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Influencer marketing: what small business owners need to know

Is Influencer Marketing really the newest form of marketing or is it cloaked as a new trend when really it is a practise that has existed for centuries? If you are new to this term, then hopefully my personal experience reflected in this article will help to shed some light.

As someone who studied media formally and worked in major production houses, I was not new to influencer marketing. Just that back then about twenty years ago, it was known by different names – product placement, celebrity endorsement, product sponsorship – and the platforms used were traditionally only print and television. These were less fancy terms but they mean exactly the same thing as influencer marketing. A feature on a product or service by someone influential in exchange for monetary payment or payment in kind such as the product or service you are selling.

So when I started Baby Peppers, I jumped on the bandwagon naturally. I made a list of key influencers and reached out to them. Initially, I had my fair share of nightmares. The bitter truth is that the majority of the influencers will not be a perfect fit with your branding. Even if influencers readily accept the assignment and receive your products or monetary payment in exchange for a post or blog feature, they may not invest sufficient time or effort into your products or branding to truly understand what you’re all about, which brings me to the first thing I want to touch on.

Finding the right influencers: Who should you target

It can be frustrating when we get caught up in the world of ‘numbers’; where we inadvertently tie someone’s self-worth or even our own to the amount of followers on a social media account. As Jeanie Intrieri eloquently sums it up “Numbers are everywhere, connected to everything that we do”. From measuring time, money, distance, years, metres, inches, to our own successes and failure, “numbers have a definite effect on us”. But the numbers don’t mean anything if they can’t translate into relevance for your brand and give you good returns on investment. Research thoroughly on influencers and only connect with those that are aligned with your branding and can put your products in front of your ideal target audience; don’t be too caught up with how many followers they have on their social media channels because numbers become meaningless if their followers happen to be people that you don’t want associated with your brand.

I first made a key list of influencers whom I felt a strong connection with. People whom I felt were an ideal customer and the best to promote my product. I reached out to a few and worked with them but some of them ended up not being the right fit. I found that generally many influencers accept many assignments from different brands and your product is placed in a ‘queue’. I followed up some influencers for six months even though we had agreed on a much earlier timeframe. And finally when the day came for the post, the content created disappointed me greatly because either it didn’t align with my branding or it was crafted in a way where the key message was lost. The one influencer I did find considerable success with is Beverley Mitchell. Even though she didn’t create any content for me, her short post on my product made a difference and increased sales. I’ve followed Beverley Mitchell for a long time, even before the time of social media. I never missed an episode of 7th Heaven during my teenage years in the mid 90s. When I was doing some research on small business advocates, Beverley’s name popped up in the google search and I instantly felt a surge of re-connection. I checked out her blog and felt even more compelled to reach out to her having read her features and blog posts on small businesses plus her tips and hacks on motherhood and parenting. She was a perfect fit for my business values and ethics. I sent an email pitching about my business and I also included how this collaboration would benefit her readers and followers and give them a better opportunity to make a social change on a global scale. Beverley’s prompt reply surprised me and she said she would love to promote our totes (which was perfect because they were hand-woven by marginalised single mothers living in the slums of Chennai) and we could show how an empowered woman like Beverley was enjoying this form of sustainable fashion handmade by marginalised women trying to live a dignified life with decent work and wages. I made a pretty package with the tote and sent a few other goodies in case Beverley or any of her friends who saw the products might be interested in purchasing one. Beverley confirmed receipt of the products and told me when she had scheduled a shoot with it. I had only commissioned a small batch of totes to stock but Beverley’s shout out on social media (both Instagram and Facebook) sold out the totes which was amazing news for me. Interestingly, the people who bought my totes were not her followers but people noticed when both Beverley and I cross-promoted the post on our social media channels.

Which is the right platform? 

The right platform is something you need to determine based on the kind of product or service that you want amplified. Majority of influencer marketing takes place on Instagram (about a whopping 92%!), but there’s no reason why you should ignore other channels. One of my personal favourites apart from Instagram is finding the right blogger to feature your business. Personally, I’ve had a lot of success in this platform. Bloggers typically interview you about your business and core beliefs, which then helps them structure an article around your business model and why your products or services are worthy of purchase.

When you’re reaching out to bloggers, make sure you take the time to read their blog and see if it will be a good fit for your brand or business. Go through their media kit in detail and see if it all adds up – their monthly readership base, what they expect in return for a feature, monthly page views etc. If a blogger hasn’t blogged in more than two years or even in 12 months, clearly you wouldn’t be wasting time with them. You want someone as passionate and enthusiastic as you to feature your brand – not someone who hasn’t blogged in ages and has lost traffic to their site but is still wiling to send you a media kit in the hopes of making a quick buck.  And when bloggers get back to you and say you are not a good fit (even though you still may be), keep your chin up. Don’t lose hope – there are millions of other bloggers out there and there will be someone who is willing to collaborate with your brand and business.

Pitching your brand and business

When you craft an email to an influencer, it is absolutely important to lay it out in a way that is compelling and read-worthy. Drop the slimy sales pitch and work on something more authentic, raw and real. Keeping in mind that influencers typically get anywhere from 30-100 emails a day (depending on their popularity), your email needs to be stand out and provide the influencers with a measurable benefit. What’s in it for them? Think about how you or your branding can raise the visibility and profile for this particular influencer and what part you can play in their growth. Remember that if you want someone to invest time and energy into your brand, you have to give value first and be equally invested in their success.

Of course sometimes you would have crafted the perfect email but never hear back from your favourite influencers. There could be a myriad of reasons why that might have happened. The email could have landed in their junk folder, they simply didn’t connect with your email or they just never got around to it because it got lost in the 900 emails they receive monthly. I have made it a point to only follow up someone whom I have built a relationship with. If I didn’t hear back from someone after a couple of weeks, I move on to another key connector. I always operate on this philosophy: Don’t look at it as rejection. Think of it as a re-direction. If something is not working out or if there is a lack of response from someone you truly admire, redirect your focus on something that does matter and can give you a positive outcome. 

We are all influencers in our own way 

When I speak to other like minded businesses about making a key list of influencers to connect with, it’s funny how almost all of them only think of celebrities or you-tubers with a large following. Not that there is anything wrong with that but you have to ensure that they are deeply connected to your goals and their values are aligned with your own so that there is no disconnect and your audience can truly understand why you partnered with that particular influencer. While people with a large following could be a good fit for your brand, someone with a much smaller but deeply engaged and dedicated following will be a much better fit and can really achieve some scalable goals for you. These kind of people are known as micro-influencers. Indeed,  have you ever stopped to think that your own clients could be a powerful influencer? Till today, one of my biggest influencers are my customers. My first customer raved about my products and put up positive feedback on her social media handles, which then prompted her followers to check out my feed. Whether or not she influenced someone to make a purchase is secondary. The first step is for your potential customers to be made aware of your brand and for you to create that visibility.

At the end of the day, the right influencer is someone who has access to your target audience, drives engagement, raises brand awareness and ultimately increases the sales of the product or service you are offering. The content they create for your brand has to deeply connect with the audience and build credibility and trust because that’s how you can truly influence a person. 

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