Influencer marketing came on my radar in late 2013, but it didn’t really start picking up steam as an earned media tactic until 2015. Since then, an entire ecosystem of tools has cropped up to facilitate the identification, management, tracking, and reporting for influencers. For some, it’s moved from an occasional tactic in the marketing mix to a full-fledged, complete, and sustained strategy.
This post features one such company that has infused influencers into all of the marketing it does. It’s a unique approach. In fact, I’ve never seen a company do influencer marketing this way. I spent an entire afternoon with its CEO interviewing him, and what he shared serves as a blueprint for future strategic deployments of influencer marketing for companies both large and small.
A Profile in Leadership and Revenue Growth
One of the biggest complaints in content marketing today is executive buy-in. It’s a consistent grievance that permeates conference Q&As. For those that have executive buy-in, success is much more likely.
While this complaint is common for content marketers, I’ve never heard anyone moan about influencer marketing buy-in. Why? Because most marketers look at influencer marketing as merely a tactic and not a sustained and complete digital marketing strategy. In fact, many think “influencer marketing” means “round-up posts.” Marketers don’t necessarily need executive buy-in to implement a tactic.
Not only does the below case study have executive buy-in, but it’s the brainchild of the company’s CEO. Below is the profile of the company featured in this case study:
- Company: NewPro Containers
- Industry: Wholesale commercial-grade planters
- CEO: Jeremy Dearringer
- Location: Zionsville, IN
- Year Established: 1989
- Employees: 14
Dearringer credits the recent growth of NewPro directly to their unique approach to influencer marketing. Revenue at this juncture is up 35 percent from last year. Revenue was up 20 percent in 2016, from the previous year. They’re growing so fast from this marketing approach that they just broke ground on a new $4 million warehousing facility.
It All Starts with Blogging
It’s very important to NewPro that its blog is the trusted center of the universe within its industry. They’re trying to be the host of the party that everyone in the industry wants to attend. The content needs to be authentic, helpful, and effective at providing credibility to the company. It should also attract industry decision makers and influencers.
Blogging has both tangible and intangible returns for NewPro. While it does provide leads, it also helps shape the impression of the brand within its industry. This is critical in executing a complete and sustained influencer program.
Dearringer recognizes that blogging in his industry, and many others, has been a total failure for the most part. Over the years, he’s seen many try and only make it 90 days to 12 months before the blog died. He blames this on one or more of these four things:
- Interns: Many companies in this niche (and others) throw blogging at the interns because no one else has time to do it. The problem is that interns don’t have enough experience to write credible industry articles.
- Salespeople: In some organizations, sales folks are told to maintain the blog to help them with “social selling” and attracting leads. Sales should be out selling, not writing blog posts. Good salespeople don’t want to blog, anyway—they’re hunters, not creatives.
- CEO: Many companies’ Chief Executives are simply too busy to maintain a blog.
- Third-party writers: No matter how good the writers are, the posts are never authentic enough because they’re not in the industry. Industry insiders can see right through this.
To overcome the above problems, NewPro made an investment and paid influential people (insiders or veterans within its industry) to write original content. It offered $200 a blog post, and half refused it. (NewPro insisted on donating the unclaimed money to a non-profit of the person’s choosing.) In some cases, NewPro would pay a third party to write content and then send it to the influencer to rewrite for greater authenticity. NewPro made it easier for an influencer to say yes.
One of the biggest challenges was getting contributors not to sell anything in their content. Dearringer addressed this by coaching contributors and explaining that they’re speaking to their peers in the industry and gaining thought leadership.
NewPro didn’t have some formal submission process or set of rules. It would take the content any way it could get it, from notes written in an email to outlines and Word Docs. If it was written, it could be worked with, refined, and edited. NewPro made a conscious effort to remove as many barriers as possible, while at the same time providing financial incentive and stroking the egos of the influencers.
Marketers have many tools and plenty of software available to them to assist in finding influencers. However, Dearringer takes a more holistic approach. He personally reaches out and asks his best customers to contribute, recruits conference speakers and attendees, has a contributor call-to-action in his email newsletter, and occasionally recruits from his industry Facebook Group (more on this later). In fact, he does 100 percent of the contributor outreach.
Since NewPro is constantly curating content, it’s exposed to many industry writers already. All of these have proven to be fruitful places to discover influencers. Out of the starting blocks, however, NewPro needed its first big fish: its first major influencer.
Introducing the Bug Lady
Dearringer kicked off NewPro’s influencer blogging effort by enlisting a third-party to write the “Professional’s Field Guide: Plant Pest Control.” However, he didn’t stop there. He knew that a third-party writer would not come off as credible to the industry folks he was targeting.
With the guide in hand, he reached out to Suzanne Wainwright-Evans, more prominently known as the “Bug Lady.” He didn’t do outreach on social media or email like most do. Instead, he picked up the phone and called. His request was simple: “Will you edit this PDF guide for NewPro?” He offered to pay her for the service and prominently give her credit as the author of the guide.
She agreed, and he sent her the guide. Dearringer’s concern that third-party written content would not come off as credible was correct. When the Bug Lady got back to him, she said she’d need to rewrite the whole thing because it was not accurate. They agreed to new terms, and she set off to rewrite the guide. The guide included five sections, which NewPro turned into five blog posts, publishing one per week. Each post linked directly to the guide. The best-performing posts were then syndicated on two industry non-profit websites.
Courting the Bug Lady was the cornerstone of NewPro’s complete and sustained influencer marketing program. Her industry clout gave NewPro the credibility it needed to enlist other influential people in its industry. Here’s a post that features many of their influential contributors. Its purpose was and still is to recruit even more influencers.
Influencer Marketing Through Social Media Account Management
As NewPro recruited more and more industry insiders, one thing became apparent: Most of these folks didn’t have much of a social media presence, if any at all, especially on Twitter. Dearringer offered to manage their social media accounts, grow their followers, and post on their behalf—all for free. The only catch was that one-quarter of the posts would be NewPro content. Since the contributors all trusted NewPro and its content, most agreed. Dearringer now controls around 20 social media accounts from influential people in the industry.
It also became apparent that not only do industry folks struggle to maintain their social media profiles, but so do the companies in the industry. As a result, NewPro sends out a curated industry newsletter to social media managers within the industry that struggle to find content to share. This newsletter is separate from its main newsletter. It’s not just NewPro content, either—it’s the best content from across the industry. NewPro provides a valuable service to the industry, all while showcasing the NewPro brand and its content to prospective customers.
Influencer Marketing Through Roundup Posts and Advanced Content
Many marketers associate influencer marketing with roundup or list posts. While this is a form of influencer marketing, it certainly isn’t the only tactic. NewPro uses roundup posts as a tool to recruit more influencers and solidify relations with existing ones.
Every roundup post features a call-to-action for new contributors. Industry veterans with titles and clout not currently featured want to be showcased by NewPro because their peers already are.
Dearringer doesn’t stop at roundup posts. He also creates copious amounts of advanced content (guides, ebooks, etc.) by stitching together prudent influencer articles. For each one, he gives complete authorship to whichever influencer’s content is featured. This advanced content is shared with the influencers, who in turn promote their new ebook on the NewPro website. It’s a win-win for all parties involved.
Influencer Marketing Through Newsletters
NewPro’s weekly newsletter, “Your Weekly Cup of NewPro,” isn’t your typical email. It’s kept simple and has a very strategic purpose. Each week, NewPro chooses three articles to feature: two really good articles from other industry websites and the best-performing NewPro influencer article of that week.
This newsletter serves a few purposes. First and foremost, NewPro wants to deliver only the best content to its audience. It also gets the attention of the other industry writers that create great content and entices them to become contributors to the blog. Lastly, it solidifies relations with current contributors by prominently featuring their work in front of the NewPro audience.
How successful is it? This newsletter boasts an open rate north of 30 percent. It’s so popular within the industry that Dearringer often gets contacted by CEOs requesting he subscribe their entire company staff. On several occasions, he’s been sent entire spreadsheets with all the employee information necessary to subscribe them all.
Dearringer described being at an industry non-profit board meeting recently when a conversation about industry content came up. One guest at the board meeting claimed that if it wasn’t in the “Weekly Cup of NewPro,” she won’t read it. Unbeknownst to her, the NewPro CEO was right there in the room and is one of the board members.
Influencer Marketing Through Print Magazines and Tradeshows
For the last two years, NewPro has put out an annual print magazine called Modern Plantscaper. While this company isn’t the first to put out a print magazine, it’s one of the few to incorporate it as part of its sustained and complete influencer marketing strategy.
Each issue features the best influencer blog posts from the previous year. Dearringer makes sure each contributing influencer gets multiple copies of the magazine to show off their work to peers and other industry folks. It has a subscribership of over 600 in an industry that only boasts about 500 significant companies. At tradeshows, NewPro’s magazine flies out of the booth.
Dearringer described crowds of people around his humble booth wanting a copy of the magazine and wanting to talk about all the cool content NewPro publishes for the industry, all while surrounded by the “big money” booths with little to no action. These kinds of events are an opportunity for both sales and influencer recruiting, and NewPro takes advantage of both.
Influencer Marketing Through Paid Promotion and Facebook Groups
When it comes to social, NewPro invests the most time and resources in Facebook. Every single influencer article that’s posted gets a paid boost. Dearringer spends $20 a post and targets users with appropriate interests and job titles. This paid promotion helps solidify relations with the influencers due to the heightened exposure.
In addition to Facebook promotion, NewPro set up an unbranded closed Group called Interiorscape.com. The decision to create an unbranded group was strategic. Facebook pages have very poor organic visibility, but Groups fare better. Since it’s unbranded, the Group doesn’t feel like a self-serving tool for NewPro to push its wares.
To date, it has over 730 members, all folks within the landscape industry. Engagement is very high. The group also serves as fertile ground for recruiting new contributors and influencers for the blog, and combing through the comments helps Dearringer identify leaders and influencers within the industry.
Group members also help identify hot topics and challenges that NewPro should be covering on its blog. When Dearringer uncovers these opportunities in the Group, he immediately sends the individual an email asking for their take. Most of the time, the answer is enough content to craft into a blog post and feature the person as a new contributor.
Influencer Marketing Through Newsjacking and Influencers
As many in the US are aware, 2017’s hurricane season was pretty disastrous. Hurricanes impact most everything in their path. Growers and nurseries, a core client base for NewPro, were hit particularly hard this year.
Knowing the NewPro blog is a trusted resource within the industry, Dearringer decided to enlist one of his influential contributors to shed light on the disaster while providing a resource for readers to donate. In addition, NewPro waived/credited all open invoices for all areas impacted by the hurricanes and the fires on the west coast. Recognizing the community it created, NewPro sought to make a positive impact on its industry by producing timely content with an influencer that led to real tangible outcomes for some victims.
Influencer Advertising, the Influencer Marketing Shortcut
Turning influencer marketing from a tactic into an all-encompassing digital marketing strategy didn’t happen overnight. NewPro is entering its third year of executing this strategy. It started off slow with initial cash investments, but as the momentum picked up, NewPro achieved its goals and revenue grew.
For those with less time and patience, there’s another solution to consider for ramping up influencer marketing: influencer advertising. NewPro went 100 percent organic in its influencer recruitment effort and did not tap into any of the paid solutions described below. However, if speed to market is important, these networks help facilitate influencer relationships for marketers.
Not every solution will be ideal for all deployments, so do research prior to partnering with one of the platforms below.
- adMingle: Connects brands and influencers globally.
- Adproval: Connects brands with social media, blog, and video influencers. USA.
- Bideo: Connects brands with influencers, journalists, vloggers, and musicians. Global
- Blogsvertise: Connects brands with bloggers for sponsored blog conversations. Global.
- BrandBrief: Connects brands with influencers. Industries include fashion, beauty, food, wellness, tourism, and gyms. Mobile interface. US, UK, Australia.
- BrandPlug: Connects brands with influencers. Pay per impression pricing. Global.
- Buzzoole: Connects brands with influencers. Pays in discounts, offers, credits, and Amazon gift cards. Global.
- Content BLVD : Connects consumer product brands with YouTube influencers. Global.
- Izea: Platform for marketers to discover influencers, pay them, and manage content workflow. Global.
- Linqui: Has over 100,000 “power-middle” social media and blogging influencers. USA.
- Liquid Social: Connect brands with social media influencers. Pays influencers for shares, clicks, and views.
- Markerly: Platform for brands to build their own influencer network via campaign management and CRM. White glove service. Global.
- Megan Media: Platform for custom content delivery, influencer activation, and digital media campaigns. White glove service. Global.
- Nevaly: Connects brands with influencers. Gaming and mobile only. Global.
- Peadler: Connects local businesses with influencers. Pays in rewards—products or services. USA major metros.
- Style Coalition: Connects brands with lifestyle influencers. Includes analytics and content tracking. Global.
- Sway Group: Connects brands and agencies with the largest network of female bloggers on the web. Full-service influencer management. Global.
- The Flux List: Connects brands with influencers using their proprietary FLUX Compatibility Index.
- Unity: AI-driven technology platform that connects influencers and brands that share the same passion.
Influencer Marketing Strategy Takeaways
There’s a lot to take away from the NewPro example featured above. However, when you peel away the story, you’ll find eleven specific takeaways that can have a major impact on moving influencer marketing from just an occasional tactic to a full-fledged, complete, and sustained strategy:
- Don’t think tactically: think strategically.
- Get executive buy-in.
- Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone.
- Don’t be afraid to initially pay influencers. If they refuse, offer to donate it to their favorite charity. It will pay off in the long run by getting content for free from contributors later.
- Remove barriers, so influencers are less likely to say “no.”
- Make contributing content as easy as possible.
- Offer to run their neglected social media accounts for free.
- Offer social media community managers a curated newsletter to share. Include your influencer content, too.
- Build a community.
- Feature contributors everywhere possible: blog, newsletter, magazine, email, paid promotion, Facebook Groups, tradeshows, advanced content, etc.
- Get influencers involved with industry/brand-specific causes or philanthropy.
Influencer marketing, as a digital marketing strategy, can have a major impact on bottom line revenue. Most marketers simply view influencer marketing as a tactic. Some even just think it’s a roundup post, but it can be way more than that.
There aren’t many brands currently putting influencers at the center of their marketing. However, with examples like this cropping up, it’s likely we’ll see influencer marketing more prominently featured in marketing departments everywhere.