Kickstarter Lesson #100: The 3 Secrets to Marketing

27 May 2014 | 43 Comments

One of the most common questions I see on some of the Facebook Kickstarter groups (here and here) is: What’s the best way to market my project?

The first secret to marketing is to understand that marketing is not the same as advertising.

We often use those two words interchangeably, but their true meaning is quite different. Advertising is letting people know about a product. Marketing, on the other hand, encompasses the entire cycle of product creation from start to finish.

In Kickstarter terms, marketing begins the moment you start to conceptualize your product. It means that from the very beginning, you’re deciding to not just create something for yourself, but also to create something for other people to use and treasure:

  • Marketing continues as you start to bring others into the process, and it progresses when when product starts to take shape–art, design, visibility.
  • Marketing is how you interact with people about the product–marketing happens when you decide to comment on someone else’s blog or podcast or video. Do you make the comment about you or about them?
  • Marketing happens when you run your Kickstarter campaign. It is defined by the way you present the project, how you price it, how you interact with backers, and how you let backers take ownership of the project.
  • Marketing happens throughout the manufacturing process as you communicate with backers and keep them updated.
  • Marketing is when a backer opens their package for the first time and has their first impression of the thing they supported so long ago on Kickstarter.
  • And marketing doesn’t stop there–it continues as you share your product with reviewers and retailers and as you forge relationships with customers and make connections between backers.

When you think about marketing, first ask yourself if you’re actually thinking about advertising or marketing. If the answer is the latter, brainstorm some ideas from the above list to define your project on a micro and macro level. Every aspect of your product and project should embrace the ideal tone you want to set.

The second secret to marketing is to stop thinking about promotion.

A derivation of the oft-asked marketing question is: What’s the best way to promote my project?

My external answer is always some variation of the following: Stop thinking about promotion and start thinking about ways you can add value to other people, whether it’s through content you host (a blog, podcast, and YouTube channel) and/or through content hosted by other people.

My internal answer is a little more cynical and defeatist: If you are the type of person who asks that question, you’ve already failed. Promotion is selfish. Promotion is all about you. Promotion is about pushing yourself and your agenda onto other people whether they want to hear it or not. If that’s the way you think–if you’re actively looking for ways to be selfish–then it’s going to be really, really hard for you to realize you’re asking the wrong question.

However, I don’t say that, because my hope is that you’ll prove me wrong.

The third secret to marketing is friendship.

I often use words like “community building,” “backer interaction,” and “making connections,” but really, let’s bury those business terms for today and say what I really mean: The true secret to marketing is friendship.

I read a remarkable story the other day by an author friend of mine about her latest book release. The distribution for this book was significant–all the major retailers had her book in stock, including Walmart and Barnes & Noble. But the first week of sales weren’t great.

Then something very cool happened.

Tawna tells the story way better than I could (with pictures!), so I recommend you check it out on her blog. Here are the two key paragraphs that summarize what Tawna learned from the process:

It was friendship, pure and simple. It was the joy of making genuine, honest-to-goodness connections with people on social media and the resultant urge to support someone who’s become a friend.

This is how it’s supposed to work, guys. Not authors screeching “buy my book!” or “like my page!” from their social media soapboxes. Just friends helping friends and supporting authors they’ve gotten to know. 

A big thanks for Tawna for putting that into words. I should point out that friendship on Kickstarter takes many forms, just like real life. Sometimes you’ll exchange regular e-mails with a backer and truly get to know them on a personal level. Other times you might spot a backer on a forum and stick up for them or even just Like their comment. And sometimes your friendship might just take the form of the tone with which you address backers in updates–we’re open and honest with our friends. We trust our friends. Is that how you interact with backers?

***

Can your Kickstarter project succeed without you becoming friends with your backers? Can it succeed if you don’t even really care about your backers or if you shamelessly promote your project at every opportunity?

Sure. Absolutely. I see some projects wildly overfund despite their creators actively choosing not to build any sort of community. I also see some projects fail despite their creators’ efforts to interact with backers. Even though it makes me cringe, it happens, and it goes to show there isn’t just one recipe for Kickstarter success.

But here’s the deal: Adding value to others and forging friendships will significantly increase your chances of succeeding on Kickstarter. Those are the projects that backers gravitate towards. Those are the creators that backers trust in the future, because they’re not just backers anymore–they’re friends.

The best part about this concept of marketing isn’t about data or money or numbers or Likes. The best part is that when you succeed because of strangers you care about, strangers who care about you and love what you create…well, it feels pretty damn amazing for you and everyone involved.

***

Thanks for sticking with me through 100 Kickstarter Lessons. I have more blog entries in the pipeline, but I’m always open to feedback. If there’s a topic I haven’t covered that you’d like to read about, let me know!

43 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #100: The 3 Secrets to Marketing

  1. Wow! 100 lessons! And what a strong one to finish out the first centennial. This lesson seems like a fantastic review of everything you’ve said thus far. Good work Jamey!

    Adding value is a key to having others want to promote you. Ultimately others will promote you much better than you could promote yourself, because their audience hasn’t heard of you yet, and your audience already knows about you and what you do. I would argue though that a certain amount of self promotion and advertising is acceptable and welcome. It can remind loyal fans to send their friends to your product. But it needs to come across as more of a friendly reminder than pestering people. That gets real old really fast.

    1. Thanks Jonathan! I think this is brilliantly said: “others will promote you much better than you could promote yourself.” I would add the following to the end of that sentence: “…if their promotion is genuine (i.e., not prompted by you).”

      And yeah, definitely, it’s important to let people know your project is live, especially if you find creative/fun ways to do it. The key is having the mindset that of adding value to someone’s day rather than promoting yourself or your project. For example, I’ve written about microgoals and how they can be a fun way to share the project. Like, if your project is about to reach $20,000, you might use that opportunity to share it under the context that someone might derive a lot of joy from being the person to take you over $20,000. Even though you’ve earned the pledge, your mindset in that case is about creating joy for someone else. That goes a long way.

  2. Another well written article Jamey!

    My motivation to KickStart a board game is usually driven completely by the person who is running or involved in the Kickstarter project. Usually it is the person that I have made a connection with (whether they know it or not!) and I choose to support them – the product in which I am receiving in return of my support is usually secondary to me (which I am sure some people will shake their heads at). This connection is usually made long before their Kickstarter campaign ever launched, whether it be through BGG or Facebook, or some other means. Frankly speaking, that is usually how I hear about the Kickstarter in the first place – because I have already decided that I value what they have to say and would like to listen to future things they may have to say.

    I look at my last few items that I have kickstarted, and this is true. Here is a list and why:
    1. Evolution (by NorthStar Games). Honestly, I have no idea what this game is about (mechanics, etc) nor have I looked into it. But I do know that it is NorthStar Games first strategy game. And I do know that Dominic is one of the best guys on BGG – There is a reason why I have a NorthStarGames fan microbadge. So I backed it.
    2. Viticulture + Tuscany. Not trying to earn brownie points here, but I really value your contributions – this being your 100th blog post, that is made with such transparency is something I want to support. Ok, and I have wanted Viticulture for a loooong time too…. :)
    3. Kill Shakespeare. I built a relationship with the designers when Yedo was released. I backed only because I wanted to support the designers, which is a relationship built long before the Kickstarter was announced. But, now that I have played the game – I am extremely happy to have backed it as well! :)
    4. Boardgames that tell Stories – Book by Ignancy Whatchamacallhim. Again – I love his blog and value his insights of what it is like to play test and develop and publish games.

    I could go on…I am simply providing some examples to some of your excellent points Jamey!

    Cheers,
    David

    1. Thanks for the extensive comment, David! Very well said. It’s interesting to hear that Kickstarter is much more about the person than the project to you–that’s helpful for any project creator to hear, especially because so many of those interactions happen off of Kickstarter (you mentioned BGG several times in your examples, which is a great place to see if/how designers/publishers interact with people). Thanks for your kind words and support for Viticulture and Tuscany.

    2. Ignacy Trzewiczek. Just start typing random consonants into google and it’ll help :)

      One of my favourite game designers. I didn’t know about his book, will need to get my hands on it.

  3. Great 100th article Jamey! I must say, the way you go about this whole process has been a big inspiration to my dad and I as fellow game designers and future KS creators. As soon as we formed our company last year, we started paying close attention to what you were doing, how you were interacting with your backers and non-backers, and reading all of your insightful blogs. It is clear that what people respect about you most, is your transparency and eagerness to help others in this process. We realize this is a very powerful way to add value to yourself as a project creator, because people know they can trust you. We want to establish this same kind of connection with our future backers. It would be so much more rewarding knowing that people are backing your project not because you spent hundreds of dollars promoting it, but because you kept it real with people and created a true value chain in every aspect of the marketing process.

    1. Mike: Thanks for your kind words, and it’s awesome to hear that the blog has helped you. I like that you’re seeking a similar connection with your future backers, and I look forward to seeing the innovative ways you do that. Thanks!

  4. Re: friendship – I recently stumbled across Jamey and several other successful game/KS creators as they finished a game of Caverna. They were probably the most friendly group I met at the whole convention (Micah even treated me to Steak n Shake, and I had just met him!).
    It goes a long way. When I write my designer diary, it really will be about all the designers that I’ve met along the way. These relationships are so dear to me.

    1. Charles: I’m glad we came across as friendly! I probably wasn’t at my best, given that it was after midnight and Caverna’s a pretty thought-intensive game to end the day with. But it was great to meet you, and I agree that Micah, Kevin, Ben, and my brother were great to hang out with.

      1. I certainly wasn’t in my prime either. If I had to do it all over again, I would have started with high praise and flattery, and omitted the criticism of Viticulture’s card balance altogether.
        You were and are quite gracious! Next time, Steak n Shake is on me (or In n Out, if we’re in Dallas!)

    2. Hi Charles, I’m totally betting you’re the admin on the ‘Kickstarter Best Practices’ Facebook group. I mean, how many people could there possibly be in the world who are (1) named ‘Charles’, (2) interested in creating Kickstarter projects, and (3) also have the exact same, very distinctive avatar? :)

      This is really such a funny coincidence. I’m visiting Jamey’s website today with the specific intention of asking him a question about your Facebook group. (Jamey is how I learned about your group; his above Kickstarter Lesson includes a Facebook link to it). And who do I meet? The admin!

      So, here’s my question — which I can actually ask you, instead of Jamey!

      This past week, I’ve tried to join your Facebook group three different times. Every time, my ‘join request’ was canceled by someone on your board. But I was never sent an explanation. Could you please tell me, do you need additional information before accepting my ‘join request’? I’m happy to tell you more about myself, if needed. Thanks!

      ————————————
      Hi Jamey, so sorry to hijack your comments section for a side conversation. Although, after reading many of your Kickstarter lessons, I feel like I know you well enough to say you’re probably glad I did exactly that. This is an excellent example of you adding value to a stranger’s life. Thank you for that! :)

      1. Debby: Thanks for your comment! Just in case Charles isn’t still checking this thread (which is unlikely unless he subscribed to new comments), I’ll contact him directly to see if I can help.

          1. Hey Jamey, thanks again for contacting Charles on my behalf. He got everything squared away for me. Such a coincidence to bump into him in your comments section. We’re all connected in this world, aren’t we! :)

  5. Writing 10 Kickstarter lessons is impressive; writing 100 articles is an order of magnitude more awesome. Talk about giving value to the community! I’m so excited by your book and can’t wait for it to be published.

  6. Congrats on 100 lessons Jamey! Thanks for taking your time to add to the community several times each week with these awesome articles – they are much appreciated :)

  7. Thanks for this, Jamey. Your lessons have definitely been a huge help. I find it interesting how some of these conclusions one might arrive at by extrapolation from the previous 99 lessons.

    It also really helps that you walk the talk and really show the kind of engagement and willingness to help others that you preach.

    When I first started looking into how to promote my game last year – I looked at people in the boardgame community as collections of likes, followers etc that I could use to further my agenda/spread my message. As I started signing up for communities and interacting with people – I learned that there are no tricks or shortcuts. Only way is to actually be an active and positive member of the community, be genuinely passionate about the things you discuss and be good to people. If you are – people will interact with you, people will follow/+1 your stuff and ultimately when your project launches – people will be more likely to care (hasn’t gotten there yet but willing to trust your experience).

    I love the fact that there is this self-regulating quality to the community. It helps it grow and become better. If you want something – add to the common good. Everyone benefits.

    1. Artem: Thanks for your comment. Your self reflection about how you’ve evolved from someone looking to promote to someone looking to participate and befriend–I’ve seen that in action through your use of Twitter (and your participation here) is really great. Thank you for sharing that.

  8. Congrats on 100 awesome lessons, and here’s to many many more! I think your great piece can be summarized in four words: “Advertising is; marketing happens”. Getting your message out there is great, but it’s just a cog in a complicated machine – specially in Kickstarter, where the personality of the creators and the interactions with them means a lot to backers. It’s great to feel like you’re a part of somebody’s dream, and that you are contributing towards building something great – and that’s pretty unique to the good Kickstarter projects.

  9. Hi Jamey.
    Very informative article as all readers agree. Thanks for highlighting the distinction between the marketing and advertising.

    I would like to use this opportunity to ask how was it with you when you were starting, which of the two did you focus the most? Did you even consider advertising at the start?

    I am asking since the idea of Kickstart’ing my game is very much an integral part of my brain at the moment. Originally I wanted to launch it this February though as we see I decided against it. I want to polish it first as failing a Kickstarter is the last thing I want. Thus, I spend my time doing what I know best researching and learning about the subject :)

    All the Best.

    1. Konrad: That’s a great question. The truth is, I’ve used BGG advertising for all three of my board game Kickstarter projects. It’s a great way to reach a specific audience. However, I consider it just one small element in my overall marketing plan for each game.

      You used the word “polish” here, which I think is a key part of marketing–if your game is better, any advertising you do will be exponentially more effective. I think you’re on the right path, and I look forward to hearing about the launch of your campaign!

  10. Jamey: Thank you very much for these words. I will happily share more info when the time will come though it is a long path for me still. :)

    BGG was one of the options I considered. Though I started to have doubts after reading that the costs could reach even $700 like you mentioned in
    https://stonemaiergames.com/kickstarter-lesson-94-the-top-10-ways-to-survive-and-thrive-on-board-game-geek/

    I was also thinking of Facebook ads though BGG is a more appropriate platform considering that it gathers the public interested in ‘our kind of projects’ and the ads cost in any service is significant.

    Certainly the best option to start is to interact with the crowd and observe others. This is my intention thus I am slowly setting up my web site. There is so many various options that one would like to know the best but the longer you read about it the less likely it is to be found. BTW How did you make your choices about setting up your internet presence, site etc?

    Thanks again for your work. All the Best.

    1. Konrad: $700 is a lot. But I would definitely say it’s worth it based on the ROI. I’ve tested the waters with Facebook a bit, and it was hard to gauge the exact results.

      This website is essentially just a blog with different pages built into it for various functions. I was already familiar with WordPress, hence why I chose this format. As for my presence on Facebook, I basically just set up a Facebook page for Stonemaier Games. I could have (and maybe should have) set up a Twitter account just for Stonemaier, but I like the personal touch of using my personal Twitter account for Stonemaier Games purposes (as well as personal posts). Does that help? I’m not sure if that answers your question.

      1. Jamey: Thanks, sure it helps.
        I was looking into the various options for quite some time I guess I just need to seat to it one day and simply do it. I like to create a site myself though implementing the blogging functionality is too time consuming plus there are ready tools like you mentioned WordPress.
        I will start with Weebly first as it looks easier to start and I will integrate it into my main page.

        Regards to Twitter it is certainly a good idea to take the company name account in case you decide to use it in future. Though I agree as you say it is best to continue using the private one for the element of the personal touch, certainly in this business.

        All the Best and Thank you for sharing.

      2. Try running a split test of your website, – one version that somone from facebook sees and one from conventional marketing. Then see the cart results. – While making sure you have conversion tracking, facebook pixel, etc set up to monitor the exact ROI facebook brings in.
        Could i ask , did you favour more of the home page takover, the competion or the newsletter? (or standard adds?)

  11. Hi guys. It would be great to get your feedback and input on our KS campaign!

    https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/10957565/toogiez-playable-wearable-stickable-sidekicks

    toogiez are a cool, new kids’ product that combines stylish tshirts with cute plushies.

    We spent a year designing and testing out prototypes with tons of great feedback and response from kids and parents. We then spent the past months preparing for our KS launch, joining and contributing to communities where cool, geeky parents hang out i.e our target market. We made friends and advised with top parent bloggers and we consulted with people who have run successful KS campaigns. Then we created a lovely video and a nicely designed page.

    Since our launch a few days ago, we’ve had a string of great blog reviews. A good deal of twitter and fb love. And ZERO backers, other than generous friends and family.

    We are baffled, flummoxed and confused. We have good proof of concept for the product. We have a professional looking, well designed campaign. We have reached out to the right target market. And yet our campaign is completely stalling.

    Either the ‘parent community’ are simply new to and scared of kickstarter (or don’t like the delay in receiving rewards) or the existing KS community aren’t into kids products. But somehow we’re falling through the cracks and missing something…

    We have one very generous donation that makes the campaign look healthier than it is, but I’m telling you – we’ve got, I think, only 1 new backer from Kickstarter or our blog reviews. Everything else is our network, who are supposed to make up about 25% of our support/funds.

    If any of you have any insights/advice/suggestions, we’d be so very grateful.
    Thanks! Noa C & Noa S
    aka team toogiez

    1. Noa and Noa: Thanks for posting your question here. I appreciate you being open to feedback.

      Honestly, I’m a bit flummoxed as well. You have a very nice project page set up, you’ve reached out to (and gotten writeups from) a number of parenting blogs, you focused your early outreach on friends and family to get some early momentum…and yet the funds just aren’t coming in. Normally this would indicate an issue with pricing, but $18 seems more than fair for everything you’ve included in that reward level.

      But clearly we’re missing something here. I’m not a parent, but I think it might be helpful to get feedback from parents who aren’t backers (and aren’t friends or family). Are there any parenting forums where you could get blunt and honest feedback from parents about why they don’t want to back the project?

      It’s also possible that it’s a problem of exposure. Given the bloggers you’ve reached out to, I would think that you have a good amount of exposure, but perhaps you haven’t reached that critical mass yet. I would say you should keep reaching out to more blogs and offer sample products to them. But even that isn’t going to help if there’s something critical getting in the way of parents backing the project, so you need to figure that out first.

      Good luck!

  12. Jamey! Thanks so much for the feedback! We are still expecting more blogs and coverage, however, I’m just not sure that will help at this point. I feel that maybe the parents who read these blogs are just not comfortable with Kickstarter? Though I don’t understand why people/parents who are on Kickstarter already aren’t interested in toogiez.

    I also agree with the pricing structure. We made sure to keep the entry level tiers affordable, and so far, not one person has taken issue with our prices, so that doesn’t seem to be the issue either!

    We’re trying to get as much feedback as possible and so far, nada. Nothing really conclusive or revealing, which is why over the past few days we’re left here scratching our heads.

    We’d love any more feedback from any parents out there who might be able to shed some light on our peculiar problem!
    Thanks!

    1. Noa and Noa: That’s a good point that many of the readers of those blogs may not be comfortable with Kickstarter. You have to make sure to explain the basics of how Kickstarter works when you do interviews with those blogs.

      As for people and parents already on Kickstarter, have you researched similar projects (kids products that cost around $15-$25) on Kickstarter? It might be worth reaching out to a few of those project creators to see if the majority of their backers came from Kickstarter or from their own marketing efforts. Usually you have to show up on Kickstarter with a crowd of people already interested in your project–Kickstarter provides the platform, not the crowd.

      Also, if it’s hard to find similar projects, it might be a sign that this type of project simply doesn’t do well on Kickstarter, unfortunately.

  13. Hi Jamey,
    Good idea about reaching out to other similar projects. They might have some useful insight.
    Also, kids’ products definitely aren’t a huge representation on KS. I’m not sure why, but that also might be the reason our campaign is slow – people don’t connect KS with projects for kids. Which is such a shame, as there’s no reason that ‘early-adopter-geek-parents’ shouldn’t want to fund cool ideas for their kids!

  14. Noa & Noa: I have been following your discussion here so I did some asking around in my circles. I am a parent of 3 kids (aged 4, 3, and almost 2). Other than the parents who already use Kickstarter to buy board games none of them knew what Kickstarter was, or they were vaguely familiar with it. In more general terms, when I asked them about buying kid’s clothes online the answer was pretty much that they didn’t. Mind you, this is a very small subset but it is inline with the last few comment exchanges between you and Jamey.

    As a side note, a lot of the parents I talked to use the internet for inspiration for things to do for or with their kids. So, some people might see your product and go, “I could do something like that!” It may not be quite as cool as yours, but it does give them a project to do with their child. Unfortunately this does not lead to any sales. Perhaps a do-it-yourself kit, or pattern might be cheaper for you and be appealing to parents?

    I wish you the best of luck!

    David

  15. HI David! Thanks for the insights. With 0 new backers in the past 3 days (other than supportive relatives) we’re starting to form the conclusion that Kickstarter just isn’t the right place for our product. Though every child and parent who comes into contact with toogiez seems to love it and ‘get it’, it looks like none of them are comfortable buying online, much less kickstarter. Thanks for the help and the luck!

  16. Hi Jamey

    “I see some projects wildly overfund despite their creators actively choosing not to build any sort of community.”
    I’m curious about this – which projects have you seen succeed in these circumstances?

    If they can succeed even without the community-approach that you advocate, surely they must be doing something else right?
    Maybe what they’re doing right can be combined with your community-building approach, to be even more successful at reaching the people who will like your game.

    1. Seph: I appreciate your question, but I don’t want to point fingers at specific projects or creators. And yes, those creators are doing other things right, but I think they could give people a much better experience if they focused a little more on community.

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