Though the most attention-grabbing Kickstarters are those funded to the tune of millions of dollars, the bulk of Kickstarter projects have far more modest goals. But even these smaller campaigns can require more work than you might think to get off the ground. Having just successfully wrapped my own project, I know firsthand.
Inspired by Ze Frank’s fascinating dissection of his highly successful A Show with Ze Frank campaign, I’ve decided to break down my own – more typical – Kickstarter experience. Here’s a look behind the scenes at a Kickstarter project from start to finish.
On April 22, Banana Stand Media announced our biggest project ever: a 20-track compilation CD and free, all-day, all-ages release event.
Banana Stand Media records albums before live audiences at our secret venue (“The Banana Stand”). All albums are distributed online for pay-what-you-want. We offer the service to artists at no charge.
Our compilation album — Live from the Banana Stand Volume 1 — collects 20 of the best tracks recorded in our live series thus far. The goal of the compilation is to increase appreciation for Portland’s live music and the artists performing it. Though we connected with great sponsors, we still needed help covering the project’s expenses. Kickstarter seemed to be a natural choice.
What we did well
Though our Kickstarter was relatively small — our funding goal was just $1,250 — we put a lot of forethought into the campaign. Several strategies were key to getting the effort off the ground.
Social marketing – Between Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr, Banana Stand has a social media following of as many as 1,300 people. Additionally, social marketing is key to the bands featured on the compilation, many of whom have followings in the thousands themselves. Kickstarter allowed us to turn those combined social graphs into dollars.
Prior to launch, we engaged featured bands and our friends to promote our campaign in specific ways. The response to their resulting outreach was extremely positive. Our Kickstarter garnered more than 100 social media shares on the day of its announcement and many more following. By campaign’s end, our project had been “Liked” nearly 350 times.
Traditional marketing – We formed a relationship with The Portland Mercury — our favorite local alt-weekly — late last year. It’s a symbiotic relationship: the Mercury gets exclusive preview tracks and we get valuable promotional bumps.
A post to the Portland Mercury’s website served as the official announcement for our Kickstarter. This stamp of approval from a respected media organization helped legitimatize our effort. Referrals from the Portland Mercury accounted for $600 of the $1,908 we raised — more than any other referrer. Further, this and other writer relationships helped us land the Mercury as an in-kind sponsor, netting us online and newspaper advertising for the compilation and its release event.
Video – Banana Stand’s visual partners Collective-47 produced a Kickstarter video far more polished and sophisticated than what we alone could have managed.
We worked hard to develop a script as concise and professional as possible. Though we considered comedy angles, we opted for earnestness. We were frightened by comedy’s potential drawbacks: It would require a lot more effort and could end with a product far less funny than hoped. We instead focused on the value of what this project would deliver.
We were lucky to have a ton of great footage from our live shows that could be included in the video. Engaging live footage, a solid, practiced script, and Collective-47’s professional touch combined to create a video we were proud to post all over the Internet.
Public service – The public perceives Banana Stand as providing a valuable service and quality products free of charge to audience or artists. We also chose Portland firms to produce all of our Kickstarter materials, so our effort supports local businesses. Beyond those products, we scheduled a free, all-ages event that all are welcome to attend (and that may, in fact, be more interesting to the public and press than the compilation itself). Our public image as serving an important artistic community for free led, probably more than anything, to our Kickstarter’s rapid success.
Reward value – All rewards offered real value to donors, and each included only a small surcharge beyond the retail prices of the rewards included. The rewards themselves are also great products. Our compilation album includes as many great tracks as we could fit on a CD, was professionally mastered by a talented engineer, and was available as a reward for donations as small as $1. All other materials we produced are of the highest quality, and all feature our new, extremely-hip banana-man-branding produced by our art partners Rather Severe.
What we could have improved
We didn’t do everything perfectly. Without going into too much detail, we wish we’d done better in these areas:
Estimating reach – The support we received indicated that we could have asked for more than the $1,250 we requested. Every bit helps with a project like this, so we wish we’d aimed higher.
Time frame – We received the bulk of our donations during our campaign’s first three and last three days. A shorter Kickstarter would have made for a more comfortable production schedule — especially considering the 14 days it can take for the service to disburse your funds.
Big rewards – We couldn’t devise any high-dollar rewards with value on par with the less-expensive tiers. By Kickstarter’s end, we’d received only four donations of more than $50. More attractive higher-dollar reward tiers may have made a big difference in our funding total.
Update video – After it was clear that we would be funded, we wanted to thank our donors and explain what money beyond our pledge goal would be used for. Though Collective-47 produced an excellent video update for us, the video may not have been worth the effort. Just writing an update may have sufficed.
Our fundraiser may have occurred at the end of the golden age of Kickstarter. Though on track to distribute more funding in 2012 than the National Endowment for the Arts, “we may have seen the high-water mark” for the service, according to social media marketer (and DT contributor) Aaron Colter.
Colter, who has organized successful Kickstarters for Camilla d’Errico and Occupy Comics in addition to helming that for Banana Stand, cites numerous funded-but-productless campaigns as creating suspicion amongst the press and public.
“Sometimes, being overfunded is more damning to a brand or business than not being funded at all,” Colter said. “There can be some very real scalability issues. … There have likely been campaigns who realized only afterwards that they would have to pay out more in manufacturing costs than they brought in from donations. Or, [at] the highest level of success, there’s no way to be able to fulfill thousands of orders on time or even at all.”
Product failures aren’t the only problem. The massive number of extant campaigns may be creating fatigue amongst donors. Resistance to the service may be especially strong here in Portland, where a recent interview with Fred Armisen suggested that there are as many as one Kickstarter campaign for every 1,000 people in the city. (Armisen’s satirical Portlandia skewered the service in its February 10 episode.)
Based on these trends, we feel that Banana Stand’s campaign could not have occurred at a better time. Kickstarter has never been more prevalent in the public mind, and we completed our effort prior to any (potential) backlash against the service. We were also lucky to have a social-media mind like Colter’s directing our efforts, and highly recommend engaging someone like him for your own Kickstarter efforts.
In the end
It is unlikely that Banana Stand Media will use Kickstarter again. However, we have been very happy with our experience with the service, and would absolutely recommend well-strategized use of Kickstarter for other, similar projects. Even if the golden age has come and gone, Kickstarter is what you make of it.