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New tricks, old tricks - Kickstarter's secret sauce
The first of a 2-article series: Why kickstarter still relies on classic marketing and product development methods
Kickstarter is a crowdfunding platform that was launched in April 2009. The company’s stated mission is to help bring creative projects to life – may it be anything from tech products, film and comics to food-related projects. Its service is now available in the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. In this 2-part series, we take a critical look at this platform almost five years on and assess what it offers project creators and supporters.

When Kickstarter describes itself, the first thing on the list is this: "Kickstarter is a new way to fund creative projects."

It is new... mostly. It's a disruptive, democratizing platform to allow anyone the chance to literally kickstart their project, or perhaps to kick it to the next level. However, a lot of what makes Kickstarter work are the strategies and tools of the previous generation of marketing and development.

In the past, most products (creative or otherwise) usually went through a period of testing and research before anything would be released to the public. Kickstarter's model gives creators the option to validate market potential and develop their product as quickly as possible, and present it to the public as something nearly fully-formed, needing only their assistance to bring it to life. This contravenes the traditional staged research model; you are receiving your audience response to the semi-final product, instead of speculating and testing it beforehand.

However, this does not mean that classic marketing and communications strategies have been totally disrupted. Some of the most successful Kickstarter projects are ones that applied old-school strengths to their project. They brought an established audience with them. Or they applied strong marketing campaign strategies to this un-traditional funding platform.
  • The Planet Money T-Shirt project was developed by a group of people that brought a sizeable audience to their campaign. This fascinating project, which explored what it took to create a t-shirt from cotton to a final delivered product, was devised as part of a co-production and investigation by NPR together with the podcast This American Life; many of those listeners went on to become funders.
  • The Pebble Watch project features one of the most successful items ever funded on Kickstarter, receiving 10,266% of what their original request was. Although their product was itself a disruptive technology (a 'smart watch' that pairs with Apple or Android devices), their campaign included cleanly designed images to explain their product, a compelling video, and it communicated a clear understanding of both the product and its uses to the prospective audience.
What we can see here is that although Kickstarter is a disruptive platform as it relates to creating content and product, its success still comes from selling itself using familiar techniques and strengths. The highlights of true disruption are a remix of the older tools, re-appropriating and utilizing those pieces that are still useful in marketing and communications, but with the support, insight, and engagement provided by social media platforms

Interestingly, later on in Kickstarter's self-description, they state: "Creative works were funded this way for centuries." They continue to outline this model, stating how creatives from earlier centuries would rely on smaller patrons, subscribers, who would often get an early version, a first look, or a special edition of the content.

Sounds familiar, doesn't it? But this time around, success or failure is validated by the data.

Our next article will deal with some of the challenges projects face that are unique to the Kickstarter platform.