All the Biggest Kickstarter Campaigns Have This in Common
How to choose a crowdfunding promotion agency and why Facebook ads are the key
Facebook, as maligned as it has been, as often dismissed (first as a thing for youngsters, with LinkedIn and Twitter deemed more “grownup,” then as a thing for oldsters, with Snapchat and Tiktok taking over), is still the way to rally around a cause, an idea or a product. It ran the Arab Spring, it shifted the fate of US presidential elections and it is the way that crowdfunding triumphs or fizzles. Whether you’re on Kickstarter, GoFundMe or Indiegogo, the leading promoters, experts and campaigners agree: It’s all down to Facebook ads.
I set out to research this article a year ago, when I helped run a small-scale Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for scholarships for an academic program on the protection of art and cultural heritage that I founded. We did everything ourselves, on a non-existent budget, and promoted only through our contacts. On paper the campaign was a success. The goal was intentionally modest ($2000) and we exceeded it ($3827). The very fact of having a Kickstarter campaign is great free publicity because Kickstarter pages come in high on Google searches, and so we saw ancillary benefits — people found our organization and our program because of the campaign, even if they didn’t donate to it. But I learned that these sorts of low-key successes are what happens when you don’t have a key component. And this spring, preparing for a campaign of my own (for a parenting book and app called Superpower Your Kids), I decided to find out what had been missing.
Crowdfunding campaigns tend to utterly fail (for example, a goal of five figures and a donation total of three) or appear to be wild successes. If you push past your target goal, then it encourages backers to think you’re onto a good thing and hop on the bandwagon. If you pass your target in the first 48 hours, then Kickstarter promotes you through their newsletter and pushes your campaign higher on their own searches, so people already interested in Kickstarter are far more likely to find you.
It’s All About ROI
A few years ago, I helped a company with their Indiegogo campaign, writing their text and liaising with the promotion company they chose to work with, Agency 2.0. I saw, behind the scenes, how a successful campaign was launched and what components worked. But that was a hi-tech gadget with numerous investors, and Agency 2.0 charged them a $15,000 flat fee, plus at least $5000 in advertising funding for Facebook ads (plus an additional 5% of backer income reinvested in more Facebook ads), plus they charged a percentage of income from backers driven by their ads to the campaign. That price range is the realm of big fish who are hoping for high-six-figure campaigns or even seven.
Now, searching for an advantage for my own, small-scale campaign, without any investors and paid for out of my own decidedly modest wallet, I kept hearing the same thing: It’s all about Facebook ads.
According to Jon Butterfield, an entrepreneur and angel investor who made his fortune with mobile growth platforms, Facebook ads (and, by extension, Instagram) remain the one key factor to successful campaigns: “With over 2.45 billion active users on Facebook every month, it’s safe to say every man and his dog uses the platform, and there’s most certainly an audience there for your product, you just need to find them.” Butterfield gives talks on how to find target markets through Facebook ads. “Knowing who to target and when is critical to the success of a campaign. By finding your target market, which is those who are most likely to buy or subscribe, you can focus on those specifically and not waste precious ad spend.” The advantage of promotion agencies, he says, is that they already have audience lists of users who are more likely to engage with your campaign, giving a much-needed head-start, which is preferable to using a trial and error method until you find ad sets that generate an optimal return on investment (ROI, which should be 1:4–1:12). Promotion agencies will already have tried and tested ad sets for various types of products and audiences and can just plug your new campaign in where it seems best to fit.
Samit Patel, who runs an eponymous crowdfunding agency (it focuses on campaigns targeting at least $100,000 and so was out of my league), concurs. “Facebook ads has now made it easier to launch a business and build up a following,” he says. “You can very quickly test an idea before going full-blown crazy. Facebook allows you to find your exact ideal customer and you can put out an ad in a matter of minutes. The digital transformation that we are seeing now has meant that its the easiest time to launch and build any business.” That said, Patel’s agency is multifaceted, with live ad campaigns (read as: Facebook and Instagram ads with a touch of Google adwords) as just one component. That’s one reason why they charge a $10,000 flat fee (plus 10% of the campaign total). “Our company project manages and works on the whole process from start to finish, we specialize in building a launch community. This covers an engagement period of 4 months. It can be broken down into our ‘TLFES’ planning process — Traffic, Leads, Fans, Engagement, Sales.”
Choosing a Crowdfunding Agency
The other elements that good promotion agencies can offer include direct access to potentially interested consumers. This can include their own, proprietary mailing lists or social media accounts (I’ve often been enticed to click thanks to Design Crowdfunding Projects, for example, a Facebook Page run by promotion firm Jellop) or helpful crossover promotions. One of the most active and largest promotion companies, Funded Today, has around a dozen active Kickstarter campaigns as I write this, most of which are well into six figures and a few into seven. Part of their pitch to potential clients like me is that they can advertise my campaign to people who just backed the other campaigns they promote. People tend to be serial crowdfunding supporters (I certainly am), and so make an ideal market for other campaigns, even if they are indirectly related. In conversation with Jordan David of Funded Today, he pointed out several past campaigns they ran that focused on parents of young children (a pop-up play pen, a belt support to balance a baby on your hip, a blanket that soothes fear of the dark) and noted that the backers of these projects are ideal candidates for my parenting book, which offers a professor’s tips on how to encourage a love of learning in younger children by spending as little as a minute a day playing what I call “lesson games.” So direct access to these audiences offers a big advantage.
The Real Expenses Behind Most Campaigns
David also offered the useful stat that every $100,000 a campaign makes is usually the result of $6000-$12,000 invested in Facebook ads, so expect at least 10% of your income to go to ad spend, plus around 15% in fees to your PR agency. Kickstarter takes 5% and credit card companies take around 3%, so that means that 30+% of whatever you raise goes towards necessary expenses, and that is before you tackle fulfillment of the rewards promised in the campaign. This is important to keep in mind when planning budgets and targets.
Promotion agencies offer collaboration based on looking at your active campaign or, as I did, at a preview of the campaign and video. In my case, I submitted the preview to seven agencies. Two wrote back within a day that a book isn’t the sort of thing they help with (the most money is in gadgets and tech). Another two had, like Agency 2.0, a substantial flat fee or a minimum advertising advance investment (one started at $20,000 another at $100,000). Those were out of my league (as was Samit Patel, alas).
The largest in terms of manpower, The Crowdfunding Formula, founded by Narek Vardanyan, employs 85 people and a fully 15 are assigned full-time to any campaign they take on. They only work with campaigns aiming for over $1 million and with at least $100,000 set aside for ad spend. Needless to say, that was at least 10 times beyond my means. But three which replied sounded promising.
As I write, I’m still in the process of choosing which promotion agency to work with. Their offers vary depending on the project itself, but for illustrative purposes, here’s what I’ve been offered by three of the leading firms. All three firms take 15% of income they attract via Facebook ads that they manage on your behalf. Jellop, a small Israeli firm with very stylish design, requires no flat fee. You pay for the ads directly then, when the campaign is over, you send them their cut. Jellop may be small in its number of employees, but they say that they are, by far, the most successful of all PR firms, having helped more than twice as many campaigns reach their goals than the second-place firm.
Gold Mountain required a modest flat fee (very low four figures), but they had an appealing twist. They front the money for advertising, and you reimburse them at the end of the campaign, out of the profits. This is good for someone like me, with only a few thousand dollars that I could comfortably put into ads before I see that they’re working and that the return on investment (ROI) is strong. Funded Today had the same offer, for a flat fee that was still modest, though twice as high as Gold Mountain’s.
Funded Today explained that they have access to more cross-product advertising, since they have a larger portfolio of active and past products than most firms. All firms said that they’d set up dashboards in which I can see the progress not only overall, but of individual ad sets they are trying out. It would be a daily dialogue, if I wanted to be proactive, about which ad sets should be pushed and which dropped. Like Gold Mountain, they would front the advertising costs, and we would decide together how much to put in and whether to continue or escalate, depending on the ROI that we would be able to see, live, on a daily basis.
Additional Promotion Methods
Once the campaign is live, a world of other types of agencies can help. Some have mailing lists of “super backers,” real people who serially support Kickstarter projects.
Matt from BackerClub, for instance, has access to some 20,000 people, all of whom have, on average, supported over 100 campaigns. For a fee, such agencies will include your project in a mailing to those backers, who have essentially signed on to receive Kickstarter ad emails. It can work very well — BackerClub members have pledged over $14 million to Kickstarter campaigns.
Other agencies, like Backers Info, are more elaborate in their offerings, with not only email outreach to super backers but also contacting journalists, influencers, posting on various social media accounts and otherwise engaging in a multipronged attack on behalf of clients. (I’ll write more about these alternative promotion agencies in a separate article).
I still have to decide which firm to work with, as all impressed me and have client-friendly approaches, and I’m weighing the benefits of a flat fee plus advancing advertising budgets, which can be hugely helpful. But the key to all their pitches and, according to them, their success is down to one thing: Facebook ads.
Noah is running a Kickstarter campaign in June 2020 for a limited edition book and companion smartphone app called Superpower Your Kids: A Professor’s Guide to How to Teach Your Children Everything in Just 15 Minutes a Day.