Marketing professionals – and plenty of other people too – know that today’s consumer wants more than product. Campaigns and their underlying strategies are built on the idea of relationships and personal experience, and companies tap into those values and emotions when building communities.
Yet what’s common sense, and now standard operating procedure to seasoned brand managers, isn’t always obvious to startup owners whose earliest forays into the marketplace happen on crowdfunding platforms. For every wildly successful crowdfunding legend – think Pebble Time or Fidget Cube – there are thousands of ideas, good ideas, that wither on the vine because the campaigns failed to spark a following. For startups looking to make it work, personality is the critical piece they just can’t overlook.
What that means is that companies and crowdfunding campaign managers need storytelling that’s persuasive and resonates on the basis of personal connection, and for most of them that means they need to put themselves in the story. It’s definitely what works for Sheets & Giggles, a Colorado-based company that promotes its eco-friendly eucalyptus bed linens by putting a face and a name to the idea.
CEO Colin McIntosh started out with a personal touch in January 2018, with a blog post that said, “If you’re reading this, you’re probably a friend of mine.” What followed was a list of questions asked by his family, his girlfriend (“So, wait – am I paying all our bills until the company starts making money?”) and a few friends as he began his journey and announced an Indiegogo campaign that launched in May 2018.
Five months and USD$266,410 in funding later, McIntosh’s company had attracted 2,240 backers. He was more than 1000 percent funded, and even introduced two more products that people suggested.
“Ultimately, it’s the personal connection and we didn’t do that just for the marketplace visibility,” said Mcintosh. “It’s really who we are, we’re serious about the sustainability and we’re committed to the high quality of the product, but we want to have fun and it shows in our videos and our approach.”
As a case study, the Sheets & Giggles campaign shows off a few smart moves from McIntosh and his team. First, they put themselves in front of the camera. It may be true that, at first glance, not everyone offers a product or service that lends itself to a first-person experience, and plenty of entrepreneurs aren’t going to be naturally comfortable in front of a camera. Look deeper, though, through the eyes of the consumers, and the reality is that no matter what you’re pitching – a product, a nonprofit, an artistic venture – they want to see you and hear your story. It’s smart if you want them to bet on your success.
That’s because potential backers want to understand why you’re doing your project. If they’re on Kickstarter, they can already see what you’re making or planning. The product’s in a marketplace, and they can evaluate its merits the same way they do on Amazon or in a retail store. What they need to hear is why you’re selling bed sheets or wine glasses or wallets, if it’s their own wallet they’re opening up. Savvy and experienced users of crowdfunding platforms will use that personal connection to help them decide if it’s a good fit with their values, if you’re likely to succeed, and if trusting you is right.
That personal connection is what begins a relationship, and there’s a good chance it’s started off on the right foot. Yet far too often crowdfunding startups fail to maintain it. People who use the platforms are investing in the story as much as they’re buying into the purchase, and although you may have spent two years or more getting to this day? For them, it’s the beginning of that story. When startups shift the perspective, it’s easier for them to see why frequent platform updates are another secret to success.
These aren’t just a handful of your friends anymore, and your backers need to see themselves in your story. Keeping them engaged and informed ensures that it has become their story too, so more videos and personal messages are the way to add new chapters to it. It’s also how they become your brand advocates, because with that investment also comes the likelihood that they’re telling others about it.
“It’s practically the definition of crowdfunding,” said McIntosh, “that people will invite their own connections to share the journey with them if they’re enthusiastic and see themselves in the story. It’s because they’re being something, not buying something. That’s a different experience than online shopping, where they might enjoy the browsing and the selection but they’re done at the cart icon.”
Finally, it’s important to remember – especially for startups – that the end of a crowdfunding campaign is just the beginning of your company. There’s a reason why the industry talks about communities and customer journeys, and you’ll want to keep that relationship moving forward into the next phase of growing your business. That way, you’ll have even more stories to share with your ever-growing circle.