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How You Can Build A Powerful Influencer Marketing Strategy in 2021

In the words of marketing guru Seth Godin,

“People do not buy goods and services. They buy relations, stories, and magic.”

Everything about marketing used to be magic, from concept and strategy to creation and implementation.

Once upon a time, it was difficult to find a worthy vendor who could produce and implement high-quality advertising.

Now, it’s never been cheaper, simpler, or more readily available.

To put it plainly — our magic is shrinking.

With demand for attention on the rise and overwhelming product options on the market, consumers are beginning to lose sight of who they can trust.

To filter the noise, they’re turning to ad blockers, cord cutting, and even media fasting (yes, that’s a thing).

Consumers taking such extreme measures to avoid advertising makes it increasingly more difficult for brands to keep up with the digital landscape.

So where do you turn?

The smart move would be influencer marketing.

If you’re looking for an ironclad way to seize the attention of your ideal audience, you should look no further than someone who already has their ear.

In short, you need an influencer.

When you look at the stats below, it makes sense why influencer marketing is such a popular tactic to drive sales:

  • When it comes to millennials, only 1% of them trust advertisements. However, 33% of them trust blog reviews for their purchases.

  • Around 40% of people reported that they purchased a product online after seeing it used by an influencer on YouTube, Instagram, or Twitter.

  • 71% of influencers believe that it’s an honest and authentic voice that keeps their audience engaged.

  • According to a study by Tomoson, influencer marketing yields a $6.50 return on investment for every dollar spent.

It’s easy to see why influencer marketing is red-hot right now, but where is it heading? And more importantly, how can you capitalize on it?

Read on to learn more about the current state of influencer marketing, how to deploy your own influencer marketing strategy, and current influencer marketing trends already disrupting the channel.

What Is Influencer Marketing?

Influencer marketing is leveraging the reach of an existing influencer who has built a large following and strong brand reputation in a particular niche to support your brand, endorse your product, or co-create content, with the intent to increase brand awareness and drive sales.

As Anja Skrba at First Site Guide says,

“Influencing is about connecting, and that’s what marketing revolves around today – making us feel connected with the product and people who use/promote that product.”

Types of Influencer Campaigns

1. Discount codes and affiliate marketing.

Tracking ROI and compensating influencers for affiliate marketing is easily accomplished with custom URLs and unique discount codes.

One popular example is Audible’s partnership with New York Times bestselling author and investor Tim Ferriss.

During his podcast, the Tim Ferriss Show, he gives a short 30-second to one-minute spot about his partnership with Audible and directs users to his custom URL, where they can not only get a free ebook but also see a list of Tim’s favorite books.

Source: BigCommerce

This influencer marketing tactic strikes a great balance between sponsoring Audible’s service and allowing Tim creative freedom in the form of choosing his favorite books.

Influencers are also teaming up with brands on discount codes, which are just as easily tracked and even easier to embed in graphics, videos, and share through mediums like podcasts.

2. Competitions and giveaways.

Competitions, giveaways, and contests are excellent avenues for gaining greater brand exposure, generating buzz, and driving engagement.

Depending on your product’s price point, you can easily make room in your budget for giving away a handful of products each month to competition winners or directly to influencers.

Unboxing videos from Influencers, through their YouTube channel or Instagram live video, help shine a spotlight on your product by getting it in front of their entire audience at a minimal cost to your brand.

Some influencers receive so many freebies and exclusive products that they dedicate one day of the week to unboxing all their gifts on social media, thanking the brand that sent them, and either reviewing or using them right then and there on the platform.

Ideally, these prizes or gifts should be lucrative enough to get people excited or should provide early access to products before they’re widely released.

On the competition side, an easy way to drive even more engagement is to include engagement instructions as a stipulation for entering the contest.

This could be something like:

  • Tagging friends.

  • Liking the post.

  • Following.

  • Sharing the content.

  • Signing up for a newsletter.

  • Even creating original content.

Be sure to make the rules totally transparent so confusion won’t prevent participants from entering, and to ensure there’s no dissatisfaction among the audience when the winners are announced.

How to Build Your Influencer Strategy

Building a successful influencer strategy is all about being goal-oriented.

Without a clear destination in mind, you’ll never know which path has the least resistance, is the most cost-effective, and provides the best results.

To do that, you’ve got to determine your goals and KPIs while also making a conscious effort to understand the influencer landscape.

1. Document Your Goals and Key Performance Indicators.

The first time brands invest in influencer marketing, it can certainly feel like a gamble – one that may or may not ever generate any ROI.

The sad truth is that for many it will be a gamble.

That’s partly because they aren’t investing the necessary resources to properly test it as a viable channel, and partly because they don’t take the time to set clear goals and determine the proper metrics that need to be tracked to meet those goals.

Goal Setting and Key Metric Tracking

The big three goals around influencer marketing are:

  • Building Brand Awareness. Building your brand online can be measured with follower count, likes, and engagement like comments, use of your hashtags, and shares.

  • Attracting A New Target Market. Attracting a new target market encompasses everything in brand awareness, but in an entirely new space or product line. For this, you need influencers who can build buzz and drive targeted traffic.

  • Facilitating Lead Generation. Everything leads up to this: more sales. Getting more leads and customers are easily tracked with conversions and sales, but it can be tricky to track sources directly unless you deploy specific codes or landing pages for each influencer.

Once your goals are set, shift your attention to how you’ll measure the ROI of your influencer marketing campaign.

Knowing which partnerships are working and which aren’t will help you get the most out of your influencer strategy.

Compare the results from influencer marketing against your results from other marketing channels to determine if influencer marketing has an ROI worth continuing.

2. Understand the Influencer Landscape.

A critical component of an effective influencer marketing campaign is establishing a trusted relationship with a relevant influencer, one who’s in tune with your audience’s needs and desires and whom your audience will look to when they’re making purchase decisions.

Expand Your Reach Beyond Instagram

The primary goal here is discovering influencers based on topics of influence and audience demographics, who can deliver on all the vital engagement metrics.

To find the right fit between brand and influencer, you’ve got to find someone who is aligned with your brand’s vision, mission, and identity.

Instagram is typically the first platform that comes to mind when people think about when finding top notch influencers.

In fact, in 2017, the #1 platform for influencers was Instagram, with a staggering 92% share.

Before you put all your money into Instagram, however, it’s worth noting that the landscape is rapidly changing, and with it, new opportunities are cropping up on nearly all social platforms.

Try branching out this year and capitalizing on influencers across Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Snapchat, and YouTube.

Go wherever your target audience is active, and capitalize on the fact that influencers on platforms other than Instagram are likely more approachable and cost-effective for the time being.

The Rise of the Micro-Influencer

As competition for influencer attention grows, we’ll more than likely see greater diversity among influencer targets, meaning we’ll see influencers at all levels – ranging from high-follower elites to low-follower up-and-comers – drawing attention from brands.

Brands, in turn, will also want to specialize, which means tapping into micro-influencers who can cater to specific niches and market segments.

It’s also no secret that the larger the influencer, the lower the engagement.

Those with 1,000 followers typically receive likes on their posts 8% of the time, while those with 10 million followers generally receive likes just 1.6% of the time.

The sweet spot for maximum engagement is to find an influencer who has between 10k-100k followers.

Beyond tracking follower numbers, it’s essential to monitor the types of followers, quality of relationships, and overall engagement.

Sophie McAulay at AND CO from Fiverr breaks it down even further.

“It’s important to consider how engaged an influencer’s audience is,” she says. “They may have hundreds of thousands of followers, but if those followers are not regularly engaging with their posts, you’re unlikely to get significant reach by working with them. “Take a look at some recent posts to see how much engagement they get. “You’ll get the most value from working with someone in your niche who has a loyal and relevant following, and who’s able to talk about your product or service in a way that is authentic and not dissimilar to the type of posts they usually create.”

With influencer marketing making big waves these days, it wouldn’t be surprising to see qualitative assessment tools and software enter the market soon.

Leverage Tools for Finding and Reaching Out to Influencers

According to a 2017 survey by Linqia, 78% of professionals surveyed said that determining the ROI of an influencer marketing program is their biggest challenge.

45% said that choosing which influencer marketing provider to work with also poses a problem.

To break down those barriers, you’ve got to leverage the right tools.

To find influencers, you can’t beat Buzzsumo, which allows you to search for relevant influencers by topic and analyze their reach by follower and engagement numbers.

Once you’ve established a list of influencers to reach out to, you’ve got to find their contact info, which can also be challenging.

Utilizing a tool like Voila Norbert allows you to easily upload your list of influencers, and get all of their contact info at once.

After you have your rock-solid list of influencers and their contact info, then you can kick off your outreach strategy.

One of the quickest wins for influencer outreach is leveraging an automation tool like Mailshake, where you can send bulk emails to influencers using proven templates.

The tool will even auto-follow-up for you.

Once it’s set up and on autopilot, all you have to do is check in to see who’s clicking on your emails and who’s replying so you can begin building valuable relationships with your new influencer partners.

Determine Fair Compensation

Until recently, influencers weren’t getting a fair deal.

A study conducted by TapInfluence and Altimeter determined that inadequate compensation is the biggest mistake brands are making when it comes to influencer marketing.

Those days are coming to an end, as 48% of marketers say they plan to ramp up their budget for influencer-focused campaigns.

What constitutes fair compensation will vary greatly depending on the partnership terms, project scope, following size/quality, and length of the agreement.

Some influencers are perfectly happy with receiving gifts or free and exclusive products they can showcase on their platform.

Others prefer to work on an affiliate basis, receiving a commission for any products or services sold from their referrals.

However, a one-time fee or ongoing monthly fee is quickly becoming the norm.

Buffer created the following graphic to showcase a typical pricing structure via Instagram, YouTube, and Snapchat:

Source: Buffer

Another handy tool is Influencer Marketing Hub’s Instagram Influencer Earnings Calculator, which breaks down the user’s follower count, number of posts, number of likes, number of comments, estimated earnings per post, and the extremely helpful engagement rate.

Here’s a snapshot of YouTube influencer Casey Neistat’s potential Instagram earnings:

Source: BigCommerce

Fascinating Influencer Marketing Trends

1. Investing in Influencers Who Use Video.

Video production is the latest craze, and if you aren’t tapping into that channel you’re already behind the curve.

When researching a purchase decision, 4 out of 5 millennials go to video content.

While video content is growing, brands are pulling their advertising dollars out of YouTube at record numbers, mainly because they have no control over when or where their ads are shown.

Without that creative control, brands are switching from the traditional video ads that interrupt YouTube videos, to influencers who talk about their products in the video content.

Some notable examples of this in action are product teaser campaigns, unboxing videos, and exclusive reviews from key influencers, all of which serve to create buzz early on and help crush sales goals for the initial product release.

In a survey conducted last year, some 12% of influencers expected YouTube to be the network they focused on most in 2018, up from 3% in 2017.

Even more interesting is that 70% of teenage YouTube subscribers stated they relate more to YouTube content creators than traditional celebrities, and 60% of all YouTube subscribers would follow advice on what to buy from their favorite video creator over movie and TV personalities.

Imagine the kind of impact that could have on your marketing plan over the next 5-10 years as those teenagers enter the job market and become your primary target audience.

It’s also worth noting that YouTube isn’t the only platform worth investing in for video.

Social media video marketing has huge opportunity.

Instagram has live stories and recently launched Instagram TV (IGTV), which is essentially a channel for popular Instagram influencers to stream longer content to their massive followings.

Snapchat and Facebook are also viable options for partnering on video content.

2. Increased Transparency.

Disclosing relationships has caused a major disruption in the industry since the FTC sent out letters in April 2017, officially warning brands and influencers to more clearly disclose their working relationships.

With the government setting a cautionary tone and hinting at a possible crackdown, major brands and marketing platforms are putting in the extra effort to disclose paid partnerships and sponsorships.

Finding ways to share partnerships and sponsored posts that aren’t off-putting to the audience will help keep consumer trust high and keep Uncle Sam off your back.

As Magdalena Urbaniak of Brand24 advises,

“Build honest and solid relations both with influencers and the audience. It’s a capital you can’t overestimate.”

One of the easiest ways to disclose the fact that influencers are being compensated to promote your brand is to have them put #sponsored, #ad, or #[brand name] partner in their post.

Instagram took this a step further with their branded content option, which allows you to tag your business partner and will clearly show that it’s a sponsored post.

To reduce the risk for your brand, it’s highly recommended that you check your influencers’ posts and content often to make sure they’re adhering to the guidelines set by the FTC.

Remember, trust but verify.

3. Creating Useful Content Instead of Ads.

Content marketing is derived from people’s demand for authenticity. Consumers were sick and tired of traditional advertising clogging up magazines, radio, TV, and billboards.

Then, with the boom, the digital age brought about a new flood of advertising that elevated that demand for greater authenticity.

With that in mind, the influencer you choose to partner with has to have the right balance of non-commissioned content and commissioned content.

Otherwise, the trust factor fades and with it, their followers and influence. As David Zheng of Buildfire says,

“The two things that make the most impact are consistency and being genuine. The more it looks like a promotion, the less effective it is because it’s ‘salesy.'”

One effective technique is to follow Gary Vaynerchuk’s Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook approach of providing enough jabs (useful, non-salesy content) that your followers don’t flinch when you throw the right hook (going for the sale, asking for a subscribe, donation, etc.).

Examples of Successful Influencer Marketing Campaigns

1. Bigelow Tea.

Bigelow Tea is one of the most well-known and recognized brands in the tea industry.

Like many other big name brands, Bigelow Tea is in the fight to retain customers and hold its brand position in this highly dynamic marketing mix that has become the new standard.

With craft tea and coffee houses on every corner and the rise of social media marketing, Bigelow decided it needed to differentiate and adapt to the times.

Source: BigCommerce

To do that, the company chose influencer marketing as its mechanism and reached out to lifestyle bloggers to promote the benefits of tea, healthy living, and of course, Bigelow tea bags.

The company partnered with lifestyle bloggers like Ashley at Cherished Bliss who provided a recipe for Bigelow Iced Tea with Lemonade Ice Cubes.

That article put Bigelow on the front page of Google for relevant and competitive search terms like “ice lemonade drink” and “ice cube iced tea,” and has been linked to by hundreds of other lifestyle blogs, expanding Bigelow’s reach even further than the Cherished Bliss audience.

Source: BigCommerce

That blogger influencer campaign went on to generate 32,000+ blog engagements with 44 million impressions and boosted Bigelow Tea sales by 18.5%.

Bigelow Tea successfully leveraged the power of influencers to net more sales, and along the way acquired the trust of a blooming millennial audience.

2. Turkish Airlines.

Influencer campaigns can be used not only to increase sales but also for building awareness and fundraising for nonprofit causes.

The crisis in Somalia, brought on by famine and drought, left millions of people in need of food and water.

Snapchat star and influencer Jérôme Jarre partnered with Turkish Airlines, which happens to be the only international airline flying to Somalia, to bring humanitarian aid to the people there.

Source: BigCommerce

Jérôme built awareness by using the hashtag #TurkishAirlinesHelpSomalia and set out to fill a plane full of food and water to help the cause.

Within the first few days, Jérôme’s post on Twitter was reposted 83,000+ times and was liked 58,000+ times on Instagram.

With the help of notable influencers like Casey Neistat and celebrities like Ben Stiller, Jérôme was able to raise one million dollars for Somalia in just 24 hours.

The campaign went on to raise $2 million over the first five days and saw 80,000 contributors.

With that money, Jérôme didn’t just fill the one plane he originally intended to – he ended up filling ten.

Over the next six months, Turkish Airlines agreed to aid Somalia with over 200 tons of food.

While the exact effect this had on Turkish Airlines’ sales is unknown, the brand awareness and reputation built by this wonderful humanitarian cause is undoubtedly priceless.


GOODFOODS is an all-natural and environmentally-friendly food producer known for its guacamole dips, snack dips, salad dressings, and drinks.

The company wanted to boost brand awareness and lift sales of its guacamole and other dips.

To do that, it partnered with 60 influencers in niches ranging from food, home, parenting, and lifestyle verticals to produce original content and recipes using the GOODFOODS product line.

Source: BigCommerce

This influencer campaign was structured with three flights:

  1. Game-day traditions

  2. Thanksgiving celebrations

  3. Christmas and Hanukkah customs

Each flight was to include mouthwatering and innovative recipes utilizing GOODFOODS products.

Each recipe, like the GOODFOODS Guacamole Shrimp Appetizer posted by Life Currents, would also link to GOODFOODS landing pages where the audience could find local retailers carrying the products.

The end result was the influencers producing more than 2,000 pieces of original content that included recipes, photographs, blog stories, social media posts, and videos.

That content generated 70,450 online engagements ranging from clicks and likes to comments and shares.

The campaign also touted an impressive conversion rate that held between 34.2% and 44.5% depending on the platform.

Executive Summary

The digital landscape is shifting rapidly, and those not keeping up are wasting their ad budgets, losing customers, and shrinking their market share.

Luckily, influencer marketing isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

As Anand Kansal at Outgrow notes,

“The great thing about influencer marketing is that you can kill three birds with one stone – create great content, earn credibility, and gain exposure through the influencer’s network.”

As long as your influencer has a solid reputation and genuine clout, follower numbers are relatively unimportant.

What really matters is that their community favorably reacts and responds to their recommendations.

If you want influencer marketing to be more influential, then have a ‘less is more’ mindset. Look closely at true brand enthusiasts.

Work on cultivating a rock-solid relationship with them and leave room for them to be the genius creators they are at their core.

Then and only then will their true talents shine through and influence their following, allowing you to embrace your audience in an authentic voice that provokes emotion, and, more importantly, action.

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