Lessons From Kickstarter's Head of Content on Brand Marketing Priorities for 2024

Kelcie Gene Papp

December 26, 2023

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BROOKLYN - What does 1988 bring back for you? Jordan, flying high in Black Cement at the Slam Dunk Contest? The Minolta MAXXUM 7000, capturing life before the iPhone? RUN-DMC, kings of the Adidas World Tour, not missing a single beat? Or maybe it’s Flo-Jo, a lightning bolt at the Summer Seoul Olympics, shattering records in the 200 metre sprint? The world watched and awed, through TV screens. Legends born by cathode tubes.

Alley-oop to 2023, and the once-uncontested reign of TV has dwindled. The creator’s stage? Unrecognisable. Legends are no longer bound by broadcast schedules but by brand alignment and spontaneous clicks, likes, and shares.

Enter Brandon Smithwrick, the Raf Simons-donning Strategiest of this new era. A Creatorpreneur. Wait, a what? This multifaceted title is where Smithwrick’s professional journey and personal brand converge. 

Head of Content for Kickstarter by day forging partnerships with the likes of LinkedIn, Notion, YSL Beauty, and commanding over 25K LinkedIn followers by night. With a legacy built at music creator startup Songfinch, Squarespace and Ralph Lauren, and a 24K-strong TikTok following, Smithwrick is redefining content marketing.

And I can’t think of a better corporate home for him right now than Kickstarter. A Table of Creative Hustle. With $7,734,286,498 total dollars pledged to projects thus far; the Brooklyn-born juggernaut where underground becomes mainstream is empowering creators to jump the fence over traditional boundaries. 

Brandon Smithwrick is a Creatorprenuer and these are his intentions.

How’s your first quarter with Kickstarter going?

The past three months at Kickstarter have been incredibly busy and productive. We did a lot of foundational work, and what stood out to me the most was the platform's unique ability to help creators achieve success. Kickstarter is unlike any other role—hands down! Firstly, it allowed me to understand crowdfunding as a financial vehicle for launching ideas.

Secondly, it helped me understand the unique pain points that different creators face in their respective industries. My focus for 2024 is to continue exploring how content can support each unique creator at every step of their journey. This is the most horizontal role I've held so far, and I'm really enjoying it.

How can brands maximize the 2024 Olympics?

During my time at Ralph Lauren, I was lucky to build a few brainstorming decks on how Polo RL at the time could activate and capture content with the athletes during the Olympic games. Then COVID happened. However, I think some core principles still remain.

The focus needs to be shifted to the athletes and not the brand in order to create awareness rather than conversions. I believe leadership needs to be aligned with this which informs the rest of the tactics you’ll deploy. Tap into the universal appeal of athleticism, the stories from training in the backyard to making it big, creating immersive storytelling campaigns that capitalize on the excitement surrounding the games because ultimately, good storytelling transcends borders.

For 2024's brand collaboration rookies: What's key for a successful partnership and what are the pitfalls to dodge?

For partnerships to be successful, both brands need to align on the value exchange they are receiving—lead gen, customer acquisition, followers—and have a clear understanding of the audience cohort they’ll be speaking to. In terms of things to avoid, I’d recommend avoiding assuming that your internal process is the best for this partnership.

Both teams have their own set of KPIs they’re responsible for and ultimately want to produce the best work. As a collaborator, I believe in working towards the best outcome and not getting too territorial over the small things. Before you agree to partner, please conduct thorough due diligence, provide clear and blameless communication, set approval timelines, and have a well-defined exit strategy if needed.

LinkedIn's game is changing; what moves should B2C brands make in 2024 to level up their visibility and engagement with their ideal audience?

HOT TAKE—stop viewing LinkedIn as only the place to engage the professional audience, it’s the reason why so many brands produce rigid content on LinkedIn, as if humor or realness is forbidden. The “professional audience” are still consumers and they use Instagram and TikTok, like the rest of us. I think Gymshark is a great example for B2C brands seeking inspiration. Post memes on LinkedIn, post polls and surveys, do short-form text post, and post photos of the office. LinkedIn themselves wants to stir away from the professional-only looks one way persona so you should too. 

Outside of work, who are your guides in life? And how do you kick back when not marketing?

Beyond work, I have a couple of mentors in both my professional and work life, and looking for others in the coming months as I face some new, exciting challenges. My personal joy stems from working and travelling with my fiancé.

Off the marketing map, what fuels your creativity and inspiration? Any 2024 travel spots, brands and eats on your radar?

I’ve booked a trip to Mexico City in January but my 2024 travel list includes New Orleans, Italy, & Japan. My saves on TikTok is filled with restaurants in NYC I want to try but my hack is committing to bi-weekly date nights where the rule is it must be a new restaurant, and we cannot repeat. That way those restaurants don’t just stay in my saves forever. I’m trying my hardest to get a reservation at Tatiana by Kwame Onwuachi—so if anyone have a plug, please let me know!

How does the role of personal branding boost a brand's story? Do you have any true-to-life examples where this crossover plays out in your work?

Over the past year, I have spent a lot of my spare time developing my personal brand on key social channels like LinkedIn. This has helped me gain a better perspective on social media trends, the ins and outs of partnering with creators and copywriting. Additionally, it has allowed me to network with more peers in the same field, who have expertise in different areas and we’re now able to share growth hacks.

These experiences have been really valuable, particularly during our weekly work meetings where we brainstorm content and devise plans to engage our community on platforms like LinkedIn. Now, I feel more confident and capable of creating better creator marketing moments. 

In your collaboration playbook, what's key for winning digital partnerships and how can brands max out these partnerships in the digital-first scene?

Be less prescriptive and watch the post do better. When it comes to working with Creators, they know their audience. They have the historical knowledge about what has and hasn’t worked and you can’t think that the brief you worked on all week is going to produce the most viral piece of content. So, my key tip for brands is to trust the Creator - let them work their magic!

In a world dialled into segmented and niche audiences, what's the play for content marketing?

In this era, I don't believe there's anything particularly new about niche content since catering to a specific group, segment, or cohort has always proven to be effective. While businesses often try to broaden their reach to capture as many potential leads as possible, narrowing down to a niche can actually lead to better storytelling and marketing. One perfect example of this is TikTok.

For the most part, we usually follow TikTok accounts for one specific reason or niche. Account ___ shows me travel deals, account ___ shows me places I should visit in New York, account ___ makes me laugh, and/or ___ account gives me style tips.

This approach can help you gain the loyalty of a few repeat customers instead of millions of sporadic ones.

Brand Marketing. Executive-level.