Kickstarter Lesson #103: There Is No Perfect Pickle

19 June 2014 | 15 Comments

imag0262“There is no perfect pickle. There are only perfect pickles.” –Dr. Howard Moskowitz via Malcolm Gladwell

Before I explain the correlation between pickles and Kickstarter, I’d like to ask you a yes or no question. If you’re a coffee drinker, do you prefer a dark, rich, hearty roast? Remember your answer–we’ll come back to that in a minute.

One of my favorite TED talks of all time is called “Malcolm Gladwell: Choice, Happiness and Spaghetti Sauce.” It’s about 20 minutes long, and it’s absolutely riveting.

Gladwell spends most of the talk talking about the contributions made to brand management by psychophysicist named Dr. Howard Moskowitz. At heart, the talk–and Moskowitz’s mission–is about making people happy. I’m going to connect the lessons in this talk to something that’s really important to me: making Kickstarter backers happy.

There Is No Perfect Pickle

Years ago, before the shelves of grocery stores were stocked with 40 different varieties of everything, the vast majority of brands made exactly one version of each product. They would continually look for ways to improve the magic formula for each product–the perfect mustard, the perfect orange juice, and, of course, the perfect pickle.

Moskowitz changed all this by suggesting that there is no perfect pickle, only perfect pickles. That is, there is no good or bad, only different kinds of pickles that suit different kinds of people.

This is exactly why having a variety of reward levels on Kickstarter works so well for both creators and backers. By giving people a few options–options that you’ve honed and tested and budgeted for–you’re able to give each backer their uniquely perfect pickle.

Now, a few cautionary notes about this: In truth, each backer might have a perfect pickle that is different than any other backer. You can’t make 1000 different pickles for 1000 different people. Add-ons and multiple SKUs can really bog down shipping and fulfillment.

So what am I suggesting? I’m suggesting that you think outside of yourself when you conceive the reward levels. You know what you want, but try to put yourself in the shoes of 3-5 other people. What’s the ideal version of your product for them? Do they want the standard version or the deluxe version? Do they care about how fast they get the product? Do they want to be among an elite group of people who have a limited version, or is the mass-market version fine for them? Do they want it signed? Do they want a special box? Do they want their name or face incorporated into the produce somehow? Do they just want one copy or several copies?

Again, you don’t have to cater to every individual–your time and your budget are really important to consider. But by recognizing that there is no perfect pickle by offering multiple options for backers, you’re going to significantly increase the satisfaction and happiness of each individual backer.

How to Narrow 45 Varieties of Spaghetti Sauce Down to the 3 Best

So, given all those variations I mentioned above, how do you narrow the myriad of preferences down 3-7 reward levels?

This was a problem faced by Campbell Soup when they approached Moskowitz with their struggling line of Prego spaghetti sauce. At the time they had just one version of Prego: authentic, Italian spaghetti sauce. They asked Howard to apply what he had learned about pickles to their product–they wanted him to figure out a few varieties of spaghetti sauce that people liked most.

With the help of Campbell’s chefs, Moskowitz created 45 varieties of spaghetti sauce–way too many for the company to make. So he did a number of taste tests around the country in which he gave people 10 different bowls of pasta and sauce and asked them to rate them.

The results yielded that the vast majority of people fall into 3 groups: people who love plain sauce, people who love spicy sauce, and people who love extra chunky sauce. The addition of those sauces to the Prego product line yielded hundreds of millions in sales.

Now, there’s a very different way that Moskowitz could have conducted this study. He could have sent a survey to 1000 people asking them to tell him their favorite kind of spaghetti sauce. He could have made it a fill-in-the-blank question, or he could have listed all 45 options and let people check their top 5. But he didn’t.

What does that mean for Kickstarter creators? It means that you should spend a significant amount of time in advance of your campaign getting feedback about your product and your project page. Create lots of different reward levels for people to look at over time and offer their opinions, and whittle them down to the best reward levels before you launch.

The Best Type of Coffee

Creating those reward levels is important to do in advance of the project, but engaging backers during a campaign means that you should be open to their ideas and suggestions in some capacity. There’s a little secret to making this happen effectively, and it’s related to coffee.

If you’re like most people, your answer to the question at the beginning of this entry (“If you’re a coffee drinker, do you prefer a dark, rich, hearty roast?”) was yes. However, in truth, the vast majority of people prefer milk, weak, slightly sweet coffee. Why the disconnect?

The key is that we’re not all that good at explaining what we want without some sort of context. This is where you, the project creator, can help your backers out by having an artist on hand during the project to sketch some of the concepts that backers imagine. How you use this tool depends on your product, but people respond really well to visual cues. Quick sketches are very inexpensive and can make a huge difference when discussing various concepts with backers.


One of the concluding thoughts in Gladwell’s talk that really resonates with me is that when we pursue universals–when we decide that there is one best version of our product for everyone–we are doing ourselves and our backers a huge disservice. By embracing a diversity of concepts and variants, we’ll maximize happiness.

This may sound counterintuitive to one of the other key KS Lessons, Stay Focused or Lose Backers, but really it’s just a different way of saying the same thing. Focus on what you’re good at and what you’re trying to deliver to backers. That is, don’t add in t-shirts and mugs and framed art if your focus is on delivering a great game to backers. But within that focus, give backers a few options. Give each individual backer the chance to be truly happy with the pickle that’s right for them.

Also read: Kickstarter Lesson #120: How to Include People Who Don’t Know What Kickstarter Is

Leave a Comment

15 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #103: There Is No Perfect Pickle

  1. Hey Jamey, for the game I’m currently designing, I was thinking of a “Lite”, “Standard” and “Deluxe” version based on the following components (the game is pretty light on other components not mentioned, and each version needs roughly the same amount of these anyway, so no real variation there, most of it will be the cards for each character):

    Lite Version – 4 set/predetermined characters, all their cards and appropriate stretch goals, and a small version of the board – for 2-4 players

    Standard Version – 6 set/predetermined characters, all their cards and appropriate stretch goals, and a medium version of the board – for 2-6 players

    Deluxe Version – All 8 characters (plus additional unlocked characters), all their cards and all stretch goals, and a large version of the board – for 2-8 players

    The Lite and Standard versions MIGHT include unlocked characters as stretch goals, I’m still considering that…

    I thought this might complicate the production process and I don’t feel right limiting the backers of the lower levels to 4 (or 6) characters of my choosing, in case they love the ones that I have excluded from those levels more (and I can’t let each individual choose as that would be too many options, and can’t do a vote as that might leave more people unhappy)…

    I could include all characters in each level and just offer different size boards for each version, but that also complicates things and wouldn’t offer enough variety in the levels to justify different prices…

    So I decided that one level, all characters, and a large board with some shading on the outer areas so that people can limit the play area themselves (based on the number of players), might be the best way to go…

    The problem here is, it’s just one level, and that doesn’t follow the “perfect pickles” idea in this post…

    My question is – if I have a conundrum between offering a few levels and possibly disappointing potential backers with what the lower levels offer, whilst also complicating the production process, or just offering one level that is the complete version, which would you recommend?

    1. I appreciate you considering the points of this article, but ultimately it’s about what’s best for your backers and what’s possible for you (and production). I do think that Kickstarter is great for the standard/deluxe model (two versions of the game), but if that isn’t a good fit for you, 1 awesome version enhanced by stretch goals is also a good approach.

      1. Thanks Jamey, I’ll be giving this a lot more consideration in the coming months and hopefully have a solution that offers both the best choice for my potential backers, and ensures that I can manage the logistics involved in my first project…

  2. Incredible TED talk and good job tying it back to Kickstarter. I think its really helpful to remember that you don’t need 100 reward levels to satisfy 100 people. You only need a few, well design and thought out reward levels, to really cover the majority of preferences.

  3. […] We all know that we should test our games because every blog, podcast, YouTube channel, and forum out there reminds us of this very fact. With so many of us starting fresh in the industry (no prior time developing games) and lacking access to experienced play testers, we often leave a lot of useful information on the table. Mr. Stegmaier gives a perfect example of what I’m talking about in his post, “There is No Perfect Pickle.” […]

  4. Love this TED talk! I’ve always kept it in mind when designing games, but you applying it to backer levels makes so much sense. Great lesson to start the day!

  5. Thanks for the great article and the link to the lesson (I love when I can be lazy and click off to the referenced material).

    You are spot on with the coffee point. Artists and graphic designers learn very quickly that most clients just don’t know how to articulate what they actually want. So, taking the initiative to offer multiple, well thought out and focused options to choose from, will always lead to happier customers.

  6. I hadn’t even thought of this, opening the campaign up prior to the official go time, and work on the feedback received. I suppose it doesn’t hurt to wait, and I guess part of the skill to reacting to this feedback is the care taken when deciding which ideas are good and which will actually be detrimental to the project. I wonder if there is a list of the top 3 or 5 backer rewards? It would be a very useful way to start the draft version of the campaign, then see what the public think!
    I still have so much to learn! Great article.

    1. Bevan: Thanks for your comment. Yeah, you can share the preview link for your project at any time and with anyone.

      Top 3-5 backer rewards…that’s a big category! I’m guessing you’re specifically interested in the board game category? I would start by looking around at successful campaigns to see what they’ve done.

  7. Another great lesson here! A new company called Crabhat Studios posted a preview to their Kickstarter campaign a about a month ago on BGG, for their game “8-Planets”. This was the first time I had seen someone give the public access to their campaign while it was still being set up. I think it is a great idea, and they received a lot of great feedback from potential backers on things they thought could be improved, or things they would like to see done differently.

    I think getting this type of involvement BEFORE you launch is so important. After all, you are not selling the game to yourself, but to others. It is crucial to tailor your campaign around their interests, and breaking those interests down into a few groups is a great idea. I see a lot of campaigns with tons of reward levels and I’m often deterred because of the complexity of options.

    1. Mike: That’s a great point about sharing a campaign well before it launches to get an evolving range of perspectives over time. As for the paradox of choice you talk about, that’s also key–the reward levels should be limited in number and phrased in a very clear, concise way.

© 2020 Stonemaier Games