Birchbox and Zappos: The New Type of Influencer Marketing
Influencer marketing isn't new; using celebrities to sell products is an age-old practice. However, a new type of influencer marketing — using regular customers as brand spokespeople — is on the rise. Highlighted in a National Retail Federation (NRF) article, “Customers Are the New Celebrities,” this trend of curating a group of select social media users to elevate a brand message and generate sales is being led by a few savvy retailers.
In a report by TapInfluence, influencers are revealed to be important to brands for four key reasons: they reach a targeted audience, they create trust, they generate active engagement, and they help drive return on investment. Though it requires legwork from the brand to identify regular customers with loyal internet followers, the four tenets resonate for these individuals. Retail Touchpoints, reporting on a NRF Big Show 2016 session, noted that 81 percent of consumers make purchase decisions based on friends’ social media posts.
Millennials may also be at the heart of this changing consumer preference. Research indicates that 74 percent of millennials are most likely to trust their friends and family when it comes to product/brand conversations, and 68 percent trust peer reviews. According to a Business 2 Community article, millennials are leading the charge when it comes to demanding creative advertising content. Not only does blanket messaging no longer work, but personalized, valuable and interesting content is expected. Reviews from people they know and trust can have more of an impact than traditional advertising.
Zappos.com, a leader in the influencer marketing space, works with lifestyle and fashion bloggers on an ongoing basis to drive trial and review, notes Jaclyn Ruelle, senior vice president, account director at MullenLowe. The online shoe and apparel retailer works to identify blogger partners that are representative of its brand personality — quirky, upbeat, fun and stylish — to produce authentic content focused on Zappos’ products and customer service.
In fact, allowing your brand to be represented in a less-than-perfect light could be a bonus. “Customers prefer to buy from brands that are human,” said Rohit Bhargava, CEO and founder of Influential Marketing Group, during his NRF Big Show 2016 presentation. Bhargava cited this dynamic as one of five nonobvious retail trends in 2015.
Birchbox, a company that sells sample-size new lifestyle products and grooming tools through a monthly subscription box, is another example of a retailer doing influencer marketing right. Instagram is the primary platform for Birchbox's influencer marketing efforts.
Last May, Birchbox partnered with a blogger who has a large following to "curate" a box. The blogger's curated box resulted in 18,000 likes and reached more than 550,000 consumers. Birchbox also allows influencers to take over its corporate account on holidays like Mother’s Day, resulting in fresh, unique content for its Instagram account.
Marketing Dive reported social influencers can be a powerful media channel, but there are challenges setting and tracking the right metrics. The success of Zappos and Birchbox with influencer marketing is due, in no small part, to the fact that they knew how they would measure success before they started. Zappos tracked how much its bloggers influenced individual sales, while Birchbox recorded how many reaches and likes its Instagram campaigns generated.
Social influencers’ value can be an important part of a retailer's overall marketing plans — above and beyond its ability to be measured. By using regular customers in influencer marketing, and having a clear understanding of what determines success in any given campaign, retailers and brands can be sure to set themselves apart from their competition.
Greg Petro is founder and CEO of First Insight, a technology company transforming how leading retailers make product investment and pricing decisions.
Greg has a 25-year history in the retail industry with a career spanning merchandising, sales and management. But while at one of the world’s leading supply chain technology firms, he saw a need for retailers and brands to re-engage with consumers to determine which products would be top sellers well before costly investments are made to bring them to market. In 2007, Greg Petro founded First Insight Inc., a technology company that delivers what is now the world’s leading predictive analytics platform for consumer-testing new products. Through engaging consumers online and mining social data, the First Insight platform empowers retailers and brands to introduce the right products at the right price, and target them to the right customers. Today, he serves as its Chief Executive Officer and President. Greg is a member of the Board of Advisors of the Fashion Institute of Technology, as well as a frequent speaker at the graduate business schools of Columbia University and the University of Pittsburgh. Greg also speaks and at a number of industry conferences, where he educates his listeners on how retailers can use technology to identify and deliver what their customers really want. Mr. Petro holds both MBA and Bachelor’s Degrees from the University of Pittsburgh.