How Kickstarter Markets Itself Well Through an Independent Publication
You don’t have to write about yourself to create valuable branding
An investigation of Kickstarter’s publication The Creative Independent reveals:
- How to support your industry without writing about your company
- Consistent, well-done content should be prioritized, especially if resources are limited
- Site navigation and taxonomy will make or break your reader’s experience
Companies live within the ecosystem of their industry, but it’s easy to focus on their business: their public image, their customers, their potential customers. By publishing The Creative Independent (TCI), launched in September 2016, Kickstarter has invested in the success of its industry, and therefore itself, without making its editorial efforts all about self-promotion.
TCI is published and supported by Kickstarter, but their agenda isn’t dictated by it — there’s no coverage of projects, no mentions of the company. Instead, it has its own mandate: to provide guidance to creative people.
Separate From Your Company, but Still Connected
On TCI, which features a moving image of snails on yellow flowers, you’ll find instructional guides by creative people — “How to start a podcast,” “How to reinvent yourself” — and interviews with creators, including a graffiti artist, a drag queen, and an iconic science fiction writer.
“We think the snail is a good mascot for TCI, as it is biologically forced to leave its slime (process, path) everywhere,” TCI creative director Laurel Schwulst wrote shortly after the launch. “You could say our goal is to illuminate the (often hidden) slime of the artists we talk to.”
TCI honed in on its identity in its pre-launch manifesto, referring to itself as a “growing archive of the creative process.” Now its homepage header says that it’s a “growing resource of emotional and practical guidance for creative people.”
Editor-in-chief Brandon Stosuy has said that Kickstarter co-founder Yancy Strickler wanted an editorial site connected to Kickstarter, but separate from it and focusing on creativity. Kickstarter incorporated as a public benefit corporation in 2015, meaning they are obligated to consider their impact on society.
That’s the Creative Independent. It’s a publication, but it’s also a resource center. Any company can consider the public benefit of their writing and can put in the extra effort to make their articles into industry guides and references.
Keep Your Publishing Schedule Simple and Consistent
The Creative Independent started by publishing a single story each weekday. Now more than one story might go up in a day, but they still keep their mandate simple: each weekday, at least one piece about creating is added to the site, and you can get it delivered right to your inbox.
Before TCI launched, Stosuy said they weren’t buying into the “hype cycle,” as in he didn’t want to talk to someone just because they had a new album coming out. He wanted to take unorthodox entry points into talking about their creative process and careers as a whole.
Making such bold decisions about when and what to publish is enabled by Kickstarter funding, which allows TCI to survive ad-free. Most of the site’s traffic in September 2019 was direct (39.6%) or from search (31.1%), and 86.6% of TCI’s referrals come from kickstarter.com.
TCI’s archive is comprised of Q&As (either interviews or short-form), personal essays, guides, answers to reader-submitted questions, and tips. The interviews are the most common format, and always have the headline “[artist] on [topic]”, which cuts to the chase on which creator is being interviewed and what the main takeaway of the conversation will be (it’s also great SEO).
TCI will sometimes group content under a Focus, such as “Creating Your Own Opportunities,” a post that collects interviews, guides, and tips under one introduction post. The Focus is usually an SEO-friendly phrase that a reader might seek out, such as “Building a community” or “Engaging politically.”
The blog has only published 20 of these since May 2018, but it’s a clever way of grouping content into a super-article of resources, rather than just leaving them under one tag in hopes that your readers might notice it. This method of grouping would be a smart way for companies to organize their content. Increment.com uses a similar method with their “Issues,” where each themed collection of pieces is released at the same time, like a magazine issue.
Simple Archive, Helpful Taxonomy Make Navigation a Breeze
The Creative Independent’s homepage features three lists: Focuses, Themes, and Languages. We broke down Focuses, but the Themes are more traditional subject-matter tagging, and Languages provide quick access to their non-English articles.
As we covered in our Slack piece, taxonomy is crucial to the reading experience. The main navigation bar for TCI features an Archive, which starts as a chronological grid of everything they’ve ever published. You can then customize that list by filtering by article format or subject matter tags.
There’s also the People page, which calls up an alphabetical database of everyone TCI has featured (with linked articles), as well as a list of all their writers. For a site that focuses entirely on creators and their craft, being able to browse those people alphabetically is important, and it demonstrates the need to adapt your search options to your content.
While anyone in a creative field could benefit from reading TCI, anyone with a business could consider its industry focus, its consistency and simplicity, and its taxonomy. How they write and publish is another opportunity for guidance.
I wrote this article with editorial manager Carolyn Turgeon and contributor Allison Tierney’s research and writing contributions.