Social media influencers have taken the marketing world by storm. They’ve challenged traditional advertising practices that typically involve celebrity endorsements, print ads, TV commercials, out-of-home, and direct mail. Marketing budgets are now shifting towards influencer campaigns.
The data tells us that influencers are playing an important role in the shopping journey. They may not be movie stars or athletes, but they can be just as effective (perhaps even more so) in increasing the visibility and discoverability of brands.
It’s no wonder that more and more retailers are jumping into influencer marketing. According to Influencer Marketing Hub, 86% of businesses are planning to dedicate a portion of their marketing budget to influencers in 2019, and 63% are planning to increase their influencer marketing spend in 2020.
If you’re a retailer who’s in the same boat, keep reading. This post outlines key action steps to ensure the success of your influencer strategy.
1. Leverage Organic Influencers
The best influencers are those who have a natural affinity to your brand. When someone has a real connection with your company and they genuinely love your products, their content will feel much more authentic and compelling.
Here’s how to find organic influencers:
a. Implement social listening. Look for people who are already sharing your products on social media. Pay attention to your brand’s tags and mentions, so you can discover your most active and influential customers. Another approach is to promote a branded hashtag that people can use when sharing content about your brand.
Forever 21, for example, uses a number of hashtags, including #F21xME, #Forever21Plus, and #Forever21Men. The company then showcases the top posts on its website on a section called “Shop the Gram.”
b. Encourage your staff to become ambassadors on social media. Do you have employees who love your products and naturally embody your brand? Encourage them to share their retail adventures on social media.
Macy’s is doing just that through a program called Macy’s Style Crew. The department store runs a community of Macy’s employees who are passionate about fashion and style, and members are encouraged to share content about Macy’s products and trends.
Like with Forever 21, the initiative has a dedicated hashtag — i.e., #macysstylecrew — and has a special section on Macy’s website.
Try to implement similar practices in your own influencer strategy. Recognize that the best influencers may be closer than you think. Your existing customers and employees already have a natural connection to your brand, and this puts them in a great position to amplify your messages.
2. Don’t Discount Nano and Microinfluencers
When it comes to an influencer’s number of followers, bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better. Individuals with millions of followers tend to charge more, but return lower engagement rates. In fact, those with a relatively low follower counts (think 2,000 to 50,000) see higher engagement rates.
A study by Takumi found that on Instagram, users with 1,000 to 4,000 followers have an average engagement rate of 4.5%. That number drops to 2.4% for accounts with 4,000 to 100,000 followers, and users with over 100,000 followers have an engagement rate of just 1.7%.
Known as nanoinfluencers and microinfluencers, these individuals typically have more time to interact and cultivate relationships with their audience, helping them keep their engagement rates high.
For this reason, it’s important to engage these users in your influencer strategy.
And if you want to further refine your influencer efforts, consider working with local influencers. This strategy is particularly helpful if you’re looking to increase sales or growth in a specific geographic area.
The right campaign can build awareness about your store’s presence in the local scene and ultimately drive store traffic and sales.
Another bonus? Campaigns that involve nanos and micros are more cost-effective. Whereas Internet celebrities can charge thousands of dollars per post, smaller influencers are typically happy to promote a brand in exchange for free products or a small fee.
More and more retailers are starting to recognize the value of smaller influencers. And with the advent of influencer marketing platforms and agencies, it’s easier than ever to find and work with these individuals.
Mae Karwowski, the chief executive at the influencer marketing agency Obviously tells the New York Times, “We’ve seen a real push to work with smaller and smaller influencers, because their engagement is so high and we have the technology to work with a lot more influencers now and track and measure what is and isn’t working.”
3. Choose Your Influencers Carefully
Not all influencers are created equal. The right partnership can get your retail stores and products in front of your target market, but the wrong one will waste your time and money — or worse, diminish the credibility of your brand.
You can avoid that by vetting your influencers carefully. Here some of the factors to consider when choosing who to work with:
- The number of followers. Followers aren’t everything, but if you want your campaign to generate awareness, you need to partner with someone who has a decent-sized audience.
- Engagement rate. Already found people with a decent number of followers? Don’t forget to evaluate their engagement rate. One way of measuring this is to use the formula: (Likes + Comments) / Followers x 100.
- Authenticity. Do the influencer’s posts come across as real and relatable or does everything feel staged? Do they share posts that are genuinely entertaining/informative or is their feed filled with sponsored content? If it’s the latter, set your sights on someone else.
- Voice and style. Is their content a natural fit for your brand? Does their voice or style align with the image you want to project? Naturally, the answer should be yes.
- Character and values. Does the influencer demonstrate excellent character? Are they a good role model for your target audience? Also, do their values align with yours? The answer to all of these questions should be a resounding yes.
4. Accept Risk
When you team up with an influencer, you will likely co-create content with them. In many cases, you’ll need to hand over the reins and just let them create the story on their own terms. This can be daunting, especially if you want to control your brand narrative.
But influencer marketing works best when the content rings authentic to the audience. In fact, today’s consumers are shunning polished ads in favor of content that feels real. That’s the beauty of it.
There’s always going to be a risk that a campaign won’t be well-received, but if you choose the right individuals to work with, you’ll keep that risk to a minimum.
5. Repurpose Content
If an influencer’s content only lives on their Instagram profile, you’re not getting the full bang for your buck. Repurpose influencer content across various platforms and assets. We can already see this in action in Macy’s and Forever 21’s examples earlier in this post. Both retailers have dedicated parts of their site to influencer content.
But your website isn’t the only platform on which to repurpose your content. Consider using email, too. If you send out drip campaigns or promotional messages, find ways to incorporate the content of your influencers in your messages.
The health supplement Athletic Greens, for example, regularly features influencers in its emails.
You can also use their content in-store. Ulta, for example, has posters in some of its locations featuring beauty influencers.
Take a leaf out of Ulta’s playbook and take your influencer strategy beyond the realms of social media. Identify other touchpoints or channels on which you interact with your customers, and see how you can use them to promote your influencer content.
6. Measure Success
Just like with any marketing campaign, you need to identify and track the right KPIs. If you’re looking to drive traffic and sales, for example, be sure to assign special UTMs or coupon codes to each influencer so you can figure out who is driving results.
7. Implement Ethical Marketing Practices
Influencer marketing is still a form of paid advertising and should be as such. It’s misleading to work with an influencer and not disclose the material relationship. This practice will not only ruin your credibility (and the influencer’s image), it can also put you in a legal bind.
The Federal Trad Commission (FTC) requires influencers to clearly and consciously disclose “if there is a ‘material connection’ between an endorser and an advertiser”.
If you’re working with influencers, see to it that their posts are marked accordingly. Use Instagram’s “Paid partnership with” tag or include hashtags like “#ad” to label them. You should also ensure that captions make it clear that the content was created in collaboration with your brand.
Influencer marketing is no longer new, and we’re past the point of it being just a trend. It is increasingly becoming the norm, particularly with Millenials and Gen Z. Any retailer that wants to engage these consumers today and in the years to come should consider partnering with influencers to get in front of the right audience.
And when you do get started with influencer marketing, see to it that you have the right influencer strategy in place. Find the right people, vet your partners properly, and implement ethical promotional practices. Don’t forget to measure your results. Always have a clear idea of what success looks like with each campaign then use solutions that can efficiently track your KPIs.
CB4 helps retailers maximize sales at each door in their chain by using each store’s POS data to gain a deeper understanding of local shoppers. Then, we enable store teams to act on the data. Check out this video to see how it works.