Kickstarter Lesson #146: Start an E-Newsletter

13 April 2015

This may be KS Lesson #146, but it’s right at the beginning of my chronological checklist of things to do at least 6 months before you launch your first crowdfunding campaign. With over 10,000 subscribers, the Stonemaier Games e-newsletter continues to be a huge asset to engaging our fans and notifying them of new product launches.

Why Is an E-Newsletter Important?

Despite all the various forms of social media, e-mail is still the best way to communicate something specific (like a Kickstarter launch notification) to a big group of people. Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are great, but only a small number of those fans and followers will see any post you make.

The other nice thing about an e-newsletter is you can start accepting subscribers at any time. You may not have a product or a company, but if you have an exciting pitch, people will start to sign up to learn more later. This is discussed in Funding the Dream podcast #237 with Joey Vigour, creator of the successful Chaosmos project.

Which Service Should I Use?

I’ve used MailChimp (referral code) for several years now, and I’ve been extremely happy with my experience. It’s easy to set up and use, offers plans ranging from free to affordable, and offers tons of data and analytics.

Of course, there are many other e-newsletter options out there. I’ve heard good things about TinyLetter. The only thing you really don’t want to do is send a mass e-mail through your normal e-mail client. People can’t unsubscribe from that, so they end up filtering all e-mails from that account.

How Do I Get Subscribers?

It helps to have a formal presence on the internet for people to discover so they know there’s something to sign up for. A blog, podcast, or YouTube channel are ideal, but you can also use Facebook and Twitter to direct people to the e-newsletter subscription page.

Keep in mind that people search for and discover random stuff all the time. You never know when one of those people might be a future backer, so give them the opportunity to stay in touch with you in the long run via your e-newsletter.

Do not pay for lists of subscribers, and do not subscribe people without asking for their permission.

How Can I Optimize the E-Newsletter (and Not Annoy Subscribers)?

The easiest way for you to answer this question for yourself is think about all the various e-newsletters you subscribe to. Which are the ones you actually read? What is it about them that makes you want to read them? Figure that out and do the same with yours.

Here are some specific tips:

  • Write a compelling subject line, as it’s your first and only chance to get people to read more. Entrepreneur Alison Davis offers 5 great tips on writing effective subject lines here.
  • Write like a person, not a company. Use the words “I” and “we,” not generic third person. Tell your story–Michael Mindes does this really well in the TMG e-newsletter. Write as if you’re talking to one specific reader, not “Hey everyone!”
  • Include several images, but make sure the text stands on its own for people who can’t view the images in their e-mail client.
  • Send the e-newsletter once a month and whenever you launch a new campaign or pre-order.

MailChimp sent me some interesting data about my campaigns from 2014. As the descriptions note, the data can be a little misleading, as it’s based on my own patterns of sending out e-newsletters on Monday more than other days and KS launch notifications at 9:30 am CST more than other times.

2014-12-19_15552014-12-19_1555_001

 

Also read: Post-Campaign Communication

***

What is your experience with e-newsletters, either as a creator or a subscriber? What elements of e-newsletters motivate you to actually read them?

29 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #146: Start an E-Newsletter

  1. Great post Jamey!

    CGPGrey addressed this as well, he wrote a summary blog here (http://www.cgpgrey.com/blog/the-professional-sharer) of why he went to email updates over relying on social platform algorithms.

    We set up an e-newsletter based on your advice and it’s already been hugely successful. I decided to make the sign-up form a bit of fun by adding unusual questions (http://eepurl.com/QgY2z). I’ll normally email people to say “thanks for subscribing” and comment on something amusing they submitted in the sign-up form, it’s been a great way to engage with our subscribers.

    What are your thoughts on making a sign-up form a fun way to engage our subscribers?

    1. Gino: That’s a really interesting strategy! I like the fun question and engagement, and I’m sure people are surprised to hear back from a real person when they subscribe. :) I think it’s certainly worth trying when you’re starting out!

  2. Jamey,

    It’s a great idea…I only wish that I had the time. It’s one of the myriad challenges facing individuals like myself, who may dedicate the time to run the Kickstarter from preparation, through the campaign period, and the post-distribution excitement, but then life takes over, for the 98% of us who have day-jobs that take us away from our other passion…

    Cheers,
    Joe

  3. Hi jamey, I read this blog a few months ago as well as taking other advice for our upcoming game Lab Wars. I just wanted to personally thank you for your fantastic advice. I also wanted to know what do you think is conservative estimate for newsletter conversion rates? We’ve had a massive influx of newsletter subscribers due to some media attention and it now stands at a respectable 180 and we’re not launching until June. So I just want to make sure that I get quotes from manufacturers based on decent estimates. Also what did you find most effective at engaging your subscribers? I.e what sort of content attracted the most amount of clicks?

  4. Caezer: That’s great to hear that you’re already growing your e-newsletter subscribers. As for conversion rates (from subscribers to backers), I think in any industry, 5% is excellent and 10% is amazing. It’s one thing to click subscribe; it’s quite another to actually pay money for something. I think your manufacturing estimates will be tied to minimum thresholds, not subscribers.

    As for engaging subscribers, since they’re subscribers, they’re specifically telling you that they want to be kept informed about what your company is doing. There’s no great mystery there. :) Just give them what they signed up to receive on a monthly basis: the inside scoop on the game, a few photos or images of the art, and anything timely and relevant about the company. Keep it personal–write it like a person, not a big company. Michael Mindes at TMG does a great job of this. Good luck!

  5. Hi Jamey, thanks for everything you are doing for KS creators. I myself will run my first project on Kickstarter and never would have gotten myself to make this step (publish a game) if it weren’t for your extremely helpful blog.

    I have a question though. We started promoting our game since November 2015 and the plan is to launch around mid April or May (but the launch date is not set in stone)

    If you were a first time creator, with how many subscribers would you feel comfortable launching the campaign. I know that this is not simple math, but the reason why I’m asking, and maybe give you an idea for a next blog post is: “When do you say, ok, enough is enough, I think we can launch the campaign.”

  6. Vojkan: That’s a really good question. I think it’s hard to quantify exactly how many subscribers you need, as it’s just as much about how those subscribers are engaging with the content and showing their excitement for it as it is about the number. If you have 400 subscribers but no one likes or comments on your Facebook page, blog, or Twitter feed, that’s not as good as if you have only 100 subscribers and many of them are interacting with the content in public. So I would recommend not focusing too much on the number itself and instead focus on the level of interaction and engagement.

  7. Thanks for the quick reply! :)

    I completely agree with what you said that interaction and engagement is key. While developing our website we started a dev blog on BGG, and people started noticing the game, asking questions about mechanics, receiving great feedback on the artwork…

    Since we started in November, around 100 people subscribed on our newsletter because of what we showed to them, 260+ liked our page and they interact with the posts there. So wanted to reassure myself that with this trend we are doing ok for a launch in April/May. Would love to hear your feedback!

    Thanks again!

  8. Great post Jamey – thank you.

    Also a big thank-you to Gino. Your newsletter comment idea is really creative and interesting, and I plan to use on our newsletter. I am sure it will be very cool to read what everyone comes up with. Thanks again.

  9. Thanks for another great post! We always give people the option to sign up for our newsletter when we take our game to playtest events and through our website, but my plan had been to wait until we are ready to launch the campaign to send an announcement rather than “spam” their inbox with updates.

    Based on reading a lot of your other posts I had been trying to stay away from self-promotion (aside from brief facebook and twitter posts), but you do make a good point that once someone signs up for the newsletter they are telling you they want to know more. Now I’m really considering starting a monthly newsletter and thinking about what kind of content would be appropriate for it.

    Something that comes to mind so far is to look at some of the social media updates that people liked over the past month and expand on those in the newsletter.

    In your opinion, should the newsletter be only about your own work or products? Or would it make sense to include, for example, a link to your favorite blog post or podcast from the last month or something cool you came across that could interest your followers?

    1. Maggie: That’s a great question. I think the key is for you to identify why people signed up for your newsletter, then follow through on that expectation. If you decide that people didn’t sign up for your newsletter to read related articles, then you might find another place for that type of content as you continue to build a following. For me, I usually share that type of content from other people/companies on Twitter, but I also talk about other companies’ games on YouTube (the links to which I share on Facebook).

  10. As always great stuff here on your blog Jamey!

    I’m running into a bit of a problem getting emails from my Facebook fans. I have managed to capture their attention and have been slowly showing parts of the game as I hopefully build up to the Kickstarter. (I’ve been working on this stupid game for years… just ask Strebeck) And while I have been very fortunate in the number of likes, comments, and shares, I can’t seem to get this audience to sign up for a news letter. Now it may just be my market, 15-25yr old females, but as interested as they appear to be no one is signing up.

    Facebook offers something called Lead Ads which to my understanding would allow me to ask these “fans” directly for their email address. I am curious to see if anyone has had any luck with this tactic. Have any of you tried this before?

    1. Matt: Thanks for posting your question here. I haven’t tried the lead ad system you mentioned, but I can try to speak to the overall question. That’s an interesting dilemma–you’re building a crowd on social media, but that crowd isn’t as interested in subscribing to an e-newsletter. I think the key is to give them more than one compelling reason to subscribe. What value are they receiving if they subscribe, both in terms of the immediate future (some special giveaway or discount), the target future (the launch date of your project), and the ongoing future (monthly/bi-monthly)? If you can answer all three of those questions–that is, if you’re adding value that those people can’t get from other forms of social media–I think you’ll see your subscribers increase, especially if you’re already engaging them.

      1. Thanks Jamey!
        You’ve given me some great ideas. When you say it like that it just makes sense. Why should they sign up? What do they get out of it? Sure they will be notified of the progress via a newsletter but what other Value is there if they sign up? Good stuff to think about. Thanks again Jamey.

  11. If you have email-followers of a blog, do you think that serves a similar function?

    And if you plan on launching a Patreon at some point, do you think updates sent to the email of supporters could be a way to go?
    “$1 reward – Get monthly updates”.
    I know that seems like greed, but I’m just thinking there may be much overlap between the group who would support and the group who would want updates,

    1. If you have the ability at any time to get a message into the inbox of all of your followers, it’s close to being an e-newsletter. You’ll be missing out on the metrics you can learn from a service like Mailchimp, though.

      In general, I don’t think you need to offer any special rewards for Patreon. Patreon users are supporting something you already create–other than higher pledge levels, I don’t think they expect anything special in return. See here: https://stonemaiergames.com/patreon-turns-me-on/

      1. The emails I get from WordPress-blogs I follow seems to include the entire posts, and I have WordPress-blog myself.
        So I think I will skip having a newsletter, unless you can think of a good reason to have a “once-a-month thing” seperate from “three times a week” with my blog-posts (a post could be a Kickstarter launch notification or the like).

        Thanks for the link :)

        1. Well, I’ll put it this way: Does it hurt you to have an e-newsletter? I don’t think so, especially if you’re at a free tier.

          Also, related, if you put all your focus into the WordPress e-mail system and at some point you want to convert to an e-newsletter, I don’t think you have access to those e-mails. It’ll be tough to convert.

          How about this: Write a blog post with a call to action that you can track (a link to click or a poll to answer). See how many of your WordPress e-mail subscribers do it. If it’s 5% or fewer, perhaps consider focusing on an e-newsletter instead.

Leave a Comment

© 2018 Stonemaier Games