Marketing lessons we learned from 2014’s most successful Kickstarter projects

What do Neil Young, Levar Burton, and a 3D printer have in common? No, they’re not all from the future, but nice try.

If you guessed that they were all part of a successful Kickstarter project in 2014, then congratulations, you win the prize of self-satisfaction in knowing you were right. Really though, take a look at just how well these Kickstarter projects performed. The top three projects on the crowdfunding site last year hauled in a total of more than $14 million. Each one cleared its funding goal by a huge margin and saw tons of money being pledged every day for their project. Take a look at this chart below from to get a full sense of the top 10 most popular campaigns on Kickstarter last year.

Kickstarter projects really ask a lot from their supporters when you think about it. Supporters have to pledge a wad of cash on the promise of a product or service being delivered that is not even complete yet. Often the delivery date is not even known, and even if the Kickstarter is successful at raising its goal, there’s no guarantee anything will be delivered on time. Yet in the case of these top 10 projects, supporters were so excited about the concepts that they often handed over hundreds of dollars for a chance to be the first to own the item. That’s a pretty powerful thing to achieve from a marketing standpoint. So what can marketers learn from the success of these Kickstarter projects?

1. A celebrity endorsement is worth its weight in gold – if it feels authentic

Given our society’s general fascination with celebrities, it may be no surprise that the top two Kickstarter projects had famous names associated with them. But when you look deeper at the celebrity connections to Kickstarter campaigns, there’s more to the story here. Authenticity proves to be an important factor in making a celebrity endorsement ring true of a project.

In the case of Pono, Neil Young has been intrinsically linked with this product, which plays lossless music files instead of the compressed mp3s we’ve become to of late on portable music players. As a musician that has used his own catalogue to promote Pono, Young’s stance that digital music needs a serious upgrade rings true to a lot of people. The Kickstarter campaign page has personal notes, complete with signature, from Young placed high up on its page to add to the authentic feel of this artist’s connection to the product. Just as Young stands for high quality music, so does Pono.

In the case of LeVar Burton, we all remember him from the Reading Rainbow TV show on public access TV that ran for 20 years. So it’s no surprise that when he personally appeared in videos on a Kickstarter campaign for a project to create a digital app version of Reading Rainbow, people responded well – donating more than $5.4 million to provide access to the app for classrooms in need. Because of our longtime association of Burton with Reading Rainbow and helping kids to read, his authenticity was without question.

Not every celebrity endorsement leads to crowdfunding success. James Franco tried to raise money on Indiegogo to produce three films based on his own book of short stories, Palo Alto. Despite promising to give profits to a nonprofit that asks artists and musicians to dedicate their time to children battling serious medical conditions, the project fell short of its fundraising goal by a fair margin. Also, Girls star Zosia Mamet failed to raise $32,000 to make a music video for her band. Perhaps these stories didn’t resonate with audiences because they seem self-serving, whereas Young and Burton appear to be on a quest to serve others with their campaigns.

2. Focus on how you’re solving your customer’s problems

The first thing you should be telling your customers is the problem you’re going to solve for them. Take the example of the Nope – Live Free project, which was one of the most over-performing Kickstarter campaigns of the year, raising 18,606 per cent of its funding goal.

Visiting Nope’s Kickstarter page, the first thing you learn about is that it’s really easy for hackers to gain access to your webcam these days and spy on you. That’s pretty creepy, but surely some tape over the webcam will solve the problem, right? Not so, the page text explains – tape loses stickiness over time, doesn’t look professional, and leaves behind a sticky residue. We just can’t have that on our laptops or tablets, so this little magnet that blocks our cameras is clearly the answer.  This is perhaps one of the more elegant examples of how marketing that focuses on explaining a clear problem to customers can then easily sell them a potential solution – in this case, a magnet smaller than a dime.

What problem are you solving for customers in 2015?


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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Brian Jackson
Brian Jackson
Editorial director of IT World Canada. Covering technology as it applies to business users. Multiple COPA award winner and now judge. Paddles a canoe as much as possible.

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