What Is Influencer Marketing?

Cultivating the right relationships can help you grow in exponential ways.

As a shop owner focusing on perfecting your craft and growing your business, you don’t necessarily have the time to devote to marketing. You know it needs to be done, but where do you start? Everyone talks about search engine optimization, social media marketing, pay per click, directory listings, and more. Are these the right tools for your business, or are there other ways to move the needle and grow your sales?

One very effective strategy that many business owners don’t take advantage of is called influencer marketing. Technically speaking, influencer marketing utilizes the influence of key leaders to direct other people to a desired action. Influencer marketing is essential to your marketing and growth strategy because it harnesses the power of leverage and authority to your advantage. This is especially important for smaller shops with no salespeople.

For the most part, influencer marketing is a strategy employed by e-commerce sites where a potential buyeris looking for confirmation that they are making a wise purchasing decision. But, we’re going to expand the scope a little and show you that, if done correctly, influencer marketing can quickly build your brand, leading to a dramatic increase in sales.

How to Identify and Target Influencers
A common problem I see with marketing campaigns of screen-printing shops is they are focused on selling to the end user. This approach may bring in orders but requires a lot of time for a single sale, making it almost impossible to take your shop to the next level.

It would be safe to say most screen-printing companies focus their sales efforts on businesses. But, rather than focusing on one business at a time, what if you found someone who has influence over several? By implementing an influencer marketing strategy, you take the focus off the end customer and concentrate on the people who have influence over a broad range of customers.

Marketing and public relations companies, accounting firms, and business consultants have all established a trusted business relationship with their clients – one that would be very difficult for you to achieve on your own. These are the people and companies you need to target because these businesses have a direct influence over their clients – better known as your potential customers.

Our shop is located in Las Vegas, a city that hosts conventions, tradeshows, and special events on a regular basis throughout the year. Convention and event organizers can be great customers to have but they can also become great influencers as well, if you’re smart about it.

I’ve actually had event organizers not only provide me with their exhibitor lists, but also directly contact exhibitors they know that may be interested in my services. One way I’ve found to be effective in accomplishing this is to approach the event organizer as a “media partner.” Some event organizers may not use that exact term or they define it differently, but these administrators are always looking for ways to cut costs. Offer them heavily discounted, wholesale pricing for their shirts. Remember, the objective is not to make money off them. Your goal is to get the exhibitor list and establish your credibility with vendors as an official media partner. In this role, organizers are generally happy to share their experience with your company with exhibitors. Those companies may not purchase from us for the tradeshow, but we’ve had exhibitors contact us months later and order from us.

The most lucrative influencer marketing strategies target leaders in your shop’s specific niche and location. In our case, in addition to the convention and special events business, we also realized that Las Vegas is a popular place for weddings, and more importantly, bachelor and bachelorette parties.

Oftentimes, the groups will get custom shirts to wear for the weekend. Just take a stroll down Las Vegas Boulevard on a Friday or Saturday night and you’ll see dozens of groups wearing them. We targeted companies and services who dealt directly with the bridal party, such as wedding planners, venues, VIP hosts, limousine drivers, hotel concierges, and travel sites. There was basically zero competition because we were the first company to approach them. Our sales in this niche grew 50 percent in a short period of time, and this increase in sales was a direct result of simply establishing relationships with the right influencers.

Why You Need to Be Doing Influencer Marketing
There are two distinct advantages to influencer marketing that make it a vital component to your strategy.

1. You use authority to your advantage. The issue many people have is they have been trained to sell strictly to end users. If you’re talking to a potential customer, you expect them to buy something from you.

You need to erase this way of thinking. The truth is, I’ve never had any of my influencers buy from me for their own companies. Remember, because they are looked upon as the “authority,” they have the ability to influence other people’s buying decisions.

Closing one client means you only get business from that company. When you close an influencer, you now have the ability to close multiple clients through just one relationship. What if you had a network of 10 influencers all using their credibility to promote your business?

2. You don’t have to compete on price. The second, and probably most attractive, benefit of influencer marketing is you typically don’t have to haggle. We’ve all been there when it comes to quoting someone and knowing that they’re shopping around with two or three other printers in our area along with some national companies. Often, those sales turn into a question of how low you can go.

Wouldn’t it be great to get the job without having to continuously slash prices? With influencer marketing, you can.

Many companies who employ public relations and marketing firms rely on them to take care of the logistics and have the connections to handle everything. Whether they want to host an event or have their employees participate in a corporate challenge, the company relies on their outside marketing firm to take care of a lot of the details, including custom apparel. The client doesn’t want to be bothered with getting three quotes from three different companies; they just want to know it’s being handled.

If you have a working relationship with this type of influencer, oftentimes you will simply get the job without competing with anyone else or haggling over price – provided you do your part and provide a great product, competitive pricing, and excellent service to the influencer every time.

The Best Ways to Connect with Influencers
One tactic you can immediately cross off your list is cold calling. Take it from me: My team and I have tried it, and our closing ratio was extremely low. Like everyone, we cringe each time a solicitor calls us offering free digitizing services or getting us on the first page of Google, and the companies you’re calling feel the same way. In fact, you can end up doing more damage than good, especially if you tell them your company name.

To get influencers on your side, the best approach is the old-fashioned way: by meeting, talking, and establishing a rapport. But, you need to be efficient in doing so. Unless you’re running a large salesforce that can visit individual influencers, you won’t see much progress. Rather, streamline your efforts and find a place where you can meet all these people at once.

For instance, if you’re going after public relations companies, there is an organization called PRSA (Public Relations Society of America). They have local chapters in every state and regular meetings. While you may not be able to join the organization, inquire about sponsoring a lunch or providing products for them to give away. If your target market is schools, contact your local state PTA or PTO that oversees all the local chapters in your area and ask to be put on their agenda at monthly meetings.

Keep in mind that in today’s age, you’ll also need to consider how the influencer you’re targeting wants to be contacted. I’ve had complete conversations with influencer companies over Twitter and established deals with them. Do your research to find out the best way to get in touch.

Putting it All Together
Identify ideal influencers in your community or business niche that will complement your shop’s strengths. Connect with them and foster those relationships. If you’re pressed for time, start with your ideal influencers and try to make three to five contacts per week. By the end of the year, you’ll have made more than 150 inquiries and will hopefully have a group of influencers to work with.

Influencer marketing is a must-have in your marketing tool belt, especially for smaller shops with limited time and budget. By targeting influencers, you’re not only exponentially reaching out to prospects, but also greatly increasing your closing ratio because of the relationship influencers have with their clients. So, who are the influencers you’re going to target?

Explore the rest of our August/September 2016 issue or get more marketing advice from Ross Yamashita.

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