As Crowd Supply’s Director of Campaign Communications, I work with a lot of creators who really love their projects. As well they should, it’s their baby they’re sending out into the world. They are often bursting with excitement to find out what people will do with their invention when it finally makes it off the drawing board and out into real life. So it’s perfectly understandable that, when asked “what can people do with your project?”, many creators enthusiastically respond “anything they can imagine!” Unfortunately, this makes for a terrible marketing campaign. But why? That seems counter-intuitive. Who wouldn’t want a super-power that lets you do anything?
By way of an answer, I’ll start with an anecdote about my dad. My dad grew up in Mexico in an immigrant family that fled Stalin’s Russia with not much more than what they could carry. Still, when my dad turned ten years old, my grandmother wanted to give him something special to mark his first decade of life. There was one general store in town that had a good selection of toys and games. When the big day came, she told my dad “you can choose any one thing in the store for your birthday and I’ll get it for you.” He was ecstatic!
So off to the store they went and my dad ran to the toy aisle. There were toy airplanes and scooters and Lincoln Logs and stuffed elephants. There were wooden sailboats and cowboy six-guns and chemistry sets and red wagons. All sorts of colors and shapes and materials mingled together brightly on the shelves. My dad’s brain froze, paralyzed by indecision.
He stood and stared at the shelves, picking up one toy after another, utterly incapable of choosing one over any other. Overwhelmed by possibilities, he was unable to select anything. Time went by, and my grandmother grew impatient. “Come on,” she said, “pick something. I have things to do.” My dad panicked and grabbed the first thing at hand, a toy saxophone. He had never shown an interest in the saxophone before and, in fact, to this day he cannot stand the sound of one. Faced with infinite possibilities (to a ten year-old), he had been incapable of starting down the path of a good decision. He had no starting point and no guide, nobody gave him the information he needed to make a smart choice.
That’s basically what creators are doing when they tell potential backers “you can do anything you want with my Megatronic Development Ultraboard. Your imagination is the only limit!” Without any direction, maybe some backers might make a good choice and back a project that suits their needs and abilities, but many others won’t. They’ll leave in favor of something more clearly suited to them and their needs or they won’t be able to see how your project actually suits their specific needs. Or, just as bad, they’ll back your project when it is unsuitable to their uses and then they’ll become unhappy users who propagate bad PR and waste your time with support.
Backers need your help to get on the right path, and you do that by knowing their needs, the problems they’re facing, and how your project can help them. You need to give them a clear picture in which they can see themselves and your project. Now that the holidays are over, you probably know all too well that the best gift you can receive is one where the giver knows you well, knows your likes and dislikes, knows what you enjoy doing and how you do it. Your campaign needs to be that kind of gift. Show your users you know them, you know their needs, you know their challenges, you know their dreams and desires. They will reciprocate with love and gratitude and support.