Influencer marketing has long been a strategy for brands large and small when trying to increase product and brand awareness, drive sales, and build credibility with target audiences. Starting your own e-commerce business with tools like Shopify has become easier than ever in recent years, and we’ve seen a huge shift in the industry. More and more brands are focusing their marketing efforts on influencer relationships and increasing spending on partnering with creators.
I spoke with Anand Kishore, CEO of Aspire, Shopify’s Influencer Marketing Platform of Choice, working with over 800 eCommerce brands including Ruggable, Glossier, and Bombas – about Influencer Marketing in the Shopify Era and Brands and Creators How to collaborate to drive strong campaign performance and higher ROI.
Gary Drenick: How has influencer marketing changed in the past 12-18 months?
Anand Kishore: The entire marketing landscape is evolving.
Faced with rising costs, the end of ad blockers and the IFDA (and other sweeping new privacy changes), marketers are finding new ways to reach their target audiences – and influencers are the answer.
Influencers remain the best way to reach your target audience on social media, especially as more users shop directly through the platform. According to a recent Prosper Insights & Analytics survey on media behavior and generational influence, 25% of Gen Z and 21% of Millennial respondents said social media platforms influence their purchasing habits for the most common consumer products, such as Apparel, beauty, groceries, and electronics, compared to 15% for Gen-X and 8% for Baby Boomers.
The younger generation is rejecting ad content that feels authentic and authentic to influencer content. Creators are able to cultivate a group of people who trust them and seek their referrals, and successful brands are using this to partner with their creators to drive not only engagement but ROI as well.
These partnerships then provide brands with first-party insights that can inform omnichannel marketing programs, ranging from onboarding to affiliate programs, with a focus on driving revenue.
Drenick: How can brands best work with creators to improve campaign performance and increase ROI?
Kishore: Brands should provide guardrails, not guidelines, for their creator partners. Allowing creative freedom is the most critical step to ensuring that the content you create for your brand resonates with your target audience. The biggest mistake we see brands make is over-directing creators, offering too many talking points and image constraints, which ends up in creators’ feeds with content that feels unreal or unnatural. When brands understand the importance of giving up a little creative control, their content can drive campaign performance and tangible ROI.
Another strategy brands can use is to add trackable active links to their high-performing creators, creating a win-win situation for both the brand and the creator. Brands should also consider permission-listing to expand their reach.
The key to unlocking higher ROI is to look at multiple data points in your influencer campaign and use those data points to optimize your other channels. Example: If your Facebook ad CPM is $10, use your influencer efforts to get your CPM below $7. You now have a channel that is very effective for CPM, and by adding a paid component to it (whitelisting or affiliate marketing), you’ve unlocked an efficient multi-touch campaign.
Drenick: What are some good examples of brand/creator partnerships worth highlighting?
Kishore: Outer is a luxury outdoor furniture brand that effectively uses influencer marketing to drive sales and brand awareness. Before joining Aspire in April 2021, they worked with a dozen or so influencers with loose agreements and no reportable deliverables tracking or noteworthy attribution sales. Since onboarding, their influencer program has proven to be the highest-returning of all marketing channels, with around $3.5 million in sales. All of their partnerships are long-term and they plan to continue working with their influencer partners for years to come.
Another example is Ruggable, a machine-washable rug brand. In the beginning, they saw the influencer as an organic channel success and able to provide buzz around their new (and revolutionary) product. Organic word of mouth contributed so much to their early business growth that they also developed strategies to influence payouts (including whitelisting) to ensure that top-performing content was in front of a broad audience. Their strong customer and fan community creates influencer-generated content (IGC) that increases brand awareness, increases customer loyalty and retention, and differentiates itself from competitors.
Drenick: Which platforms perform best and why? Any tips for success in creating engaging, authentic content?
Kishore: It’s really more about content and taking an omnichannel approach. When brands start to focus on their target and target audience and create content that fits the demographics and unique characteristics of each platform, they will see success. Right now, video is winning, so video content across all channels is critical.
Drenick: How has the Shopify era affected brand campaign strategies over the past 12 months?
Kishore: As the popularity and number of Shopify retailers have grown, so has the use of nano-influencers in brand marketing strategies. While partnering with creators with more than 100,000 followers can boost growth and ROI, smaller ecommerce brands often need to build credibility, trust, and awareness from their audiences first. For this, we see many turning to nano-influencers (creators with 100-10K followers), which is one of the most effective strategies to achieve the above.
This is because consumers trust nano-influencers more than celebrities or marketers who don’t have a personal connection. As opposed to major celebrity endorsements, part of the appeal of influencers (especially nano-influencers) is that, in many ways, they’re “just like us” and their endorsements are more like friend recommendations.
Additionally, shrinking budgets are forcing e-commerce brands to find more cost-effective ways to reach their audiences, and influencer marketing programs are attractive because, when done right, their ROI is higher than traditional advertising tools. The good news is that with Shopify-enabled plugins and resources, getting started has never been easier for DTC brands.
Drenick: Should marketers understand Gen Y and Gen Z values when deciding on their next influencer campaign?
Kishore: It’s a well-known fact that younger generations would rather buy products recommended to them by people they can connect with than celebrity endorsements or highly curated and over-produced advertisements.
This also applies to the type of content being advertised. Younger users are more likely to see through and choose not to buy an ad if it doesn’t align with the influencer’s content or personality.
The bottom line is that authenticity is key.
We’ve transitioned to a world where everyone has influence, and this represents a fundamental shift that brands need to adapt if they want to market effectively.
Drenick: Thanks, Anand, for your insights on how to best leverage influencer marketing, ways for brands and creators to work better together, and how the age of Shopify is influencing popular marketing strategies.