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How to Utilize Influencer Marketing Without Breaking the Bank

Chris Accardo
Chris Accardo

Micro-influencers can provide a lot of value to businesses on a budget

Partnering with celebrities like Kylie Jenner or Kim Kardashian-West might launch your business like a rocket ship, but you probably can't afford it. If you are working on your business full time, you already know that you need to stretch every dollar. That is why lots of new entrepreneurs tend to eschew traditional marketing tactics in favor of supplementing the work on their own.

But most never consider influencer marketing. A lot of startups assume it is simply not viable, but micro-influencers are a lot more affordable and accessible than you think. They also yield higher engagement rates than celebrity superstars on Instagram or Pinterest.

My company has increasingly run into more clients that acquire customers through influencer marketing. If you need a little help with your marketing, then consider implementing the same strategy. A lot of possible partners are out there, so you can find the best fit for your business (and your budget).

Oftentimes, new businesses talk a lot about themselves and assume that's marketing, but it's not. The best way for startups to market is to focus on the customer. Firsthand testimonials are influential, which is why people who consider a product or service valuable are the best ambassadors. Even if they did not make a purchase, customers, and prospects, who felt that a business provided a positive experience will likely mention that to roughly nine other people. Word gets around fast — that is the power of earned media.

Paid influencer marketing has a similar effect to earned media. When your audience hears about your business from a micro-influencer, they assume that the individual already had a positive experience with your brand. That’s because — unlike celebrity endorsers — these content creators tend to have a deep affinity for the brands they are promoting and supporting.

In general, millennials are starting to pay less attention to Instagram celebrities (thanks for nothing, Fyre Fest) and more attention to micro-influencers with interests that align with their own. Most micro-influencers diligently build their audiences by producing engaging content — they aren't thrust into a spotlight. Because of this, their followers are more loyal and see them as valuable sources of entertainment, motivation, wisdom, or expertise.

Consistent engagement is essential to a micro-influencer's success, so it makes sense that the most popular influencer content covers ever-evolving topics like health, wellness, beauty, and fashion. People can turn to YouTube influencers for guidance on fitness or skincare routines or Instagrammers for an outfit or makeup inspiration.

The beauty subscription service Ipsy (valued at $800 million) is a great example of successful micro-influencer marketing. Michelle Phan, the founder, was an influencer herself before she launched the business. Ipsy partners with micro-influencers in the beauty industry and grants them access to its studio and mentors in exchange for promotional videos.

Influencers can be world-class professionals, or they can be ordinary people with a lot of passion. Nikkie de Jager started influencing as an average teenager before one of her YouTube videos went viral. Jeffree Star, on the other hand, was a music star and company founder before he started his channel. Either way, audiences are drawn to individuals who exhibit credibility and authenticity.

As these content creators grow in popularity, the dividing line between "celebrity" and "influencer" becomes hazy. Do influencers stop being influencers when they become a household name? The distinguishing factor is trust. Fans and followers trust influencers not to endorse bad products just because they're getting paid. They trust influencers because they see them as friends.

Tapping into the micro-influencer marketing method lets you benefit from influencer-audience relationships on a much smaller scale. On this level, you can see the effects of every dollar you spend. On average, small businesses that use Google Ads spend $9,000 to $10,000 per month. In comparison, micro-influencers are more affordable (leading to a higher ROI) and more valuable (because of the specific audiences they reach).

To put things in perspective, Filip Tysander, the owner of wristwatch startup Daniel Wellington, launched his business with just a $1,500 investment. Using a no-holds-barred influencer strategy, Tysander grew his company into a $220 million operation in only six years.

If you hope to have the same success, you need to be thoughtful about how you deploy influencer marketing. Here are four steps you should take when selecting your influencers:

1. Set your budget and stick to it

Micro-influencers typically have 10,000 to 100,000 followers, but their audiences are more engaged when compared to celebrities' audiences. If you want influencers to lend their voices and put their hard-earned reputations on the line for your brand, you will have to pay up. But while celebrity endorsements can cost upwards of $75,000, 97% of micro-influencers on Instagram charge less than $500 for a promotional post.

Just keep in mind that your competitors are probably also using influencer marketing. One-off advertisements won't have much impact, but an ongoing micro-influencer relationship will provide both parties with fresh, educational, and relevant content. This marketing tactic is a long-term investment that pays off in the end.

2. Find the right partnership

When you work with micro-influencers, you will probably have to sacrifice some level of control over your message. Smaller content creators are very protective of their audiences; they won't risk losing fans by sounding like a sellout.

Find people who create content relevant to your business and reach out to them. Learn about their online personas, get to know them personally, and then determine whether a partnership makes sense. If you partner with influencers, trust them to deliver your message their way — the way their audience wants. Remember, good influencer marketing is not about you anyway.

3. Build trust

Authenticity is a micro-influencer's most appealing attribute. Unlike celebrities, these small influencers focus on building trust with their audiences. That’s what makes them so valuable: Thirty-eight percent of people trust an influencer's opinion on a brand more than they trust what the brand says itself.

Because of this, many influencers will be skeptical about endorsing a product that they don't actually believe in. Build a rapport of trust with possible partners and let them experience your product firsthand. If influencers are truly your fans, then their fans will notice (and your brand will benefit).

4. Test and test again

You should have high expectations for your partnership, but don't give up if things don't pan out the first time. Experiment with different message angles and audiences until you figure out what works best for you. Measure traffic that comes from influencer channels and start identifying KPIs — such as boosted brand awareness, increased leads, or improved website traffic — that you can use to gauge success. The most often-used success measurements specific to influencers include affiliate links, engagement rates, and the number of impressions.

Scaling a company is hard, especially if your background is in something other than marketing or sales. Micro-influencers can help you generate fresh, relevant content and connect you with engaged audiences who are eager for influencer recommendations. Influencer marketing isn't a requirement for success, but you can only stand to benefit from pursuing mutually beneficial relationships.

Image Credit: DisobeyArt/Getty Images
Chris Accardo
Chris Accardo Member
Chris Accardo is VP of marketing and communications at OceanX, which reinvents the membership economy by transforming customer-brand interactions and providing a powerful subscription engine.