Influencers and product seeding
Influencer marketing is quickly becoming one of the most powerful tools in any marketer’s toolbox. And with good reason: partnering with influencers can be a valuable and cost-effective way to position your brand or product in front of the perfect audience of potential customers. A well-executed influencer marketing campaign can yield a massive ROI.
For brands that sell physical merchandise, product seeding can be one of the easiest and most budget-friendly ways to start or scale an influencer marketing program that boosts brand awareness and drives sales. Product seeding, or influencer gifting, is also one of the best ways to separate the authentic influencers you need from the fake ones.
In this blog, we’ll consider:
- How product seeding works and why it works so well
- How other brands have used this method with great results
- How product seeding can help your brand vet influencers for authenticity
- How to implement this method with your own business
Let’s dive in.
What is product seeding? (influencer gifting)
Product seeding/influencer gifting is a pretty simple concept. Brands send out free products to a carefully selected group of influencers. In return, influencers post about the item, sharing photos and their opinions on the gift with their followers.
The idea behind product seeding is that getting your product into the hands of an influencer who is likely to use and enjoy your product will result in genuine, relatable content that the influencer’s community will find engaging and memorable.
How have brands been using it?
Lots of notable brands have used product seeding to grow their influencer programs. From popular beauty brands like LUSH Cosmetics to top tech brands like GoPro, companies are sending out products to influencers in return for high-quality content.
One brand that’s using influencer gifting to build and run a thriving influencer marketing program is MVMT Watches. This sleek, modern watch brand is the perfect example of a company with a visually stunning product and a strong brand identity using its products to build authentic influencer relationships.
In a recent interview with Ethan Frame from MVMT Watches he shared how product seeding has been instrumental in helping the brand’s influencer marketing effort get off the ground and grow into one of the most successful influencer programs around.
“We spent a lot of time on Instagram, and we started noticing people getting followings there and were like ‘hey I wonder if we can send these people some watches, send them a promo code they can share with their fans and see what happens.’”
Ethan was able to recruit the right influencers by finding personalities that aligned with the MVMT brand. Then, he nurtured quality relationships with the recipients on a personal level, sent them a watch, and eventually asked if they would take a picture of the watch and share it with their followers. This individual, organic product seeding approach helped the MVMT influencer program scale and become a tremendous marketing tool for the company.
Benefits to product seeding
There’s a reason that influencer marketing has taken off in the past few years–it’s wildly effective. Gifting items to influencers is one of the main components of creating a robust influencer program. Product seeding yields many benefits for brands that desire to build and quickly scale with influencer marketing. Using influencer gifting helps brands:
- Find brand-influencer alignment
- Weed out phony influencers
- Maximize ROI
- Gain international exposure
- Solidify brand identity
Let’s take a closer look at these benefits.
Guarantee of brand-influencer alignment
Just like successful companies need a clear brand identity, so do influencers. A compelling influencer must have a clear identity that resonates with their online community. Social media users follow personalities because they know what to expect. One influencer might be known for showcasing their modern, youthful lifestyle through their daily fashion posts. Another might exhibit a soft, feminine aesthetic through their hair and beauty looks. In each case, followers have come to expect and rely on a particular type of content from their favorite influencers.
For brands, the key to teaming up with influencers for success is brand-influencer alignment. It’s vital that brands only partner with influencers who are already creating content that’s in alignment with the brand’s identity. Once a brand identifies influencers that would potentially align with their brand, gifting product to that influencer solidifies that alignment. An influencer is a good fit if they would otherwise buy or use the product without getting it for free. The product itself would be enticing for the influencer and they’d want to engage with the brand on their own. Sharing your product with these prospective influencers can turn them into your biggest super fans–making them the most effective partnerships of all.
The current social media landscape is an environment where everyone has the potential to be an influencer. Many people think of themselves as influencers and want to work with brands. How, then, do you make sure that you find potential influencers who will become authentic, long-term ambassadors?
The key is in building an influencer program that is about partnerships and not just transactions.
People who are only interested in fame and making money will want to keep things about the business transaction. If they don’t have a genuine love for your brand, they will likely move on to the next deal after a post or two. They may even end up endorsing your competition. This tactic won’t foster success for the influencer–or your brand.
Great influencers understand that they need trust from their community, and are careful not to break that trust. They care about their brand as much as you care about yours. For that reason, they want to build quality, long-term relationships that will genuinely help their audience. That’s why a slower, relational approach where you invest time into ensuring influencer-brand alignment is so pivotal in getting effective content from authentic influencers.
The idea behind product seeding is to send something to an influencer and let them decide whether or not they would organically endorse it. Sending the product opens the door for conversation about how the influencer really feels about the item. Taking this time to communicate will give you the authentic online attention you ultimately want.
For most brands, product seeding/influencer gifting is extremely cost-effective. Unless a brand has an extremely high ticket product, the exchange of product for user-generated content is by far the most cost-effective way to build brand awareness and eventually drive sales.
One reason this method is so cost-effective is because of the high-quality content you receive. When choosing influencers who are already producing content that your potential audience loves, you’re guaranteed to end up with highly valuable content that can be reused and repurposed through paid ads, email marketing, and more. Getting that much-proven content for the price of a product is a steal.
Build brand love
Sending out product to influencers without asking for an immediate response builds the kind of trust for your brand that leads to brand love.
Just like Ethan Frame from MVMT took the time to nurture relationships with the influencers he gifted with watches, other brands can find true love with an influencer through building relationships. In return, you get credibility with the influencer’s audience because their trusted influencer is a “true believer.”
In business, customer loyalty is priceless. Product seeding can help brands gain true loyalty from influencers. When a brand sends a gift without asking for anything in return, it sets the stage for goodwill. It’s when investing in a working relationship with the influencer and not just making an impersonal, programmatic transaction, that real loyalty is created. Brand loyalty also makes influencers and their followers more likely to invest in new products in the future.
Product placement works. A recent survey given by a Hollywood branding company showed that 80% of consumer respondents favor product placement over other traditional types of paid advertisements because it’s more organic.
Whether or not the desired influencer initially tags the brand in their posts, when an influencer receives a gift, it creates natural brand-influencer alignment. An influencer will likely take positive pictures with the product, and the product will appear in that influencer’s content. If a brand links up with a high-profile social media influencer using/wearing their product, the result is organic and effective product placement.
Acquire new customers
By getting your products out into the world, you’re always creating new possibilities for acquiring new customers. This attitude makes product seeding a win no matter what. You might not have recruited an influencer for the cost of the product. However, you may have acquired a new customer if the free product causes someone to buy from the brand in the future.
MVMT’s Ethan Frame believes that there’s value in gifting product, even if the influencer relationship doesn’t work out:
“Hey, if it’s another watch on someone’s wrist, it’s still advertising for me”
Brand awareness is increased visibility of your brand. No matter what, boosting brand awareness is always positive. Every post is an opportunity to share your brand story using the voice of an influencer. By seeding product to influencers, you can guarantee that more people will become aware of the brand. Whether it’s through an influencer’s content, shout-out or word-of-mouth, brands will see an increase in overall brand awareness due to product seeding campaigns.
How product seeding works
While product seeding is simple, it’s essential to have a plan and process in place to truly be successful. Let’s look at how you can create a plan of action to guarantee product seeding success.
Find the right influencers
As we’ve mentioned before, it’s essential for a brand to find the right influencers to approach. The key is to find people who would organically use your brand’s product in their everyday life. Taking the time to identify the right individuals ensures that the influencer will likely appreciate your product and consider endorsing it.
Get to know the influencer
Before sending a product to an influencer, it’s vital to take some time to get to know them. Don’t just look at their latest content and send off a free product. Spend time carefully investigating their different posts, blogs, comments, and online engagement and try to understand what that influencer is all about. Doing this will help when deciding which products would be best to send.
It also makes your outreach warmer by including details that show that you really understand who they are. The best method for warm outreach is to mention something personal about their past content and why your brand thinks they would appreciate the product.
Pro tip: don’t forget to watch out for red flags. Take your time searching the influencer’s profiles to make sure that they haven’t posted anything objectionable, inflammatory or discriminatory in the past.
Authentic influencers don’t want to be sold to–and they definitely don’t want to be bombarded by brands that know nothing about them.
Brands should demonstrate that they’ve done their homework and connect with the influencer’s content. The easiest way to turn your outreach from cold to warm is to let the influencer know that you checked them out. Mention a specific piece of content they created or a caption they wrote. This makes them see that they aren’t just on the receiving end of a spam campaign.
Gift the influencer
You may think that anyone would want your product for free, but it’s polite to ask first. Companies should ask the influencer if they can send them the gift. Again, brands should curate which products to send which influencer, personalizing their gifting. This gets the relationship off to a good start.
Don’t ask for a return right away
The most successful brand-influencer relationships happen when brands don’t immediately ask for anything in return. Again, Ethan from MVMT mentions that he was able to build strong long-term relationships with influencers because he wasn’t pushy with getting an immediate return from sending the product. Allowing connections to grow naturally gave the influencer a chance to fall in love with the merchandise. This is how authentic, organic promotions are made.
Build the influencer relationship
Over time, continue to build a relationship with the influencer after sending a gift. Don’t just send it and forget it. Follow up after a bit of time has passed. Ask how it’s working for them or if there are any questions they have. Be natural and create a genuine, positive exchange. Keep the conversation flowing.
Ask for content
After the relationship has signs of progress and a real connection has been made, it’s time to subtly ask for content. There’s no need to ask for mentions or tags right away. Any post with a product in use or worn is precious to a brand. If you invested the time to nurture the relationship, the influencer will be ready and willing to give you their best recommendations, tags, or mentions without being asked.
Create a partnership
After the influencer posts about the product, the brand should work to create a cadence with that influencer and initiate a real collaboration for ongoing content. This is where it can grow into a full-blown influencer partnership/program that could include affiliate links, swipe-ups, brand mentions, etc.
Conclusion: Product Seeding Scales your influencer program and increases your brand awareness
Leveraging influencer marketing can help your brand achieve a massive ROI. Brands may look at getting a whopping 500% return in revenue. If your brand is ready to commit to influencer marketing long-term, you should develop a plan for product seeding.
Using influencer gifting/product seeding to scale your influencer marketing efforts will allow your business to experience significant growth.
Has your brand used product seeding before? Tell us about your experiences in the comments below.
This article originally appeared in the Grin.co blog and has been published here with permission.