Using Story to Drive Your Kickstarter

Everyone loves a good story. We want to meet the underdog and root for them. We long to face the crisis and see it overcome. We yearn to take the adventurous journey with the characters. We love to get inside their hearts and heads and live vicariously through them.

The good news is if you’re thinking of starting a Kickstarter project, you are probably an artist and artists know story. That is what we do. Whether through visual art, or dance, or music, or film or word, our job is to tell a compelling story. And if you know how to tell a good story then you already have the key to making your Kickstarter project a success. Wait, you say, I thought this was about making money so I could tell my story. Yes, and no. In order to get that money, you have to tell a story within a story. You have to tell the story about how and why you want to tell a story.

Many people go into their Kickstarter project thinking of it as a business venture, and this is a mistake. You might have noticed that people are not really thrilled with the world of business at the moment. People scanning Kickstarter are not looking for slick videos, professional production, and commercial savvy. They are looking for a story. Something they can feel passionate about. Something human and real and personal they can connect to.

So, what is the best way to tell your Kickstarter story?

First, know your audience. Who are your backers? Who is your audience in real life? Have you built a fan base already by doing good work? The people in your social networks, your family, your friends, and your friend’s friends—the people who are already committed to your work—these are the people most interested in your story. For a typical Kickstarter project most of the money comes from people you know or people who know you. Craft your project for that audience, not some faceless mass of backers.

Second, tell your story in three ways.

1)     Your Project Video. Yancey Strickler, co-founder of Kickstarter says, “If you don’t have a video on your project, you are making a big mistake. We see a lot of faces and people telling their stories on Kickstarter videos. Our videos have taken on the format of the anti-commercial. While they are clearly a commercial for an idea or project, it is a commercial being made by an actual person and they show their discomfort with that, their discomfort with selling, so they leave in all the false takes and awkward moments just to show who they really are. Videos are extremely powerful.”

2)     Rewards. The purpose of rewards is to invite people to participate in your creative project, not just give to it. The process of backing you and receiving rewards makes your story an interactive one, like those old choose-your-own adventure books. People know they are going to get something tangible for backing you, and not just something tangible, something that is a memento of their involvement in your creative process. Rewards should help tell your story and the story of your project. Examples of good rewards include; a copy of the end product or result, tokens from the creative process, products that identify the backer (like a t-shirt or poster from the project), special access to the creative process, one-of-a-kind experiences, acts of participating in the creation or interacting with the creator directly like dinner with the author or a day on the set of a film.

3)     The Project Narrative. In this area, there are three distinct narratives.

 1.     The Back Story. How did your project get to Kickstarter? What has your journey been so far? Why are you so passionate about this project? How long have you been fighting to get it made? What have you invested already? What is at stake? How will it change your life to fulfill your project? For your backstory it is best to leave out the Powerpoint and professional perfectionism and just speak from your heart.

2.     The Funding Narrative. Once someone has clicked the button to back you based on your compelling backstory, a new narrative begins for them (and you). Will your project make it, or won’t it? Will the story have a happy ending, or a tragic one? There is a game show element to Kickstarter that is kind of exciting for your backers to follow along with. They will keep checking back in to see if what they have invested in will come to fruition. This is a fantastic moment to focus on your project, an excuse to tell people about it in frequent updates and keep that funding narrative going.

3.     The Creative Narrative.  Kickstarter is a way to invite people in to how art is made. Usually, the process of creation is done in solitude, not in public. We write at a desk in our office. We paint in a quiet, sunlit, studio. We practice the dance or the play without an audience until it is ready for public consumption. But with Kickstarter, we invite people into the story of creation. What are the steps to writing a book or making a film? What does the creator feel and do at each step along the way? What are the important milestones, the bumps in the road? How does creativity work?  Perhaps someone who backs you can’t paint (though they wish they could). Now, through you, they get to be part of creating a painting. Don’t stiff them participation in all aspects of your work. Let them into your story.

If you tell a good story, they will come. If you tell a compelling Kickstarter story, you will get backers. The good news is, you already know how to tell a story. Now go out there and do it. And good luck.

Enjoyed this article? Be sure to check out the rest of my Kickstarter series by reading Keeping the Charity out of Kickstarter and 8 Reasons I Didn’t Back Your Kickstarter.

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Ripley Patton lives in a 22-foot camper in the woods of Southern Illinois with a cat named Lemmy. Her two young adult children, a daughter and a son, are her favorite people. When Ripley's not out exploring nature and getting her hands dirty, she's usually reading or writing a book.

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