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10 Branding Lessons Stolen From Kickstarter

Hexanine: Branding Lessons Stolen From Kickstarter

In the design and creativity sphere, it seems like the name Kickstarter is on everyone’s lips these days. Sure, the popular crowdfunding platform has grabbed headlines while giving us a varied cornucopia of things like cardboard furniture, iPod watches, and movies based on cancelled TV shows, but there’s more to it than that. Whether you’ve backed a project, launched one, or just observed the furious sprint-to-funding that can ensue, there’s no denying that this Kickstarter style of funding has irrevocably changed product creation, financial models, and maybe even “e-commerce” itself.

And even beyond those achievements, the platform has also affected brands. Kickstarter has altered the exchange between people and the companies or products they support — which has important implications for brands looking to connect with their audiences. The unique type of relationship created by crowdfunding is powerful, and it’s important to know that effective, emotional audience engagement has grown beyond our old transactional models.

All of that to say that we can learn a lot about what it means to capture audience attention, support, and passion from the ways that Kickstarter projects draw people in. Brands would do well to incorporate some of these subtle lessons into their communications, design, branding, and marketing. Better yet, baking these fresh thoughts into your brand’s very DNA is an even better idea. To that end, we’ve mined 10 lessons your brand can learn from the sticky engagement of Kickstarter:

1. Make your audience part of your process.
When people see early stage sketches, grand plans, or the possibility of “what might be,” and have an opportunity to give feedback, they’re more invested in the process. And this doesn’t have to be crowdsourcing, per se — it’s more about having a bias towards sharing and including, especially for your most loyal and valuable audiences. “Behind the scenes” is exciting for people! Whether you’re designing, crafting, strategizing, or shakin’ what your Momma gave you, your audiences will view you as more approachable and relatable when they feel involved in your day-to-day dealings in some fundamental way.

2. Personality goes a long way.
Jules from Pulp Fiction had it right. What you’re offering to an audience is only one piece of the puzzle, whether it’s on Kickstarter, or in your marketplace. How you do so is also important. The best projects aren’t just the ones with slick videos and high production values –they have real personality.

In our quest to project that flawless image of perfection — seeming like we know exactly what we’re doing — it can be easy to sacrifice a brand’s humanity, its unique voice, warts and all. Great Kickstarter projects allow those bits of personality to seep out — untucked shirts, quirky turns of phrase, wild passions — giving people the chance to embrace these bits and the real people underneath. Regardless of how oddball it is, passion and transparency together can be contagious. There is something appealing about the unvarnished and honest, no matter how unusual it is. Sara O’Mara summed all of this up well: “Always be human. Be professional when necessary.”

3. Your mission can be as important as your products.
Kickstarter has done something interesting in that people don’t have to “make a purchase” to support a project. They can just give a dollar or two in the name of showing support of a person, a cause, or an idea. At its root, does your brand have an ideal that people love, in addition to what you will do for them? If your brand revolves around a powerful, imagination-capturing mission, it gives your audiences an intriguing way to get on the same page as your organization, to your benefit. Your products or services will seem that much more impressive and powerful with that missional backdrop in place.

4. Everyone likes an underdog.
There’s something satisfying about backing the longshot, and seeing it pay off. The old “I knew them before they were famous” line isn’t just a cliché, it’s a way of deeply connecting with people and brands who we believe are more like us — those who might not be the VC-backed favorites or the deep-pocketed prom queens and kings. Almost by definition, Kickstarter projects are stories of underdogs (why else would they be there?), and that is something that resonates with the audiences of many brands.

5. Success breeds more success.
This seems to fly in the face of the previous lesson, but it’s still true. Research has shown that a majority of projects that reach 70% support eventually succeed in their funding, because prospective backers believe that they are going to succeed, so the pile-on begins. The perception of “destined to make it” can sometimes lead to actually making it. When your brand wears the clothes of success (awards, testimonials, experts endorsing), it brings a credibility to what you’re doing. Nothing attracts a crowd like a crowd. This might also be another vote in the “fake it til you make it” camp, so brands should wear success like it came right from their closet.

6. Responsive communication is golden.
The most successful Kickstarter projects have dozens of updates from project creators, letting backers have consistent, moment-by-moment status updates on their effort. These take the form of encouragements, new ideas, and answers to questions. What would it do to your brand if your team devoted themselves to meaningful communication with your audiences at that level? Could you build time and energy into making every brand touchpoint a place for real communication with your audiences? The fruits would undoubtedly be audience surprise, delight, and a much deeper investment in whatever you’re doing.

7. Engaging stories win the day.
Kickstarter projects tend to live or die by the quality of their pitch videos — not the production values, sound, or lighting — but by how well creators are able to get out of their own way and tell a compelling story. This is almost a cliché at this point, but it’s worth taking a good look in the mirror of your brand to honestly see if what you’re saying to intended audiences has the power to excite, arouse, and lead to the changes you want to see.

8. Create brand insiders.
Do your best customers, clients, or supporters know they are VIPs? Do they feel special? Kickstarter projects often give preferences to early adopters or first responders, who then have a chance to bypass the velvet rope. Do your top targets get special privileges, insider info, or just better access to the things that matter to them? This probably isn’t a fake, systemic “rewards program.” It could be as simple as making sure your top 10 customers always get their calls answered the first time, by a real person. Everyone likes to feel like an insider.

9. Bake in some urgency.
If you launch a Kickstarter project, it has a discrete end date. The whole thing is timed, and builds to what is hopefully an exciting climax. This keeps the pace up, but is different than the car salesman’s “What would it take for you to drive out of here today?” This isn’t artificial urgency, it’s telling your brand story in a way that moves people to act now. Is it a timely connection to world events? A right-place-right time sort of scenario? Sounding the urgent horn isn’t something to do all the time, but for brands looking to make a splash, ringing the alarm bells judiciously can have great results.

10. Wacky ideas are worth breeding and supporting.
Finally, Kickstarter is generally a denizen for products, ideas, and dreams that are a little bit outside the norm. They’re unusual, and not as mainstream. If they were for “everyone,” they’d be on Wal-Mart shelves instead. But crowdfunding shows that there’s money, passion, and interest in the unusual and bizarre. Maybe there are “riches in the niches,” but even if they’re not, your brand will do better by promoting and championing the goofballs and weirdos, because deep down, we all understand and love them.

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