Kickstarter Lesson #115: The Best Opening Lines for Project Updates and Backer E-mails

14 September 2014 | 20 Comments

If you’ve written a brilliant, engaging Kickstarter project update or group e-mail but no one reads it, does it even exist?

Last month at Gen Con, I attended a Kickstarter panel where backers were the panelists and creators like me comprised the audience. One of the key takeaways for me was that repeat backers get so many project updates in their inbox that sometimes they only read the subject line. That was a great lesson to me: If I have something really important and urgent to say, I need to convey it in the title of the update.

Title aside, you have a limited amount of real estate at the top of an update or e-mail to convince a backer to continue reading. In searching for the best way to address this topic here, I stumbled upon an Inc Magazine article by John Brandon called “10 Opening Phrases to Use in Your Next Email.” A number of these phrases apply directly to Kickstarter, so I thought I’d list the best ones here.

  1. “Hi!” This is actually the one item on the list that wasn’t mentioned in the article above. The key isn’t the word itself, but rather that it’s singular. Contrast it, for example, with, “Hey everybody!” As Michael Domeny pointed out in his brilliant article, when a backer reads an e-mail, they’re not huddled around the computer with 500 other backers. It’s just one person. Really, the key here is empathy. Put yourself in a backer’s shoes when writing an update or e-mail and address them as one individual, not a group of people. This should continue throughout the update. It’s not “I’m so thankful for all of your support”; it’s “I’m so thankful for your support.”
  2. “Good news:” How could someone not read what comes after the colon? I must know what the good news is!
  3. “I have an answer for you.” Again, this is kind of a tease, but a tease with an immediate payoff. It also shows that the creator listed to backer questions and is now following up.
  4. “Urgent:” Obviously this should be used sparingly or backers will stop trusting you when you say “urgent,” but if you have something urgent to say, let the backers know right away. Don’t save it for the third paragraph.
  5. “I’m really excited about this photo:” What’s easier than reading? Looking at pictures! If you have a cool photo in your update, let backers know about it right away so they scroll down to see it. If they’re excited by the photo, there’s a good chance they’ll read the text around it to see what it’s all about. Also, note that you’re the one who is excited about the photo in that opening line, opposed to, “Here’s an exciting photo.” Don’t tell backers how they should feel about something–that’s like someone telling you, “Here’s a funny story.” People don’t need–or want–cue cards.
  6. “The most important thing you need to know is…” I’ve tried to use a variation of this phrase in my monthly e-newsletters. I’m telling people up front that there is something important (that it isn’t just a generic update), and here’s the information they need in case it’s all they have time to read.

Here’s one last trick to use instead of referencing this list every time you post a project update: After you write the update, preview it and then decide what the most important information is. Then add a new first paragraph that highlights that information in exactly 2 lines, ending with “details below.”

I’m sure I’ve missed some very effective opening lines here. If you have any suggestions, I’d love to see them in the comments!

20 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #115: The Best Opening Lines for Project Updates and Backer E-mails

  1. Another great article!
    I too get many updates and I don’t pay attention to all of them. What’s your thoughts on subject line? On mobile devices, I usually only see the subject in my mail list. Should these opening phrase be part of the subject?

  2. Going to have to disagree mostly on this one.These one word subject lines or seemingly Non sequitur sentences scream spam to me and indeed some of my spam or even blocked emails starts off like this. Good News and Urgent especially just tell me to delete them ASAP. Is that just me or are others this way inclined? Thanks,

    MT.

    1. Mark: I think there might be a slight misunderstanding here. I’m not saying that any of those phrases should be used in the subject line or update title. I’m saying they should begin the first line of the update text.

      1. Ahh I see. That is what i get for quickly skimming :) I still think my point is relevant although slightly less so. I guess it would depend on the subject line and Kickstarter, how many updates you have had from them and whether they were relevant or not. There are a few for me that are almost auto deletes at this point. Thanks again,

        MT.

  3. This is a set of great pointers for writing anything that is aimed at an audience.
    I wonder how a Kickstarter project would look like written with this in mind? Would it be better to read what you get rather than what the creator gives or the project is? Or maybe this is not a place for it at all?
    All the Best & Thanks.

    1. Konrad: So are you saying that it might be interesting to write the entire project page to cater to the perspective of individual readers? That’s essentially what I try to do on mine, but it’s tough to maintain for the entire page because you have to make it applicable to different types of backers.

      1. Jamey: Yes. This is what I was saying in the comment. In my thinking I was wondering if it is possible that the presentation of the project could be made even more about the backer so they feel more like a part of it.
        You can achieve a lot with the language itself though there are places like presentation of creator where it wouldn’t fit.

  4. You know we struggle with this very thing each time we write an update. Good opening line suggestions and great visualization about not huddling around the pc with 500 other backers. :] You’ve reminded me that we should treat this just like an executive summary email that we will send to anyone higher up in our company. Specific, short bullets right at the top, details below. will do from now on. Thanks! :]

  5. Ooh good point. Although I’d say that people are more likely to expect to be part of a larger audience when watching a video, compared to being an individual reading an email. I think people will forgive you :)

  6. I like this strategy, but isn’t #6 kind of stepping on what you explained in #5? perhaps it should be something like “one of the most important things to know is” maybe?

    “Urgent” is also something I may steer away from, just seeing it in email titles makes me think of mass email bots with a bazillion dollars in funds locked on some god knows where account that they are trying to give me if only I give them my account information :P

    I have a negative association with it, and I think there are others out there who do also. Maybe something more like “important update” or “great news:” or “bad news:” would probably be enough urgency? what do you think?

    I do like the advice here though :) and the articles, they were fun.

    1. William: I think sometimes there’s a nice intersection between #5 and #6–sometimes the most important thing is conveyed in visual form.

      As for urgent, I agree you have to be careful. You’re not playing a trick on your backers–use urgency sparingly and only when it actually is time-sensitive.

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