We all know the Kickstarter success stories.
There are the head-shaking phenomena, like the potato salad guy.
There are the campaigns that put dollar-signs in your eyes, like:
- The Coolest Cooler: earned $13,285,226, funded at 26,570%
- The original Pebble Watch: earned $10,266,845, funded at 10,266%
- “Bones” parts 1 and 2: earned a total of $6,598,845, funded at an average of 10,997%
And then there’s the really crazy-school stuff like this, where a new backer came in every 2 seconds (53 in 1:40) on campaign launch day / Day 1:
Just 6 days into the Pebble Time campaign – at the time of writing – Pebble’s Kickstarter pitch has brought them $11.8M.
…Of course, we’ve all got our heads screwed on straight, right?
We’re not naive.
We can look at those big ol’ pledges and remember that those products are the greatest Kickstarter successes to date. They’re the highlights; they’re not common, and they’re not to be expected.
As in, results not typical fine-print.
BUT! Between 10,000xing your pledge goal and making a wrist-slitting $25 thanks to your mom’s – and only your mom’s – pledge, there’s a whole lotta room for you to get your project fully funded. If the product has a market, and if you can connect with that market, and if you can sell to that market on your Kickstarter pitch page, you could be a success story, too.
You just need a better pitch.
A pitch is, essentially, a snappier, catchier version of a long-form sales page.
So to help you make your pitch amazingly convincing, let’s analyze the top-performing pitch pages out there, from Exploding Kittens to The Coolest Cooler to Ouya, Pono Music, Veronica Mars Movie, and Reading Rainbow. We’re looking for the awesome things those pitch pages have in common, most of which are based on better practices in long-form copywriting.
Your takeaway by the end? A whole bunch of great, informed ideas to use to write the Helsinki outta your Kickstarter page so you stand a much better chance of getting funded.
BTW: Where necessary / helpful, I’ve divided my analysis into “better mousetrap” products vs “entertainment” products. That’s not how Kickstarter does it, but they’ve got a dozen categories – and that’d be a nightmare to write out every time. Oh, I’ve also analyzed one rather unfortunate page to show you what not to do. This page is representative of the hundreds of thousands of pitch pages that never reach funding. I’m analyzing the bad (just one) for educational purposes, not ‘cos I wanna put that poor soul through any more trauma.
Let’s start with the first thing the top Kickstarter pages we analyzed have in common:
Inside This Mega-Post
- Their headlines (aka Project Titles) are clear – they’re not salesy
- Their video thumbnails make you want to click.
- In the case of “better mousetraps”, their pitch videos demonstrate.
- In the case of entertainment or non-utility products, their videos tell a story.
- “Better mousetraps” lead with the pain of the current mousetrap.
- Entertainment pitches lead with recognized names, generally in interesting ways.
- At this point, let us pause to analyze a page that doesn’t do any of the above.
- Back to what the best pages do: They don’t spend words like they’re worth $100 each.
- Finally, the Mega-Bullet List of great ideas to swipe from top-performing Kickstarter pitches
Their headlines (aka Project Titles) are clear –
they’re not salesy
Okay, so I mentioned that a lot of the best Kickstarter pages borrow from long-form sales pages. And that’s true. Except when it comes to their headlines.
Most direct response copywriters would weep, wail and whine if they read the headlines of some of the top Kickstarter campaigns:
Reaper Miniatures Bones: An Evolution Of Gaming Miniatures
COOLEST COOLER: 21st Century Cooler that’s Actually Cooler
OUYA: A New Kind of Video Game Console
Pono Music – Where Your Soul Rediscovers Music
But those very simple, non-salesy headlines worked.
And, as you’re going to see, most successful Kickstarter campaign headlines are just as salesman-free as web users have increasingly come to demand.
So what’s happening in the above headlines? What can you replicate when you’re writing your Kickstarter sales page?
The first takeaway? This: If your product name is attention-grabbing, consider letting it stand alone. Exploding Kittens did. Worked for them. How can you know if your name is attention-grabbing enough to stand alone? Say it to a few random (not pre-selected) people, and see how they react. If it’s “Exploding Kittens” calibre, you’ll know.
The second takeaway from those headlines is simply a formula to use for your headline / title. If you’re hoping for something fancy, sorry to disappoint – this is the formula:
PRODUCT NAME: Value Proposition
Yep, state your product name. Then tack on your USP, expressed crisply.
Now, I know how easy it is to get freaked out at the idea of writing a value prop for your product. Lance is currently reading the very brilliant but very, very long and intimidating Value Proposition Design, which could terrify David Ogilvy himself – but don’t let your head go there. If you can’t make it through a huge value prop exercise, keep reading for the quick ‘n’ dirty. But first, know this: your value prop is often little more than the very reason you built the product you’re pitching.
So to find it, go back to those seminal moments in which you noticed a problem and thought, Hey, people will love this (entertainment product) or Hey, I can fix this (better mousetrap).
Who would love it? Why would they love it?
What was the problem? How exactly did you fix it?
It doesn’t mean that you were right to build the product you did. It doesn’t mean that your value prop will be great. But this exercise is a fab starting point for most products, especially if you’re just trying to get something down on the page to avoid letting intimidation and fear creep into your writing process.
So start with that.
Write a whole bunch of variations of it.
To ensure you’re focusing on what’s uniquely better or different about your product, try starting your value prop with:
The first ____
The only ____
The most beautifully designed ____
The affordable ____
The greener alternative to ____
Each variation you write should be stickier and snappier than the last. Do things like replacing a bland noun in one variation with a specific one in the next. When you’ve written a bunch of succinct value props out, print off copies of this scorecard (yes, on actual paper) and score each value prop:
It won’t surprise you to find that “unique” and “desirable (to your prospect)” are very difficult to achieve. You’ll likely end up spending a lot of time trying to figure out what’s uniquely desirable about your offering – and then you’ll work at adding in specifics. Then you’ll try to cut what you’ve got down to <8 words. Then comes the need to be sticky or memorable.
The value prop that gets the highest score becomes the second half of your Kickstarter page headline.
To help you out, here are some of the most recognizable value props ever:
Kayak: Search one and done.
Tassimo: The barcode brews it better.
M&Ms: The milk chocolate melts in your mouth, not in your hands.
In case you’re wondering, no, your value prop isn’t necessarily your tagline. All of the above are recognizable value props because they double as taglines, but be careful not to abstract too much and lose the stickiness of specifics by trying to taglinize your value prop for your Kickstarter headline.
In case you’re not really sure about the formula, these are the headlines of some of Kickstarter’s biggest success stories:
Lumio: A Modern Lamp With Infinite Possibilities (850% funded)
FORM 1: An affordable, professional 3D printer (2945% funded)
ZANO – Autonomous. Intelligent. Swarming. Nano Drone (1868% funded)
The Micro: The First Truly Consumer 3D Printer (6802% funded)
The Dash – Wireless Smart In Ear Headphones (1304% funded)
SCiO: Your Sixth Sense. A Pocket Molecular Sensor For All! (1381% funded)
Now take a look at the headlines of some unfunded projects.
I grabbed these randomly from the Photography category. Unfunded and nearing completion, they rarely follow the formula:
International Photography Exchange (8 days to go, 2% funded)
Help Mike buy a printer (6 days to go, 17% funded)
Capturing the People, Places and Faces of the World (14 days to go, 0% funded)
The 52 Week Project (5 days to go, 21% funded)
Protecting Endangered Species (62 hours to go, 55% funded)
If You Use This Headline Formula,
Will You Attract the Interest You Want?
When we assess the above and see that the headlines are really clear and not even remotely in the camp of “salesy”, we might naturally jump to this thought: Well imagine how successful they might have been if they’d tried selling!
Could be true. Could be. But we don’t know.
What we DO know is that those headlines follow a very simple formula that served them well:
PRODUCT NAME: Value Proposition
A clear headline trumps one that’s trying to persuade, as we’ve found and as the fine folks at Marketing Experiments champion
A clear headline is more likely to speak to everyone who visits your page, from your prospects to the group you’re secretly writing for: Kickstarter Staff.
If you’re on Kickstarter, you really wanna become a Kickstarter Staff Pick. Here’s why, as INC reported:
Staff Picks can get prime placement on the website, be promoted to Kickstarter’s 2 million followers on Facebook and Twitter, or appear in Kickstarter’s “Projects We Love” email, which reaches more than 4 million inboxes every week. That promotion can increase donations. Users get in on the promotional activity by updating their pages to add a bright green badge or banner they create themselves, even though Kickstarter discourages the practice.
Kickstarter’s employees can also donate their own cash to a project. And earlier this year, Kickstarter started using company money to give cash to projects it favors.
Kickstarter Staff, like any member of your audience, need to quickly understand what’s different about you to see if you’re worth supporting.
Check out the project titles / headlines of some recent Kickstarter Staff Picks, and see if the formula doesn’t look familiar:
KABACCHA SHOES : Redefining the Modern Dress Shoe (staff pick + funded)
i Ready O – Retrofying your iPhone (staff pick)
Precision Coffee Grinder: Better Grind, More Flavor (staff pick + funded)
MAGNETIC: Paper That Sticks to Walls (staff pick + funded)
Havok: Disrupting Luxury Watches (staff pick + funded)
NEOH: the first smart 3D audio headphones (staff pick + funded)
Does it not make sense to use the name + value prop formula to write your Kickstarter project title?
At least start with this formula. Then improve on it.
The great thing about a really well-done value prop is that it lets your key differentiator shine. If you get it right, your prospects AND Kickstarter staff are more likely to understand quickly and clearly what’s different about you. If they like what makes you different, that’s half the battle.
As always in scientific copywriting, rely on an existing formula instead of making stuff up.
Now onto the next observation about top-performing Kickstarter pages:
Their video thumbnails make you want to click.
Tempted to use a video thumbnail that’s just plain pretty?
Or a close-up of your product?
Or a screenshot of your video game?
Stop. Ask yourself this: is this video thumbnail engaging the mind in any real way?
Be critical with your answer.
A lot is riding on it.
The thing about great thumbnails is that they make the viewer want to click. More often than not, they suggest a story; the visitor, seeing something not easily explained, becomes curious about the story they’re missing out on. They’ll then wish to close the curiosity gap, which requires playing the video and watching the story unfold.
Create a thumbnail that makes fingers itch by doing one of the following:
- Including something human in the shot, Wistia says (point #2)
- Choosing a thumbnail that will scale well for small devices as mobile views of Kickstarter.com have increased substantially in the last 3 months
- Using on-screen copy to hint at the awesomeness of what’s inside the video
To add to the list – so you can’t say you wish you’d known you were supposed to optimize your thumbnail – Wistia recommends trying one of these 4 strategies when creating a video thumbnail:
Take a look at the thumbnails for top-performing Kickstarter video pitches:
Now look at your Kickstarter video thumbnail.
What 1 thing will you do to improve it?
Once you’ve done that 1 thing… what will you do next?
Keep optimizing to make your thumbnail as click-worthy as possible.
Once you get them to click, the next challenge is to get them to watch AND finish the video wanting to back your product. So here’s a secret to swipe from the top-performers:
In the case of “better mousetraps”,
their pitch videos demonstrate.
You could easily write an entire book on how to make a kick-a$$ Kickstarter pitch video. (We’re not gonna do that here.)
In that book, you’d dedicate the biggest chapter to this one thing: demonstration.
Know what products sell well on QVC? Products you can demonstrate.
Know what products sell well with long-form sales pages? Products you can demonstrate.
Know why those pitch guys live in mansions? They demonstrate products exceptionally well.
If your product cannot be demonstrated, hire a pro to do your pitch video – ‘cos writing your video script without any way to show before and afters and/or us-vs-them is going to be very, very hard. Seriously. You will need an emotional story (like Bibliotheca and Manly Mark)
The best Kickstarter products are, time and again, the ones you can demonstrate.
Generally, videos either start with a demonstration or bookend an extended demonstration with a narrative. Here’s what we’ve seen:
- Before the first 10 seconds of Lumio’s pitch video are up, we’ve seen Lumio demonstrated
- Almost the entire second half of the Ouya pitch shows us the system in action, from their controller prototype to the experience of playing games
- The first 15 seconds of Pebble’s 2012 is demonstration of the watch
- From 0:43 to 1:36 and later 2:06 to 2:46, we see Pebble Time demonstrated
- Almost all of ButterUp’s pitch video is a demonstration of 1) pain and 2) solution
- 3D printer Form 1 demonstrates from 2:10 to 2:54 – for more than half a minute
- The first 30 seconds of Peg passively demonstrate it at work, then the demonstration continues throughout (from 0:45 on)
- From 1:30 on, FlyKly Smart Wheel demonstrates how cool their bike wheel is (and how it’ll help your life)
Honestly, the list goes on and on.
Coolest Cooler does what I have to say is the very best job I’ve ever seen a Kickstarter pitch video do.
Their campaign video is so good, I had it transcribed so I could make a study of it.
Click here to download the transcript and my notes on it (for educational purposes only; I have no rights to the script – nor do you)
If you don’t download the transcript, here’s one really quick takeaway for you: the script is written at about a third-grade reading level. It’s painfully simple, which is what makes it so easy to understand. Don’t over-complicate or get too fancy when you’re talking to the world.
Now back to the whole idea of demonstrating:
what does it really mean to “demonstrate” your product?
As I understand it from my days of direct response, the #1 rule of demonstration is this: Don’t demonstrate how the product works. Demonstrate what it does for your customer.
With that understood, there are a few tricks for demonstration.
Trick 1: Use the “Prism Effect.” This is an old copywriting technique where you essentially try to “shine a light” through your product to show every angle of its awesomeness. So although a Lumio lamp looks like it’s only awesome ‘cos of the folding book effect, it’s even awesomer (thanks to the Prism Effect) because it was designed by # of artists and engineers from X schools, it’s made with this fancy paper, its battery lasts this long, it biodegrades naturally within 25 years.
Trick 2: Always think in terms of contrast. The mind feeds on contrast. It’s a big part of how our lizard brains make decisions. People are using a solution today; your demonstration should help show your better solution in direct contrast to the current solution / what your prospect already knows.
With that in mind, you should demonstrate everything advantageous you’ve built into and for the product:
- Thinner than expected? Put it next to something recognizably thicker but not cumbersome (e.g., think Macbook Air next to pencil)
- Brighter light or screen than the incumbent? Put the two side by side and turn one on after the other (to show clear contrast)
- Water resistant? Submerge it in water
- Faster than the incumbent? Put the two side by side and hit ‘play’ at exactly the same time
- Won’t freeze under -30? Send one to a person in Nunavut and ask them to snap a photo using it in the cold
- Made for cyclists, runners and marathoners? Show those exact people using it in the context in which they should use it
- Building in a clever workspace? Show it
- Have a smart team? Show them working together and looking very smart as they do
Demonstration is your friend.
Now, the notable exception to the trend to demonstrate in Kickstarter pitch videos is this: Pono Music. They specifically do not let us see or hear the Pono Music system. (Persuasion trick? Piquing our curiosity much?) What they do let us see and hear, however, are about 30 of the most respected and varied musicians waxing poetic about how life-changing Pono is.
Takeaway: If you can get Beck, James Taylor, all of Mumford & Sons, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Dave Grohl and Arcade Fire – among others – to rave about your product on camera, you may not need to demonstrate the product. If you cannot get said celebrity musicians on camera, demonstrate.
In the case of entertainment or non-utility products, their videos tell a story.
Kickstarter actually calls their pitch page’s primary section “Story.”
Time and again, people recommend having a powerful story to support your pitch: 99u does. Almost everything you read about Kickstarter will tell you to get your story right.
People. Love. Stories.
There’s just one problem: what the hell is so special about your story? If you can’t answer that immediately, let Christopher Booker help you out. Booker wrote a book you should read called The Seven Basic Plots. Choose your own adventure:
ONE: Overcoming the Monster
You’ve set out to defeat an antagonistic force that threatens you and the people you need to protect. Example: ButterUp overcomes that terribly antagonistic force that is butter tearing bread.
TWO: Rags to Riches
This is really rags to riches and back again. (The “and back again” is the interesting part that makes you relatable.) So you started an initiative with no money, you made lots, and then some tragic intervening force – like 2008 – ruined you. But now you’re back! …This is perhaps not the best story to tell when you want people to invest in you.
THREE: The Quest
Basically, would you describe yourself as Bilbo Baggins or any of the myriad fantasy characters that protected Bilbo on his way to Mordor? Is Kickstarter going to help you through the final treacherous passages to complete your quest? Example: OUYA’s creators have spent years getting to this point – and now you can help them finish the job.
FOUR: Voyage and Return
You’ve gone somewhere we don’t know well, and you’ve brought back something that’s changed your life – and will change ours. Example: Reading Rainbow vanished and has returned to save the world.
Did you triumph over something only to arrive at a happy (or soon to be happy) conclusion? This is the lighter version of Overcoming the Monster.
Are you an unlikely person to cheer for? If you could pitch your product like Walter White might pitch his blue meth, this is your story.
Have you seen the error of your ways? Did you spend the last 10 years in middle management wielding small amounts of power over people only to discover that people are the core of business and your Kickstarter product is going to put non-managers back in control of their careers?
“Better mousetraps” lead with the pain of the current mousetrap.
In videos and in on-page copy, the opening lines of better mousetrap-like products remind prospects of the pain of their current solution.
The opening line for OUYA’s video pitch is this: “I love video games, but…”
And in their hero copy positioned directly below their video as a caption, they promise to improve on “the last closed platform: the TV.”
The opening lines for Coolest Cooler’s video pitch go like so: “That’s the sound of a cooler coming down off the shelf. It’s the sound of imminent fun. So why haven’t cooler designs changed in almost fifty years?”
The Story section of their pitch page then opens with this clear, unmistakable first-swing against their competitor: the crappy old cooler.
The opening half of the video for the ButterUp butter knife is a simple and effective narrative that demonstrates the pain of spreading cold butter on bread. Here’s a representative screenshot:
And the story section of the ButterUp Kickstarter page leads with pain, as well:
And Reading Rainbow’s video opens with the voiceover of a fourth-grade girl trying to read – and barely getting through a seemingly simple sentence. That’s pain.
So what’s happening here?
These successful Kickstarter pitches are using a classic copywriting trick of joining the conversation already happening in their prospects’ minds.
If I’m a good prospect for The Coolest Cooler, I’ve probably experienced serious annoyance / pain trying to haul a clunky beast of a cooler around a beach.
If I’m a good prospect for ButterUp, I’ve tried spreading cold butter on bread and hated that it always tears.
As the fine folks at The Rewired Group teach us, our prospects are always going to switch from something to choose us. The switch is more likely to be possible if we can identify the exact pain that the incumbent creates for our prospects.
Entertainment pitches lead with recognized names, generally in interesting ways.
Matthew Inman of The Oatmeal is behind Exploding Kittens. With over 5,000,000 monthly readers of The Oatmeal, it’s little wonder that the Exploding Kittens video pitch opens with Inman introducing himself as the guy behind The Oatmeal… but only after a sequence that’s designed to make anyone who visiting a page titled “Exploding Kittens” laugh.
So it starts by positioning the creator as influential.
That’s what to lead with: your influence.
Once you know what to say, you need to figure out how to say it. The top entertainment pitches, like Exploding Kittens, say it in non-boring and meaningful ways. For example, the Exploding Kittens video pitch is illustrated in classic Oatmeal form:
Pono Music hooked their viewers with influential musicians – like one of the dudes from Crosby, Stills and Nash – praising the Pono sound system. That’s the open of their video pitch. And, as we see again and again in pitches for entertainment products, the video has a raw, rock-and-roll sort of feel about it.
Their Story copy took little time diving straight into the fact that Neil Young is the founder of Pono Music.
Then, of course, there’s the Veronica Mars video pitch.
(I almost wish the Veronica Mars Movie was just an extended version of this pitch video.)
That takes us through the “hook” of your Kickstarter sales page…
At this point, let us pause to analyze a page that doesn’t do any of the above.
MudTails is a good idea.
It’s just really tragically presented.
Which is why they finished their campaign with just 3 backers. (Sorry, Sharon. I hope this doesn’t hurt!)
So what did they do wrong?
Let’s start with the headline for MudTails. Does it follow the formula? Take a look:
MudTails: Fun and educational apparel
It gets the first half right.
But the second half – fun and educational apparel – is not a value proposition. Why not? Because it’s not expressing anything uniquely desirable. When you read it, do you know what’s different about the MudTails offering? And if there’s nothing unique or different about their stuff by design (for some unimaginable reason), then is it enough to offer “fun and educational apparel”?
And what the Helsinki is “fun and educational apparel”?
I mean, do you know without guessing, inferring or making assumptions, what such apparel might be? No.
The copy doesn’t help you instantly get it. It asks you, the prospective backer, to take time out of your busy day to figure out what’s different about “fun and educational apparel.” Not good.
Now how ’bout that video thumbnail? It fails to do any of the following:
- Incorporate something human
- Use on-screen copy
- Convey exciting action
- Compose a delightful scene
- Try something silly
- Create an air of mystery
The one thing the thumbnail does well is scale for mobile, so there’s that.
Now onto the video. Should you choose to go to the Mudtails Kickstarter page and watch the video, you’ll quickly learn this: MudTails is trying to be 2 things at once. The first? Apparel for kids that features “cute” barnyard animals. (Do we know who the illustrator is? No.) The second? Apparel for kids that teaches sign language.
…So what am I supposed to back? Cute clothes… or clothes that help pre-verbal children communicate better? Well, after writing that out, I know which one I’d be more likely to back. Too bad MudTails didn’t decide on one unique thing about their offering and focus all their efforts around that.
Back to what the best pages do:
They don’t spend words like they’re worth $100 each.
Words are free.
That said, poorly selected words will cost you money.
And well-selected words will give you money.
So I suppose that, human being generally risk and loss averse, it only makes sense that most people who write copy fearing losing money by using the wrong words and, as such, use as few as possible. But do try to overcome that pesky, annoying and business-killing voice in your head that everything we write must be tweet-sized.
Length is strength. Your Kickstarter page will benefit from length. Below the fold:
Lumio’s page is 1000+ words and includes 15 big images. That’s 13 pages in Word.
Princess Awesome’s page is 1700+ words and includes 19 images and several charts. That’s 19 pages in Word.
ButterUp’s page is 400 words and features 5 huge images. That’s 6 pages in Word.
There’s so much to be said about writing your sales page.
But the best pages prove this: your Kickstarter pitch is a long-form sales page supported by great images and a huge section of rewards.
Treat your pitch like long copy. It f***ing is.
Finally, the Mega-Bullet List of great ideas to swipe from top-performing Kickstarter pitches
(NB: I’m going to keep adding to this list as I see more great examples)
By this point, you’ve invested a ton of time and energy into making the top third of your Kickstarter page incredible. Nicely done.
To reward you for your patient diligence, here is a mega-super-honkin-big-pow-pow-action list for you to use to write the rest of your page:
- Do more than sell a product. Sell community like the Coolest Cooler campaign did
- Choose your words carefully! This study discussed on TheWeek found that the best-performing pages used these phrases: “also receive two,” “mention your,” “given the chance,” “your continued,” and “we can afford”
- Before you write, get motivated with this TED talk recommended by Whit Scott (funded)
- Be extraordinarily precise with how you will use the money you raise, as Mashable recommends
- In your video, remind your audience of why you’re charging what you are, like Bones did brilliantly
- Remember, at every moment, that you’re constantly re-hooking people – from the first line of copy to the opening of your video to the first line of every reward you mention
- In your video, explicitly tell people to click the green button to back you, as Video Brewery recommends
- In your video, ask the viewer to back you, as CrowdfundingDojo recommends
- In your video, include your rewards – actually show them – and demonstrate the value of those rewards
- In your video, tell people what you’re going to use the money for and why you need as much as you do, as Bibliotecha did
- In your video, be funny like Waterdeep was… but only if you actually are funny
- In your video, be deeply emotional and moving, like Bibliotheca
- If you add music to your pitch video, make it fast-paced like a runner’s heartbeat (unless you’re going for deeply emotional)
- Don’t overcomplicate your rewards – the sweet spot is a $50 pledge, so build around that
- Market it! The Noun Project made a list of 40 bloggers they’d reach out to when their Kickstarter launched, and they created a social media timeline
- Annoy your friends! If your sister hasn’t told everyone at work and school about your Kickstarter, she needs another reminder (to paraphrase Kim Boekbinder here)
- Work at it! Getting the page up is the easy part. Ryan Koo put 345 hours into his promotion
Let me leave you with this advice I’m swiping from a friend: backers, like all investors, are looking for reasons to reject a pitch.
Don’t give them a reason to reject you.
PS: Can I just say that this is my favorite moment in any Kickstarter pitch video I’ve seen? It’s courtesy of Pebble, and you can find it in their 2012 pitch video: