Lots of decorators will remember when embroiderer Marie Sophie Lockhart shot to veritable “decorator stardom” after a back-and-forth with rapper Drake on Instagram (she used the handle Good For Nothing Embroidery) in 2015. That led to a commissioned OVO prayer hands jacket that he wore for an entire tour. After that, Lockhart went viral,  appearing in Vogue, stitching more custom pieces for Drake, and even collaborating with Marc Jacobs and Stella McCartney.

In fact, Lockhart’s experience is very similar to results that influencers today achieve for companies that want to grow brand awareness, sell more, capture leads, increase engagement, or even appear in major publications. And, yes,  influencer marketing is  heating up—and it can work for your decorating shop or distributorship.

An Association of National Advertisers (ANA) survey of brand executives shows that 75% of respondents use influencer marketing, and almost half (43%) plan to increase their spending in the next 12 months. A majority of respondents (54%) were either “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with the performance of their influencer marketing strategies. To note, of the executives who don’t currently use influencer marketing, 27% plan to start in the next year.

“Influencers provide great visual content for decorating and design-based businesses,” says Destiny Hagest, a West Coast-based content marketing strategist.People already follow them because they love their aesthetic—leveraging those built-in audiences builds instant credibility for brands.”

Should you use influencers in your marketing plan? There’s positive proof in the numbers. A Tomson study found that businesses make $6.50 per dollar spent on influencers, with the top 13% of businesses earning $20 or even more. This is a huge ROI because businesses are finding out that customers gained from influencers are more likely to make a purchase—because they trust what the influencer says. The study also found that 49% of consumers depend on influencer recommendations and that 40% of consumers have purchased an item after seeing it on a social channel like Instagram or YouTube.  

There’s a big ROI for adding an influencer to your marketing strategy. Here’s how to get started—and make it work for your apparel business.

So, What Are Influencers?

Influencers are people or organizations with an exceptional skill at persuading buyers to make purchases of products or services through social media endorsements. Influencer marketing employs these people, who operate outside of a brand, to guide and inspire a target audience via their messaging, often through social channels. Brands use influencer marketing for various reasons. According to the ANA survey, a majority (86%) of companies, who use influencer marketing, are seeking brand awareness. After that, more than two-thirds (69%) use influencer marketing for content creation and distribution. Over half, use influencer marketing to improve brand perception (56%) and drive purchases (51%).

There are three general levels of influencers you can tap into: micro (those with 50 to 25,000 social followers); mid-level (25,001 to 100,000 followers); and macro (more than 100,000 followers). Business owners might think an influencer with the largest number of followers is best because they can reach a larger audience. However, a recent study done by SocialPubli shows that micro-influencers generate seven times more engagement than a macro-influencer. Doesn’t a larger audience translate to more business? This isn’t necessarily the case within the influencer field. Influencers with fewer followers tend to have audiences who care about what they have to say. That means they’re more willing to engage with the influencer’s posts and trust their product and service recommendations.

A Markerly study tracked engagement rates and followers from 5 million Instagram posts and 800,000 users. As followers increased, engagement actually went down. Plus, influencers with smaller followings of 1,000 or less received likes on their posts 8% of the time. On the other hand, influencers with 10 million followers only received likes 1.6% of the time.

Look for influencers with a smaller following, but an audience who engages often. These influencers really connect with their audiences, which means your decorated apparel will have a better chance of success with them.

“As with any contact, referral or review, the main benefit of working with influencers is social proof,” says Erich Campbell, program manager of Albuquerque, NM-based BriTon Leap’s Commercial Division.

“Influencers have followers who listen to their opinions and value them. Their ‘approval’ of your product reduces or removes barriers in the minds of that following. It primes them to trust your product. That said, attention alone doesn’t do the work of marketing; incentivization, providing a call to action, and creating a clear, simple path to purchase is as important as with any other method of marketing.”

The Most Bang for Your Marketing Buck

Consider which influencers are the most cost-effective. ANA statistics show that 66% of brands use mid-level influencers, 59% use micro-influencers, and 44% use macro-influencers. More followers don’t always equal better results. “For a service-based solopreneur, smaller influencers will be your best bet,” Hagest says. “Look for an engagement rate of at least 4% for Instagram, and target influencers who cater to your audience such as people who can afford you. Demographics will be everything in terms of capturing ROI for what you spend here.”

Businesses should look at an influencer’s engagement rate and who their audience is, rather than the size of the audience. “Look for an influencer in a space that you’d like to sell to,” Campbell says. “If you create specialty athletic wear, a fitness influencer or trainer is a great idea. Are outdoor apparel and accessories your thing? Find someone who fits the segment. Look for a niche and work there. Just be sure that the products you provide are on par with the products they use.”

Campbell recommends finding an influencer who matches your offerings and abilities, reaching out with a deal that benefits everyone and allows for some promotional value for their fanbase. “Have an easy path to the work involved, but also a clear statement of expectations and the terms of the promotion or partnership,” he says.

Finally, be sure to select an influencer who’s effective on the social channel where your ideal buyers frequent most. The ANA survey found that Facebook (86%) and Instagram (84%) were the primary social media channels for influencer marketing. In terms of driving performance, Instagram ranks as the single most important channel (36%) followed by Facebook (20%).

Connect With the Right Influencers to Rep Your Brand

Finding the right influencer to represent your brand is vital. When looking for an influencer consider the three Rs of influence.

1. Relevance. How relevant is this influencer to your brand? Influencers need to post relevant content to their social channels. Their following should match your target audience.

2. Reach. How is your influencer reaching their audience, and who do they reach? Are they building a trustworthy connection? Look at your influencer’s engagement rate to see how their audience interacts.

3. Resonance. It doesn’t matter how large the audience; it matters that the audience actively engages.

When looking for an influencer, make sure you know who your target audience is. Then, find an influencer whose audience matches. Keep your branding consistent so it has the same feel, values and message behind your business. Tools like Pixlee, MAVRCK and Influence.co,  can help you identify and approach influencers who cater to your audience. To create the right user personas, top tools include McorpCX Persona, Akoonu and HubSpot’s Make My Persona. “Tools and databases, in my opinion, are only as good as the metrics they evaluate,” Hagest says. “However you decide to find influencers, make sure you look at their organic engagement, audience demographics, and audience size in tandem. All of these metrics are important.”

Once you find the ideal influencer for your business, review your expectations and create a contract. Discuss how they’ll be compensated: This comes in many forms, like money, free items or even discounts. Tell your influencer what type of thematic content to post, and get their input into how they plan to present it to their audience. Spell out how long you’ll be working together and how you prefer to communicate. Include target metrics for each post, since having a strategic plan in place to achieve your marketing goal, like brand awareness or gathering leads, is necessary.

“Typically, I like to start with a smaller test campaign,” Hagest says. “I handpick influencers who’ll be a good fit, but I don’t hand them a fistful of Benjamins right away.” She suggests reaching out via their social profiles or websites with an invitation to collaborate and an opportunity for it to become an ongoing project. Then she creates the campaign, outlines the terms and sends a contract with 50% payment. “If we really like an influencer and they’re a good fit for my client, we put them on retainer,” she says.

Time to Start Campaigning

You can partner with your influencer in lots of different campaigns to meet your marketing goals. For example, hosting a giveaway is a proven way to increase brand awareness and engagement through likes, follows, shares, retweets and comments.

Having an influencer take over your social media channel can also increase your overall brand exposure through interactive contests, question-and-answer sessions and more. For five weeks, Capital One let influencers commandeer its Instagram accounts and post pictures of interesting items in their wallets; then, the credit card company turned nine of the photos into Instagram ads. Businesses can also use influencers to sponsor blog posts or to write a guest blog.

You know your brand well, and we know it can be hard to give up marketing control. However, creative freedom is important for influencers. Remember that you chose your influencer because you liked their content and how they presented it to their audience. “Give them the campaign details, tell them to ask for the sale or whatever the call to action is, but then give them creative freedom to do it their own way,” Hagest says. “This is why it’s so important to choose influencers who align with your aesthetic—being fake will lower their engagement, and skewing your brand for their audience will result in lower conversions on your end.”

Be specific on any hashtags you want them to use. This is essential if you use branded hashtags. It’s OK to have expectations for your influencer; just allow them creative freedom to execute. “It’s reasonable to request a certain method of engagement,” Campbell says. “With accessories and apparel, it makes sense that the influencer actually wear or use the item and discuss the key features, though you should allow for the influencer to have their own voice. If they can’t get on board with the product or they’re doing a cut-and-paste text promo directly from your script, the recommendation they give will sound hollow.” 

Since you’re most likely working with multiple influencers, track your outreach dates and times, methods, response data like new followers or site traffic, and whether the campaign is succeeding or not. Share feedback and data with your influencers so they know what’s working and what needs to be tweaked. In return, they can share their insights about story interactions and impressions.

Avoid These Common Mistakes—and Succeed

Trusting someone else to market your brand can be a leap of faith. Of course, you want your influencer to reflect your vision and achieve your marketing goals. Here are two mistakes to avoid when starting influencer marketing.

First, be sure that your product directly speaks to an influencer’s audience. “If your influencer has a high-fashion Instagram feed that showcases them wearing the latest runway-style garments, selling run-of-the-mill tees with a stock print treatment may not work, especially if the influencer isn’t willing to wear them,” Campbell says. “Just like you watch for synergies that make sense to boost the level of social proof they can offer between the influencer’s content and your product, watch for misalignments that might make your product look not only uninteresting, but outright poor.”


Second, review the engagement levels on your potential influencer’s social pages. “Never get stars in your eyes over an influencer’s audience size alone and then hand them a fat check for your first-ever engagement,” Hagest says. It’s smart to pay for initial test campaigns, she says, but remember that audience size doesn’t guarantee ROI. “You could be sweating hundreds or even thousands if their engagement doesn’t keep pace or their audience isn’t a match for what you’re selling.”

Ultimately, influencer marketing is like anything else. “It’s not a magic bullet unless your call to action is clear, the message is simple, and the audience is well qualified,” Hagest says. “If you can nail those three points, you can massively scale your growth.”

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