Post Mortem of an Art Merch Kickstarter
As a freelance creative, I (not-surprisingly) love to make art. Rarely does a day pass where I’m not doing something artsy. For me, the difficulty emerged when trying to reconcile a desire to produce merchandise of my art with the fact that my headspace is constantly occupied with client work and the focus it requires. Instead of just picking personal work that I like and making prints or stickers of it, I decided to create my own microbrand as a way to better frame the merchandise end of my creative practice. This resulted in the Super Tough Baddies Club brand.
Rather than a small trickle of individual items releasing over time, I wanted to launch the brand with a bit of fanfare by creating a suite of multiple products. The cost of doing so meant I turned to crowdfunding, and now that I’m on the other end I can thankfully say I was successful in doing so. I learned a LOT from this process, so I want to share a full and thorough breakdown of all the numbers and analytics so that other artists interested in funding merchandise production through crowdfunding can benefit.
Building the concept
I studied dozens of art Kickstarters to try and look for trends in what seemed to make them successful. I was especially interested in ones launched by creators that didn’t have a massive social media following, because I certainly didn’t have tens of thousands of followers to funnel to my campaign.
The two areas I decided to focus on were concept and presentation. Instead of just putting a pin design up and asking for money, I wanted to frame an entire concept around it. For the STBC I created a cast of 4 characters with backstories, came up with an aesthetic and color palette for the brand, and generally created a mini universe in which this could all exist.
On the presentation front, I did my best to polish each and every part of the campaign page. I made clean mockups of each product to the best of my ability, I made custom section headers that matched the branding, and I wrote and rewrote each section. The end result was a project page that I felt a complete stranger could stumble upon and be interested enough to consider pledging some of their hard-earned money to.
The final outcome
My funding goal was $610, and the project closed out with $1,046 pledged by 46 backers, which was 171% of my original funding goal. I was forewarned by both Kickstarter and others who had crowdfunded in the past to expect at least a few backers to fall through the cracks once payment processing came into play. I had three people get flagged as “payment failed,” but luckily all three were resolved without issue.
To those thinking of launching a Kickstarter of their own, here’s something I didn’t realize prior to starting mine: add 2 extra weeks onto any production estimates for your campaign. There’s a 14-day hold on funds after the campaign closes before you get any of it deposited to your account.
Everything I read about crowdfunding suggested getting as much funding as possible in the first 24 hours of a campaign to establish a good foundation to entice future backers. I definitely had concerns that many of the people I knew who were interested might not follow through when it came time. I ended up lucky that my immediate network gave the campaign a great jump start—receiving $308 in pledges in 24 hours—or about the 50% mark of my funding goal.
The next few days after the 24 hour mark were a nail-biting ride of individual pledges slowly trickling in, and some people canceling pledges. I launched on a Monday, and the first weekend was a surprising boost in backers without any additional promotion on my part; I went from $398 to $552, which meant I was already at the 90% funded mark.
At almost exactly the halfway point of the campaign, I hit my funding goal. That milestone also created another backer push, which brought me from $610 to $743 quickly. After revealing my two stretch goals, it was a slow-but-steady climb daily of additional pledges until the campaign concluded.
I had many reservations going into my campaign about whether it was really worth it for me to take the already-small sum of money I was asking for and further whittle it down by giving a cut to Kickstarter and a payment processor. In hindsight, I can say that it was absolutely worth it—43% of my backers came organically from Kickstarter’s ecosystem with no work on my end. Depending upon your project type and funding goal, your mileage may vary. But for a small-scale artist like me, Kickstarter was a real boon.
Followers were an element of my campaign I also had no idea about prior to launch, but they quickly became critical to my success. People interested in a project but unsure about funding it can click a button on your page to “follow” it, giving them easier access should they choose to revisit your campaign. As an added bonus, 48 hours before the campaign closes out, all followers get sent an email reminder to pledge before it ends.
My project started with only a couple of followers, but as you can see I closed out with 12 of them converted to backers: a whopping 24%. This was huge for my project.
Reward tier popularity
I designed my campaign to have multiple components (primarily revolving around one enamel pin and one patch) with donor tiers accommodating as many configurations as I could conceive of. I had tiers for just the patch, just the pin, multiple of each, and so on. My goal was to get as many people as possible to buy all of the above though, so I chose to frame the project as a club membership and included a free membership card. This meant the backer tier that included one of each item was basically the “full” membership kit. Whether due to my “kit” idea or just backer interest in the items themselves, 30% of backers pledged at my “Super Tough Baddy” all-items level.
If you plan on launching a crowdfunding campaign for art merchandise, be sure to go all-out with your attention to detail. Show potential backers that you care enough about your own work to present it lovingly, because otherwise why should they take the risk of putting their money on the line for you? Also, know that just because you have an idea, doesn’t mean that it necessarily needs to be made into merchandise. Save it for the idea you obsess over, that keeps you up at night, and that you’re constantly plotting in the back of your mind. Your passion will come across much more easily that way.
At the time of writing this, I’m still waiting on a couple of manufacturers for elements of my STBC launch line. Once production is complete and I have all the backer rewards packaged and shipped, I’m going to do a second post that features more about my backer tier structure, production, and order fulfillment. Until then, wish me luck! And if you want to support my work, check out the Super Tough Baddies Club! I’ll have some overstock membership kits available once all backer rewards are fulfilled.
Are you thinking of starting your own crowdfunding campaign? Do you want to commiserate about your experience running one in the past? Let’s talk!