We’ve validated our ideas. We’ve got a plan for success. We’ve started building our audience. And we’ve begun assembling our all-star team. Our crowdfunding campaign is chugging right along.

Now comes a critical juncture: testing the market.

Crowdfunding as market research

To some, crowdfunding is a form of market testing, in that it allows you to evaluate public interest in your idea before you commit serious resources to development and production. If your idea is still just an idea, you can use the audience you’re building to refine that idea to appeal to the broadest possible audience. If you’ve built a prototype, you can present it to the crowd before asking for the funding, to try to smooth out its rough edges and make it more likely to grab the market’s attention.

You won’t be alone in using crowdfunding to test public reactions to your offer. Some huge multinational brands have turned to crowdfunding before starting up full-scale production of some new and intriguing product.

A General Electric subsidiary raised $2.8 million to launch a home ice maker. Sony crowdfunded an e-paper watch on a Japanese crowdfunding site. Multiplatinum R&B stars TLC raised $400,000 on Kickstarter to produce their last album. And Clorox used Kickstarter to gauge market interest in a teriyaki-flavored beef jerky. As long as there’s no bleach in it, why not?

Engage your audience and let them help you

Source: Kennisland via Flickr.

It may be months between the “soft launch” of your campaign and its official opening on Kickstarter or Indiegogo. This time is your chance to test your ideas and iterations with your (hopefully) growing audience. They’re not just prospective backers, they’re also your ideal focus group -- a crowd of eager early adopters, many of whom have probably participated in campaigns like yours before. Roughly one out of every three backers on Kickstarter is a repeat backer, so some of your first fans may know more about the space you’re planning to enter than you do.

Campaigns based around a piece of technology or an otherwise engineered physical product often serve as a testing ground for styling, functionality, and even manufacturing efficiency. If you can create digital mockups or physical prototypes that can demonstrate your offer, you can post pictures and videos of these mockups or prototypes to your campaign Facebook page to gauge the reception of those early adopters.

It’s easy to run surveys on Facebook, but they’re not scientific, as people can be swayed to vote based on the way the vote’s already going. I’ve run into this issue before while polling our audience on this series of articles. Create a “blind” survey where no one can see the results but you and your team, and ask people to submit their responses by email or through a web form. That will help you avoid a vote that’s heavily influenced by its first respondents.

You can also solicit more detailed comments this way. Asking your audience for detailed feedback can help you refine future polls and surveys with better questions, and it can even help you identify problems you hadn’t considered. Remember, many of your backers are old hands at the crowdfunding process. They might have seen other campaigns crash and burn because they made mistakes you can be warned against in advance.

If you’re putting together a game, you may be able to get some of your early fans to play through a rough draft of that game to test its rule base and mechanics. A beautiful board and a highly detailed set of miniatures may be on the way, but your fans will be much more eager to break out the 20-sided dice for a visually-polished game if its underlying mechanics make for a fun and replayable experience.

Fix fast and fix early

Keep in mind that it’s far easier to build audience interest before you launch your campaign. Frequent engagement is the best way to build and maintain that interest. What better way to engage people than to allow them to participate in the development and refinement of your offer? You can even give your testers perks in the form of a special “thank you” page on your website, inclusion in your game manual, or even creating something special and personalized that you can send to them when it’s finally time to fulfill orders.

Involve your audience, listen to their concerns, and appreciate their feedback. It’s better to iron out as many issues as you can before your campaign goes live. That’s especially true of the sort of issues that might turn fans into foes and torpedo your momentum going forward from the campaign.