Have you ever considered how much a glossy advertisement might affect your desire to actually head to the store and purchase a particular item? Now picture a recent Instagram product post you liked from an influencer you follow. What is the likelihood of that post piquing your interest enough to compel you to buy the product?
The answer is 30%, according to a recent study by Collective Bias that analyzed how U.S. online consumer behaviour impacts in-store purchasing decisions.
Of the 14,000 consumers surveyed, nearly one-third said they are more likely to purchase a product endorsed by a non-celebrity blogger than an item endorsed by a celebrity. Of that number, 70% of 18- to 34-year-olds had the highest proclivity for “peer” endorsement. And as for traditional advertisements featuring your favourite celebrity? Only 3% of consumers would consider buying a product in-store if it was endorsed by a celeb.
Both approaches utilize beautifully styled photography, but influencer marketing completely outshines traditional advertising when it comes to sales conversions, leads, and brand awareness. It’s the authentic, peer-to-peer, word-of-mouth content that’s going to get your brand noticed and purchased!
But what does this all mean for you? It means it’s time to take a hard look at your influencer marketing program, and build one that’s authentic to your audience and helps grow your brand awareness. And it’s totally doable, whether you have a sizeable or shoestring budget.
Below, we outline four simple steps that will help you find the right ambassadors for your company, allowing you to forge authentic partnerships for continued success.
Take stock of who’s interacting with your brand organically.
A brand ambassador doesn't need to be an A-list celebrity you shell out millions of dollars for. In fact, chances are a superfan of your brand will drive more traffic to your website than a major influencer — and will do it willingly, for free.
These are real people, with real lives, who are using your product on a daily basis and loving it. You can’t get more authentic influence than that. Here’s a simple way to get started: Look at your last year of sales to see which customers were multi-repeat buyers, check if they have an engaged social presence, and offer them the product in exchange for word-of-mouth marketing and social media posts.
You can also find influencers directly on Instagram. Check for those already following and interacting with your brand. If you’re a startup with a small budget, you’ll want to focus on micro-influencers — those who have an Instagram following of 50,000 or fewer, but have a strong engagement (in other words, a good number of non-bot comments).
Focus on engagement, not numbers.
There’s no rule of thumb for the minimum number of followers required, as engagement is what matters most. For example, if a potential influencer has their own blog, they may be willing to write about your product there as well — and that means even more traffic back to your site. The more social platforms these influencers are on, the better … as long as those platforms are where your target audience lives.
According to Adweek, “60 percent higher campaign engagement rates are driven by micro-influencers; those campaigns are 6.7 times more efficient per engagement than influencers with larger followings, which makes them more cost effective; and micro-influencers drive 22.2 times more weekly conversations than the average consumer.”
Micro-influencers are more likely to be generous with their offerings and eager to work with you to make your campaign successful. They tend to spend more time nurturing their relationships with followers, simply because there are fewer of them. This is the kind of collaboration you’re after.
Assess whether influencers align with your brand ethos.
To build an authentic brand ambassador program, check that each superfan and influencer’s brand ethos resonates with your target audience. Brand ethos encompasses beliefs, values, niche, style, personality, interests, and audience.
Because they stay true to their brand and engage with their audience on an intimate level, an authentic influencer will have a community of loyal followers. A good brand ambassador should have a brand ethos similar to your own. If you’re running a luxury, organic skin care business but an influencer is regularly posting discounts, sales, contests, and giveaways, it’s probably not the best match.
Be clear on what your brand represents and who your target audience is, and partner with influencers reflecting those same values. The stronger the alignment, the more authentic the content. And the stronger the content, the higher the engagement and ROI on your brand ambassador partnership.
Take the time to test out potential influencers.
Start by sending a thoughtful pitch email to the influencer offering them a chance to try out your product for free. Allow them time to use and test the product as they wish. Never demand a post or write-up if you’re not paying them for the sponsorship. Offering product gratis is the bare-minimum requirement for participating in influencer marketing.
Remember, the influencer puts a lot of time and money into crafting a beautiful blog post, video, or Instagram story, so be generous with the package you send them — especially if you’re not able to offer monetary compensation. Once they’ve received your product in the mail, feel free to follow up and ask for feedback.
Gauge and drive success.
Once the influencer posts, blogs, or vlogs about your product, jot down the relevant stats in a spreadsheet — the date, number of likes, shares, comments, and so on. Then look at your website analytics to see if you’ve had a spike in traffic around the date of the post.
If you’re happy with the results, continue to share anything new coming down the pipeline with this influencer, or consider offering them an ambassadorship with your company (more on this below).
And don’t forget to thank them for the feature! To really see the impact of your influencer partnerships, you’ll need to establish yourself as dependable, professional, and easy to work with.
Build your ambassadorship program.
You’ve found authentic influencers who believe in your mission and values, love your product, have great engagement, and drive traffic, engagement, or sales. Great! Now, incentivize these influencers with an offer to serve as your brand ambassador. Consider offering them a commission, inviting them to a special brand event, or providing a discount to their followers.
These influencers may assist in hosting events and pop-ups, do Instagram takeovers, or help run contests. Maybe they can bolster an ongoing campaign, or even help in supporting a charitable component of your mission. In time, you may even wish to collaborate with them in creating a completely new product, allowing them to play a more strategic role in the launch.
The options are endless, and will ultimately depend on your budget and brand needs, as well as the influencer’s availability. Once you’ve hashed out the details, put a contract in place. Voila, you’ve just set up an authentic, organic brand ambassador program for your brand!
Steer clear of influencer platforms.
You may be tempted to sign up for one of the countless influencer/commission platforms out there. But don’t get bogged down with a platform just yet. Their functionalities are cumbersome, and I’ve yet to find one with an easy-to-use interface and intuitive functionality. Plus, these programs involve added costs you just don’t need at this point in time. For now, keep track of your influencers in a simple spreadsheet, as discussed earlier.
I’ve also found that influencers are less likely to collaborate with you if they have to set up yet another account just to get paid for a small partnership. Once you’ve established a brand ambassador program that’s working for you and you want to scale it, you can look into an affiliate marketing platform like ShareASale or ClickBank.
Creating Authentic Influencer Partnerships
To bring about real impact from your brand ambassador strategy, you’ll want to build reciprocal, thoughtful relationships with your influencers. These people can become genuine social advocates for your brand, and for you as a founder as well.
No matter what your niche, genuine relationships are at the core of long-lasting business success.
Aggie Burnett is a PR and brand strategist dedicated to helping the underdog get noticed in a sea of lookalike brands. She’s on a mission to help brand founders get clarity their ideal customer and brand personality in order to connect with the right customers.
She is also the co-founder of Nomaterra Fragrances. She has been featured in publications such as Entrepreneur, Glamour, and BossBabe amongst others, and has spoken at conferences including Six Degrees Society and Flourish and Thrive.