INFLUENCER PRODUCT SAMPLING: How to Partner with Micro Influencers to Acquire Loyal Customers
Tuesday Jun 1st, 2021
When you send a product gift to a social media influencer, you can create not only a customer -- but a brand evangelist. Influencers are online content publishers, often with sizable, targeted audiences. They create content to entertain and inform -- and they love to talk about great brands.
Organic mentions by influencers are trusted like word-of-mouth -- only better -- because of their reach. Brands benefit from these subtle product recommendations that drive trial, purchase intent, and repurchase (i.e., loyal consumers). So, how can you partner with social media influencers to earn these organic mentions?
Influencer product sampling vs. price promotions
Building your brand requires growing a base of loyal customers. Some users are brand switchers. They consider multiple brands when buying a product and buy based on price promotion and/or convenience. Others have the potential to be brand loyalists. Establishing a relationship with a consumer at the right time can create brand loyalty. Product sampling is a proven method of building brand loyalty.
For brand marketers, pouring money into price promotions may get you short-term quick results, but investing in product sampling and credible reviews will build your brand for the long-term. Product sampling is proven to deliver a significantly higher trial, purchase intent, and repurchase -- unlike price promotions which can play to the strength of your competitors.
Does your brand have what it takes to benefit from product sampling? Brand-driven products with a consumer-noticeable benefit stand to gain the most from product sampling. Alternatively, they also have the most to lose by not sampling. If you establish customer loyalty, it’s going to be costly to your competitors to try to win your customer back.
Do you want to spend your marketing budget to trade disloyal customers with your competitors? It’s an expensive game that does not build a loyal customer base at nearly the efficiency of sampling.
What is influencer product sampling?
Think of influencer product sampling, or seeding, as sending free product gifts to influencers. In exchange, they’ll create content (i.e., a social post, story, reel or blog and a caption) using your product and inspire conversations about how they really feel about your offering.
Influencer product gifting is one of the least intrusive ways to reach your target audiences in the channels they already trust. As consumers increasingly avoid ads, subtle and organic product mentions or product placements on influencers’ social media feeds are priceless.
Getting influencers to tell the story of how your brand fits into their lifestyle can boost brand awareness and preference, and drive traffic that ultimately leads to sales. Influencers can educate consumers about your product use, benefits, and brand values. In other words, influencers give their fans reasons to prefer your brand and become loyal to it.
Product gifting is your ticket into these audiences and it is a scalable and affordable strategy. You no longer need to manufacture and distribute millions of mini-product samples to mass audiences to drive quality product trials.
Sounds simple, right? Just send your product gift to people who can influence your target audience and inspire them to start talking about it. But, like most marketing efforts, the devil is in the details.
Is your product a good candidate for influencer product sampling?
Here’s the reality check. Just because you send a product gift to an influencer, doesn’t mean they’re going to love it or talk about it. So before you invest in a product gifting strategy, consider whether your product has what it takes to be “content worthy” or “post-worthy” on social media.
What makes a product a good candidate for influencer product gifting?
1. Audience Interest
Influencers’ fans are the boss of their social media content. Will social media audiences be interested and find value in hearing about your product? If the product is boring, controversial, offensive, not image-worthy, or not socially acceptable, do not waste your time or budget on this strategy.
Tip: Target influencers and audiences that will be genuinely interested in your product. Don’t make the common mistakes of targeting influencers based on their looks or sheer number of followers. Do check the engagement metrics and the quality of the engagement.
2. Product quality
Influencers will not create content for or post about a product of poor quality. They’ve worked hard to earn the trust of their audience and they want to keep that trust. There are many reasons why an influencer will choose not to post about your product, including quality. If this happens, ask for feedback and consider it valuable.
3. Value of Product Gift
Consider the time, talent, and value of influencers' recommendations when deciding on your product gift. $100 retail value is the minimum value recommended to acknowledge the time and effort it takes to create an inspiring image and an engaging caption, plus the value of the audience and trust they’ve developed over time.
If your product has a low value, consider getting creative with your product gift by creating a package of items related to it. A food item can be paired with a branded charcuterie board. Wine can be paired with a cookbook or bottle opener.
A personal note in the product gift goes a long way in letting influencers know you appreciate them.
4. Good Brand Values/Purpose/Reputation
Younger generations support brands with similar values to their own. They expect brands to contribute to the betterment of society and support values-based brands with their spending.
Therefore, be upfront about your brand purpose and values.
Is your product eco-friendly or healthy? Does your brand support an important social cause? Has your brand taken a social stand?
Finally, cultivate a good brand reputation because a bad one will make it difficult for you to find influencers to stand behind your brand.
Reviews matter. Customer sentiment matters.
How To Get Started With Influencer Product Sampling
1. Set a goal -- Influencer product sampling can achieve a variety of different goals. Determine the primary goal for your campaign and also any secondary goals. Some examples:
Increase exposure to new audiences
Build relationships with ambassadors
Produce authentic or candid user-generated content to support your digital marketing efforts
Increase e-commerce conversion rates
2. Choose the product to sample — Which product will you promote? Consider if the brand name or logo is visible. Identify a meaningful product gift. If your product is not a $100 value, be thoughtful. Will you send multiples? Will you send an assortment? Or, will you boost the value of your gift by adding swag? Influencers are also keen on gift cards which allow them to select from different options.
3. Determine message— What messaging is most likely to lead to your desired outcome? Do you want to ask influencers to talk about your product benefits, brand purpose, to educate or create the need for a new product, to create a recipe or an experience?
Offer guidance to influencers, but don’t try to control the creative. You do not want the message to sound like an ad. Influencers have successfully built their audiences and they know how to engage their fans.
4. Find influencers— Scroll through relevant hashtags. Find some favorites and see who they follow or engage with -- keep in mind, you are selecting influencers to reach their audience. So the audience needs to be a fit for your product. Selecting influencers is different from selecting models for a photoshoot. You are not selecting based on “a look” or someone being “on brand.”
You want to find an influencer with real followers (not fake or purchased), real engagement (not fake or purchased), an audience that’s a good fit for your product, and an influencer with high audience engagement. Cast your net wide to include diverse influencers.
5. Send product gifts— Do something special here. Make a good impression. The better the unboxing, the more likely the content will be great. Make sure you have adequate resources to manage shipping product samples. Be ready to handle questions that will arise.
6. Measure results— As a short-term metric, pay attention to engagement rates.
To understand the value of a product gifting strategy long-term, watch for year-over-year changes in business metrics to allow for purchase cycles to play out and even out seasonal impacts.
Consider adding influencer images to shopping sites as this proven to increase time-on-site, conversion rates, and average order values. (These metrics can be measured using a web widget tool.)
Finally, test the use of influencer content in your email newsletters and ads, in place of professional or stock photography. Our clients report ad performance improvements when influencer content is used instead of the alternatives.
7. Listen to user feedback— Every campaign is an opportunity to learn. This is the most often forgotten goal. Don’t overlook this opportunity to request qualitative or even quantitative inputs that can help you optimize future campaigns or your overall marketing mix.
Engaged users can be a valuable source of insights even if not statistically significant.
Need to do some concept testing? Need suggestions for new products/line extensions? Feedback on pricing? All of the above can be a side benefit of surveying these engaged users.
When managing influencer campaigns in-house, be sure to provide appropriate resources to manage the labor-intensive processes of vetting, selecting, shipping, and communicating with influencers.
Are you considering product gifting to celebrities with massive followings or micro influencers (with 3,000 to 50,000 followers)? You’ll notice micro influencers are frequently recognized as the “sweet spot” for product gifting. There are a number of reasons for this. Micro influencers are:
More willing to accept payment with product gifts instead of cash
Focused on specific niches, offering more tailored interactions with their audience, and improved targeting for the brand
More eager to provide brands with as much value as possible
Less picky and easier to satisfy with gifts
More ready to engage with their audiences, as compared to celebs with millions of followers
Blessed with audiences who trust them to not constantly sell products that they don't believe in
Product sampling is not a new strategy. But reaching consumers with a relevant message in this digital world has changed. As consumers increasingly avoid ads and choose to follow social media influencers for information and entertainment, these talented content creators can be the key to authentic storytelling for brands. Product gifting is your ticket into these audiences and it is a scalable and affordable strategy.
About the Author
Lynne Clement is the Director of Marketing at ApexDrop with 10 years of corporate marketing experience at Procter & Gamble. When she’s not connecting with amazing brands and influencers, Lynne enjoys exchanging pranks with her husband, kids, and co-workers, and rooting for Penn State teams. Lynne welcomes connections on LinkedIn and questions at Lynne@apexdrop.com.
ApexDrop is a micro influencer marketing agency. We help product marketers (and agencies) scale micro influencer campaigns. We’re different in that we pay influencers with your product gifts only (not cash) making our campaigns more authentic, and also more affordable. We provide a managed-service meaning we do the tedious work. If you’re considering paying for a platform to identify influencers, let’s talk. We not only identify influencers for you, but we also do the labor-intensive work of vetting, selecting, and communicating with influencers, ensuring they post, reporting, and providing you with a file of license-free content. Learn more at www.apexdrop.com. Or schedule an intro call: www.apexdrop.com/schedule-a-call