Part 2: Influencers, Affiliates and Collaborations

This three-part series is a primer for retail site owners who know they need a content marketing strategy but require some help in figuring out how to make it a reality. The first part, Content Marketing: Social and Written Content, addresses the challenges of getting started and offers strategies to help you write and post your first blog or article.

Part two in this series explores influencers, affiliates and collaborations — three content strategies that result in greater brand awareness and sales.

Uncovering Your Brand Story

Most small and growing brands were launched because the founder had a great idea for a new product or business, not because they’re great writers, or even marketers. And yet a whole host of people, from employees and customers to potential partners and investors want to know your brand story. How do you tell it?

If you don’t know what to say about your brand, ask those who are the most opinionated about it: your customers. They’ll tell you how your brand fits in with their lives and explain when and why they choose you over all other options. What they say will be instructive, and the fodder for your content strategy. Brace yourself, because you’re likely to hear things you’ve never even considered before, some of which may blow your mind. I once heard Susan Werner, a singer-songwriter on NPR say that releasing a new song is like sending your daughter down the aisle on her wedding day; you raised her as best you could, but her life is out of your hands and you can only hope for her happiness. It’s the same with your product line: once your stuff is in your customer’s hands, it’s theirs, and so is the story that’s told about it.

If that sounds scary to you don’t worry. Your customers will say really nice things about you, nicer than you can get away with saying about yourself. My colleague, Brian Lange and I learned this first hand when we asked for people to tell us about their experience with Future Commerce, a podcasting venture of ours.

That’s why any well-rounded content marketing strategy must include testimonials or social proof. Two ways to engage the fans of your brand is by identifying influencers and affiliates and giving them a voice.

Recruit Micro Influencers

Micro influencers are all the rage these days, and for good reason. These are folks who have social followings, usually online but not always. In part one of this series, I talked about a shoe brand that needed to explain how its shoes took time to conform to the wearer’s foot, but once it did, there were significant health benefits to be reaped. In this case, an orthopedist or podiatrist would make an excellent influencer because they have a lot of credibility — namely a medical degree and a lot of firsthand experience addressing foot issues.

It may surprise you to learn that there are many podiatry influencers on Instagram. Granted they don’t have millions of followers, but most influencers aren’t Dr. Oz. Finding a small niche influencer for your sector can go a long way in infusing your brand with credibility, as well as generate lots of shares, new customers, and sales.

Of course, you may not have a relationship with micro influencers, but you can begin by simply reaching out to them. Just send them products at no charge so they can check them out for themselves. Who knows, they just may become fans.

Let’s assume that you have converted an influencer to your brand, and he or she begins to talk about it on social media. Should you just let that positive energy reside on Facebook or Instagram? Absolutely not. A well-rounded content strategy is one that folds the posts and blogs back into the channel you own and operate — user generated content on your site, video or audio podcasts, email newsletter or whatever. The influencers you engage are telling your brand story from another perspective, and potential customers should have many vehicles to hear what’s said.

Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate marketing was once a widely used tactic, especially in the pre-social media days when word-of-mouth required face-to-face discussions. Back then big brands would partner with mommy bloggers or anyone else who had readership or eyeballs to promote their products. The bloggers allowed brands to place a display ad or link on their sites and receive some kind of compensation for the traffic they referred. Brands had big budgets for their affiliate marketing initiatives, and that made a lot of bloggers rich.

Today’s affiliate marketing is quite different, and it’s particularly suited for emerging DTC brands and startups. Take Rothy’s, a brand that makes super nice shoes and slippers out of plastic recovered from the oceans. You can’t ask for a more inspiring or worthy sustainability message! But, making shoes out of recovered plastic isn’t cheap, which is why the shoes have a pretty high price point. Building a brand on Facebook and Instagram isn’t cheap either, so Rothy’s launched a program where customers who referred their friends to the brand received coupons to be applied on its retail site. The tactic allowed people to try the shoes and to offset the cost (read: risk they wouldn’t like them) by evangelizing the brand.

Pattern Brands is using a similar tactic with the launch of Equal Parts, a cookware and recipe site. Site visitors who refer a friend who also signs up for the Equal Parts newsletter, receive a $25 gift certificate they can use to buy cooking gear.

What I love about this tactic is its ingenuity. Free stuff lowers the barriers of customer satisfaction, meaning people will experience products based on its utility and function, and not on how quickly it arrived at their doorstep or whether it was worth the cost. If they’re happy with the product, they’ll evangelize the brand.

You don’t need to use this strategy forever; it’s just one tool in your arsenal. But its inherent virality earns it a place of honor in any well-rounded content strategy. It also lets you ask your customers to share, not just buy. That message activates a different part of our brains, and prompts people to do a lot of legwork of finding your next customer.

Collaborations

Target is the category killer when it comes to collaborations, but precious few can afford to collaborate with a celebrity or powerhouse. Still, we see a lot of terrific collaborations between DTC brands like Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream’s partnership with Tyler the Creator, or even department stores collaborating with a brand for an exclusive product in honor of an anniversary. Merging two customer bases means more sales for all.

Lately, we’ve seen a lot of collaboration between brands, such as Outdoor Voices and normal, everyday people who tell their stories. In this case, the brand’s customers are folks who wanted a more active lifestyle and were mindful about that goal. Tracksmith has a similar strategy, although their focus is on people who take running super seriously, meaning they train for events like ultra-marathons. Tracksmith has launched an online journal that features the individual training regime of these runners and athletes.

Or, you can collaborate with a local charity, civic organization, girl scout or boy scout troop to create products for people in your brand’s community. People are interested in stories, and these types of collaboration provide ample fodder for your content strategy (as well as give you a shot in the arm).

So, there you have…my recommendations for creating content by amplifying your brand. Next up: Video and Brand Identity.

If you have any questions about your content strategy or how to get one started, let us know.

Written by: Phillip Jackson, Ecommerce Evangelist