It pays to have influence – especially on social media where a new generation of tastemakers is helping businesses and brands build deeper relationships with customers.
What is influencer marketing?
Influencer marketing is a form of social media marketing where businesses and brands pay for endorsements and product placements from people and teams with standing within a given area or industry. That can mean a well-known celebrity, industry expert or even just regular folks – so long as their endorsement resonates with your preferred audience.
What influencer marketing can do for your business?
When done well, influencer marketing as part of your channel mix can be an effective way to build relationships with customers – and drive sales – in an authentic way.
Who uses influencer marketing?
Prior to COVID-19, more than two-thirds of North American retailers were using some form of influencer marketing. That number is expected to grow in the post-pandemic era as consumers continue to evolve how they want to learn about, interact with and purchase from brands.1 The surge in ecommerce has fueled interest in this area, propelling the industry’s market from $1.7 billion in 2016 to an estimated $14 billion in 2021.2
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Ways you can use influencer marketing
While the financial opportunities seem endless, so are the ways you can go about working with influencers. It can seem daunting to determine a path forward, but as many ecommerce leaders stress, the only right answer to crafting an influencer strategy is the one that works for you and your customers.
Try influencer marketing on social media
Coal & Canary, a Winnipeg-based candle company, primarily attracts Millennial women. “And where are Millennial women? They are on Instagram, TikTok and Facebook. We knew we had to invest in those social spaces from day one,” owner Amanda Buhse explains.
In 2019, 89 per cent of U.S. marketers saw Instagram as the most important social media channel for influencer marketing. Twitter, YouTube and Facebook were not far behind in popularity, and Twitch and LinkedIn were also in the mix.3
Instagram is Coal & Canary’s “bread and butter.” Their account has 51,000 followers and an aesthetic that meshes seamlessly with the brand’s emphasis on fun and photography.
“It’s where our shopper is every day and where we can communicate with her in her own space when she feels like communicating with us and checking in with us without having it be that constant email in their inbox,” Buhse says. The channel’s importance for the company was driven home when Coal & Canary’s original Instagram account was hacked and held hostage early in 2021. It was a crushing blow both professionally and personally for Buhse.
“When you put years of your heart and soul into building this audience and being vulnerable to them, it’s like they’re part of your family. A big part of our mission and values is we treat every single customer like they are a best friend or family member. We stay true to that. We have the best customer service. I will stand by that,” she said.
A big part of our mission and values is we treat every single customer like they are a best friend or family member. We stay true to that.
“So, to have that disappear is the worst, most horrible feeling. You’ve invested time, money and your soul in it. It was very disheartening and very stressful.”
She regained control of the account after a lengthy and expensive process, but nearly a year later, she still has ‘PTSD’ over social media. “Every time I log on, I wonder if it is going to be there. It’s such a vital, important part of our business.”
Work with celebrity influencers
Coal & Canary’s internal marketing team works on influencer marketing. When working with certain personalities, the expense is not insignificant, Buhse says, while stressing the importance of doing your research before investing in individuals.
While they have entered into some formal partnerships, the team has also found more organic, creative ways to engage with different types of influencers. “We do like our celebrities,” Buhse says with a smile.
The company often creates custom candles (including a cheeky, clever name) for celebrities who inspire them. They then send a photo of the creation to the celebrity via social messaging. The response rate has been incredible. After engaging online, Coal & Canary will send the candle to the celebrity who will often post it to their accounts with hundreds of thousands of followers (for free).
That is how the brand has ended up in the hands (and on the social accounts) of celebrities from the cast of Schitt’s Creek to RuPaul’s Drag Race.
“Sometimes a little creativity goes a long way,” Buhse says.
Try a brand advocacy program
Jennifer Harper, Founder and CEO of Cheekbone Beauty Cosmetics Inc., combined her approach to influencers and rewards programs. Cheekbone Warriors, Cheekbone Beauty’s brand advocacy program, ties access to product exclusives and rewards to brand advocacy missions like posting photos and videos on social media accounts, rating and reviewing products or sharing special introductory offers with friends.
“We didn’t want paid influencers; we wanted our community to be our advocates,” Harper says.
We’re fortunate to have a loving, supportive community who, when we put up a task, they’re out there ready to do it. They’re truly advocates in the sense that they love our brand.
Cheekbone echoes the user-generated content across its channels, as well – which brings a bit of ‘celebrity’ to their customers. The content has become such a key piece of the company’s marketing strategy that it is incorporated into quarterly planning.
“We’re always thinking of ways to do more for them,” Harper says.
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Empower your customers to be influencers
Dr. Liza Egbogah, owner of Dr. Liza Shoes, has almost entirely foregone the paid route and instead focused on her strongest influencers – her customers.
My actual customers, women who you wouldn’t consider your typical ‘influencer’, are much more effective at driving sales than actual influencers.
Her customer base runs a broad age range, from women in their 20s up into their 80s. They are linked by a common denominator of women who won’t let physical problems with their feet keep them from looking and feeling fabulous.
Egbogah has worked with professional influencers in the past, but she found their posts lacked a certain authenticity. She felt her product got lost in the noise of influencer posts – “one day they are posting about my shoes, the next day about someone’s yogurt.”
She understands the power some influencers yield, but it just does not work for her.
“The influencer world can be very, very effective, but cost wise for a small business, our best influencers are our genuine customers who are actually purchasing our products and sharing it because it changed their life,” she explains. “When these women say ‘These shoes have changed my life. I love them so much,’ that speaks to other customers because they are sharing it because they love them, because they worked for them, made them feel good and not only because they are getting paid to talk about the shoes.”
Forge strategic partnerships and collaborate
Smash + Tess broke through on Instagram organically but has found success in more formalized collaborations with likeminded influencers.
“Collaboration is queen,” says Ashley Freeborn, CEO of Smash + Tess. “Working with influencers in an organic way is always our go-to.”
We always want to be creative women creating cool stuff together, making an impact, doing it in a way that feels good for both of us.
The company’s strategic partnerships have ranged from Canadian television personality Jillian Harris to body confidence activist Sarah Landry to the furry and feathered residents of Sesame Street. Freeborn credits a collaboration with American actress Hilary Duff (and her 17.5 million Instagram followers) for exposing Smash + Tess up to the U.S. market.
“When we started to work together, it was so easy. And it still is,” Freeborn says. “A lot of entrepreneurs just want to get involved with as many influencers as possible. But the reality is, if you can form deep bonds, they become friends and out of that comes great clothes and a story that resonates with people.”
Make thoughtful influencer marketing decisions for your company
Influencer marketing might not be right for every brand’s marketing mix. However, many lifestyle brands have found that its blend of aesthetic, personality and ecommerce work perfectly for them. Success comes, experts say, when all mesh perfectly and authentically to create a synergy between brand and influencer.
As you heard from these industry leaders, your first step is understanding how your brand wants to present itself and then finding the right partners that can share your vision with the right audience. It’s not always about the biggest name you can get, but the right name who can help.
1 B. Droesch, “What retailers need to know about influencer marketing: Finding the right influencer is just one step,” eMarketer, March 24, 2019.
2 J. Santora, “100 influencer marketing statistics for 2021,” Influencer Marketing Hub, April 22, 2021.
3 B. Droesch, “What retailers need to know about influencer marketing: Finding the right influencer is just one step,” eMarketer, March 24, 2019.
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