One thing startups have going for them when it comes to branding and marketing is their size. They’re small, agile, and nimble enough to try new things. That’s why many are opting for influencer marketing over traditional media.
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We live in a world of startup businesses. There are more than 75,000 startups in the United States alone, with more than 13,000 across the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Spain, and the Netherlands. Don’t be fooled by the numbers though—running a successful startup comes with considerable challenges.
Founders need to design a product or solution that works, fits a market, and stands out against the ever-growing number of rival startups launching every day. Not to mention the big, established companies whose market share they’re trying to take a piece of.
It’s a well-known stat that 90% of startups around the globe fail. Marketing their company to the right audiences is crucial to any startup’s chances of success. Finding the right marketing strategy to do that is even more important.
Why is influencer marketing a good fit for startups?
Startups, by their nature, are small—small in size, small in brand awareness, and small in budget. Despite being relatively new in comparison to traditional marketing, influencer marketing has been proven to help businesses combat these issues.
Influencer marketing, as we will see, can help startups do a lot with few resources and still reach wide audiences—all while being incredibly cost-effective. Here’s a rundown of why influencer marketing is a good fit for startups.
1. It helps them increase brand awareness on all social media platforms
With 4.9 billion social media users worldwide, the social media audience is too big to ignore. But, building a social media presence and growing awareness among those social media users takes time. Many see influencers, with their ready-made audiences of engaged users, as a shortcut to developing a presence and brand awareness. By partnering with an influencer, who promotes the partnership, startups have instant access—and a better chance of success with—that audience, who might go on to be followers off the back of their favourite influencer’s recommendation. This, in essence, is how influencer marketing works and why it’s so popular with businesses of all sizes.
2. Startups can reach a specific audience effectively
Of course, not all of that audience of almost 5 billion will be interested in every new startup. And, with most startups having a specific product niche, startups don’t need to reach all of them. They only need to connect with their target demographics.
Influencers, thanks to their skills, style, or type of content, have very specific audiences. For example, a Japanese cooking influencer would hypothetically be followed largely by fans of Japanese cooking. Startups can take advantage of these ready-made audience sets who might be open to their product by finding and working with relevant influencers.
So, to continue the example, a startup developing a new utensil for cooking Japanese food can partner with that food influencer and have a direct route into a receptive audience.
3. It helps build brand trust and authority
As well as helping startups find a specific audience, influencers can help startups build a trustful relationship with them—one in which followers view them as authoritative figures in the area they specialize in.
This is achieved by association. Influencers, over time, build strong relationships with their fans, founded on their credibility. One of the benefits of this is fans trust their recommendations and are receptive to the products and brands they highlight. Therefore, by being associated with an influencer, a startup can tap into and transfer some of this trust and authority.
4. Influencers assist brands in building brand identity
In their infancy, startups are yet to define who they are in a branding sense—what they look like, what their tone of voice is, and where their marketing efforts are focused. As experts in creating engaging content, influencers can contribute to the development of an identity—and fast-track a startup to a reputation for high-quality, aesthetically pleasing, well-structured storytelling.
5. Influencers get results
There’s a small window of opportunity for startups to make their mark. Batting against all those other startups and established businesses, every ounce of marketing effort has to be effective and worthwhile. Influencers are renowned for delivering an impressive ROI—in fact, 60% of marketers agree that influencer marketing has a higher ROI than traditional advertising. That means more than half of marketers believe they get more for less from influencer partnerships than any other kind of marketing—perfect for startups with small teams and tight budgets.
So, whatever a startup’s aims—generating clicks, building an email list, or increasing web traffic—an influencer’s skill and talent in leading users in that direction are invaluable.
6. Influencers can boost a startup’s SEO
There are residual benefits to working with influencers too—like increasing your website’s SEO. If done in the right way, quality affiliate and featured links shared as part of your influencer campaign can drive traffic to your website. Furthermore, as Google prioritises ‘expertise’ as part of its search quality guidelines, working with influencers who are experts in their subject areas can add credibility and authority to your website.
Choosing your influencer
The benefits to startups of using influencers are plentiful. However, realising those benefits hinges on selecting the right influencer—one with a relevant audience of the right size for your campaign. There are multiple ways startups can approach the choice of influencer in relation to relevance—although one who creates content in the same subject area as the startup itself is a good start.
However, when it comes to audience size, startups generally have a choice of three: macro, micro, and nano. And when it comes to influencers, bigger isn’t necessarily always better.
A macro influencer is a content creator with a large following. According to Trend, to pass the threshold for macro influencer, the creator will have more than 100,000 followers and at least a 3% engagement rate. Macro influencers could be someone who made their name away from social media, including celebrities, artists, and athletes, or someone who developed a reputation for themselves online by creating content.
They’re useful in influencer marketing because their large following allows companies that partner with them to reach a greater number of people, and their credibility is substantial which helps raise brand trust. However, on the other side of the coin, their size and status mean they’re harder to contact, demand greater remuneration, and are especially picky about who they work with.
Micro and nano influencers
As well as being harder to set up partnerships with, micro influencers may have a diluted audience in terms of interest because of the sheer volume of people. A mass audience is less likely to be interested in the kind of niche messaging a startup desires to promote—potentially weakening the engagement rate of any influencer content.
Starting small is often a better approach for startups—focusing on a smaller, but more engaged and relevant group of fans.
In terms of definition, a nano influencer has between 1,000 and 10,000 followers. A micro-influencer has between 10,000 and 100,000. Often they create content around a specific niche subject, which receives high engagement from fans who follow them because they share the same love for the subject matter. Startups should be looking to tap into this passion.
And, because nano and micro-influencers are more likely to be less famous than their macro counterparts, they retain an image of authenticity. They come across as “real” people—whose recommendations can be trusted because they’re passionate about the things they share. This bears out in research. A study by Experticity found that 82% of people are highly likely to follow the recommendations of a micro-influencer.
Finally, and crucially for startups, this high engagement rate and personal connection to an audience via nano and micro-influencers come at a lower cost—because those influencers are still trying to establish themselves.
How to work with influencers when marketing your startup
Now you’ve selected, contacted, and partnered with your influencer, it’s time to get to work. There are a number of ways to maximise your influencer relationship.
1. Be focused
The first step in any marketing campaign is to come up with a plan of action. Setting goals and determining how to reach them helps focus team members and influencers—and ensures content is always on message. As mentioned, there can be no wasted effort when it comes to influencer marketing campaigns for startups.
Startups should work with the influencer to set reasonable expectations—and get this down in writing too. They should also decide up front on KPIs, based on business needs, and record data pre-campaign to benchmark against. This is the best way to know if an influencer campaign is working.
2. Stand back and encourage creativity
Startups often find themselves in the unique position of having little or no brand awareness when they set out. With no reputation to protect, they can, within reason, go out and create the identity they want without limitation.
They should, however, remember that influencers are experts in this area. They have forged careers out of crafting engaging content that delights audiences. So when it comes to content related to their startup, startup founders should hand over as much creative freedom as possible, if they want to maximise the relationship.
3. Build big partnerships by starting small
Often, startups can stumble at the first hurdle in rolling out influencer campaigns: setting up the influencer relationship in the first place.
Influencers should always be compensated for the work they do—they’re creators and being an influencer is a job. However, startups on a tight budget might not be able to pay the expected rate. Offering free products and services can plug that gap and help secure the services of an influencer.
Startups can also get their influencer of choice locked in by offering to produce content for them. Influencers don’t always have the time to meet the needs of every brand that wants to work with them. By offering to do at least some of the work for them, startups can increase their chances of partnering with their desired influencer.
Influencer campaigns to try for startups
While the influencer a startup selects will lead the creative push on behalf of the startup, both parties should work together to decide which type of influencer marketing campaign to run—as this will also affect the choice of influencer and the amount of work they’re expected to put in.
1. Sponsored Content
Perhaps the most common type of influencer-brand content is sponsored content, whereby a brand briefs an influencer to create promotional content (image, video, post, etc.) related to their company or product. This can vary in style and substance, from a product review to a piece of artistic content that celebrates the themes or values related to the brand. Of course, to make it worthwhile, the influencer should mention and celebrate the company itself, to get the name of the company out to their audience. There are a number of regulations that go with the creation and publication of sponsored content—and all other types of influencer content—which you can read more about here.
A great example of sponsored content comes from meditation app Calm, which employs a number of famous figures—including Kate Winslet, Harry Styles, LeBron James, and Matthew McConaughey—to read stories to help users fall asleep. As this blog breaks down, it’s a successful influencer campaign because the popularity of the star can be used by Calm to hook new users. What’s more, the quality of the content is high, so these audiences trust the partnership between the app and the influencer.
2. Contests and giveaways
People have loved freebies since the dawn of time—which is why contests and giveaways are such a hit as part of an influencer campaign. They create buzz, can be used to generate engagement and grow followers, and are relatively easy to run.
Startups should begin by supplying the creator with the giveaway prize—there’s added value if it’s the startup’s product—and asking them to create a competition among their followers to win it. Part of that competition should involve asking fans to like or follow the startup’s accounts.
It’s important to ensure the contest is transparent and open to anyone, to avoid potential backlash or negative feedback that could affect the startup’s fledgling brand.
3. Affiliate marketing
A slightly more strategic and cost-effective approach is affiliate marketing, whereby creators work with the startup as salespeople. In essence, an influencer promotes a product with a unique discount code or link for their followers to use. Every time a purchase is made with that link, the influencer earns a commission for the sale. That means startups only have to pay influencers once a sale is made—which, in turn, encourages influencers to post more often to increase the likelihood of a sale.
Influencer campaigns can, sometimes, be run in reverse—with influencers appearing on branded accounts. This enables brands to push the boundaries creatively—useful in an early-stage startup—because they adopt a creator’s voice instead of their own. This tactic is useful if working with influencers with higher follower numbers, who should direct their followers over to the branded account—which could boost brand awareness in turn.
There is some risk involved in this approach, as the brand has to hand over control of its accounts to someone outside of the organisation. So it’s crucial that the startup discusses rules and responsibilities prior to the execution of a social media takeover.
Kolsquare is Europe’s leading Influencer Marketing platform, a data-driven solution that allows brands to scale their KOL Marketing strategies and implement authentic partnerships with KOLs (Key Opinion Leaders). Kolsquare’s technology enables marketing professionals to easily identify the best Content Creators profiles by filtering their content and audience, and to build and manage their campaigns from A to Z, including measuring results and benchmarking performance against competitors. Kolsquare has built the largest community of influencer marketing experts in the world, and offers hundreds of customers (Coca-Cola, Netflix, Sony Music, Publicis, Sézane, Sephora, El Corte Inglés, Lacoste, …) the latest Big Data, AI and Machine Learning technologies to drive inspiring partnerships, tapping into an exhaustive network covering 100% of KOLs with more than 5,000 followers in 180 countries on Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. As a Benefit Company, Kolsquare has been pioneering Responsible Influence by championing transparency, ethical practices, and meaningful collaborations to inspire change.
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