Influencer Marketing: Crafting a Successful Blogger Strategy
Retailers are increasingly partnering with high-profile bloggers — i.e., those with thousands and sometimes millions of followers, and who wield a huge amount of influence over those followers and their purchasing decisions — to act as spokespeople or ambassadors for their brands.
Why the appeal? Because bloggers offer retailers a channel through which they can connect with their customers in a very real, authentic way. Essentially, bloggers tell brands’ stories in their own voice and it resonates with the way consumers like to interact with companies today.
One company that understands the importance bloggers have on marketing, promotion and sales strategy is Michaels, the Irving, Texas-based specialty retailer of arts, crafts, framing, home décor and seasonal products for hobbyists and do-it-yourself (DIY) decorators.
In June of last year, for example, Michaels launched a formal blogger program called Michaels Makers, specifically designed to align the brand with 30 of the most powerful and influential bloggers in the craft, home décor and lifestyle space.
The program consists of monthly craft challenges that all bloggers participate in, with the projects complementing seasonal and other Michaels’ marketing initiatives, as well as trends and themes. The various challenges and completed projects and tutorials are announced each month on Michaels’ blog, The Glue String.
According to Steve Carlotti, Michaels’ executive vice president of marketing, one of the most popular projects last year was the Dream Tree Challenge, where bloggers decorated Christmas trees in their own unique way.
“The result was 30 beautiful, creative and unique trees, as well as complete instructions on how to create the look,” Carlotti recalls. “Other challenges included DIY Halloween costumes and denim trend projects. The first year of the program was such a success that this year we expanded to 50 bloggers.”
Makers Helping Michaels
The Michaels Makers program helps the retailer’s business in several ways.
“First, we wanted to grow our business beyond the traditional crafting customer by appealing to new customers,” Carlotti says. “Through our Michaels Makers program, we’re reaching people that may have never attempted to craft and are now inspired by the simple, accessible projects from our Michaels Makers to try their hand at crafting.”
In addition, the monthly craft challenges often help Michaels “support larger marketing initiatives, including seasons, trends and occasionally specific product,” Carlotti adds. “What’s more, with millions of social media followers and monthly unique visitors to Michaels.com, we have a constant demand for fresh content, which the Michaels Makers help us provide.”
However, the Michaels Makers program is a mutually beneficial relationship between the company and participating bloggers. It goes beyond the typical pay-per-post model.
While Michaels benefits by gaining exposure to Michaels Makers’ followers — many of whom are novice crafters — as well as access to the bloggers outstanding original content for its website and social properties, “Michaels Makers can expand their blogs’ influence by reaching our millions of social followers and monthly website visitors and get the endorsement of the world’s largest craft specialty retailer,” Carlotti notes.
Taking it On the Road
This past summer, Michaels expanded its blogger program by launching the Michaels Makers Summit at a hilltop estate in Northern California.
“It was a first-of-its-kind retailer-blogger partner event, and the spirit of the maker movement really came to life,” says Carlotti. “It served as a brand-building event and encouraged the Michaels Makers bloggers to focus on getting back to the basics of crafting and creativity.”
At the event, Michaels invited its online education partner, Creativebug, to teach four back-to-basics classes, which were also offered for free to all visitors of Michaels.com for a limited time.
A Real Strategy
A key reason the Michaels Makers program is so successful is because it’s managed in a professional way and treated like any other marketing initiative in the company, complete with goals and objectives.
For example, Michaels has a team of employees that sets challenges for the bloggers based on seasons, trends and content needs, and sends the bloggers “toolkits” each month with project guidelines, message points, instructions and gift cards to offset the cost of supplies required to complete each project, Carlotti says.
In addition, the bloggers for the Michaels Makers program are carefully selected based on their overall influence and reach.
“It all starts with choosing influencers who share a common goal and are talking to the audience we want to reach,” Carlotti notes. “Our goal is to increase brand affinity with the bloggers and their readers, who range from traditional expert crafters to more novice, aspirational crafters.”
And the program is working. While Michaels hasn’t yet tracked sales directly back to the Makers program, Carlotti says that, on average, “more than 50 percent of the monthly traffic driven from Michaels Makers’ blogs to Michaels.com last year was from new site visitors.”