This week we made an editorial decision to focus on a positive campaign. Or, at minimum, not tear a campaign apart. We’ve done a couple of those in a row and we’d just be repeating ourselves.
So I went looking for a good campaign. I asked around. And…nothing.
All the interesting campaigns had major flaws and the campaigns that didn’t have major flaws just weren’t very interesting. Or, they were going to end in the next 24 hours.
As you might guess, I look at a lot of campaigns. Hundreds of them. After a while, you get it down to a science. So we settled on this idea: I’ll walk you through some of what I look at in a campaign.
If I’m just randomly searching the Discover section, there’s a bunch of widgets, which you can search to your heart’s content.
These are all going to get funded pretty easily, so that’s not an issue here (although that can be a deterrent if you’re at 12% with 2 days left). But let’s look at the Midway one. There’s a couple of problems. First, I’m not sure why we have a picture of a bunch of birds, but I’m assuming it has something to do with the movie. The image, in general, is terrible. It tells me absolutely nothing about the project, other than it involves birds. Think of the image in your widget as your poster. It should invoke something. It should draw the eye. It’s going to have to compete with the other widgets in the Discover page, but it’s also going to compete with cat pictures on Facebook and ads on blogs and everything else on the internet. And you have a pretty boring picture of some birds? So Midway is out. Dick Figures feels kind of excessively bombastic to me, like a bad Michael Bay thing. And the Calvin & Hobbes image is pretty solid, kind of a no-brainer (we almost went with that one this week, but it’s so far over goal and ends so soon that I decided against it).
Then you’ve got the text. That’s your elevator pitch. It’s a little longer than a tweet and you want to grab someone. So many of these are descriptive, but that’s a chance to get someone to look at your campaign. Use it.
Above the Fold
Ok, we’re in a campaign now. Which gives us this.
Which I then break down into this:
Like Ratio (“Likes”/Backers): 3.59
This is actually the profile of a good campaign, as those numbers are all in the range of what you’d want. Let’s elaborate.
1. Facebook “Likes”
For all practical purposes, everyone has Facebook. Unless you have a campaign that’s specifically about Facebook, you’re going to have the same rate of people who have Facebook as everyone else. And those people are going to interact with Facebook in essentially the same way as they would anyone else’s campaign. It’s such a prevalent part of the Internet and it’s such a big pool of people that there isn’t much of a sample size question. We can pretty much assume that if people don’t “Like” one campaign as much as they “Like” another, it’s because they actually don’t like it, not because that person’s fans are intrinsically anti-Facebook. Unless, of course, the campaign is geared toward that vertical. But very few are.
With me so far?
Your goal with your campaign is to get people to this page. They can’t back your campaign unless they get here, so it doesn’t matter if you promote your campaign with Twitter or email or Facebook or by walking around Central Park with a sandwich board, you’re trying to get them here. If not, well, your campaign is going to fail. Once people get here, the laws of Facebook use take over. These “Likes” are not people who like your fan page or you or whatever. These are people who “Like” the campaign page itself. So it’s probably the best measurement we’ve got of how many engaged eyeballs a campaign was able to attract.
I’ve got a database of almost 800 successful Film & Video campaigns spanning 6 months that I put together (minimum goal: $5,000). I desperately need to add months, but it’s kind of ridiculously time-intensive. Still, that’s a decent sample. When I run all those campaigns, the average “Like” equates to $20.12. If we pull out some campaigns that are clearly situations where Daddy wrote a big check at the end, the number drops to $19.33. So if you had a campaign that wanted to raise $50,000, you would expect to need in the neighborhood 2,500 “Likes”.
That’s something to keep in mind when thinking about setting your goal, by the way.
Pretty self-explanatory. Going back to that same database, we get $96.38 per backer, or $93.22 once we pull out some outliers. If we break that down even further, we find that web series pull in much lower numbers ($58.92) than Features ($97.41) and Shorts ($96.66). The difference between Documentaries and Narrative films is virtually insignificant.
This is pretty obvious, but the more updates, the more likely the campaign is interacting with people. I really just eyeball it, but if it’s 17, that’s probably good and if it’s 2, that’s probably bad. Even if you’re using other places to update people, you probably should be putting it here too, because not everyone is on your email list, you know?
4. End Date
End. On. A. Friday.
Friday is Pay Day. Friday gives you the entire week to ramp up toward your goal. Weekends are slower than weekdays. Don’t end your campaign while everyone is at the beach. Hopefully you won’t need a final day push, but you might.
The thing is, you don’t want to look at any of these numbers in a vacuum. But they create a profile. A low ratio of “Likes” to Backers indicates that people aren’t excited about the campaign, but if your ratio is too high, then people maybe like the idea of your film, but the campaign isn’t selling them.
Think of it like this: If your ratio is high, then lots of people are walking through your store without buying anything. If your ratio is low, then maybe you could get more people in the store who you might be able to talk into buying something. You might need a better advertising.
If we go back to the database, we get an average ratio of 4.79, or 4.82 without the outliers. So now we know what an average campaign looks like and we can compare that to some campaigns of note.
It’s tempting to latch on to one number. The Canyons got $150 per backer! Blue Like Jazz has an awesome ratio! But it’s more complicated than that.
Done correctly, crowdfunding should accomplish two things. The first is obvious. It gets you money for your film. But it’s also a fantastic way to grow your audience. At some point, you’re going to release your film into the world, and even if you don’t ever crowdfund again, you’re probably going to want to make another film. In a perfect world, you’d maximize both. Sure you could get $500 per backer or convert everyone who looks at your campaign into a backer, but those aren’t sustainable goals. If you get a massive amount of money per backer, how much audience are you giving up? And if you get everyone to look at your project and no one backs it, how much production value are you giving up? The audience and the dollars are equally valuable. They feed off each other, growing a base on which you can build your career.
There’s a Steve Jobs quote about how Apple lost their way: “At the critical juncture in the late 80′s, when they should have gone for market share, they went for profits. They made obscene profits for several years. And their products became mediocre.”
The thing is, until Kickstarter vastly improves their public metrics, we don’t know just how popular a campaign is or how excited people are about the campaign. We only make educated guesses. Hell, we don’t even know definitively if $10 backers give more, on average, than $1 backers. But there are numbers and there are trends and they seem to be settling in certain ranges. But you have to look at bigger set of numbers to get a more complete picture.
Looking at the full profile, Fat Kid Rules the World is far and away the most well-rounded campaign on this list. None of the individual numbers jump out at you. If you want to quibble, you would maybe have wanted it go pick up more “likes”, but it’s easily in the fat part of the bell curve. All of the other campaigns have outliers. And more often than not, an outlier indicates a problem. It’s a red flag. You can easily spot the issues we talked about with The Anniversary and a $$/”Like” number that low makes you wonder if I’m Fine, Thanks could have up-sold some of those low level backers, although we’re kind of tempted to think that’s a good outlier (honestly, that campaign confuses the hell out of us). And those campaigns with a ratio below 2 either did a fantastic job of converting eyeballs into dollars or didn’t get their campaign in front of as many eyeballs as they could have. The ratio will naturally climb as an artist ventures outside of their existing audience and starts adding new people who are less familiar with someone’s work. So how do you know which?
When a campaign’s numbers are solid, then there’s probably not much wrong with it, in the same way that there wasn’t usually a whole lot wrong with Greg Maddux. Year after year, he piled up fantastic numbers, partly because his peripherals were fantastic.
But if a number jumps out, then there’s probably a reason for it, even if the campaign appears to be doing well. Case in point: Be Here Now.
It’s way over goal already. Kicktraq thinks it’ll break $300K (and it will). So we run the numbers:
That’s a really high ratio, which means that a lot of people like the project but didn’t give it any money. And yet it’s way over goal. Well…it’s a documentary about a celebrity who died of cancer, which is pretty much a slam dunk. It’d be kind of shocking if they didn’t put up a big number. But what would drive that ratio? With those 2 draws, the ratio should be on the low end of the range. We’d actually expect it to be in the 2′s or 3′s, but definitely not 6.64. Turns out, it’s really easy to spot. Look at the perks. At $150 you get a copy of the DVD. There’s no downloadable copy of the movie. There’s no way to see the movie for under $150. That’s insane. You do get a leather cuff at $50, but all of the perks below that are terrible. So of course people aren’t backing it. The campaign is actually giving them reasons not to.
Let’s say, for a minute, that they had better perks and were able to convert those “Likes” at the rate Fat Kid Rules the World did. They’d be at $703,452 with a shot at being the first film campaign to clear $1M. And when you look at it that way, $265K kind of sucks.
But does that matter? They’ve hit their goal. They’ll get to make their documentary.
Yes, of course it does. Ask the filmmakers if they could use an extra $500K.
Imagine, for a minute, you play football for the New England Patriots. Last season, in week 13, you beat the previously winless Indianapolis Colts 31-24 at home. The Colts are terrible. You’re on your way to the Super Bowl. A win is a win, right? Technically, yes. Now imagine what Bill Belichick said in the locker room after that game. Do you think he was happy? @#$! no. The way you play the game is crucial. If all you do is look at the final score, you’ll be completely unprepared for the next game, and the next game, and the game after that.
If they’d played like that in week 14 against the Redskins, maybe they win, maybe not. They almost definitely lose in week 15 against the Broncos. And they wouldn’t have had a chance against the Ravens in the playoffs. You don’t play a winless team every week.
And your film probably doesn’t have a celebrity who died of cancer in it, so the fact that they built a bad campaign and cleared the goal doesn’t help you even a little bit, and it doesn’t do anyone any good to pretend a campaign is successful just because it cleared a goal. A big part of building campaigns is maximizing their potential and you won’t know how to do that by just looking at the final score. You have to dig.
Processes are important. Very important. In the long-term, they’re more important than results. Anyone who says differently is either lying to you or doesn’t know what the hell they’re talking about. Maybe both.
Speaking of people you shouldn’t listen to, look at this campaign. My editor won’t let me call him a parasite in print, but…yeah….There’s problems with this campaign, but it’s a damned good story…Joe Dante’s Trailers From Hell is coming down the home stretch…These people are Kicking Zombie Ass For Jesus….And speaking of bad ratios.
Lucas McNelly is the filmmaker behind A YEAR WITHOUT RENT, UP COUNTRY, BLANC DE BLANC, and GRAVIDA. He consults on Kickstarter campaigns for a living. He hasn’t lived anywhere in a long time.