Who’s afraid of influencer marketing? A lot of people, it turns out.

You’ve probably heard the stories of celebrities being paid millions to endorse products on Instagram and thought, ‘There’s no way I can afford that for my B2C brand!’

But influencers are far more approachable than you might imagine. If you find the right people with the right audience in the right niche, influencers can drive consistent revenue and a passionate devotion to your B2C brand.

But how do you actually execute an effective influencer marketing strategy? It’s both easier and a little more complicated than you probably imagine, according to Jack Meredith.

Jack is the Director of Marketing at Kettle & Fire, a health food company that specializes in shelf-stable bone broth made with organic ingredients. The product is great for joint health and injury recovery, which led the company to target fitness and health food influencers as a key marketing channel.

Jack built up a powerful influencer and affiliate program that drove Kettle & Fire’s success early on. The business has since diversified their marketing and recently hit shelves in Whole Foods locations across the country. But influencer marketing remains the bread and butter of the business. So how did they do it?

In this exclusive interview, Jack shares:

  • How to identify the right influencers your company should work with
  • How to start an influencer program from scratch
  • The metrics you should measure for influencer success
  • What he learned from marketing campaigns that didn’t work
  • …and much more.

Listen to Episode 7: The Empowered Marketer

Read the Full Interview

1. Who exactly is your target audience? What are their interests and is it hard to find them and engage them?

We have a lot of different types of customers, but many of them are health-conscious shoppers, cooking enthusiasts, and people looking to take control of their health. They really care not only what the brand is about, but also about the nutrition facts on the label and whether there any weird ingredients they can’t pronounce. Lucky for us, these customers aren’t hard to find. A lot of people are crazy about finding the latest health trends, reading about health topics online, and more.

2. Why is influencer marketing such a huge part of your strategy at Kettle & Fire? How has it worked for your business?

We decided that we wanted to start our influencer program about a year and a half ago. We thought, what better way to get our brand out there than by leveraging these big names in the health and fitness industry?

At first it was a little bit tough, because when you’re a new brand out there, it takes a while to get recognition and gain the trust of these bigger names. These influencers have huge audiences and they only want to recommend the best products, so very early on it was a bit rough just to really cement ourselves in this space. But once we got our first couple promotions under our belt, that’s when things started to really take off and made this one of our biggest marketing channels.

We really worked to create one-to-one relationships with these people, to where it wasn’t just a transactional thing asking them to promote our product and we’ll give you money. It was more, here’s our products, these are why they’re awesome, and before you even think about promoting us, we want you to try them and make sure you can really stand behind them. It’s a no-brainer to send product samples out to anyone we talk to and then identify the opportunities where we can get in front of their audience that makes sense for them.

Every influencer is different and has channels across the board. Some affiliates and influencers have dedicated email lists and others have large Instagram followings. Our mission is to make it as easy as possible for them to promote us, in a way that doesn’t take too much time but still helps them make income on the side.

3. How do you identify and reach out to influencers effectively? Do you have a systematic approach to it?

Internally we have this crazy spreadsheet that pulls all different data sources. We learned pretty early on that we had a couple levers to pull, in terms of the types of affiliates that were going to be big for us. We’ve looked at things like domain authority, email list size, social following, etc. We can qualify all these types of affiliates in an automated process and that way, we only spend time contacting the people we know would be a good fit for our program.

Then from there, we do a lot of cold outreach and if that doesn’t work initially, we’ll try to hit them from every angle. We’ll DM them via Instagram, Facebook, whatever. Then we also will send them care packages. We’ll actually do a little bit of stalking on their social feeds, see what types of products they like, what their interests are, and curate a package for them. This really shows them we care about what they’re doing, we like their audience, and we like their brand — so let’s see how we can work together.

We also see a pretty fine line between an influencer and an affiliate. There’s definitely some overlap, but an influencer is someone who’s more of a brand ambassador, has a social following and is great for brand awareness, but they’re not necessarily gonna be able to deliver big ROI. Whereas an affiliate has been building their audience for years and they either have a dedicated email list, or they get a considerable amount of traffic every month. You can actually leverage that partner to get more ROI.

4. How do you measure the success of your influencer marketing program? What metrics indicate that you’re succeeding?

On the affiliate side,  you want to have your own affiliate tracking software and make sure everything is getting tracked properly, and all the cookies are running. We also look at how many campaigns we’re running per month, how many new affiliates we’re recruiting, and what their conversion rates are. Those are our really key indicators, in terms of what our growth is looking like. As an aside, we’re also always looking at our conversion rate for our different sales funnels, the average order value, and more. But if we know that the number of campaigns that we’re doing every month is steadily rising, and we know that we’re recruiting more affiliates, then we’re going to be in a really good spot.

5. How many affiliates and influencers are you working with today at Kettle &Fire?

Our affiliate program has between four to five hundred approximately. And every affiliate marketer is going to say this, but a very small portion of them represent the bulk of the revenue that we’re making. That’s a really key learning that we had early on. We couldn’t just shoot fish in a barrel and go after every single person involved in health and fitness. You have to really narrow it down to the types of people that you know that they can drive long-term revenue for your company.

6. Is there a limit to how much influencer marketing can help you grow your business? Do you feel that you’ve hit a ceiling at all in terms of growth?

I think early on, one of our worries was that we had all of our eggs in this affiliate basket, and if something drastic happens, how are we going to rebound from that? We’ve taken the appropriate action to invest more time and resources into other channels — whether it’s paid advertising or content marketing — so we are way more diversified now.

I think there’s always a ceiling, in terms of the number of quality affiliates in whatever industry you’re in. But I don’t think we’ve hit that just yet, because for our product there are so many use cases for it — whether it’s the collagen that helps with skin and beauty or all the gut-related benefits. There are a lot of different niches we can jump into.

Beyond that, I think every affiliate program should really try to keep the offering fresh. You don’t want your influencers’ audiences to get fatigued. We like to rotate different products out and come up with different creative offers so our affiliates aren’t sending the same email, over, and over. That’s how you burn out a list pretty quickly, and so I think that’s something that every affiliate should be on their toes, in terms of okay, how can I really leverage our affiliate partners, all of their brand assets, to make sure that we’re not burning out their list, and that they’re continuing to make commissions on a month to month basis.

7. What advice would you give to another ecomm marketer looking to get their own influencer program off the ground? How do you get started?

A lot of ecommerce marketers come to me a little bit frustrated because they signed up to share a sale, or signed up to an affiliate network, and they’re not seeing any results yet. To have a successful program, you have to have a lot of patience. You have to be able to put the work in, in terms of creating assets, building your whole prospecting system, and starting to build those relationships from scratch. It definitely takes time, and so we started smaller. The first thing we did was just try to send free product to smaller, micro-influencers to get our foot in the door and to build our brand.

Once you start doing that, it just snowballs — especially if you have really awesome products and the brand is really strong. The influencers have a pretty tight-knit network and people like to talk and share other brands that have been performing really well for them. So once you get a couple big ones under your belt, then it starts really growing. People start hearing about how great your affiliate program is and how working with your team has been awesome. That’s been an easy way for us to just recruit new affiliates over time.

I think just putting the work in pays off. Influencer marketing gives you such a competitive advantage, especially if you were the first product in your little space that really nails it. We don’t really see a ton of our competitors leveraging influencers and affiliates, and because we’ve created these really good relationships, we don’t really see a lot of our affiliates going off and promoting our competitors’ products. They already have their audience indoctrinated with our stuff, their audience loves our product, and so it’s just a win-win for us.

To learn more about Kettle & Fire, visit www.kettleandfire.com. This post originally appeared in the publication, The Empowered Marketer.

Cara Hogan

Cara Hogan is the Content Strategist at Zaius, where she focuses on how technology can drive business growth. She is a grammar perfectionist, a data enthusiast, and a rock climber.