9 February 2015 | 38 Comments
Back in the spring of ’13, when I was young, virile, and naive, I was busy preparing the Kickstarter project page for Euphoria. Overcome with gratitude for the 942 backers of Viticulture who made it possible for me to even consider another project, I tried to figure out a way to structure the Euphoria rewards to thank the old backers and welcome new backers.
I tried a few different options before I got some great advice from Michael Mindes of TMG. He pointed out that I had already rewarded the Viticulture backers by sending them Viticulture and by communicating with them throughout the production process. Now it was time to create something new, and those previous backers could decide if they wanted to return for a new reward.
Is that the only way to reward previous backers on new project? Not at all. It’s the path I’ve chosen to take, but I’ve seen other project creators try different methods. Brian Henk, for example, is a creator I really respect, and he created a $13 special reward tier on the Good Cop Bad Cop expansion project (compared to $15 for other backers).
Brian is currently a few weeks into the project, and I asked him to share some insights about that decision. I’ll give Brian the floor for a minute, then I’ll wrap up with my conclusion.
We opened up the returning backer levels ($2 discount) in the Bombers and Traitors campaign to anyone who backed our previous two campaigns at a level that would get them a physical copy of Good Cop Bad Cop, either through the campaign or through BackerKit. This came out to 527 potential return backers.
We are about halfway through the campaign now and 120 people have backed at one of those levels, which means 22.8% of potential return backers jumped into this campaign early. I expect quite a few more to back at that level during the final 48 hours, but we shall see.
We had to verify that each person who backed at that level qualified for it. This meant auditing every account at that level, checking to see if they backed a previous campaign and if they backed at a high enough level.
The first step in the audit was to look on Kickstarter and compile a list of accounts that failed that audit. The second step was to take that list over to BackerKit to see if they added on a copy after the campaign through our pledge manager. If an account failed that audit, the third step was to look through emails to see if we could find a special circumstance where we might consider them “close enough” to being a return backer.
This audit process was time-consuming, but it was acceptable considering our relatively small, simple campaigns. It would be trickier if we had not used a pledge manager for New Salem because it becomes less clear which add-ons were selected through the KS pledge management functionality.
Halfway through the campaign, our audits identified about a dozen returning backers who did not appear to qualify. This could have been an accident, poor communication on our part, someone using a different KS account, or because someone just wanted to try to get away with grabbing a discount.
We felt a little bit like we worked at a department store and the security system started beeping as a customer exited. How do you resolve the situation without losing a customer? We considered letting it slide but decided that it wouldn’t be fair to all of our other backers if we did that, so we contacted everyone with a very non-accusatory message and it has worked very well.
Would we do it again?
In building a business around Kickstarter, scalability is incredibly important. These returning backer levels require some overheard work that does not scale very well at all. They also create some difficult conversations with backers who do not qualify but feel like they should that we would rather avoid. The conversion rate from previous campaigns to this one is about what I expected without a returning backer level, so I’m skeptical about how many backers were influenced by it.
As much as we love rewarding someone for being loyal to Overworld Games, I do not anticipate we will have returning backer levels for future campaigns unless we come up with a better way to track it. Maybe your readers have some ideas for tracking compliance.
While I admire Brian for trying to reward previous backers, his data solidified my thinking that a project creator should not implement a reward specifically for those backers.
The key for me is this: If you’ve treated backers well on previous projects and delivered something awesome, that is the reward. When you’ve established that trust, any backers who are interested in the new project don’t need an extra incentive.
So what you’re left with are downsides: Special reward tiers for previous backers can take up a lot of time and/or can be less welcoming to new backers.
That said, there isn’t a strict right or wrong answer here. What do you think? Have you seen repeat creators reward previous backers in interesting ways?