What is the importance of early birds in Kickstarter campaigns? It surely feels good to catch one as a backer, it makes the experience more enjoyable and wholesome. But are they worth it for creators?
What are early birds for Kickstarter?
The idea of an early bird on Kickstarter is fairly simple: the creator offers an incentive to backers that get on board at the beginning of the campaign. This incentive can be a discount, or some extra gadget to some or all pledge levels. Kickstarter and Indiegogo allow a lot of freedom when setting pledge levels; an early bird offer can be for the first few backers, or for the first few hours.
A creator is therefore giving up part of his margin on those pledges in return for buzz. This is not a new idea, and it is very common in most online and offline retailers. A new product needs some push, it needs to reward early buyers.
Why would a creator create early birds on Kickstarter?
There are two main reasons why a creator would be willing to give out cheaper pledges at the beginning: to improve its organic ranking and to obtain social proof.
The importance of organic ranking on Kickstarter
The organic ranking of a product on a website is how high up a specific product will show when searched, without paying for placement. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the branch of digital marketing that works on optimizing organic placement. SEO is crucial on any marketplace: conceptually, being the first blog article on a specific keyword is the same as being the first product showing on Amazon. This has been proven time and time again to be absolutely crucial: On Google, for example, the first result of each search gets on average 32% of the total clicks.
I believe that the numbers on Kickstarter are much less skewed towards the top. Nonetheless, showing up as one of the first playing cards project makes you look important and relevant.
The algorithm by which each website ranks results is never clear, but some key concept emerge. Results that prove to be interesting (low bounce rate, high conversion, several sessions) tend to go to the top of the list. And many websites have what is called a “grace period”: they will give a result some free space in the first few days after it is published, in order to gauge the interest that it raises.
Offering early birds on Kickstarter, therefore, is a way to play with the algorithm in order to be shown higher up in the list. They give a compelling reason to pledge early, hence raising the conversion rate in the first few days and potentially pushing you up in search rankings, as well as giving you a shot to be featured on Kickstarter Newsletter.
The importance of Social Proof
Humans are very bad at making absolute decisions. It is hard to understand whether a project or product is worth our attention -and finally our money. If you open a Kickstarter page of a project that is less than 20% funded within a week, you are very unlikely to be interested. On the contrary, if the very same project gets 50% in 2 hours, then it must be good.
A Kickstarter project is a race against the clock to clear as much as possible of the goal in the first few hours. Why? Because other visitors will then see it in a brighter light. And this is especially important in a marketplace with dozens of similar projects competing for attention and money. Your project needs to look good. Therefore, early birds will allow your Kickstarter to look better, just because it is inching faster towards success.
The negatives of early birds
As a creator, I need to balance out pros and cons of each decision I make. What are the cons of early birds?
- It reduces your profit margin. Most Kickstarter projects have very low margins if they barely get funded. If a big chunk of backers takes advantage of early birds discounts, you are effectively reducing them further.
- The psychology of losing an early bird. Kickstarter will show offers not available anymore. Think about it. You open a project, like it, and then see that you would have saved maybe 10-15% by buying a couple of days before. This can be a big turnoff for visitors that find out about a project after the end of early birds offers.
- More confusing campaign. Early birds add to the pledges that are available in each campaign. Having to many options can become daunting for the visitor.
In my opinion, early birds are an absolute must, unless you are a very well known creator. They will bring traffic and algorithm love, which you need to be seen among many valid projects. Clearing the funding goal as soon as possible is the single most important proof of how good your project is.
However, if you are known in your field, or if you have a massive marketing budget and don’t care about competition, I would definitely consider an early birds-free campaign. It is cleaner, has better margins, and does not discriminate among backers.