Influencer marketing is not a panacea for small businesses
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The author is a co-founder of the shoe brand Sante + Wade. based in London
He was a little serious; Internal counsel at a shipping company with no apparent interest in women’s fashion. But his ears perked up during the conversation between his wife and me as we sat at the kitchen table and talked about my new business.
“What is your marketing strategy like? Where are you going to sell your products? How will people find out about your brand? ”He asked.
All of the valid questions I had answers to, but it was the beginning of what I realized is an unintended consequence of starting a business: anyone – from family and friends to casual strangers – will be giving you unsolicited advice.
One nugget from the hall of fame is that a lot of people are telling you to “find an influencer.” This is usually delivered in safe tones as the only decision you need to make in order to sell your goods and guarantee success.
That is not entirely wrong. Think of the connection between Michael Jordan’s gravity defying dunks and Nike, or what George Clooney’s daring charm did for Nespresso coffee. There is a certain alchemy at work when influencers and brands team up and their recommendations and megawatt smiles penetrate our collective consciousness.
While access to A-list celebrities is out of reach for most small businesses, there are more collaborative opportunities lower down the grocery chain. If anything, there may be too much choice.
According to the latest Influencer Benchmark Report, the influencer marketing industry is projected to be worth $ 13.8 billion in 2021, up $ 4.1 billion from last year. But how do brands, especially small businesses, pursue this marketing strategy?
“You will find that there is some low-hanging fruit,” say the owners of The Steak Shop, an online meat supplier. “After that it will be more difficult. You need to keep scouring the internet for the best of creators. Don’t worry about the subscriber number, however [rather the] Engagement and view rate [as] that is much more important and will help your results. “
The Steak Shop, sister of Steak on the Green, an award-winning restaurant in West London, was launched during the first lockdown in 2020. The ability to reach a large, targeted audience that trusted the influencer’s opinion was fundamental to the company.
They started slowly, giving away cuts of meat to content creators who, without exception, posted YouTube videos of themselves searing steaks in their back gardens. The results were immediately visible: more traffic to their website and an increase in sales. So much so that the company has now hired a manager who is solely focused on this marketing strategy.
But for every success story there is a cautionary story. Blue Elvin, a brand that makes protective sportswear for women who exercise with weights, found the experience disappointing. They gave away a lot of products, but the influencers didn’t deliver sales or content. Therefore, they see this approach as more relevant for larger companies.
“It’s a great strategy for bigger brands that have better profit margins, tons of inventory, and multiple products,” says co-founder Tamara Short.
“You can offer influencers more attractive packages that smaller brands just can’t afford,” she adds. “. . . It’s a numbers game, so you’ll be there from the start. “
This is a difficult situation for small businesses. It’s hard to make claims when you can’t afford it, but without enforcement powers, organizations can feel taken advantage of when expectations aren’t met.
Here authenticity is key: finding people who love what you do and who would use your products, whether they get paid or not.
In fact, Blue Elvin has shunned short-term influencer partnerships for the time being in order to build a paid ambassador program. This has enabled them to find athletes who share their values. “It’s a lot more purpose-oriented than the way we work up to now,” says Short.
If they re-explored the influencer route, says Short, Blue Elvin would focus on working with micro-influencers with fewer than 15,000 followers. Research has found that this category tends to have greater engagement when compared to accounts with larger followers.
However, influencer marketing is still not a panacea – I told my friend’s husband that before thanking him for his advice – and needs to be done alongside additional activities like events and paid ads.
My business experience with this marketing strategy falls somewhere between the two examples above – and we’re still refining our marketing mix. It’s all trial and error, but if you’re lucky the combination can easily turn into gold.