Sami Bernstein of Kickback: “Figure out who your audience is”

Figure out who your audience is. Instagram does all the hard work for you. In your Audience Insights, you can see your follower breakdown by city, county, age, and gender. Brands are looking to partner with Influencers who have an audience that aligns with their target demographic. As part of my series about “How Influencers […]

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Figure out who your audience is. Instagram does all the hard work for you. In your Audience Insights, you can see your follower breakdown by city, county, age, and gender. Brands are looking to partner with Influencers who have an audience that aligns with their target demographic.


As part of my series about “How Influencers Can Monetize Their Brand” I had the pleasure of interviewing Sami Bernstein.

Sami Bernstein is the CMO of Kickback, a friend-to-friend shopping app that pays you to share brands and products you love. Thanks to her background in influencer marketing (and her own personal shopping habits on Instagram), Sami has a keen understanding of the storytelling strategies that work best from the viewpoints of the brand, influencer, and consumer, keeping authenticity at the top of her mind.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit more. What is your “backstory”? What brought you to this point in your career?

There is always the safe choice, and then the road less traveled. True to my risk-taking spirit, I chose the latter option, and moved to Los Angeles to start working with my brother at his marketing startup. The world of influencer marketing was just starting to gain speed, and it was there that we saw an opportunity to merge that realm with the concept of word-of-mouth marketing our company centered itself around. With a mission to befriend every influencer in Los Angeles (trust me, there are a lot) and pair them with brand partners people already knew and loved, I got to work.

This industry was taking off as I joined it, and I have seen this crazy shift from traditional advertising to putting your money and your advertising budgets into the pockets of people who actually love your brand, and making the most of people’s audiences. After leading content-focused campaigns, I realized how much product influencers could sell when you have an authentic match between the influencer and the brand. Now, I lead campaigns that are focused on customer acquisition, but still keep content top of mind.

As someone who shops a lot on Instagram, I obsessively study things from the brand, consumer, and influencer perspectives — how the consumer responded when brands used an exclusive promo or time-based offer, which demographics influencers drove the most conversion for which products, and the types of content audiences engage with the most. With over 150 brand partners and thousands of influencers under our umbrella, we launched Kickback, merging our brands and influencers onto one streamlined platform.

It’s funny, if you asked my friends when I was 10 years old to describe me, they’d say I could be friends with anyone, and that I love to shop. Now, many years later, and I am the CMO of Kickback, where I literally get paid to shop and make a ton of new friends.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you in the course of your career?

Working with my brother definitely has its perks, except when people see you have the same last name and assume you are married. That one is always pretty awkward for everyone at the table.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I’m a firm believer that you are only as good as the people around you. With that said, our local community in Venice Beach, CA has a very visible and real issue at hand with homelessness. For the past 3 years, I have served as a NextGen Board Member for Safe Place for Youth (SPY) in Venice to help nurture and empower the homeless youth by providing both immediate and lasting solutions. These initiatives are all community-driven, and I hope to continue playing an active role in bettering their lives.

You have been blessed with great success in a career path that many have attempted, but eventually gave up on. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path but know that their dreams might be dashed?

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s quote, “a smooth sea never made a skilled sailor,” is something I need to remind myself daily in business. Every single day at Kickback, something happens that we didn’t plan for or didn’t expect. Career paths take twists and turns, and all that matters is you are up for the ride. The day-to-day may not be a perfect reflection of what you dreamed, but allowing life to take its course and being open to new dreams that you find on your way is crucial to success. I highly recommend saying “yes” to all of the incredible opportunities meant to enter your life.

None of us can achieve success without a bit of help along the way. Is there a particular person who made a profound difference in your life to whom you are grateful? Can you share a story?

This one is easy — my brother Franky. When I first joined Franky at Markett, I used to refer to myself as his thought sponge. I absorbed everything he knew about the industry, the way he articulated what we do, and most importantly — his confidence in our capabilities to change the way brands market themselves.

So what are the most exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

Launching Kickback has been extremely exciting. We believe word of mouth is the best (and most effective) way to get recommendations you’ll love, so we’ve kicked paid advertising to the curb in order to work directly with our Influencers to spread the good word. Your friends will score exclusive offers they can’t find anywhere else, you’ll get a Kickback every time they shop, and the whole group chat stays happy.

What are your “Top Five Ways That Influencers Can Monetize Their Brand” . (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Figure out who your audience is. Instagram does all the hard work for you. In your Audience Insights, you can see your follower breakdown by city, county, age, and gender. Brands are looking to partner with Influencers who have an audience that aligns with their target demographic.
  2. Pick your vertical. Do you love fashion, beauty, sports, health, wellness, or are you more of a lifestyle gal like me? It is important to establish authentic brand partnerships with brands you already love.
  3. Be brave and reach out. Target 10–20 initial brands you are already organically sharing on Instagram to establish a more official partnership (even if it is not yet paid). Once your audience reaches a certain size and engagement, the paid opportunities will come rolling in.
  4. Know your rates. Do your research and be able to back up your content rates with data. At the end of the day, some brands will be open to working with you to just create content for brand awareness, but most brands are focused on how many sales your content will drive. If you charge 500 dollars for 1 IG Post, and their cost to acquire a customer is 50 dollars, a successful partnership would drive at least 10 sales.
  5. Link absolutely everything. Beyond paid collaborations, there is a huge opportunity to earn incremental commissions using apps like Kickback to link your fave products and get paid every single time someone shops what you recommend.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Smile and say hi to everyone you pass by on the street, meet in the grocery store, or even someone you may have seen everyday for years. A smile can go a long way!

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this. 🙂

Emily Weiss — lets chat skincare routines and how to run a wildly successful company over lunch.

What is the best way our readers can follow your work online?

@samiberns on Instagram!

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