Lucas McNelly on Friday, Jun. 22nd
Let’s start with the basics.
The Seth Godin Kickstarter campaign is a mediocre campaign.
At least, on the surface it is.
Judging a Kickstarter campaign on the amount of money they’ve raised is like voting for the Cy Young Award based on wins. Sometimes it works, but more often than not, you end up giving the award to Bob Welch or Bartolo Colón. And just like there’s a litany of other things to consider when voting for the Cy Young Award (like, oh, ballpark effects or FIP or whether or not they play for the damned Yankees), there’s a number of crowdfunding things to look at, like the perk structure, the pitch video, and metrics like $$/backer and the ratio of “Likes” to backers. Admittedly, we’re just starting to come out of the dark ages of crowdfunding data, but still there’s stuff to look at other than that big dollar amount.
Those things are infinitely more important than the dollars raised, because processes are much more important than results.
It takes a better pitcher to win 20 games for the Mariners than it does to win 20 for the Yankees.
The plan this week was to write a quick blurb in the Extra Credit section about the Seth Godin campaign and leave it at that. It’s a pretty unremarkable campaign, and it just didn’t seem to be worth the time because, well, it’s not very interesting. And then yesterday I got emails from 5 different people asking me what I was going to write about it, so here we are.
In case you haven’t heard, marketing “guru” Seth Godin launched a Kickstarter campaign for his upcoming book. It raised $40,000 in 3 hours. And then everyone freaked out.
I haven’t read any of Godin’s books. People keep sending me links to his blog, which I can take or leave. But he has a pretty massive following (or “tribe”, as he puts it) of people who absolutely adore him. He’s written a bunch of books that have sold really well. I saw someone refer to him as the Stephen King of marketing books, so that should give you a rough idea of his reputation. (Side note: a Stephen King Kickstarter campaign would blow this one out of the water)
That reputation, that brand, is of a person far ahead of the curve, pushing the boundaries not only of what’s possible, but what’s imaginable. Go so far outside the box that you forget there was even a box in the first place.
Yet his first foray into Kickstarter is so bland, so middle of the road, so behind the curve, almost shockingly so. The perks are boilerplate. The video is dull. The text is a bunch of gibberish about proving to a publisher that Kickstarter is viable (intelligent people still question this?). Even the engagement metrics are below average. If you launched this campaign, no one would say you were a genius. No one would care.
Every single thing about this campaign screams “this is an artist cashing in on their audience.” Every. Single. Thing.
If you extend your reach because you can, because you have market power, you will probably be doing your existing customers a small service…but your brand doesn’t increase in stature. You had a chance to bring some of your original magic to the table (after all, it’s that magic that got you started) but all you did was bully the competitors out of the way.
On the other hand, if you extend your brand because the new offering is better, magical in the way you can make it magical, then you’ve dramatically increased not just your market share but your perception as well. — Seth Godin (29 March 2012)
In his blogging about the campaign (and Kickstarter in general), Godin spends a lot of time talking about the Amanda Palmer campaign (his “hero”), but the contrast couldn’t be more stark. Where Palmer innovated, Godin regresses. Where she zigged, he zags. He invokes Palmer’s spirit, but none of her techniques. Consider also the contrast between Godin’s campaign and the campaign Neal Stephenson is running for Clang. The first 30 seconds of that pitch video is better than Godin’s entire campaign, and it isn’t even close.
According to Godin, the campaign launched at 5:05 am on a Monday morning, with the first backer coming in at 5:55 am. Then, 3 hours and 19 minutes after launch, there was this article at paidContent about the campaign raising $43K in 3.5 hours, which was picked up by a bunch of outlets, as it conveniently came just in time for the Monday morning news cycle. Ten minutes later, at 8:34 am, Godin’s automated Twitter account finally referenced the campaign.
Godin’s blog (which doesn’t have a time stamp, only a date stamp) doesn’t reference the Kickstarter campaign prior to it launching, at least not in any significant way. I’ve yet to track down anyone on his mailing list. According to the comments on his campaign, the top-level tier was sold out in the first 90 minutes, meaning all 5 of them sold somewhere between minute 51 and minute 90 of the campaign.
You don’t need me to tell you that 5 am isn’t exactly the hour of the day when campaigns pull in the most money. In our data, it’s a little better than 3 am, but not much. And it’s a lot worse than 9 am, especially if your audience tends to read your blog at work. Maybe they’re all coming from Europe, but there’s nothing here to indicate it.
That blog post, by the way, has been tweeted over 1,000 times, and looking through the feed in real time reveals more of the story. The earliest tweet I can access is this one from 5:51am. Ironically enough, it happens to be one of the rare tweets that was written by a person. The vast, vast majority of the tweets between then and 8:55am are auto-generating tweets from people still sleeping who have set up their accounts to pick up Godin’s RSS feed. Not all, but most. At 8:56am, a new batch is generated with the amended first line. Of course, by then, he’s hit the goal. On cue, the real tweets start coming in, most of them a variation of the theme “OMG! Look what happened!”
So it doesn’t seem like Twitter had much to do with this.
The easiest solution here is that Godin sent out an email to his “True Fans” and they responded. But is that innovative? Not even a little bit. There’s been over 60,000 projects launched on Kickstarter. How many do you think did that? 59,000? More? And if you were relying on your True Fans, wouldn’t you want to hit them when they aren’t likely to be asleep?
Once those True Fans have been activated, it becomes a question of how well you’re connecting with your “tribe”, and since Godin keeps bringing up Amanda Palmer, let’s look at her account compared to his using some good old fashioned box office tools, courtesy of KickTraq. On the second day of her campaign, Palmer brought in 1,965 new backers, or 47% of the day 1 total. On day 3, she brought in 928 (22%), and on day 4, 1,204 (29%). Compare that to Godin, who went from 2342 backers to 632 (27%), to 168 (7%), to 97 (4%). It took Palmer 10 days to taper off to below 7%. She never went as low as 4%. And Palmer’s metrics are better across the board. Or look at Clang, which gained backers from day 1 to day 2.
Quite simply, Godin’s campaign doesn’t have the legs Palmer’s did or Stephenson’s does. Why? Because it’s not nearly as good of a campaign. The perks are top-to-bottom mediocre, from a $4 rental of a web version of the book (and no ebook version, which is kind of unbelievable) to the opportunity at the top-level to essentially buy space in the book, which seems borderline hypocritical from an author who says, “I don’t endorse companies or other projects. I don’t take pitches to be on my blog, and no one can pay me to endorse them.”
And even if you subscribe to Godin’s naive (and flat-out wrong) theory that “Kickstarter actually hits its sweet spot AFTER the minimum is met and success is assured”, his campaign doesn’t seem to be doing that at all. After the initial OMG rush, momentum has tapered off to more or less a crawl. This is not surprising, not even a little bit. You could argue that it’s because the top-level tiers have sold out, but since his average $$/backer hasn’t moved much since 9am on Monday, that argument doesn’t hold water. And that’s because the theory couldn’t be more wrong. This is what most campaigns do. They hit the goal, go on a little rush, then play out the string. There’s nothing special about this. Godin’s idea is built on outliers, simple as that. And his campaign is not an outlier, not in the way he expected.
So what are we looking at?
It’s actually quite simple. What we’ve likely got is a person with an established audience that’s gone to some effort to make sure his Kickstarter campaign got off to a strong start. If I had to guess, the goal was set at an artificially low level, calculated to give it the optimal chance to hit the goal in the first couple hours. Then, the true fans were alerted, and motivated to give quickly. (More campaigns should do this.) To a casual follower this gives the illusion of a groundswell. But once that rush is over, it’s up to the campaign to stand on its own two feet. The marketing tricks become less effective. It’s one thing to start a campaign strong out of the gate, and he’s undeniably done that, but now there’s 25 days left. In her final 25 days, Palmer grew her tribe by 240% by engaging her audience. 11,000 people got a digital download of her CD for no more than $5. Godin, the author of Idea Virus, is charging you $4 to borrow his book for a couple of days, claiming there’s no ebook option because he “can’t easily control the delivery”, a curious statement since no one else seems to be having that problem.
And maybe this does enhance his brand. After all, my inbox is flooded with people asking questions about how he did it, but not all of them in the way you think. Then again, isn’t that the goal of marketing? Creating something out of nothing?
I guess it depends on how you frame it.
Or, to quote Godin,
“Great experimenters measure their results. They probe. They fail on purpose. And when they find something that works, they hand the knowledge over to operators and executors who can scale their work.”
Which is great, assuming you have an email list of dedicated fans, a shelf full of best-sellers, and an attic full of limited edition stuff. Then, this is something you can maybe apply to your work. If not, there’s a really interesting campaign by Amanda Palmer that’ll teach you some scaleable lessons about building your tribe.
Because, again: the process of the campaign is more important than the dollar amount.
Godin’s campaign has likely peaked. There’s almost zero potential for growth, unless he adds some stretch goals or otherwise finds a way to engage with people. Will he do it? Does he care? Or is he happy to play out the string and cash the check?
And now for something we can all get behind, Patrick Sundberg is crowdfunding a tap room in a brewery. Beer!….Um, don’t make your pitch video like this one…Joe Dante’s Trailers From Hell has a Kickstarter campaign. It has a LOT of perk levels…Edd Blott has a IndieGoGo campaign for completion funds for the film A Tale of Delight. There’s a PTSD element to the project….Matt Hoyt is making a comedy in Antarctica, in San Diego. It’s called Antarctic…Huh?. It looks kind of awesome.
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.