Using eCommerce Influencer Marketing to Drive your Brand Forward

Cover image for article on eCommerce influencer marketing with word cloud in background

Why eCommerce influencer marketing makes sense.

To say that marketing and advertising have been through dramatic changes during the last ten years would be a serious understatement. The fact is, the old rule book hasn’t just been revised—the pages have been torn out and tossed into the fire pit. Audiences are fragmented like never before, attention spans are shorter, and brand loyalty is tenuous. 

While we mostly create eCommerce content for our clients and connect them with product description writers for larger projects, we do get asked about different marketing tactics that work well for eCommerce companies.

One solution that many eCommerce companies have turned to as they struggle to attract and hold consumer attention: eCommerce influencer marketing.

Influencer marketing is hot. Like, Arizona desert in July hot. Quite simply, it is transforming how successful eCommerce brands and stores sell online.

So what’s behind the move to influencer marketing? For starters, millennials and the generations following them have a deeply ingrained dislike of traditional advertising. In fact, 84% of them don’t trust the messages they encounter in old school media outlets like television, radio, print, and outdoor.

A statistic from HubSpot about millennials and traditional advertising with group of people gathered with a laptop and phone

When they are that reluctant to believe, they are even more likely to ignore messages altogether. But by leveraging the voice of a powerful influencer with a legitimate following in the right niche for your brand, you can reach even the most advertising-resistant group. 

It makes sense. Influencers forge special connections with their audiences in ways that traditional media vehicles never have. Influencers don’t just offer viewers or listeners or readers—they deliver ardent fans.

That said, it can be daunting to anyone wading into eCommerce influencer marketing for the first time. Traditional media is a far more straightforward process—spend dollars, establish as much frequency as possible, build awareness that you hope turns into sales. 

Social media, by its very nature, is more challenging.

Choosing placement is about getting the audience numbers and the demographics you want or can afford. But the effort to secure eyeballs or clicks can seem like a never-ending chase, and finding loyal customers feels more elusive than ever before.

Enter social media. And, more specifically, social media rock stars. Influencers. 

There are influencers of all kinds, from people with mass appeal to those who have followings in very specific niches. The ones with the most clout, however, have developed passionate, dedicated audiences. These fans value the opinions of the influencers they follow and will pay close attention when brands are endorsed or reviewed.

When an eCommerce company uses influencer marketing, the metrics are different. Most importantly, frequency is less important than authority. An influencer typically won’t tout your brand hundreds of times each week. Instead, an influencer may talk about it as little as one time, but their message can carry far more weight with your audience than any 30-second commercial ever did.

Great, you think. Influencer marketing sounds like it will be amazing. I’ll connect with some Instagram or YouTube stars, get the most important ones to recommend or use my brand and, boom, my products will be flying off the shelves. I won’t be spending millions of dollars on TV ads the way brands were once forced to do, and I’ll see results faster than I do with long-term efforts like SEO.

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Not so fast. Yes, influencer marketing for eCommerce brands can be incredibly powerful and make an impact very quickly. The ROI can be impressive. The stories about a YouTube star endorsing a brand or an Instagram influencer posing with a product, followed by a ridiculous burst in sales and media attention are real. 

But for every eCommerce brand that has experienced that kind of success—Casper, Bonobos, Lynda—there are countless others whose efforts to leverage influencer marketing fell flat. And well-publicized colossal failures have occurred.

Let’s talk about the process of using influencer marketing for eCommerce. How does a company go about finding the people who can be most valuable for their brand? How is the ROI measured? And how can a brand have more hits than misses when it ventures in influencer marketing?

Find influencers that are right for your brand.

Step one when you start to use influencer marketing: finding the right ones for your brand. It’s harder than it might seem. The most famous—or infamous—influencers, are likely to be outside the budgets of emerging eCommerce brands. 

Step 1 of the influencer marketing process with people on their cell phones in the background

If you have the kind of budget that puts a famous influencer within reach, swing for the fences—the rewards can be worth the risk. But big names like the Kardashians, Cristiano Rinaldo, and Nash Grier aren’t cheap. 

The good news? Pricey influencers probably aren’t right for your brand anyway. 

What’s more, when it comes to finding influencers that move the needle, success will vary. You’ll need to be persistent and willing to endure a few duds along the way.

Steve Wimmer, brand manager at TriNova, notes, “We’ve had varying degrees of success—from total flop to home run. Our best effort to date was a collaboration with YouTube influencer Pan the Organizer. We caught him towards the middle of his growth curve so a sponsored post was very affordable, and because he kept growing and the video he produced for us had evergreen content it paid off in a major way. We had him link back to our product on Amazon, and we estimate that it continues to drive $100-$500 a day in sales.”

Wimmer advises that, with influencer marketing, it’s generally better to, “…place several smaller bets on emerging influencers, rather than one big play on someone established. This increases your chances of success—and your ROI.”

Approach your search for valuable influencers like any other media research. Which ones line up well with your market niche? Who is connecting with audiences that are likely to buy your products? Are you comfortable with the content the influencer puts out?

If your brand has its own social media channel—and it should—look for posts from your followers that tag influencers or link to the content. Research the social media channels of your audience to find influencers they follow. You can even be direct and ask in a post for suggestions to start building a list of influencers. It’s organic research, but it can be incredibly useful.

FREE EBOOK: How to Create eCommerce Content at Scale

Qualify influencers to protect your investment.

Once you start to find influencers, it’s time to separate the good and very good from the mediocre. We all know the internet still has a bit of the Wild West in it—verification isn’t always easy. But if you’re going to be allocating a chunk of your marketing budget to an influencer marketing campaign, you need to take steps to make sure you’re using it as effectively as possible.

Ellie Shedden is the owner of digital marketing agency THE-OOP.COM who has used influencer marketing with great success, but she says it’s important to approach the audience metrics with a healthy dose of skepticism.

Shedden says, “The biggest piece of advice I can offer to businesses looking to run an influencer campaign is to check that the following is genuine. Nowadays, you can buy 10,000 likes for less than $50, and these influencers are not going to help your campaign in any way. When choosing your influencer, it’s important to deep-dive into their previous posts and check what type of engagement they are getting. Ideally, you should select an influencer with an engagement rate of around 4%.”

Quote from Ellie Shedden on eCommerce influencer marketing

How do you calculate the engagement rate? Divide the number of followers by the number of Likes on an average post, and divide by 100. More likes mean more followers who really care about the influencer and help you determine if the numbers they’re touting are real.

Wimmer, based on his experiences with TriNova and Gold Eagle brands, suggests that marketers, “…avoid influencers with feeds that seem like non-stop commercials. They have inflated stats and probably aren’t helping sell anything. If they were – they’d just sell their own products!”

Finally, you’ll want to make sure the influencers you choose are right for your brand. As Nick Shackelford, Co-Founder of Structured Social notes, “…it has to be the right influencer for the right product or service. If you’re using Kylie Jenner to sell life insurance, that’s just a huge mistake. Lastly, everyone should be considering micro-influencers who have smaller groups of followers but those followers are easier to verify and target. If I know exactly who your 50k followers are, I know what I’m getting for my money.”

Different types of social media influencers with image of influencer making a video on a camera in the background

For many eCommerce stores or brands, the ideal follower count of an influencer will probably land somewhere between 10,000 and 100,000. That means the influencer you’re working with has an audience large enough to generate results but not so massive that working with them is beyond your budget restraints. This group is often called micro-influencers, and they’ve become more valued because they often have followers that are more devoted with higher levels of engagement. 

Whatever you do, remember to approach your influencer campaign as analytically as possible. Separate how you might feel personally about an influencer and focus on evaluating their numbers, their reach, and the demographics of their followers. Don’t be swayed by emotion.

Collaborate on content creation and messaging.

A successful influencer marketing campaign involves a healthy amount of back-and-forth between the brand and the personality. Don’t expect to simply mail some free product samples to a star of YouTube videos, go to their channel, watch them talk about your brand, and then wait for the sales to pour in.

The best campaigns involve collaboration between brand managers and influencers. They should both have a stake in creating awareness and, ultimately, purchase decisions. Marketers want results and influencers want to demonstrate the value of their channels—it’s a give-and-take. Leading influencers will want a certain amount of creative freedom, but you’re going to need to protect your investment by putting your products out there in a way that generates results. 

Aim to make any content—YouTube, blog article, Instagram post—as evergreen as possible. That means working with the influencer to optimize for search—suggest a How-To, a Seven-Reasons-Why, a Guide-For, etc. A blunt, obviously purchased product review won’t gain the traction in search that you want and may turn off potential customers. It doesn’t even have to be the epic fail of Scott Disick and BooTea to be ineffective—or worse.

When Scott Disick and BooTea collaborated on a protein shake, Scott simply copied the email from the brand manager directly, including directions on when to publish the post.

Work together on ideas to encourage engagement with followers. How can you get the audience to share a post or a video? Will a trackable discount code help? Is there fresh content the influencer can create just for your brand? Keep all options open and encourage the people you work with to bring ideas to the table.

Remember—leading influencers have found a way to connect with people. Not utilizing their talent and creativity to help leverage your brand would be a serious mistake.

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How to measure the success and ROI of eCommerce influencer marketing.

The major reason why so many eCommerce stores turn to influencer marketing is simple: the results are outstripping other tactics. According to a study by Tomoson, a seller of software that helps automate influencer marketing efforts, these campaigns typically yield a return of $6.50 for every dollar spent. Those numbers are backed up by other studies. The fact is, influencer campaigns can produce a return any brand manager will love.

But how can you measure the success of your own outreach? First, start with goals. Do you want to build your follower base? Are you going to measure engagement through Likes or other mechanisms like contest entries and the use of discount codes? Codes can be especially useful because they allow you to track the source of purchase decisions and compare your influencer marketing campaign to email efforts, paid search, and other communications you do to build your eCommerce store or brand. 

Back to Nick Shackleford, Co-Founder of Structured Social, with some words of caution. He says, “You can’t just throw money at an influencer campaign and hope it brings in revenue. Every client I talk to, every client whose campaign I’ve managed, gets the exact same advice from me. Start with revenue and work backward. Throwing money at someone with a million Instagram followers is pointless if those dollars don’t provide real value for your product.”

When you first try influencer marketing, it can feel like a roll of the dice. Make sure you have a plan in place to properly analyze and measure results so you’ll know the true ROI of your efforts.

What to expect from influencer marketing.

“Influencers are great when used properly, but they aren’t a cure-all,” adds Shackelford of Structure Social.

Don’t view your influencer marketing efforts as a replacement for everything else you’re doing to engage with potential customers of your eCommerce store or brand. For many, it will be a tactic that produces better results than anything else. For others, it will be an effective way to bolster other campaigns. But the research is clear: influencer marketing for eCommerce is effective, and engaging in it can produce brand awareness and better long-term sales results than traditional offline and online advertising.

Meghan McKenzie

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Meghan heads up Enterprise Sales with Crowd Content and comes with 10 years of sales and marketing experience. She loves selling awesome writing services that are proven to work, because she'd rather express herself through eating cheese and drinking wine and leave the writing to the pros.

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