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What the Most Successful Kickstarters Can Teach Us About Marketing

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Over the past few years, crowdfunding has taken off in a big way, nabbing some startups serious cash, not to mention publicity. Even the SEC has ruled in favor of allowing unaccredited investors to fund startups, cementing crowdfunding’s place in the economic landscape. Yet not everyone is equal when it comes to crowdfunding, and some businesses walk away with more attention (and cash) than others.

What have the most successful Kickstarter campaigns over the past few years had in common, and what can they teach us about marketing? Here are three ways successful Kickstarters separate themselves from the pack.

1. Simple Messaging that Shows How Your Product is Different — Pebble Time

Of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns, Pebble Time is right at the top, crowdsourcing over $20.3 million. With so many smartwatches on the market, many from much bigger brands, why would people give up so much cash for this watch in particular? Pebble Time’s success hinges just as much on what it is as what it isn’t: Apple Watch.

When you visit Pebble Time’s Kickstarter page, you know everything you need to know about the product — and why you should purchase it instead of the competition — from two simple messages in the header. The headline delivers the promise: “Awesome Smartwatch, No Compromises,” and the header copy tells you exactly what you get: “Color e-paper smartwatch with up to seven days of battery.”

What the headline might as well be saying is, “This is a smartwatch for people who want better readability and battery life than what Apple or Android will offer you.” No buzzwords, no spin, just a couple of features that differentiate it from the pack. Given that Pebble Time is the most successful Kickstarter to date, those are features users want.

2. Know Your Audience — The Oculus Rift

To generate capital, first you must generate excitement. The Oculus Rift, a virtual reality headset that lets gamers immerse themselves inside the world of the game, had the perfect formula to rile up believers. First, a huge and powerful target — not only are gamers a huge and growing group, over a billion strong, but they also have a strong fanatic contingent. The power and passion of the gaming community helped prime the Oculus Rift to be one of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns to date, and the Oculus team knew exactly how to excite them: enlist their direct involvement to create demos and improve the product, and bring out industry hard-hitters.

If there’s one lesson to take from Oculus Rift’s marketing strategy, it’s that knowing your audience is absolutely invaluable. Nabbing an endorsement from Gabe Newell, President and Owner of Valve Corporation, was one of the smartest moves Oculus could have made. Valve makes some of gaming’s most beloved properties, like Half-Life and Portal, and Newell himself is something of a legend both inside and outside of the gaming community. But it wasn’t just votes of confidence from him and other industry heavy hitters that got the Rift one of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns. It was also the IKEA effect.

Studies show that when users are involved in “self-made products,” they tend to value them more. Basically, people take a lot of pride in their own creation, and DIY plays on the power of the human ego to sell products. Not only could game designers and programmers get their hands on an Oculus Rift “developer kit” and immerse themselves in virtual reality, but they could create those realities, as well. In fact, if you didn’t want to cough up the full $300 for the assembled product, you could save $25 and get the unassembled Rift DIY kit. Of course, they note, “This DIY kit is only for true hardware geeks equipped with a hot glue gun. We encourage most of you to get the standard version below!” To anyone who knows gamers or computer geeks, that’s not dissuasion — that’s a challenge.

3. Pitch Your Kickstarter to the Right Outlet — $55,492 Potato Salad

Okay, the potato salad Kickstarter that made headlines for raising over $55K isn’t one of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns in terms of raw capital, but it does show that if you go viral, you can make incredible things happen. You probably know the story by now: a guy by the name of Zack “Danger” Brown launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $10 to make a potato salad. The story went viral, plastering Facebook and Twitter feeds alike, and he eventually made over 5,000 times his original goal. 

Having content go that massively viral is pretty much any content marketer’s dream, but it’s an elusive one. There’s no formula that will guarantee that your content will explode like that guy’s potato salad, but his story does offer one clue: on the day Brown launched the campaign, the story was picked up by CNET. At that point, he’d made over $100 from his campaign — still impressive, but nothing compared to $55,492. It was after CNET shared his potato salad story that it went viral. 

While there’s no secret ingredient for viral content, the potato salad story shows that if your content is shared by the right media outlet at the right time, it can reach a magnitude beyond what you’d ever anticipated. If you want to replicate the virality of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns, be vigilant with your media pitches.

Whether you’re starting your own crowdfunding project or just polishing your content or social marketing strategy, successful Kickstarter campaigns are a good place to look for inspiration, as well as a lesson in how the Internet hype machine works.

Have you ever looked to successful Kickstarter campaigns for marketing ideas? What has inspired you? Let me know in the comments, or tweet @whirledview.

About the author: Jim Robinson is the Founder of ClickSeed, a boutique digital marketing agency specializing in search marketing for publishers and B2B enterprise clients. Connect with Jim on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Image credit: Microvector/BigStockPhoto

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

Jim Robinson

Jim is the Founder and President of ClickSeed, a digital marketing agency specializing in enterprise SEO and audience development for medium to large size companies, as well as publishers in news, financial, and entertainment media. Clients include Nasdaq, Rolling Stone, and Us Weekly. Learn more at

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