This means you build a defense against those who are just freebie seekers from accidentally being confused as customers.

Reducing the friction from task to task and reward to reward will get your prospects moving through the onboarding process faster.

Think about how much friction is removed if your initial ad is the first third of the story, and to continue, they need to click to get to the rest of the story. That’s a far shorter path to reward and a lot less risk on the part of the prospect.

This also gives you better data because you can see those who land from the advertising platform you are using. This means you can retarget and message a prospect based on activity.

“But every click is another chance to lose more traffic.”

That’s a misplaced worry based on the premise that everyone is ready to buy from you now.

So, back to your onboarding. If I’ve read a short story on your website with no ask and I’m still around, it’s time for the next step.

You can now have a slightly bigger ask for risk-taking, like Give me an email address, and I’ll bring you deeper into my story world with a free story.

Another part of onboarding is listening. This often neglected activity of asking customers what they want and then giving it to them may be the main reason for customer dissatisfaction.

I’m not saying you ask them just anything because we know the most obvious answer is the request for free books from the most vocal and unprofitable.

No, we ask specific questions. Questions that help you to curate the customer experience.

Where do you buy your books? (KU, Apple, an Amazon purchase, Audible, etc.)

Do you listen or read?

Do you want to stay up-to-date with the stories, or are you willing to wait for discounts on books?

See how these questions can segment your customer base into distinct groups that you serve in different ways?

Do you see how, if you had those distinct segments, you would market to them differently, sending them to different platforms, product types, and times in the product life cycle? This aligns with my post on creating a pricing strategy.

But we don’t take that extra step.

Most “lists” authors have are a jumble of super fans, sometimes-buyers, and those who have never read one of your books. They are a mishmash of buying proclivities, and you expect them all to open an email on launch day, then snap up your product at full price like hungry seagulls.

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When done right, the bulk of your list is waiting on you to release products that they’ll want to buy without being urged.

But how do you get there?

Time and intentionality

You need to build a system of web pages, opt-ins, and email sequences that become the game.

A game results in a customer feeling like you see them and hear them and are looking after them while they are classifying and organizing themselves and learning to be rewarded for the behaviors you seek.

Later, when we talk about rewards and incentives, we align the right perks and incentives with the various customer types.

Here is an example strategy:

  1. Early release with extra content with the highest margin for buying direct.
  2. Later release with less content for full price on sales platforms and KU.
  3. Later released at a discount after months or years.

If you noticed, I’ve touched on the idea of direct sales in this article.

While this isn’t something to take on early in your career, the ability to finally see the loop close on your marketing and sales funnel is an important piece of data and something Amazon deprives us of.

One more thing…

Can you articulate what a prospect needs to do to be onboarded?

Is it that they have read a free book? Is it buying a book?

​​​​​​​Whatever it is, designate those traits and tag people that have them on your list.

Create an onboarding process that makes the easiest method to move someone from first contact to that designation. Look at all your communication. Is it solely focused on explaining the onboarding experience and benefits?

Read: Use Scaffolding to Provide Readers with a Supportive Customer Journey