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Marketing in the age of influencers  

Marketing in the age of influencers  


Season 1 | Episode 5

Facebook ads, influencers, blogs, emails, organic reviews, sweepstakes... the range of marketing options available today is staggering. From this epic menu, who knows what works best for your business.

From paying Instagrammers to good old-fashioned word of mouth, our panel of entrepreneurs discuss their favourite ways to promote their products in the 21st century.

So which marketing strategies do our entrepreneurs swear by?

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How do you market your business in an era of online influencers?

Advertising has come a long way since the scotch and stogie days of Mad Men. A well-timed post or video can have as much reach as a big-budget agency campaign. But whilst online platforms such as YouTube and Instagram may have democratized marketing, they’ve also introduced a steep learning curve to small businesses.

We asked our small business owners to share their thoughts and strategies in this brave new world.


Out with the old

“Don’t pay for ads. It doesn’t work.” A characteristically bold statement from skateboard wheel manufacturer Shark Wheel founder David Patrick – but maybe he has a point. “We went out to millions of people through radio. Not one single person used the code that was given out, not one. All the old-school ways, buy a mailing list…nothing works anymore. Social media has become the big thing.”

Social media has also spawned the charm monsters that are online influencers, and not everybody is happy with that. Dana Donofree says, “A recent article said that online influencers have killed the magazine world. And maybe it has.” The founder of AnaOno – who sells lingerie for women who have had breast cancer – continues: “I think online influencers can be very engaging, but I think it has to be done in a way that still includes authenticity.”


The genuine article?

A lack of authenticity is an accusation that’s frequently directed at influencers. David was quick to say that being genuine not only sells, but that it’s the only thing that sells. That might be a little on the Utopian side, but there’s no doubt that it’s something that resonates with both customers and business owners.

Aqila Augusta is the founder of Edge Entity, a hair stimulant manufacturer. She uses models and influencers, but “…I'm not gonna say, okay, when you make this video, make sure you say 'I love Edge Entity because it's made my hair grow.' You've never used it, you’ve probably always had beautiful hair all of your life! But what you could do is demonstrate how to use the product.”

Influencers not using the product they’re advertising is something that she feels is rife. Dana also thinks that many online influencers are economical with the truth. “I feel like I'm not being told the whole truth. I'm being told partially, maybe, what they think, but also partially – majorly – what the corporation is telling them to say.”


To pay or not to pay

But is that any different from traditional advertising? Dana also said that before influencers, there were commercials, “…and commercials used famous people, and famous people told us to go out and buy a soap or try a candy bar, and we went out and bought them.”

It’s a parallel also drawn by jewelry brand founder Heidi Hale. “Do you think the ads that you see in magazines, fashion magazines, do you think they're authentic?”

Regardless, those celebrities are usually being paid. Influencers are a different matter. It’s certainly a sticking point for David. “We never will pay. If you love my product and you want to write about it, write about it. But if you want $10,000 to write a positive review, I'm not going to get any sales off of that. People don't fall for that. Genuine comes through every time.”

But authentic or not, there’s little doubt courting influencers can pay dividends. Whilst not everyone can afford to engage the services of George Clooney or Nicole Scherzinger, influencers come in at a much lower price point. “They have very small fees,” says Aqila. “Women are following this page just to see all of these random beautiful girls with makeup. If this page has two million followers, I may ask them to post one of my pictures as an ad. For $25, I could potentially have almost two million people see my ads.”

The entrepreneurs


Aqila Augusta


David Patrick


Dana Donofree

Teaching new dogs old tricks

Having that sort of reach for what amounts to pocket money is something that was inconceivable only a few years ago. But like any form of marketing, there’s still that element of trying to hit a moving target. “Within three years it’s grown so much,” says Heidi. “You have to have somebody who knows what they're doing. Surely there's gotta be degrees or minors in social media marketing! And what's sad is by the time these people graduate, it's all gonna change. Facebook is changing, I'd say every three months.”

As algorithms change, strategies need to follow suit. One tactic that seems to work is shifting your focus to complementary industry sectors. “If I'm trying to market a skateboard wheel,” says David, “I do not go after a skateboarder. I go after a surfer or a snowboarder, somebody who's got another audience that I don't currently already have under my belt. You’ve got to go to ancillary influencers and try and get their marketplaces to come to you.”

Still, many of the old strategies still hold strong. Sweepstakes and competitions are still reliable ways to drum up interest. Dana shares “a huge tip” for small business owners. “We have a Halloween contest every year… the employees dress up in costumes, we take their pictures and we post it online and we say, ‘Vote for your favorite costume.’ The winner gets $100, our employee gets $100. We average about 700 comments between all our social media outlets, which is really good.”

David raises another important point. “People don't lie on giveaways. If you enter a sweepstake to win a million dollars, you put down your real address and you put down your real email and you put down your real phone number because you want to win.”


The discovery phase

David may not directly pay influencers but he sends out a lot of free product and in return, gets a lot of positive reviews – which is how he realized the power of social media. “One day our sales just went bananas and we were like, what the heck happened? Some guy had done a review of our wheels and gave them a fair shot. And it wasn't even in that industry.”

Heidi’s business was completely transformed by social marketing. “I've always been an independent jewelry artist, for the last 15 years, but…three years ago, I had created a ring for myself that had my children's names on it and my neighbor saw it. She wanted one, then her friend saw it and they wanted one, and then she posted it on Facebook and it went viral.

“One person who got on our website pinned it to Pinterest, and within 30 days, we had 30,000 pins.”

“So my husband helped me create a website. One person who got on our website pinned it to Pinterest, and within 30 days, we had 30,000 pins. I started off by myself, and within 30 days, I had 16 employees. Now I have about 25 employees.”


The face of the brand

Despite the commonly-held assumption that influencers are essential grease to the wheels of marketing, the common thread that emerges is that businesses are finding ways not to use them – and in doing so, evolving their own creative and effective marketing strategies. It also keeps the founder as the face of the brand – something that not everyone is comfortable with.

Heidi says, “You've got to build the brand while you're selling your product, but you're selling yourself. So, something as silly as ‘Heidi is gonna be on Facebook from 5:00 to 6:00’ – I get on and they're like, ‘Oh my gosh, hi! I love your stuff!’

“It can't be just about the product. You really make it more personal for the customer.”

David is happier to take a back seat. “I am something people watch in small doses. I am not the overall voice you hear in the company. The company's marketing has a voice, but the voice is not mine. Our voice is not as bombastic as I am!”

And as Aqila notes, there’s no shortage of attention-hungry influencers ready to step in if needed. “All of the companies that are well established, they find girls with really long hair and hair that is already easily manageable, and already beautiful. But that is the idea of an influencer, and guess what? It brings sales.”

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