Kickstarter is a site that allows anyone to raise money from an online community in order to fund a project. The site is growing at rapid rates and is an oft cited example of how the Internet is helping connect creators directly to their fans.
If you're unfamiliar with Kickstarter, odds are you'll probably start hearing about some of it's success stories. It's empowered some truly amazing projects (like Diaspora, an open competitor to Facebook raised $200,000 or a watchband that turns any iPod nano into a full touchscreen watch which raised just under a million dollars - pictured below).
A friend recently asked me to advise him on whether Kickstarter would be a viable place to get funding for a website he wants to create. I figured I'd share my notes with you all - in case you find reason to analyze Kickstarter for your projects. I welcome any and all feedback.
As an important disclosure, I've never run a Kickstarter project. I've talked to a few folks that have, but what follows is essentially me applying my marketing experience and gut instincts to the behaviors I've observed on the site. I've done this withbthe same rigor I would for a personal project, but take this with a heavy grain of salt.
Interested in different points of view? See these two GREAT posts:
- Craig Mod's detailed (and beautiful) recap of his project: http://bit.ly/cDMvKE
- Another recap of a successful industrial design project: http://bit.ly/edYIex
If you're not inclined to read a longish post on this today, here are the following key points covered in this post:
1. If your project is a business, and not a passion project, you have no business being on Kickstarter.
2. Understand the psychology behind giving money. Why would people fund you? Help them understand why they should.
3. You have 5 key marketing assets you can create: Video, Social Proof, Pricing Levels, Partners & Description. Use them well.
4. Drive your own traffic, no "build it and they will come."
Field Notes: Marketing Your Project
Kickstarter is an online community that is primarily interested in supporting passion projects, a large number of which are artistic in nature. It may not be the right fit for many commercial projects.
Here's a simple heuristic for deciding whether Kickstarter is right for you; how passionate are you about this project for non-financial reasons? If you want to build something because there's a clear market need and you understand your customers really well, that's awesome - but not really a good fit for Kickstarter.
If, instead, you want to build something because you think it's totally awesome. If your idea keeps you up at night, works you into a frenzy talking about it and represents a core piece of you, of your identity, that would make you really happy to share with the world, then read on - Kickstarter might be a good fit for you.
Once you've got your passion project figured out, setting up a page on Kickstarter is quite easy. Your page gives you the ability to create 5 key marketing assets, which you can use to tell your story with the goal of recruiting visitors into fans and/or customers. Here are the 5 key marketing assets (in rough order of importance): Video, Social Proof, Pricing Levels, Partners, & Description.
Before diving in, start with creating a simple creative brief. Define the high level project you want to create in 1-3 sentences, then start describing why people should care, what you want the final product to resemble, and the process involved in creating it. Spec out the minimum budget you need to successfully complete this. The budget required is important - this should be the true minimum it would take you (be scrappy!).
Once you have that, categorize your nice-to-haves -- think of ways to improve the project with more money/resources (and write them down, you'll use them to encourage extra donations if your project reaches full funding.
Finally, in all materials you create, acknowledge the psychology behind people giving money: the more likely it seems that you're going to succeed at your goal and the more people care about that goal (or about you), the more likely people are to give it to you.
Kickstarter is built with some of this in mind. They help a lot just by acting as an escrow -- capturing the commitment to fund from the user, but only actually making the transaction if the project raises its minimum amount. You can build upon this good start by focusing on providing details in your marketing assets that that make it clearer that you are likely to succeed. Here's a few psychological triggers that I know about (I probably missed a few - please add to this list!)...
- Traction: Show that your projects have been well received in the past. If possible, show work you've completed on the projects so far. Want to write a non-fiction book? Conduct some preliminary interviews and post a summary/recording of them. Fiction's your fancy? Write a short story, or the first chapter and put it out. Let the quality of your work speak for itself.
- Authority: Share your experience. What gave you the idea? What makes you passionate? Why are you uniquely positioned to do this project better than anyone? You want to make a short documentary on how people are shaped by their pets? Share the memories of your past pets. Talk about how they shaped you. Tell the world about your beloved dog that recently passed. Be emotional. Be passionate.
- Social Proof: Humans are herd animals, we're inspired to support altruistic endeavors when we know others are too (especially if we respect those other people). The more you can do to show that others care, the more successful you'll be.
- Reciprocity: people like helping people that do something for them first. Give them something upfront. Definitely reward them for participation.
Social Proof and Reciprocity are fundamentally built into the Kickstarter platform -- but look for ways to include them further. Now use this creative brief, and initial thinking you've done on the psychology of persuasion, to create your marketing materials:
Video: Your video should be personal, a message from a real person on camera describing this project and it's value. Exude your passion for this thing. Let people know you want this project more than anything. You ever hear a little girl ask her parents for a pony? Channel that child! High production values can definitely pay off here, especially if they help showcase the look and feel of the completed product, but fancy tricks aren't required... being real beats being slick.
Social Proof: One of the most prominent visual cues on a Kickstarter Page, the first thing people see on your project, is how much has been raised, how much is needed, and how much time is left. Getting help from your friends, family, and fans to help you get that crucial first 20-30% can pay off extraordinarily well. Consider co-ordinating your outreach so that you can have a good start to the project in the first few days. Here's an exercise - come up with 3 different strategies you could use to raise 25% of the total in less than 48 hours. Try all 3 over the first 6 days.
Pricing Levels: Here's where Reciprocity and recognition come to play. Having well constructed pricing steps with interesting rewards can really help move someone up to the next level of affinity. These rewards should be specific to something tied to you and/or your project. A lot of people give the completed project to donors at certain levels. Behind the scenes access can also be very cool (consider setting up a paid newsletter at www.letter.ly or www.tiny letter.cc and giving free access to donors). Maybe it's recognition (thanks on your website, a producer credit). Maybe you'll name the project after someone. Get creative.
Think about visitors as coming to your page and quickly deciding, based on how much your project video & description speak to them, what their affinity is for the project. The more affinity they have, the more they'd be willing to give (up to their discretionary spending limit). You should use the price levels and corresponding rewards as a way to move folks up to higher levels.
Levels will very for different types of projects, but I think common levels are $1, $5, $20-$35, $50-$75, $80-100, and so on. Craig Mod has a compelling argument for using $25, $50, $100, $250 and $500 (source: http://bit.ly/cDMvKE).
Partners: consider trying to recruit people to help you promote, these could be collaborators, sources, advisors, or anything else that makes sense, but find a good way to include people in your project before you launch the Kickstarter and give them recognition in your marketing materials (description and or video). This can help create social proof, and subtly encourages those folks to help you promote.
Description: If someone is on the fence about supporting your project, they'll read your description closely. Answer common questions, find ways to show them your credibility, passion and appreciation for their support. If you know any sales letter copywriters, ask them to review and help you here. If not, enough passion cures all other ills.
That's what I've put together from a few hours of research, but this is a topic that could definitely use more testing and observation. If you like this article and want to read more, tweet me at @tylerwillis and let me know and I'll write about it more. Heck, maybe I'll put it up as a book on Kickstarter :)
Have you got an idea or observation to add? Please share it in the comments - all the readers of this blog have told me how much they value the comments you all leave, keep up the good work!