02.06.20177 min read

When You Can't Afford a Kardashian: Small Business Influencer Marketing on a Budget

If you don’t have the budget to partner with a Kardashian or a best-selling New York Times author, is influencer marketing still worth your time? Marketers often see examples of big brands working with celebrities and assume that’s what’s driving the soon-to-be $10 billion industry.

However, small businesses—and niche influencers—are at the heart of this successful strategy, and companies are using it to connect with millennial buyers. It's easy to see why: Just 1 percent of millennials believe that they’re influenced by advertising. Research shows that 43 percent of millennials have to trust a brand or publisher before they’ll even look at their content. At least 40 percent of millennials have purchased an item after an influencer recommends it. For brands that want to connect with authenticity-seeking and ad-averse millennials, influencer marketing is the perfect way to raise awareness and build trust.

How can a small business create influencer marketing campaigns that millennials will love—especially with their very first campaign?

Set your budget

Splashy celebrity partnerships might net five-figure deals, but it’s very possible to create a successful influencer campaign on a tighter budget. Determine how much you can spend total. Don't invest more than you can afford to lose: treat your first influencer marketing campaign like you're betting on a game with a very high potential upside. There are three ways to pay influencers:

  • A complimentary product or service in exchange for an honest review (bloggers and influencer love swag!)
  • A flat fee, such as $100 per sponsored blog post or $250 per Instagram post
  • By performance, for the number of clicks or conversions that they deliver

Expect most influencers to want some form of monetary payment. Negotiate maximum payments before moving forward, and put those agreements in writing.

Select a single goal

The best campaigns have a ruthless focus that rivals a "Game of Thrones" leader: know exactly what you want and then unleash your resources to get it. Set a clear, well-defined goal for your first influencer marketing campaign. For example, an outdoor brand that wants to stand out in the athletic community could invest in series of blog posts on popular sports blogs. A pet company might focus on exposure for a single dog collar with popular dog-focused Instagram accounts (Hi, #dogsofinstagram!). Examples of goals that work well for influencer marketing are:

  • Increasing awareness of your content
  • Boosting the signal on a product launch
  • Raising your brand profile among a target segment of your audience
  • Driving conversions and sales for a specific campaign or product

Choose the right influencers

Influencer selection is everything—but the right influencer may not be the person you initially envision. Don’t automatically assume that an influencer with a bigger platform is a better investment. The right influencers:

  • Have an audience that connects with yours. For a millennial-focused campaign, choose influencers who focuses on this target–and make sure to verify their audience by looking at who follows and engages with their accounts.
  • Target topics specifically related to your business. For example, work with plus-size bloggers or luxury handbag experts rather than generic fashion bloggers. Millennials target experts for their advice.
  • Establish a tone and brand approach that aligns with you and your audience. To reach millennials, seek influencers that project authenticity, social savvy, and relatability.
  • Prioritize engagement oversize. An influencer with 1000 followers that share and comment on their content—and take action on their recommendations—is often more valuable than someone with a silent audience of 10,000.

Streamline your execution and communications

Create a package of material that will help your influencers create great content. The most important information includes:

  • Brand background and campaign goals
  • Information on your audience and those you’re trying to reach
  • Creative support, such as fact sheets, photographs or other original materials
  • Any brand guidelines or limitations on what influencers can say

Embrace creative flexibility: It can be difficult to hand over creative control. However, ultimately you’re choosing an influencer for her ability to connect with millennials—your target audience—in an authentic way. Provide guidelines and the support the influencer needs to succeed, and then trust the process. Set the vision and get out of the way!

Create value for their audience: Can you give something to an influencer’s audience, to help make campaigns more successful? Consider providing a gift card, a  product to raffle off, or an exclusive discount code for an influencer’s followers. Millennials love value, and taking this extra step can help generate immediate results.

Comply with FTC rules: The Federal Trade Commission is watching influencer marketing closely and recently passed regulations you need to follow. Sponsored content must be marked clearly—for example, with a hashtag like #ad or #paid at the beginning of a post. If your influencers don’t comply, the fines can be costly. Getting to know the rules and including them in your program guidelines is simple.

Define return on investment (ROI)

What will it take to make the campaign a win? Have a clear plan for defining success. Connect your performance indicators back to your original goal. If you’re focused on increasing engagement with your content, for example, think in terms of generating 500 downloads of your white paper or 100 Instagram likes. Think about ROI in terms of clear benefits such as downloads, clicks, or purchases made, as well as broader goals like exposure.

Should you invest in influencer marketing?

Influencer marketing can be a high ROI channel, but launching campaigns—even on a limited scale—requires resources. Four questions that can help you determine if influencer marketing is right for your campaign are:

  • Does my goal require exposure, visibility, or reach? Consider a small business that wants to sell a new beauty product targeted at millennials. Networking with beauty bloggers and Instagram influencers could give it's product launch an instant boost. By contrast:
  • Is this community actively connected on a single channel: Influencer marketing programs that target multiple channels can be complex and expensive. Look for opportunities that center around one channel—for example, clothing fans on Instagram or B2B buyers on LinkedIn.
  • Are there social influencers talking about this topic to a millennial audience? Use tools like Tomoson or Intellifluence to find influencers in your space.
  • Can you experiment with this goal or campaign? If you’ve never done influencer marketing, it’s an experiment. For campaigns where you have room to experiment, dive in. When you’re marketing to very specific goals on tight budgets or timelines, consider using more familiar tactics.

It doesn't take a mention on goop to reach your audience. Marketers can use influencer marketing to connect with millennial audiences with smaller budgets and great results. Make a clear strategy, start with a targeted campaign, and ramp up your activities as your determine that the approach is right for your brand.

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