What is Kickstarter?
Kickstarter is the world’s largest crowdfunding platform. Founded in 2009, there have since been over 140,000 fully funded projects on the platform (a number that rises each day), with over $3.6 billion (£2.5 billion) raised in pledges from almost 15 million different backers.
The platform sells itself as a way to fund creative projects, which is borne out by the stats. The top 5 categories with the most successfully funded projects are music, film & video, games, publishing and art.
Crowdfunding is a popular way for individuals and businesses to raise money for a product that hasn’t been made yet by accepting pledges of varying amounts from backers. On Kickstarter, backers pledge a certain amount of money towards a project and are rewarded at a level appropriate for their pledge. Typically, projects offer a pledge level that offers the main product as a reward for close to RRP.
It’s sort of like a pre-order system, with the money often collected before the product has been completely finalised, but normally once some amount of development has been carried out.
Kickstarter has had an astonishing impact on many industries. I’m most familiar with it through my tabletop gaming hobby – an industry that’s been completely transformed by Kickstarter. Many creators are now using the platform to fund their more ambitious projects, which often become the most desirable products in the industry. I’ve also seen several music artists that I follow leaving behind the traditional record label production methods to go completely self-funded through the platform.
However, the catch is that creators must set a funding goal and they won’t receive any money if they don’t reach that goal (though there’s no limit to how far over it they can go). In fact, over 60% of all projects fail. Because of this, it’s essential that creators are able to drum up enough support from backers to reach their funding goal. In the vast majority of cases, serious marketing and promotion efforts are needed to create the buzz that leads to financial support. We’ll look at a few different Kickstarter digital marketing techniques in this article.
Marketing before the launch
The most important takeaway from this article is that you simply cannot afford to wait until the campaign’s launch to start marketing. But before you do anything else, you have to know your target market.
Identify your potential backers
Who will back your project? Hopefully you had some kind of audience in mind before committing to a Kickstarter campaign, but you’ll need to go even more granular if you want to work out a marketing strategy. The primary question you need to ask is this: how will I reach the people in my target market in such a way that they can be convinced to pledge?
To answer this question, you’ll need to break it down further:
- What social channels do potential backers use?
- What media do they consume?
- What voices do they listen to in my industry?
- What is it about my product that will draw them in?
Turning these questions into a successful strategy is all about working out what value your product offers your audience and understanding how to communicate that value in a way that they’ll pay attention to, which is what we’ll look at over the course of this article.
Setting up a website
While your Kickstarter campaign page is going to be crucial to the success of your project, it’s important not to ignore the benefits of creating your own website as well. If you’re part of a business that sells other products or you know that people are actively searching for terms relating to your project, a website is even more crucial.
While Kickstarter pages are great, they’re limited in their functionality. Having a website lets you build up your information and communicate in such a way that truly reflects your brand. It also allows you to build your own landing pages for any paid campaigns and gives you a platform that you can continue to use once the Kickstarter project finishes. We don’t have the space to go into it here, but doing some research into SEO is a great way to understand how to turn your website into a great asset for digital marketing.
Work hard to build up your brand
If you, your business or spokespeople within it have social followings already, you should take full advantage of them in the weeks before the launch. If you don’t have an existing social presence, it’s a good idea to create one. Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, Instagram accounts and even Reddit profiles can be great ways of reaching potential backers and the platform you focus on should be the one your audience engages with the most. Reddit is great for projects that fit into a hobby, while Instagram is perfect if your product has a strong visual element. Just get your in front of your target audience as early as possible.
Build a list of promotional contacts
When your campaign launches you’ll want to drive as many potential backers to that Kickstarter page as possible, and word of mouth is a powerful tool to accomplish this goal. If you can get relevant media outlets and industry personalities to cover your project, you’ll reach a much higher number of people than you would on your own. I’ve personally been influenced by this kind of strategy – I chose to back two crowdfunding projects I’ve supported this year after hearing their creators talk about them on podcasts that I enjoy listening to on a regular basis.
To build your list, note down all the outlets you’ll want to approach by using your knowledge of the industry and by keeping tabs on the publications appearing regularly on social feeds and Google News (set up Google Alerts for your key phrases to do so). Along with the name of the outlet, try to find email contact information for them – the more specific, the better. You want to be looking for outlets that your audience respects and journalists/personalities that regularly talk about products like yours.
Explore the possibility of a pre-launch paid campaign
Emailing potential supporters is one of the easiest ways to engage them, but actually getting their email addresses can be tricky. If organic social media isn’t drumming up enough support on its own, social advertising could be an avenue to consider. Adverts can take users through to an email sign-up page with the promise of giving subscribers insider updates about the project.
If social advertising is an avenue you want to explore, consider running smaller tests to see what works before committing to a full ad campaign. In addition, try to be as targeted as possible with your adverts, as Kickstarter tends to appeal to early adopters, fans and hobbyists who are committed to their niche. As a final note, we wouldn’t recommend paid search unless you have a very compelling reason to invest in it.
What to do when the campaign is live
The main thing to be doing while your campaign is live is to be talking about it as much as you physically can. Talk to everyone from your family and friends, to the people who have already backed it, to media personalities in your industry. You need your project to be at the forefront of everyone’s minds.
Running a digital PR campaign
As soon as your campaign launches it’s time to act on the outreach list you collated in advance. To do so, craft compelling, personalised emails to everyone to get them interested in covering your product. Remember, they don’t care that another random Kickstarter has launched, they care about products that their audience will find interesting – that’s the message you have to give them! The message should also be tailored for the publication. Be aware of the kinds of stories they cover and the formats they cover them in. For example, if you’re reaching out to podcasters you might want to explore the possibility of an interview on their show (if they do interviews). Alternatively, review sites are probably going to want to a review copy of your product, even if it’s still a prototype. There’s no substitute for doing your research and being as thoughtful as possible in your outreach.
We offer a digital PR service that is perfect for this kind of campaign if you don’t have the time or experience yourself.
Engaging your backers
As important as your outreach is, don’t forget about keeping in touch with the people who have already expressed an interest in your campaign or actually backed it. Getting these people as excited as possible is a great way to get them to do your promotion for you. The power of reviews and testimonials are well attested in digital marketing and your backers’ excitement will have the same kind of function for your Kickstarter campaign.
Stretch goals are an additional incentive to your backers. Kickstarter allows creators to include quality upgrades or additions that are unlocked at various funding levels beyond the base goal. A stretch goal could be anything from an additional track on an album to higher quality components in a board game, but their real power is in giving backers a reason to spread the word and get other backers on board, as doing so means they’re likely to get more value out of their pledge.
Regular updates for your backers are just as important as stretch goals, if not more so. Giving updates every day or every couple of days about the projects’ progress is a great way to keep your backers engaged even after they’ve made their initial pledge. Like stretch goals, regular emails can build hype within your community and remind them of the benefits of getting others involved, whether that’s to push the project towards its primary goal or to unlock stretch goals.
Paid advertising for the campaign’s duration
Whether or not you carried out paid advertising to gather emails before the launch, it might be worth considering paid advertising again when the campaign is live. Of course, you’ll have to set a realistic budget to make sure that a paid campaign will be profitable for you, but social media advertising can be great at driving people from your target audience to your campaign page. It may also be worth your while to run a remarketing campaign to target people who have expressed an interest in your product in the past so that you don’t lose their interest. This thread might give you some more ideas.
There are a lot of variables to consider if you want to run a successful paid campaign. Impression’s PPC team can help you run a campaign if you need expert support.
Maintaining brand loyalty after the campaign
It’s tempting to think that the hard marketing work is over once you reach your funding goal, but you can get more from your project if you don’t rest on your laurels. Maintaining engagement with your backers can turn them into loyal customers for the future, and also help you to maintain a buzz ahead of any retail release you might be planning. Keeping up regular emails – perhaps every fortnight or every month – is one of the easiest and least time-consuming ways to do this. On a purely practical level, emails will often be necessary to manage the fulfilment of your campaign, but you have so much scope to use them more creatively.
Ultimately, the number of resources you put into marketing once your project has finished should take into account whether or not you have a general release planned or future projects in the works. If your Kickstarter project is going to be a one-off, there’s no need to invest much into marketing once it’s been successful. However, if you do plan to do more you should treat the campaign as an important piece of a larger puzzle, rather than the end in itself. You should turn your attention to optimising your website and preparing for online sales (if that’s part of your strategy) and on keeping people engaged with your wider business, rather than just the one product.
Kickstarter successes – how did they do it?
While the majority of successful Kickstarter projects raise between $1000 and $9999, every now and then a project comes along that performs astonishingly well. For the remainder of this article, I’ll look at two of the most successful Kickstarters ever: Exploding Kittens, a card game that came from nowhere to rake in a staggering $8.8 million in pledges from 219,382 backers, and Pebble Time, a smartwatch and the product with the highest ever final total – $20.3 million – from 78,471 backers. So how did they do it?
Three years on from its groundbreaking campaign, Exploding Kittens still holds the record for the most backers ever for a single campaign. Its collection of almost 220,000 pledges is a full 64,456 people bigger than the next best offering, helping them raise a total that was 880 times larger than their funding goal. A number of marketing strategies combined to make this possible.
Making the most of their social following
All three of the game’s creators had noteworthy social followings, but the joint personalities of co-designer Elan Lee and artist Matthew Inman helped give the game a substantial initial boost. Inman was known for his popular webcomics, while Lee was a personality within the video gaming community, having worked on the first XBox and Halo game. The two of them leveraged their fan-bases at the earliest opportunity to bring in an initial surge of support that saw the game hit its funding goal within hours.
Turning backers into advocates
The real genius in the Exploding Kittens Kickstarter was in turning the founders’ social followings into a genuine community that gave the game much greater reach than the creators could ever have achieved on their own. The team gamified Kickstarter’s stretch goal structure, giving their community achievements to accomplish if they wanted stretch goals, rather than unlocking these goals at different funding levels. The achievements included creating a Wikipedia page for the game, posting selfies with goats and reaching certain numbers of backers. These achievements gave the campaign a life of its own on social media, ensuring that numbers kept rising even late into the campaign (Kickstarter projects normally receive the large majority of their funds in the early stages). You might not be able to emulate this campaign exactly, but the idea of turning backers into spokespeople for your campaign is one worth exploring for any project.
Build a consistent brand
Underlying all of the campaign’s social media and PR messaging was a consistent, well-researched brand. Humour was at the core of the game, and everything they did had a touch of the ridiculous. From the imagery that went with the campaign, to the excellent video, to the interviews given by the creators, there was a consistent sense of a product that was fun, family-friendly and designed to bring people together. These values resonated with their target market and were maintained throughout the campaign, across all channels. All Kickstarter creators can learn from this marketing strategy, however different from Exploding Kittens their brand’s voice might actually be.
Unlike Exploding Kittens, Pebble Time was a product from an established brand that had already seen record-breaking Kickstarter success with their first generation of smartwatch. Off the back of that original campaign, which raked in $10.2 million, the internationally renowned company launched the campaign for the Pebble Time watch, which still holds the record for the most funded project ever at $20.3 million.
Using Kickstarter as a marketing tool
For Pebble, Kickstarter itself was as much a marketing tool as any of the strategies we’ve looked at in this article. The Kickstarter was a way to raise hype for the product months before its general release, as well as bringing in some more cash. The campaign ensured that the product would be in people’s minds ahead of the retail release, which meant that even if people didn’t back it, they might consider purchasing one in the future. In this way, the project fulfilled the double goal of giving early adopters a way to buy it as soon as possible and giving people further up the funnel more awareness of the brand and its key selling points.
Well-planned digital PR strategy
Pebble’s Kickstarter page shows the work they put into digital PR before the launch. They’ve linked to articles from Forbes, Gizmodo and Fast Company, and mentioned features in other publications like the Verge and the Next Web. These features not only lend credibility to the campaign itself, but it’s likely that they also brought a lot of new people to the campaign page who wouldn’t have seen it otherwise. Their campaign page shows the value of engaging in PR prior to the campaign’s launch, though it’s tricky to do so without an established product/brand (which Pebble had) as you run the risk of not actually having a worthwhile story to pitch to media outlets.
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