Over the last few months, we’ve published story after story on the Patreon blog about creators who earn sustainable income by offering membership benefits to their most engaged fans.
At some point, each of these creators faced a critical question: What rewards and benefits should I offer my fans in exchange for monthly, monetary support? And for any given creator, the answer isn’t the same. All creators face a juggling act between:
- Effort expended
- Impact on finances
Some Patreon reward ideas flow naturally from what you create (e.g. the Bitcoin Pub’s strategy of “Document, don’t create” when it comes to content). Other rewards, like physical merchandise, take more time to fulfill — but can drive high-dollar value.
On Patreon, effective rewards almost always fall into one of the following five categories:
- Fan recognition
- Digital bonuses
- Physical goods
In this article, you’ll learn:
- The benefits of each reward type
- How creators like you can implement them
- The advantages and pitfalls of each
- Real-life examples of creators using each one.
1. Access & Insight
Have you ever wondered what happens between takes on a video set? Or what an artist’s sketch looks like before colour is added? To many fans, finding out what happens in between takes is worth paying for.
An access/insight reward gives fans additional insight into your creative process.
Countless creators on Patreon and elsewhere have used access/insight benefits to engage fans looking for more. You might…
- Give a tour of your studio
- Film yourself creating a new piece
- Record commentary for your recent work
- Share the methods you use to produce content
- Offer access to uncut material or deleted scenes
- Interview your staff/helpers (if you have them) about the work they do
It doesn’t matter if you’re recording the next big hit or touring the country with a van full of mysterious artifacts. There’s always a way to give fans insight into your process.
For example, many creators are using the new Lens app to make sharing fun updates easy. The result? Fans who revel in exclusive access to your creative world. Fans who feel like they’re connected to your creative process. Fans who care more about your work as time goes on.
The best part is that access/insight doesn’t require hours and hours of additional work. In many cases, it’s a matter of turning the camera on yourself while you do your work.
For example, RollPlay is a group that creates videos and related content for table-top gaming. Their $3 tier offers ‘behind-the-scenes’ insight into the show. The $2/month increase over their base $1 tier is entirely driven by an access/insight benefit type.
The downside? To use access/insight well, you have to get comfortable in the spotlight. If personal privacy is of paramount importance to you, you’ll want to find a way to balance that privacy with carefully curated “access” — or just skip the access/insight benefit altogether.
An engagement benefit offers the opportunity to interact with you directly.
Some creators offer Q&A sessions either live or over time. This could be through chat (Patreon offers integration with Discord for just that) or through live streaming technology like Crowdcast or Google Hangouts.
Take the Video Game History Foundation’s Patreon page as an example. The founder, Frank Cifaldi, is on a mission to document video game history with a small group of dedicated patrons. Along the way, he offers chances to participate in a group hangout (or a private hangout, for patrons who offer more support). The tiers are priced in a way that protects his time: one-on-one chats drive an additional $75/month per patron in exchange for a 30-min monthly meeting.
Polling is also popular. Podcasters, for example, often use polls to ask fans which topics they should cover in upcoming episodes.
For the right price, you can even offer in-person meet-ups with fans.
Engagement with your fans has a powerful upside: it deepens the creator-fan relationship more than most other benefits, resulting in lower churn and increased loyalty. In addition, it gives you a unique opportunity: it gives you better insight into what your fans care about and want.
The concern? Direct interactions with fans are inherently unpredictable. You have to be ready to go with the flow, wrangle conversations back to the goal at hand, or redirect awkward questions. You need to commit the time to engage with them effectively. You may have to set up extra ground rules.
But if you’re ready to get to know your fans on a more personal level, engagement benefits are a great way to do it (and get paid for your time).
3. Fan Recognition
Fan recognition is when you call out your patrons and thank them for something they’ve done.
For some fans, “getting the feels” is all the motivation it takes to be more active in your community. There are so many ways for you to recognise fans who have made your creator business possible (beyond a regular dose of saying ‘Thank you!’). If you’re a musician, you might list high-paying patrons on your CD sleeve.
Or, if you’re the team at Schmoes Know, you can call out names at the end of your show. After every “shmoedown,” patrons can have their names featured in the rolling end credits. Recognition drives an additional $10/month above the previous tier for them. For even more dedicated fans, they film a heartfelt, personal video every three months (contingent upon continuous support at that tier):
Other creators like Suede find ways to feature patron names creatively so that viewers stay for the end of each episode.
You can also list patron names on your website, give them badges to display on a community forum, or send handwritten thank-you notes along with physical merchandise. Some creators give a printable ‘Certificate of Appreciation’ for supporters at a certain benefit tier. The best part? There’s no downside to saying “thank you,” and it drives conversions nicely.
4. Digital Bonuses
A digital benefit is anything you can digitally distribute to your fans.
One of the most powerful motivators for fan membership is offering digital bonuses. Think about what you do regularly. No matter what you create, there’s bound to be a way to create engaging ‘bonus’ content out of it.
Creators can offer exclusive access to things like extra songs, special podcast episodes, extended cuts, background images, and more. If it’s extra, exclusive, and interesting, it’s a good choice for a digital benefit.
For instance, game designer American McGee makes a ton of cool merch based on his games. Since he lives in Shanghai, he’s able to work closely with manufacturers to make sure his merch is really special. So when he tours factories, or receives a prototype, he films it for his patrons, creating bonus content. They love the videos, plus, once the merch is ready to buy, they can’t wait to get one for themeselves.
Other things creators can offer: exclusive access to things like extra songs, special podcast episodes, extended cuts, background images, and more. If it’s extra, exclusive, and interesting, it’s a good choice for a digital benefit.
Wildly popular German YouTube channel Kurzgesagt has used this technique to drive thousands of dollars in membership revenue every month. Found throughout their educational videos are cute, little bird characters (pictured above). Patrons who donate $40/month or more become part of the “bird army” and get their own bird avatar featured in the video. Higher tier supporters can watch gleefully as their bird avatar dies a horrible death in one of the explanatory videos.
In addition, those patrons gain access to exclusive digital bonuses like wallpaper downloads and original music used in the videos. Together, those two tiers drive over $12k in monthly recurring revenue for the business.
Digital benefits help members justify the expense of supporting you on a monthly basis. They are well-aligned to the way people today consume content.
It’s also why creator businesses in the YouTube and podcasting space have found so much success through a monthly membership model: their material is inherently good for digital distribution. But you don’t have to create videos or podcasts to offer digital benefits. Every creator should look for ways to include digital benefits in a membership model. Why? It drives membership.
That’s why 35.9% of benefits offered on Patreon are bonus or exclusive content.
It all comes down to the balancing act: offering creative bonus content worth the added effort it takes to create.
5. Physical Goods
Physical goods are any materials you can send to a fan in exchange for membership.
Merchandise is a common route here, but it’s not the only one. While you can offer T-shirts and other wearables (not a bad strategy, by the way), you can also offer discount codes, postcards or books, assorted ‘gifts,’ and more. Pins, stickers, prints, and plushies are always popular.
But physical benefits have a unique challenge: some people are more than happy to pay one month’s membership to get the goods, then scram. Some creators simply price their membership tiers high enough so that a one-month member is still profitable.
Others combat churn with the following strategies:
- Offering time-based access.
- Offering recurring physical goods.
1. Time-based Access
There’s no law that says you have to fulfill tier benefits as soon as patrons make their pledge. It’s perfectly acceptable to delay fulfillment until supporters stick around for your chosen time frame.
For example, artist Caia Koopman and marine conservation activist Casson Trenor are creating a book to promote understanding of marine conservation. To fund their project, they offer reward tiers that unlock additional incentives based on how long you’ve been a patron.
Patrons get a small ‘instant reward,’ followed by increasingly cool physical goods as patrons stick around long-term. That one tier alone drives $600/month in support for them. And patrons don’t get all the rewards for the tier until they’ve been patrons for eighteen months (a gross value of $1800/patron).
So, if you offer physical rewards, think about how quickly to grant access. How long do you want supporters to stick around? Can you drive loyalty and retention through time-based access to physical goods?
2. Recurring Access
A monthly goodie box is a great way to keep fans at their current membership tier.
Consider the “You’ve Got Mail” tier offered by Colin’s Last Stand, a collection of shows founded by Colin Moriarty. The tier price ($50/month) is high enough to support the extra labour it takes to write letters and postcards. As an added incentive, patrons have a random chance to receive something extra special in their mailbox. Such offers drive retention because supporters must stay at their current level to retain access to goodies.
Are Physical Goods Worth It?
Fulfillment is time consuming. It’s costly. And it’s definitely frustrating at times. Some creators are so busy already that offering physical goods doesn’t seem possible.
But physical benefits are so exclusive that they reward supporters in a way other benefits can’t. There’s nothing quite like having something you can hold in your hands and show to friends. Plus, having your fans act as ‘brand ambassadors’ for your work is pretty great.
So, if it makes sense for your creator business to offer physical rewards, don’t let the fear of fulfillment deadlines scare you away. Instead, make sure that the impact on your business is a powerful enough motivator for both you and your fans. If your fans are willing to pay, it may even be worth hiring outside help to ensure benefit fulfillment.
What Successful Creators Are Choosing
According to Bremner Morris — Patreon’s Head of Creator Partnerships — the most impactful benefits offered by creators on Patreon are bonus/exclusive content, early access, and physical goods.
You can see the full graphic he put together below. (Note that the ‘no rewards’ category exists to cover rounding errors)
Ultimately, the most important question is this: What will make the most impact on YOUR creator business?