Small Business Marketing Lessons Taken from The Kickstarter World

small business marketing lessons from kickstarter

Important small business marketing thoughts occurred to me recently when I was listening to an interview with Zach Smith, the founder of, a company that has proved very successful at helping projects get funded on Kickstarter.

We’ve all been getting schooled in crowdfunding in recent years. It’s a new way to get a company up and running or a product into the marketplace. Although Zach didn’t say this explicitly, I believe that there are strong parallels between marketing a Kickstarter campaign and marketing virtually any product or service, including marketing your small business.

Kickstarter distinctives

People have been missing this point because they don’t put the Kickstarter in the correct perspective. The key is not to confuse supporting a Kickstarter project with other crowdfunding systems where funders become stock holders. In other words, people who step up to give to a Kickstarter campaign aren’t examining the health and strength of the company as much as they are drawn to the product the company wants to produce.

Back in the formative years of the Internet, we talked a lot about “early adopters” – those brave individuals who would jump in and try a new technology before it became mainstream. I think we could label Kickstarter donor enthusiasts as “even-earlier-adopters.” They are, after all, usually getting in line to adopt something that hasn’t even seen the light of day yet.

I say this because it seems that most people who back a Kickstarter campaign pony up their money to get one of the first products to roll off the assembly line. They are betting that the product will actually get made and are willing to pay a premium to be one of the first customers.

Interesting side note: Zach said that the most lucrative group to market a new Kickstarter project to are individuals who have already backed one or more Kickstarter projects. This tells us that they are folks who get excited by the smell of new technology or a path-breaking product in general – they aren’t necessarily devoted to one product family.

Small Business marketing à la Kickstarter

Central to successfully marketing a Kickstarter project are three attributes, Zach explained, and I think virtually every small business owner should keep these in mind when planning a marketing or advertising campaign. These are absolutely fundamental for successful selling:

  • Scarcity,
  • Urgency, and
  • Social proof.

Kickstarter has some of these built into its system. Usually, people launching campaigns put limits on the various funding levels; this provides immediate scarcity. They don’t want to get inundated with orders they can’t fulfill. All Kickstarter campaigns “expire” on a specific date and if companies don’t make their fundraising goal, they get no money. Kickstarter provides social proof via its “New and Noteworthy” feature, “Project we Love” endorsement, “returning backers” statistics, social shares, and supporter comments.

Whenever you launch an advertising or marketing campaign, if you have those three elements – scarcity, urgency, and social proof – baked into its DNA, you have an excellent chance at success. If you drop the ball on one, your odds go way down.

Use your words

There is a range of “tools” you can use to communicate these three attributes. The language you use and how you structure your campaigns are important. Phrases like “ends Friday,” “first 100 customers,” and “When these 15 are gone, that’s it!” can be used to communicate scarcity and urgency.

Further, if you are using email, follow-up emails that clearly communicate that the offer ends in 24 hours can be very powerful. By the way, the same kind of language should be used when following up on an abandoned shopping cart.

You’ll also find code for your website that creates countdown timers. If you have sale items on a given webpage, adding a countdown timer will provide a big boost in conversions.

Social proof should be an integral part of your small business marketing on your website and at your physical location. I offered some practical examples of how you can implement social proof in your small business in this article. Don’t think for a minute that social proof has to be based on social media or even the Internet. Have you ever seen a McDonald’s sign that boasts “over 99 billion sold”?

Finally, why not take a tour of Kickstarter yourself? Look through active projects that have already surpassed their goals. See why they are successful. Read what they say, watch their videos, look at their graphics; learn to recognize winning elements and incorporate them into your own small business marketing materials.