Kickstarter: It Pays to Use the Right Phrases

By January 28, 2014

Using certain words and expressions can apparently be a decisive factor for the success or failure of a crowdfunding campaign.

A characteristic feature of crowdfunding sites is their conciseness. And although the principle is simple – post a concise description of your idea in order to raise funds from private individuals – in practice it can be difficult for project owners to achieve this aim. In fact it often proves quite hard to explain in just a few lines how valuable the project is, how sound and solid its structure, plus the inherent qualities of the project owner. L’Atelier has already reported on the importance of a project owner’s personal qualities on crowdfunding sites. Now Georgia Tech University in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, has just published a study on the importance of language as a factor for the success – or lack of success – of a crowdfunding campaign. Some words are best avoided, while certain phrases and expressions seem to prove particularly persuasive when it comes to getting the general public to pledge their backing on crowdfunding sites.

‘When’ (not ‘if’) the project achieves its funding goal…

The researchers, whose paper – appropriately entitled ‘The Language that Gets People to Give: Phrases that Predict Success on Kickstarter’ – draws on data from 45,000 projects past and present on Kickstarter, break down the language used in the campaign pitches into a number of communication categories. Points out Eric Gilbert, who co-authored the paper: “Those campaigns that follow the concept of reciprocity – that is, offer a gift in return for a pledge – and the perceptions of social participation and authority, generated the greatest amount of funding.”  Furthermore the authors stress that, just as in the traditional approach to marketing strategy, the use of phrases with negative formulations should be avoided. In cases where an identical reciprocity applies, the actual vocabulary and wording used in the pitch seem often to make the difference between obtaining funding for the project and failing to do so.  A key element is to project the likelihood of success. Positive formulations such as “the project will be…” and “…has pledged...” are thought to convey a sense of force and stability. In contrast, expressions such as “not been able..” and even, perhaps surprisingly, “trusting” seem to be associated in the public mind with likely or expected failure.

Communication categories

During their research, the authors analysed the 45,000 Kickstarter-listed projects with a view to identifying some common threads. Having compiled a dictionary of generalizable expressions used in the crowdfunding pitches and correlated them with funding results, the researchers estimate that the type of language used by project owners accounts for just under 60% of the variance around a campaign’s success, regardless of the product or service involved. They have established a number of major communication categories, ranging from ‘Authority’ – i.e. calling on expert opinions to help make decisions – to what they term ‘Social Proof’, e.g. highlighting a specific link to a social group, in addition to a product that has been specially developed for them, such as for people suffering from motor deficiencies. This study by the Georgia Tech researchers appears to have opened the way to a scientific approach to communication on crowdfunding sites. And if this thinking seems to run counter to the general idea of an open, uncomplicated appeal to ‘the crowd’ for support, it might nevertheless help project owners to develop a more sophisticated approach to creating their pitch from the outset.

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