Kickstarter Lesson #150: The Power of a Personalized Message at First Contact

28 May 2015 | 18 Comments

Is there anything that makes you less likely to read or respond to an e-mail than “Dear sir/madam”?

Lately it seems like I’ve been getting a lot of these messages, mostly from creators, artists, conventions, designers, and manufacturers. During my last two projects I also got a lot of similar messages from campaign-boosting services.

I ignore all of these messages. When an e-mail has a generic introduction and text, the message I receive is of ambivalence. The message wasn’t important enough to them to take a minute to look up my name or include a note specific to my company.

The unfortunate thing is that almost all of these messages (except for the campaign-boosting services) are lost opportunities for the sender. For all I know, they may have only been reaching out to Stonemaier Games, but the message comes across as a copy-and-paste to a dozen companies.

There is a little bit of ego in play here. I like to feel special or selected. You probably do too–it’s human nature.

Last year at Gen Con, a fairly well-known designer scheduled a pitch meeting with me. We played 30 minutes of his game, and we ultimately passed, but it was among the best games pitched to me.

A few months later, I heard this designer on a podcast. He mentioned that he had targeted two specific companies at Gen Con, and we were one of them. This came as a shock to me–I assumed he was showing the game to as many publishers as possible.

It could have made a significant difference at the pitch meeting if the designer had said, “I’m pitching my game specifically to Stonemaier because of X feature that fits well with Y attribute about you and your games.”

The same applies any type of first contact we creators make with anyone. That’s our chance to make a good first impression and hopefully get a response.

Fortunately, it’s really not difficult to personalize a message. Lead off with the person’s first name (if you can find it) and immediately follow with something that shows you actually know who they are and what they do. Then move on to the core message.

Of course, it also helps if have more than a superficial understanding or knowledge of the person you’re contacting. For example, I frequently get messages from people with Kickstarter questions even though I say in multiple places that I’ll only answer those questions if they’re posted as comments on relevant blog entries.

The 2 minutes it takes to research personalize that first-contact e-mail can be the difference between a deleted message and a long-lasting professional relationship. It’s worth the time.

Do you feel the same way about generic vs. personalized messages?

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18 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #150: The Power of a Personalized Message at First Contact

  1. This post is wonderful. So frequently we all get spam email from X Y or Z company asking to advertise, or selling their art, etc. Frequently, I, assuming that they’re really a human, respond. Either: “Thanks, but you sound spammy, so I don’t trust you.” Or “Lovely, and thanks for looking into who we are before asking us to view your gallery!” – So when the latter shows up, I feel refreshed. Real, honest, human interaction goes 100miles further than the spam email. And is thus I’d say 1 real email is worth at least 25 if not 100 spam ones.

  2. It warms my heart to hear that other people want that level of respect, too. For me, a customized message (or any indication of familiarity with the recipient) is more about professionalism than pride. I know it feels good when people know who you are, but I just want them to have enough respect for me and their own brand to do the research ahead of time. :-P

  3. This stuff is so basic but very important. It can be very awkward to send that first email or introduction. On one hand a generic intro is very off putting while too much personal touch comes off odd as well.

    When I was booking a 3 month tour it was a headache reaching out to so many bookers/clubs/bands but I also understood that it was critical to the tour’s success. It takes a lot of time and for every 10 you send out you’ll get 1 response and out of every 1 of those you’ll get maybe a 50% positive response.

    This blog post is great advice for anyone. I think another key point to remember is that an email or message straddles the line of formal and informal. The best positive responses I have gotten from an email is when I state right up front what I’m asking for and then do a short introduction.

    “I have a game prototype and want to know if there is a chance I can pitch it to you at Geekway. My name is Royce and I have been developing a tile laying game that would fit in line with Stonemaier’s brand of games…”

    1. Royce: Thanks for sharing your perspective. That’s an interesting point that it’s possible to be too personal. I haven’t had that happen too often.

      As for your sample opening paragraph, it’s 99% of the way there. You demonstrate knowledge of Stonemaier by showing you know we’ll be at Geekway, but I think it could use just a little more specificity. Like:

      “I have a game prototype and want to know if there is a chance I can pitch it to you at Geekway. My name is Royce and I have been developing a tile laying game that would fit in line with Stonemaier’s brand of games (your website indicates that you’re looking for gateway games for 2-6 players, which matches perfectly with my game).”

  4. Hey Jamey,

    If you’re not someone who can pitch at trade shows to the Stonemaier Games brand, how would you go about it? I’m not asking for myself here (at least not immediately, my game wouldn’t fit well within your umbrella, cool mechanics or not), more out of curiosities sake.

    1. Bane: Sure, we have some details about that on our submissions page. We ask people to make a short video of them explaining and playing their game (nothing fancy–no edits necessary).

  5. I fully agree with you jamey. Mails without my name in the first line are almost 100% spam or bad newsletters.
    You are right, that we want to feel “special” and at least have our names in it. And like anthony said: A good subject will help to read at least the first few lines of the real email.
    It seems i was lucky when writing you, Jamey. ;-)

    1. Yea, I used to think he was more joking then serious.

      That was before I got into a high visibility position in Bing at Microsoft where I was getting 1000+ emails per day and sending about 250 per day. It is amazing how the human brain will adapt to that sort of a situation and learn some amazing review and filtering techniques.

  6. That reminds me of the endless resumes and cover letters I used to see back when I was in corporate.

    Dear Sir/Madame,
    To who it may concern,
    Good Morning!
    Dear Hiring Manager,

    When you are reviewing hundreds of emails or resumes on a topic, these will drive you nuts.

    One of my managers once taught me a very important rule about contacting people. Most people take less than 2 seconds to review an email before deciding whether or not it is important enough to warrant their time.

    If you send an email to someone and don’t have a good subject, you already lose them. If it looks “canned” when they scan the top of the body, you will lose them.

    Start with their name and then very quickly state why they should even pay attention to anything else the email has to say. Something like the following.

    Subject: Mech Defense Siege of Kelmova needs a publisher!

    Hey Jamey,
    We signed up for your 30 minute event at GenCon to review our game.

    Then go into more detail.

    1. Anthony: Well said! I completely agree with that 2-second rule.

      I look forward to meeting you at Gen Con, though I wouldn’t recommend pitching Mech Defense to us, as we already have a mech game in the works, Scythe (we only need one mech game :) ).

      1. Aww, there is room for more than 1 Mech game in the world :)

        We have a block reserved already to talk with you. If you really aren’t interested in Mech Defense, we would love to discuss Kickstarter management if that is possible. We are planning to launch our Kickstarter about 1 week before GenCon.

        If that isn’t an option, let me know and I will look into freeing up the slot so another game group can talk with you guys.

        1. Oh, definitely! There’s room for lots of mech games. But for branding reasons, only one for Stonemaier. :)

          If you just want to chat about Kickstarter stuff in general, it might be better just to drop by sometime in the afternoon for a more casual chat. We only have a few slots reserved for pitches, so I’d like to keep them for that purpose if possible. Thanks!

        2. Getting a media manager (who has KS experience) can certainly be beneficial even if it’s only to bounce ideas off. I know I personally added value to the Pandante KS I recently managed toward its end just in knowledge of journalism and good KS practices alone. It was a good skill share, I got to learn about the distribution methods they use, and I also got to see the many mistakes and fumbles that can pile up around a project.

          This knowledge will help me later this year when I launch my own product, and I will get a media manager myself, because it is good to have someone point out issues that you are too close to see.

          1. Any good pointers for where and how to find an experienced Media Manager for a board game Kickstarter project?

            We are still about 2 months away from launching, so we have time to engage and learn.

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