How to Leverage Celebrity Influencers for Small Business

May 7th, 2015

How to Leverage Celebrity Influencers for Small Business - hero

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Nike does it. So does Apple. Disney was one of the first to do it. Microsoft is paying the NFL more than $100 million dollars over the next five years to do it for them.

When it comes to celebrity influencer marketing and brand ambassadors, it’s not who you know—it’s how much you’re paying them to know you. It’s a great strategy, particularly if you’re a billion-dollar brand looking to maintain your presence in a crowded market.

But what if you’re not a billion dollar company? Is celebrity influencer marketing still a viable tactic for your company?

SMBs and Influencer Marketing

Let’s be clear: Influencer marketing works no matter what size your company. And by offering an ROI of 6.5:1, influencer marketing can quickly become a marketer’s best friend. So why add a celebrity— and the risk that comes with that celebrity—to the mix?

“The whole concept of celebrity is very different than it was just a few years ago,” said Jamie Reardon, CEO of Find Your Influence, a leading influencer marketing platform. “Even as short as five years ago, you would never have seen movie stars making commercials or endorsing brands stateside.”

The point resonates as you examine just the very concept of “celebrity.” No longer limited to high-profile athletes and movie stars, celebrities now run the gamut from YouTube sensations and viral video hit-makers to reality TV stars and more. In fact, for the sake of this piece, a celebrity is no longer defined by how “famous” they are, but instead by how motivated their target audience is .

“The celebrity marketplace is much more fractured than it has ever been. As content—and the way people receive that content—continues to personalize to an audience, so does the nature of those celebrities and their relationships to consumers,” continued Reardon. “There are a lot more ‘celebrities’ today than ever before—and given the increasingly fractured nature of the celebrity market, more and more celebrities are extending beyond their ‘celebrity’ and are building brands.”

Celebrity brands have become an alternative revenue stream to celebrities, and as such are very valuable if nurtured properly, to maintain a relationship with their target audiences.

Ryan Brunty, head of Social for Zappos COUTURE, agreed.

“We are living in an incredibly interesting time in which we are hyper-connected to not only each other, but the pop culture icons we love and adore,” said Brunty.

Never before in history have we been able to share information at this rate and connect on such a deep and personal level with our chosen celebrities. This extends to celebrities and the fact that we are now able to witness personal vignettes of their lives as though they’re close, personal friends of ours.

That makes for a very interesting proposition—who do consumers trust when it comes to what we purchase? Our friends, of course!

Consumers are now able to get styling tips, shopping advice directly from their pop culture icons,” said Brunty. “Interestingly enough, celebrities are now becoming their own pseudo-retailers as well, creating a personal shopping experience plugged into their blogs/websites.”

By that logic, celebrity influencer marketing is an extension of that circular experience. Marketers are challenged with aligning trust with the celebrity endorsement’s demographics while also staying true to their own brands.

Why Are Celebrity Endorsements So Valuable to SMBs?

Celebrity brands are a multi-billion dollar business today, but there are only so many mega-brands to go around, which makes celebrities more and more accessible to smaller brands than ever before. Given this increasingly fractured marketplace, marketers are finding it difficult to continue using traditional (think direct mail, or even email) marketing methods.

So instead of a one-at-a-time approach, marketers are learning the benefits of influencer marketing, or leveraging an audience with an audience.

“Influencer marketing is the new word-of-mouth, but scalable—and cost-effective,” said Reardon. “SMBs don’t have the resources to market one-at-a-time, so influencer marketing makes a lot of sense—communicate to a large group who share a common interest through a mutual thought leader, and you’ll see a much higher conversion rate.”

Zappos COUTURE agreed and began their first celebrity marketing campaign working with Lauren Conrad and the LaurenConrad.com team.

“It has become very important for our Zappos COUTURE marketing initiatives to add influencer marketing to our yearly budget to supplement other areas of focus,” said Brunty. “I would say it’s important for anyone in the retail space to highly consider this outlet as consumers look to celebrities for style tips, and we as advertisers want to ensure we’re aligned with where our customer’s interests are.”

The relationship with Lauren Conrad has paid off handsomely for the retailer, leading to a redux for their spring line.

“It’s exciting to see just how wonderfully these campaigns have affected our strategy in ways we couldn’t have even forecasted,” said Brunty. “It’s especially exciting for me, because of the fact that I championed this project; it was very near and dear to me and was important to implement.”

Zappos had originally allocated budget toward a display buy, but Brunty tweaked tactics at the last minute to sanction a portion of the budget to experiment with influencer marketing.

“It took some convincing to the rest of the team, but in the end, we are so happy with the results that we just completed our second campaign with Lauren Conrad. The results have been amazing,” said Brunty. “To speak to the success, buyers are informing me of sold out and low inventory SKUs which is always exciting to see after a campaign execution.”

It turns out that even other celebrities are not immune to celebrity influencer marketing.

“For me, personally, the biggest success story comes from Sarah Jessica Parker being so excited about her SJP Collection being featured in the blog post that she sent a note to Lauren personally,” said Brunty. “It doesn’t get any cooler than that!”

Pieces of the Pie

According to a recent study by Forrester Research, social media spending in the US is expected to reach $27.4 billion by 2020, up from $12.3 billion in 2015, growing at a five-year annual growth rate of 17.4%. The way marketers slice their pie is getting more and more complex, with more and more offerings. Influencer marketing can check off a number of boxes for most brands.

While celebrity influencers are more expensive than a traditional influencer, they offer a greater megaphone that some brands are looking to use to amplify their reach.

The key to influencer marketing is target audience reach. It wouldn’t make sense to use Lauren Conrad as a brand ambassador for beard wax, because that’s not where her target audience—those who turn to her for advice—lives,” said Reardon. “By the same token, you wouldn’t have the Duck Dynasty guys selling women’s shoes. The audience fit an influencer can offer is what is critical for brands.”

That’s not to say marketers should completely abandon all other marketing strategies to jump on the celebrity bandwagon.

“I wouldn’t necessarily say celebrity endorsements ‘rather than’ any other form of marketing as much as ‘in addition to,’” said Brunty. “It’s hugely important to have a well-rounded strategy, and this form of marketing falls directly in line with what we are trying to accomplish with our social marketing strategy.”

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