Alex Knight talks to Katie Palmer of etailz about the most effective way to generate external traffic and sales: working with “influencers”
We often hear from sellers who want to drive visitors to their Amazon, eBay or Etsy listings from outside those marketplaces – known as “external traffic”. Competition is fierce on the marketplaces, so if you can bring in buyers from elsewhere that really helps lift your products above the fighting on price, reviews and PPC advertising.
So far so good, in principle. But sellers struggle to find good, practical advice about using social media to drive traffic to their listings. They get bombarded with information about starting social pages and growing a following, but for many sellers it just doesn’t go anywhere. A lot of valuable time goes into it and they get very little reward.
How can sellers really leverage social media? The usual superficial advice to “use hashtags”, “post your listings on twitter” and “build a following” is of little help. Instead, for most sellers, the best way to gain significant traffic and sales isn’t from their own social accounts at all – it’s from working with people who already have a large following of their own: “influencers”.
Influencers are people who have a large blog readership or social media following (often both) within a particular niche such as nutrition or technology. They might write a blog post featuring your product, post a picture of them using or wearing it, or give out an exclusive code providing a discount to their followers. The overall aim is to get the word out about your brand to a large, but targeted, group of people who may then go and buy one of your products.
We spoke to Katie Palmer, the resident influencer marketing expert at etailz, a leading online retailer and service provider, to find out how to be successful with influencer marketing.
Alex: What sort of products or categories is influencer marketing best suited to?
Katie: We work with over 2,500 brands, so we’ve connected our partners’ with influencers in a range of different categories. Primarily though, influencers are food or lifestyle bloggers, so products from the baby, home and kitchen, pet, and grocery categories are particularly successful.
I would say that products that are very relevant to millennials will get the most out of influencer marketing, because that’s the age range of the majority of bloggers. Influencers generally love anything that’s trendy, so one client had a diaper bag that they were targeting at millennials and the influencers really enjoyed promoting it.
There are other influencers out there that are catering for older age ranges, but we certainly see the greatest success with those younger bloggers, because they’re so big on reading the blogs and using social media.
And on the flipside of that, are there any products or categories that aren’t really suited to influencer marketing?
Quality influencers in the tools and office categories can be harder to find. This is primarily because influencers are mainly female lifestyle bloggers and, although we have access to all groups of influencers, they are by far the strongest. They don’t naturally gravitate to products in the tools and office categories, which gives us a smaller pool of influencers to match products in these categories with.
Having said that, there are ways to make it work. For example, we recently used influencer marketing for an automotive product and it went really well. So I would say that some categories are more of a stretch than others, but if you match the product with the right influencer it can still provide the ROI you’re after.
Is influencer marketing just for raising brand awareness or can it really have an impact on increasing sales?
We always pitch the primary goal of influencer marketing as raising brand awareness, because it’s very hard to guarantee an increase in sales. However, when we compare the month-over-month sales, we do see influencer marketing having a positive impact on sales for a number of our partners. We think that, on a conservative estimate, using influencers successfully could boost your sales up to three-fold.
This is largely down to a few tactics that we can employ to try and drive conversions. One of these tactics is to use coupon codes. We often give an influencer an exclusive coupon code that they can share with their readers, which gives them 15% off of products on the marketplace. We have seen that posts by influencers that include these coupon codes often perform better in terms of direct conversions than those that don’t have them. It’s also good for the influencers, who like having discount codes because it helps to engage their followers.
Working with influencers to host giveaways is another successful strategy because it gains a lot of organic involvement. We are currently looking at trying to combine giveaways and coupon codes. So we would have the influencer hold a giveaway and choose only one person to win the free product. Then, when the winner is announced, the influencer posts a coupon code, giving everyone who missed out a discount off of that product. We are hoping that this method will drive brand awareness and a lot of conversions too.
We are starting to see that there are different kinds of influencers who drive sales conversion as opposed to drive brand awareness. This is quite new in the world of influencers, so it’s something we are analyzing, to enable us to identify influencers and know whether they will be a converter or be better at building brand awareness.
What’s the biggest impact you’ve seen influencer marketing have on a client’s sales?
We worked with one product in the home and kitchen category and managed to increase sales by three or four times. The product was influencer gold, so we worked with several food bloggers, who posted about the product across social media, over a two week period.
We also ran ran ads on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest at the same time, and these two techniques coupled together really helped to drive sales on Amazon.
Isn’t it hard to track how successful an influencer has been at either building brand awareness or driving sales?
Yes, this is a common challenge within the industry and one we’re working really hard to remedy. For brand awareness, our key performance metric is how many followers we were able to reach. We will also look at the engagement statistics, so how many likes, comments and retweets a post got. We’ll track views on the influencer’s blog pages too, so we can get a good idea of how successful the campaign has been.
We have found it tougher to gauge sales impact, as it’s difficult to track orders in a way that’s completely accurate. It’s easier if an influencer is using a coupon code, but on the whole we use month-over-month sales figures. These give us an idea of the campaign’s impact on revenue and allows us to track sales lift.
What makes the perfect influencer?
The first thing we would look at when choosing an influencer would be their reach. We work this out by adding the following from their social media profiles to the readership of their blog.
We usually look for influencers with between 50,000 and 300,000 followers. We would go lower if the influencer was a good fit but this range tends to be successful because it’s a very good reach, and it’s powerful because it’s not so big that the influencers have lost touch with their followers. They are still able to cater their posts to their readers and stay authentic.
We would also look at whether they fit with the brand we were looking to promote. So we’d look at sponsored posts they’d done in the past, to check the quality of their photography and see whether they’ve been a natural fit promoting other products in similar categories.
The influencer also needs to be engaged with their following. So if I’ve got a fitness product, I want to see an influencer that is creating and posting their own workouts, getting lots of comments and likes, and really starting a conversation. Overall, you need to be able to naturally picture them with your product.
Which social platforms do influencers primarily use?
We always require influencers to post on their blog, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and sometimes YouTube, because each social media platform has its own benefit.
Pinterest is great because a post can live forever, as people just keep re-pinning it, whilst Instagram is great for starting conversation. Blogs are useful because influencers are able to link directly to your product and place all of their photos in one spot, where most of their readers are going. YouTube is also good if there is potential for a video to go viral, as you can include the link to your product in the description.
Are influencers happy with just receiving free products or do you need to pay for their services? In your experience, is there a difference in quality between those who are paid and those who aren’t?
It varies – there are some influencers that we will just send free products to and others that we will pay hundreds of dollars for a post. From my experience, I would say that the ability of paid influencers to drive sales is far greater than influencers who just receive free products. I think this is because being an influencer is their job, so they are more motivated to be responsive and easy to work with. They are also professionals and tend be able to leverage their following to greater effect.
But don’t totally dismiss influencers who will promote your product in return for free products. If you can find a micro-influencer with an engaged, loyal following who just wants the free products, I would always encourage a seller to approach them, but this type of micro-influencer can be pretty hard to find.
So if I’m looking to drive sales, how much would a good quality influencer, with a sizeable reach, cost?
Essentially, when you’re looking for influencers, you’re always trying to get the biggest reach for the lowest price, while still making sure they’re a good fit for your brand. We’ve found that influencers in the $200 to $500 range are usually a good choice. If you want an influencer with a wider reach, then it’s going to cost you more, for example, we’ve worked with influencers who have cost upwards of $1000.
So, say for example I’m a private labeler and I’ve just started selling my first product on Amazon, at what point should I start using influencer marketing?
First of all, for private label sellers, I would say that the primary objective should be building brand awareness, so you shouldn’t take it as a guaranteed way to drive sales. When you’ve reached the point where you want to boost your brand, that’s when you should reach out to influencers.
When you’ve just started out on Amazon, you’re more focused on product development, getting reviews and generating a strong flow of sales. This could be that next step after you’ve covered all of the basics on Amazon.
If a seller decides that they want to use influencer marketing, where should they go to find potential influencers to work with?
There are a few options. The first is to go through an agency or retail partner who provides influencer marketing services. They already have a network of influencers that they have established relationships with. This option can save sellers time, because the agency finds the right influencer, sends the products out to them and reviews all their posts to make sure they are in line with the campaign’s goals. This process can take well over ten hours per campaign to coordinate.
The second is to look for influencers yourself and there are lots of tools that can help sellers with this. The price varies greatly between tools, starting at around $20 per month and going up to over $2000 per month. If you’re searching yourself, I would always recommend using one of these systems because it allows you to manage all of your influencer campaigns from one spot.
You can find influencers without one though, by searching keywords on social media to see who is already talking about similar products in your field. You can then engage with them, and see if they want to form a partnership. However, this option does take substantially more time.
What’s next for influencer marketing? Are there any emerging social networks that online sellers should be keeping an eye on?
There is a lot of hype around Amazon Spark at the moment, which is basically Amazon’s version of Instagram. It allows you to post authentic photographs and link the image straight to Amazon products. Currently, it’s only available in the US to Prime members and it’s quite highly gated because influencers on Spark are working exclusively with Amazon. But, it’s definitely a platform we will be looking to utilize further down the line.
It’s been really interesting talking to you Katie, thank you very much for your time.
etailz is a leading online retailer and service provider. Through their advanced technology and strategies, they partner with brands to grow their sales on Amazon, Jet, eBay, and Walmart.