The successful equity-based crowdfunding campaign
Equity-based crowdfunding campaign allows startups and SMBs to collect venture capital to finance their development plans. It may be initiated by an offer to investors on the specialized platforms that are proliferating on the Web, promising to unite investors and entrepreneurs via the services of a team with specific competencies in finance, strategic communication, digital marketing, and information technology.
There are many platforms and many ideas that can give a boost to a crowdfunding campaign; every campaign has its own story based on a unique set of conditions and events. However, all campaigns share the central importance of a good strategy of communicating with potential investors and a broader audience of stakeholders.
The implementation of a crowdfunding communication plan involves a number of indispensable steps, and it is important to understand that work on the campaign begins well before the pre-marketing and go-live phases.
I would like to make one point before we go on to describe the key steps: given that the crowdfunding campaign integrates into a larger communication plan and its timeline, we must be able to assume that there actually is a communication plan and associated timeline and that the positioning of the brand in terms of values and product advertising is already clearly defined.
I add this note based on my experience in recent years: I have often encountered companies that do not realize the need to work on their brand identity, even at the most basic level, until they initiate a crowdfunding campaign and are faced with the task of preparing the associated documentation (which is absolutely necessary on the platform). It is not unusual for a strategist offering value proposition design and brand positioning services to find themselves working with a company that is caught unprepared in this respect, forced to do essential groundwork (which should be undertaken calmly and carefully) at a time when it is subject to the stress of a critical juncture in its lifecycle (recovering from a communication crisis, facing generational transfer, preparing an IPA, preparing a fundraising drive…). Not the best time to be doing that. As has always been the case, time is money and has to be spent well: it is critical that all the basic groundwork is already in place when approaching situations where the advertising has to bear fruit within a short timeframe.
Brand positioning needs time to develop and be metabolized by the company team (which is composed of its first and fundamental ambassadors), just as brand awareness and the distinctness of brand communication need time to solidify in the minds of external targets.
So, before you undertake a crowdfunding process and design your communication campaign, you have to ask yourself whether your positioning is solid and appropriately expressed in messages to all the relevant targets or if you still need to talk to your colleagues and counterparts (both internal and external) and work out certain details before presenting yourself on the market and attracting a great deal of public exposure.
Reiterating: if you don’t address these issues ahead of time, during the campaign you may find yourself scrambling to come up with answers to questions that are fundamental for your stakeholders within the restricted campaign timeframe: you will have to set aside portions of that timeframe to deal with key questions that are not components of the campaign itself. Not an optimal use of time.
The most typical output of a crowdfunding campaign of a brand without a solid positional foundation is an editorial plan whose content is a jumble of campaign communication, corporate communication, and perhaps bland filler content. Another outcome typical of those who embark on a campaign without having clear strategic ideas and goalposts is an excessively cautious or generalized company presentation forced to fall back on mere financial data, missing the precious opportunity to communicate corporate values, which are enormously important in shaping investment decisions.
If you have not yet sat down with your team to work on positioning, all is not lost, but remember that you are going to need to get this done a couple months before you go live, so that you will get off the starting blocks of your campaign with a clear idea of who you are and what race you’re running.
In this case I recommend using a value proposition design approach.
But now let us get to the key steps.
1. REALISTIC OBJECTIVES. First and foremost (and not just for reasons of communication), you should address the objectives of the campaign not just in terms of fundraising, but in terms of the goals you want to achieve by investing the raised funds. You must be realistic and credible about the objectives you set, and also sincere about what you plan to do once the fundraising phase is completed. This is also an opportunity to identify values in your objectives that might motivate your potential investors, making the campaign all the more appetizing.
Remember that your strategy is an open book to those who know how to read the signals (discover how here!): you can tailor what you say to individual targets, you can strengthen your credibility, you can work on areas of vulnerability and ambiguity to prevent rumors or misunderstandings from arising during the campaign (which can happen even on questions that are not at all problematic in an of themselves), but you do not want to be vague or ambiguous and certainly don’t want to be forced into damage-control mode if you want respect from the market.
2. INTEGRATED COMMUNICATION STRATEGY. There are a lot of bases to cover here: cross-channel message grid, daily campaign planning, sub-campaign timing, multimedia content, map of narrative design media and the role of your micro-influencers during the campaign, presence on novel channels, event planning and production, follow-up phase for all actions, steering and coordination of all suppliers you bring into collaboration, pre-crisis statement, social media comment management, digital marketing strategy. Have I left something out? Probably. The point is that you have two or three months to make this work, if you do not have a communication staff with multidisciplinary competencies, you might want to consider bringing in external support.
3. TIME AND MONEY. What resources do you need for the campaign? Crowdfunding campaigns are costly. Even if your friend says she did it from her bedroom (did she really?), she still had to put something on the line, if nothing else, days and days of her time to make it all work. As in any campaign where communication plays a fundamental role, the first thing to do is to establish a budget to cover the basic costs of organizing a team to undertake the hard work and optimize the resource you will need the most during the campaign: time. Furthermore, while you may fall short of your financial objective, you must not miss the opportunity to take advantage of the visibility and exposure brought by the campaign to increase something that will last much longer than the capital you collect: relational assets.
4. INFORMATION ASSETS. All materials associated with the company must be aesthetically pleasing, coordinated, and professional. Content must be contextualized, realistic, and readily understandable, and communication must be unambiguously tailored to your various targets (remember that an investor may also be one of your customers). A visual identity and coordinated image are assets you should already have but they might benefit from being updated. There are probably materials you haven’t thought of: press kit, background documents, industry statements and data, additional graphic and audiovisual assets for specific channels, video interviews with the team and stakeholders, spots, shorter or expanded versions of a given item that may have value in the presentation on platforms and other story elements to make your storytelling more complete and engaging.
5. COMMUNICATION CHANNEL UPGRADE. Do not gear up to saturate all available channels; your campaign is not of universal public interest. Think of strengthening your customary array of channels to better reach your target.
Is a digital strategy useful? A digital strategy is essential! It gives you a better idea of how your target is responding to the campaign, especially if you take advantage of the services of an expert in social media advertising, who could give you recommendations on how to further implement your content strategy with items for particularly alert or active audiences. Your reference community is perhaps not concentrated on the Web and your investors perhaps do not use Instagram, but they may be customers who are great fans of your product, follow you on social media, and have gained an appreciation of your method of conveying your values.
The channel upgrade must make you more accessible to your audience and every touchpoint has to have a specific assigned role and ad hoc editorial plan to express the most cogent aspects of the campaign and the brand. The channel upgrade and the creation of new profiles (especially on instant messaging apps and platforms) can also be useful in monitoring how audiences are receiving and sharing information and in orienting them with a few “magic touches” (to find out how, write me at firstname.lastname@example.org). In any case, never miss a chance to communicate with, listen to, and orient your audiences.
6. ENABLE PEER-TO-PEER COMMUNICATION AND INTEGRATE IT WITH TOP-DOWN COMMUNICATION. People are talking about you and your campaign, give them a physical or virtual space where they can interact and receive official information and updates, which you may also provide in person. It will be gratifying for them to get to know you and one another and begin to feel like part of a family, above and beyond being part of a shareholding structure. They will want to be there because, as we know, networks are created, things are learned, know-how is swapped, and interesting encounters take place in both physical and virtual information exchange spaces. And it will be interesting for you to see which fish are swimming in this aquarium. 😉
7. DEFINE THE NARRATIVE AND HOW TO DELIVER IT ON COMMUNICATION CHANNELS and choose and enlist the official storytellers of the campaign: the communication cannot be exclusively top-down, especially in a process centered on participation. Media narrative design is the type of strategic planning that you need in deciding who will be part of your story, which proprietary or non-proprietary channels will be used to deliver it, at what time, and what will actually be said. It is the basis for investing these micro-influencers or brand ambassadors with the responsibility of communicating the campaign in an unambiguous way. Oversight and stimulus of this fundamental component of the campaign are essential here so as not to underutilize the people who are willing and able to contribute to our success and not overemphasize ambassadors who may be quite capable but are not focused on the most relevant nuances of the message at this time.
You will have a limited amount of time to attract investor attention. The most effective approach is to tell a story using at least some chosen storytellers. Avoid overly detailed and analytical information, which tends to be boring.
8. SCHEDULE IN-PERSON MEETINGS. Direct and personal contact with potential investors is the best way to bring in investments: people who request a personal meeting probably also want to explore visions for the company, desiring involvement at a higher level. Those who enter a company’s shareholding structure with a major investment have ways of acquiring information and developing their investment choices that may not always follow a predictable course, but almost always involve an attempt to establish direct contact with the founder. During the campaign you should never avoid direct meetings, the only caution being to properly mete out the limited time at your disposal to people who are truly interested. The attention of a founder with high visibility and a busy workload is always appreciated and you should take the time to cultivate a relationship with the new partner even after the investment has been confirmed. If there are potential investors you would like to see involved but they are not seeking you, go out and look for them yourself.
In the next weeks post I will tell you about the salient moments in the campaign, which communication tools work best, and a few golden rules for cultivating the visibility gained through the campaign.