I've gotten the call more times than I can count. "I saw your crowdfunding talk and wanted your advice. How do I get press for my Kickstarter campaign?" The dispirited voice on the other line has 5 days left and has hit less than 5% of his funding goal.

I empathize with this voice. If not for the help of mentors and trial-and-error lessons learned, I could have been this voice.

But here's the thing: press isn't the problem. No one is buying into my friend's product, and we need to look at the real causes. In fact if you launch a Kickstarter campaign and it doesn't succeed, it's invariably for one of these three reasons:

1. You didn't listen to customers

My first question gets to the root of the problem. "What did customers think of your fishing product when you showed them a prototype?" It's often silence or something like, "Well I didn't talk to customers, really. But that's because I'm a fisherman and I know what other fishermen want!"

Wrong answer.

My favorite MIT Sloan marketing professor Mark Ritson taught, "Once you step onto the other side of the curtain from customer to [entrepreneur] you have zero credibility in saying what the customer wants." Your mind is forever compromised.

Had our fisherman friend gone outside and shown his product to customers, he would've learned product lessons he could act on before his doomed Kickstarter campaign. Perhaps it only needed small tweaks, perhaps he needed to go back to the whiteboard, but customers hold the answer and it's up to the entrepreneur to ask the right questions. Never assume you know all the answers-even if you're the target user.

2. You didn't tell a story

In the book, "Made to Stick," authors Chip and Dan Heath figured out the characteristics that the most enduring, or sticky, stories shared. Your audience won't remember facts, figures, and specs, they'll remember how you made them feel. So inject emotion-frustration, outrage, joy-into your story.

Kickstarter videos need to tell a story. But many are low-budget, low-emotion infomercials. Do your research on what makes a good video (start at this Quora post) and be ready to spend real money ($1k to $10k).

Most fundamentally-have a story to tell.

Frankly, we wrestled with this question during our recent Kickstarter campaign. How do you make a theft-resistant bike light emotional? Riding in front of a city bus with a honking, angry, driver is emotional. Gliding past cars stuck in gridlock traffic is emotional. But we needed to connect our project to the emotions of urban cycling-and communicate that connection simply. As the Heath brothers write, "If you say three things, you don't say anything. The more we reduce the amount of information in an idea, the stickier it will be."

Our breakthrough came when my cofounder recounted a story. "[My friend] Dave had his bike light stolen. Riding home that night, he got hit by a car." We knew the idea was sticky when we overheard friends retelling it verbatim.

3. You didn't tell the world

When I asked Kickstarter rockstar Peter Dering, founder of Peak Design, for advice, he said, "If you look at top Kickstarter campaigns, they come out swinging." Many hit their funding goal within a day.

Think of your Kickstarter campaign as a movement. Every movement starts with a core nucleus. That nucleus will be your friends and family who love you and want to see you succeed, no matter what.

In our case, we called each of our friends and family, or sent them personalized emails. No BCC lists or "Dear [name]" mass blasts. We also threw a bike-themed launch party to build excitement.

Within hours of launch we had thousands of dollars and then local, industry, and national press caught wind of it.

Our fisherman friend's Kickstarter would have crushed it if he'd talked to customers first to build a product they needed, told an emotion-inducing story, and shared it with his world. Of course, this isn't easy, but by doing your homework and avoiding easy pitfalls, you're giving yourself the best chance at success.

Published on: Jun 2, 2015