How to Use Influencers to Grow Ecommerce Sales
Updated: May 27, 2021
Like me, you likely rolled over in your bed this morning, rubbed the sleep from your eyes, opened your phone and quickly checked your calendar and your email for your immediate tasks followed by a short 10-minute social binge before even going to the bathroom.
Or you sat down to write a blog post on influencer marketing (or to read market trends or consume the news or… you get it), before doing some “quick” research on YouTube only to find that “quick” meant being sucked into the content rabbit hole.
Or you found your bathroom break to be just a tad longer than anticipated due to the mindless toilet scroll (crude, but true).
The average person spends 145 minutes on social media each day. That’s 2 hours and 25 minutes daily. This is a trend that is growing (up 61% in the last decade). This phenomenon is the driving force behind the core value of influencer marketing.
This 10-minute binge, content rabbit hole, mindless scroll, and countless other moments throughout the day have led to a sales boon for brands and, more specifically, e-commerce stores. The “Things You Didn’t Know You Needed on Amazon” or “My Hair Care Routine” leads to more sales than nearly anything else. In fact, 89% of marketers say that ROI from influencer marketing is better than or comparable to other marketing channels.
So the question is, how do YOU make this work? How can you capitalize on this trend to identify and partner with influencers that can become true advocates of your brand? How can you find partners who increase your traffic, improve your conversions, and ultimately, drive more sales?
Finding the Right Influencers
I’ve been doing this for a loooong time. Since before influencer marketing was cool. Actually, since before it was even a term. During that time, I’ve seen countless articles giving advice on “How to Find the Perfect Influencer”. I’m going to go ahead and contradict this for a moment and say… there’s no such thing. There are great influencers. There are great partnerships. There are great learning opportunities. However, THE perfect influencer doesn’t exist. You have to think of this like investing or eating. You’re not going to invest solely in one stock and hope for the best. You’re not going to only eat a Parma pizza from Vezzo with a glass of the house red every single day (no matter how much you want to). And you’re not going to partner with one influencer and get magic.
The “perfect” influencer doesn’t exist (and even if they did… which they dont’... you couldn’t guarantee that they’d be willing to work with you). Now that we’ve established that, let’s walk through finding the right influencers for your brand.
Some preliminary questions in identifying influencers:
Would they (or better yet, do they already) love your brand?
Does their personality align with your brand persona?
Would their audience love your brand? Are they potential customers?
Is their audience actually engaging with their content? Is the engagement meaningful?
Are they creating content in your vertical?
Are they ranking for keywords in your niche?
There are great tools that help on all of the above, though I’m partial to TalentSheets, since it’s super-inexpensive and extremely powerful, allowing you to simply click a button from any Instagram or YouTube profile and determine the relationship with the influencer’s audience then generate similar recommendations from our database of nearly 500K influencers.
However, regardless of the tools, here are some surefire ways to identify the right influencers.
First, build a list of relevant keywords / search terms and a list of competitive brands. Then you’re going to do a simple Google, YouTube, or hashtag search based upon that criteria. For example, if you sell glasses, to identify influencers you’d build a list of search terms like:
which glasses fit my face
best glasses for men
And, brands like:
Hubble (yep… if they wear contacts, they wear glasses)
I’d compile as large a list as I could on this. Not everyone is going to be right for you and not everyone who is right is going to be available or interested. That’s okay. We’re just building our list. No… we’re not spamming after we build the list.
Then I’m evaluating their content and their engagement. Engagement trumps follower count nearly every time. If you find a great influencer who has 5,000 followers and a 20% engagement rate, that could be better than finding an influencer who has 50,000 followers and a 2% engagement. Why? Because you’re reaching the same number of engaged followers, but at a much lower cost. If you’re able to partner with 10 influencers for the price of the one influencer, then you’re getting scaled content, more social proof, and reduced risk. This is obviously not the only way to do this, but I can say that it works.
Okay, you’ve built a big, beautiful list of influencers. Now, we need to start contacting them. Again, the idea here is to ensure you aren’t spammy and you aren’t wholly self-serving. Think of this as dating. You wouldn’t go on a date with someone if they sent you 65 texts before you met. You wouldn’t go out with them again if they only talked of themselves and knew nothing about you. So, let’s do it:
Take a look at their content. Engage with it. You know… like, follow, share. You’re much more likely to get your email opened if they recognize your brand or know that you’ve been interacting with their content.
This one is a BIGGIE - write as if you’re a person writing to another person, because you are and they are. If everything feels branded or “corporate”, you’ve lost credibility almost immediately (unless you’re ponying up the cash - See bullet #5 below). My biggest recommendation to anyone sending cold emails is to think of your best friend and write the message to them. It works.
Give a brief (seriously) explanation of who your brand is and (more importantly) why their audience would get value from it.
Try to personalize your outreach if possible. Saying something like “I think you’d legit love our glasses. Not sure, but I think they’d go sooo well with those Crocs you wore in the video you did about your first date with each other (I was dead when you said you showed up to the wrong house haha). I’d love to send you a pair to check out if you’re interested”. This feels human. This feels normal. This increases responses.
Give fair compensation. This doesn’t always mean money. However, payment should be inline with what you expect to get from them. If you don’t have the money to pay up front, give a killer affiliate commission and make the product experience memorable. If you do have the money, give it. This is a person working on your behalf and creating a lot of value for your brand. Reward that. Build a relationship. I can’t tell you how many emails I’ve read on behalf of influencers with large audiences where the brand has asked for a list of deliverables and offered a $20-30 product. Or asked the influencers to purchase the product. You’re building relationships here. Pay what is fair.
Build Your Brief and Get Out of the Way
The relationship between influencers and brands can be fickle. Brands have spent all of this time and money into building their identity and reputation. They can’t possibly put that into the hands of someone who’s never worked with a brand before, right? What happens if they wear the glasses (sticking with this example apparently) the wrong way or pronounce the model incorrectly? On the flip side, influencers are recruited because of the content they create and the relationship they have with their audience. Too much brand control can come off as forced or stiff.
This is where your brief comes into play. Your brief should include the following:
Do’s (i.e. Please show the glasses while wearing a baseball cap)
Don’ts (i.e. don’t mention competitors or wear a baseball cap)
Call-outs for difficult pronunciations or areas that you know you or your team won’t approve
Discount Codes and/or Tracking links
Now, once you’ve done this. Get. Out. Of. The. Way.
Why? You need to treat your brief as a map. It’s the directions to the end goal, but detours can be a beautiful thing. The detours are the creative ways that influencers are going to put their own spin on the content. They’re the reason you wanted to work with them to begin with. Give them the map, then let them drive.
Offer a Discount
I want you to pop discount codes like PEZ. No… I don’t want you to cheapen your brand or your products. I want you to a) track everything and b) incentivize your influencers’ audiences to purchase now or miss out. The best way to do both? Discount code.
Let your influencer use their relationship… their “influence” to drive interest in your product. Then let them say to their audience “Oh… and I got the hook up. It’s 25% off if you use my link and my code.” You’re going to offer it anyway on cart abandonment or in your email blasts. Use the power of the influencer to capitalize on the excitement by sweetening the deal on the front end and not when someone has abandoned their cart. Turn those customers into loyal influencers in their own right. Tell them they can get a discount for their next purchase emailed to them if they post about your brand on Instagram. Build up long-term customers through the right incentives.
The moment FashionNova inserted influencer marketing into their marketing mix, they increased their sales by 600% in year 1 and then went on to become the world’s most Googled fashion brand in year 2. MVMT watches went from $20,000 of startup capital to a $300M exit on the backs of influencers. The point is that influencer marketing works.
Do a little bit of homework. Identify the talent you want to work with based upon their brand and audience alignment and engagement. Reach out in a meaningful way. Give them the road map, but let them drive. Offer discounts. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. You’ve got this.