This blog post was sparked by a few conversations I have had recently on building a loyal audience. One of them was with Justin Carroll from Monastery for the This Mobile Life podcast. Justin is known as “the guy for building high quality audiences for mobile games”. I also spoke to another founder today on why she needs to focus on building a brand and a loyal audience.
Mobile games and particularly casual games, have some of the most fickle audiences of any business. I read a stat that social games (e.g. farmvilles of the world) have a 96% annual churn rate. This means that almost 100% of the users will stop playing after one year. I assume this applies to casual mobile games as well. They’ll move on and play other games when they get tired of it.
One thing that separates the games that have longevity is that they have high quality and loyal audiences. Whilst there are number of factors that contribute, the ultimate outcome is that they have raving fans that are addicted to the game. When they want a change to another game as can be inevitable in this category of product, they’ll also look to the other titles released by the same company. They’ll play those games.
I believe its because these game companies have been able to do a number of these things:
1. Build a product brand that customers love
2. Build a company brand that customers love
3. A great product that engages & retains customers
4. The product consistently delivers the value they are seeking
5. Consistency in the quality of the games being made
6. Consistency in the type of games being made
7. Foster a community
8. Cross-promote games to the same audience
These are all things that contribute to building a high quality audience for games.
My belief is that successful businesses have loyal customers. The majority of the businesses that I have come across have loyal customers that keep coming back. This applies to anything – whether its a mobile game, SaaS (software as a service), restaurant, or a music artist.
I can’t cover everything in this blog post so I want to focus on two things for building a loyal audience:
1. Building a brand
2. Building a community
Building a strong brand
A key to success for building a loyal audience is creating a strong brand. My definition is that a brand represents the promise that you will deliver to a customer. Its the expectation of quality, customer satisfaction and the values of the company. A brand is typically expressed in the form of visual identity e.g. a logo, slogan and design. But its more than visual identity. It represents what you stand for.
I buy an Apple product because I know they build great products and have fantastic customer service. I trust that “it just works”. I expect to have a great experience every time I buy and use their product. I believe in the products that have the Apple brand. It doesn’t mean I buy all their products or have a great experience everytime I use them. For example, Apple Music wasn’t very good. But I did have an expectation of a great experience. Apple’s brand is the mark of quality, great design & user experience. The visual identity of the logo makes it recognisable. But if it wasn’t backed up by the product, the apps and the customer service, it wouldn’t mean as much.
A story to tell
You do need to invest into developing your brand to build a loyal audience. Telling your story in an authentic and transparent manner is critical. Stories of why the company was founded, the inspiration behind the product and the journey to get there. The customer buys the why not the what.
Its important to tell your story, in your voice, in your way. You need to develop your story. People will buy into the story. They become emotionally invested into the product & the company. As a smaller company, your advantage is the ability to be more transparent and authentic. The fact that there are less layers between the founders/management and the customer.
You can show off how the product was made, the rough sketches, the initial designs. Blog about the journey. Use images, videos and blog posts to show why decisions were made in this way to come up with the final product.
This can be done for a company of any size. I love learning the behind the scenes of product development. Its about bridging the gap between the idea and the final output to the customer. What happened in-between?
Your 100 true believers
A True Believer is someone who knows you, the person behind the art or product. Someone you’ve confided in by showing them your art or explaining your business plan. They care about your product, because they also care about you. Not only will they buy your product, but they’ll tell everyone they know about what you’re doing; they’ll get the word out.
The 100 True Believers are there before you hit the big time (or medium time). They’re the group that knows you, sees your budding potential, and wants to contribute to your future success. 1,000 True Fans doesn’t come overnight. It happens 1 fan at a time until you reach 100 True Believers. They are the medium through which you’re able to attract and communicate to your 1,000 True Fans. Again, the number isn’t important. It could be 100, but it might also be 10. Before you can get to 1,000 True Fans, you have to establish your 100 True Believers.
I love it. There some debate for the 1,000 True fans theory and also against it. I don’t think it matters what the number is since its arbitrary (though I’m sure some analysis has gone into it). What really matters is having a core fan base that loves you. The number is going to be different depending on the industry and price point. The point is you have to manually recruit each one initially. Make them believe in you and deliver on that promise. As word spreads, it starts to snowball. But it starts with having that core fan base that can’t live without your product and loves what you do.
Its also about recognising that when you have 1 customer, it potentially represents more. If that person has a great experience, it could result in them telling 7 of their friends about it. If they have a bad experience, it could result in you losing 7 customers. Think of each early customer as an evangelist. One of the fastest way for you to grow is to ensure each one has an amazing experience with the product so they’ll tell their friends about it.
Building a community
The most successful products I have seen have a community around them. It could be inside and outside the product. There’s a reason why many product companies hire evangelists, community managers and run events. Its to build the community around the product and develop a loyal audience. One of the ways you make a product really sticky is by building your own community around it.
You look at a company like Amazon Web Services (AWS) or Salesforce. There are conferences they run to evangelise the service and they invite their customers to tell their stories of success. There are organic user groups formed by the customers. They have meetups run by the community and/ or the company. They sponsor events and give talks. They give out tshirts and swag. Its about building a community and developing loyalty to the product. This is because a loyal customer will:
1) Recommend the product to their colleagues
2) Recommend it to other people in the industry
3) Change employers and get the new employer to sign up to the product
I believe that many products can be copied. A competitor can copy the design, the code, the marketing message. But they can’t copy the community. They can acquire the people in the community to move over to their product/service. However, its not as easily copied as a product. This is because you’ve developed them into advocates that believe in what you do. The customer derives value from the community. The community teaches them how to use the product and can answer their questions. The community creates and builds trust.
They are part of a community that ties them in and they enjoy being apart of. They may know the other customers. They might know the staff. They know the company’s story and can recite it to other people. The customer appreciates all the time you put into developing the community.
The keys to building a loyal audience
I believe that two of the keys to building a loyal audience are:
1. Building a brand: Having a strong visual identity that is backed up by the product & customer service. It delivers on the promise to the customer. A great brand has a story to tell and a core fan base.
2. Building a community: Successful products have active and vibrant communities around them. It ties them in and can’t be copied easily.
I’m out like DJ Khaled on Snapchat,