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Tips for Launching a Successful D2C Influencer Marketing Strategy


July 16, 2021


August 24, 2021

For anyone in D2C or growth marketing, this graph should be on your radar. And not just because all of us growth people like up-and-to-the-right lines. The graph shows Google Search interest over time for the term influencer. As you can see, there’s been a steadily growing trend since Instagram was bought by Facebook in 2012. Whether you’re just exploring the world of influencers or crafting an influencer marketing strategy for the first time, we’ll cover the top reasons to work these creators into your marketing mix and share our tips for success.

The influencer pool has exploded over the past five years, sparking the creation of entire industries, the creator economy, and influencer empires like Mr. Beast and the D’Amelio sisters. If you’ve been keeping tabs on this phenomenon since the start, you know that influencer marketing and the entire influencer world looks very different now than it did a few years ago. 

Today, there’s an incredible amount of influencers across every platform and every industry, from powerhouse beauty influencers like @jamescharles to @loki, a husky dog with over 2M followers and a sponsorship from Toyota. 

There's an endless stream of influencers to explore. And there's no shortage of platforms and tools promising to help make it easier for marketers to work with them. With hundreds of first-party tools, like Facebook’s Creator Studio and Brand Collabs Manager, and third-party platforms, like Mavrck and AspireIQ, it can be overwhelming for marketers to figure out how to best leverage influencers in their growth strategy.

The Basics: What is influencer marketing?

It seems like everyone is an influencer these days. From that photographer in your econ class to your cousin who’s always filming makeup tutorials, monetizing your personal brand has gone mainstream. But does that mean everyone with a smartphone and an Instagram account is an influencer? Actually, it does.

An influencer is someone with influence, whether that influence reaches millions on TikTok or five people in their group chat. As marketers, we just need to understand what kind of influence a person has, how far that influence reaches, and if it’s the right fit for your brand.

Macro vs. micro influencers

If you want millions of people to know about your new product launch, you’d likely want the kind of influence and reach that a macro influencer like Addison Rae can offer. But if you want to tap into the high-intent influence that could persuade someone to make a high-consideration decision, you'd probably be better off with an influencer marketing strategy based on customer referrals or micro influencers (even if those customers are just people like you and me). 

We all have influence. And a sharp marketer can shake out what mix of influence and influencers will get them the results they're after. Thinking about when to use a micro vs. macro influencer (or someone in between) is usually a grey area and depends on your goals, available resources, and the product you’re selling. 

Treating influencer marketing as a performance channel, it’s important to carefully consider the potential direct response impact that an influencer has, especially with the messy trend of ‘post and delete’ or Stories. If you’re sure that a product will hit with a broad audience and an influencer with big reach can drive a solid response from most of their audience, it makes sense to work with macro influencers for maximum reach. If the audience is niche or the price point is high, and only a small portion of an influencer’s audience is relevant, it’s better to start with smaller micro influencers to up the odds that any given influencer’s post will have a strong CPA.

What platforms are influencers on?

While influencers on platforms like Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube are popular with marketers, creators on any of these platforms (and more) can be considered influencers:

  • Reddit
  • Newsletter authors
  • Podcast hosts
  • Twitch
  • Twitter
  • SnapChat
  • Quora
  • LinkedIn
  • Contributing writers (think: Forbes, Buzzfeed, IGN, etc.)

The exact definition of who’s an influencer varies and continues to shift as the industry evolves. There are also many other descriptors that either overlap with that term or basically mean the same thing. You’ve likely seen influencers described as affiliates, ambassadors, brand partners, or creators. In some cases, those distinctions indicate the type of relationship a brand has with the influencer, like affiliates, who are usually paid per referred action. Regardless of what they're called, finding the right match is all about knowing what type of influence will work for you.

Why Do You Need an Influencer Marketing Strategy?

Any marketer that has launched an influencer marketing program knows that it’s not a light ask. Influencers are people and managing personalities can be challenging. This isn’t uploading a few ads to Facebook and setting a bid and budget. Influencer marketing takes hours of research, outreach, negotiation, and back-and-forth communication until the content is created and posted. 

Even after the post is live, there is uncertain attribution, long-tail outcomes, and all sorts of content rights and payment tasks to wrap up. Is it a hefty undertaking? Yes. Are we telling you influencer marketing is worth the headache? Also yes.

Benefits of influencer marketing for D2C 

Here are the top reasons why you should consider an influencer marketing strategy: 

  • Authenticity and brand building: Great brands hitch their influencer marketing efforts with partners that match their mission and values. For both the business and the influencer to stay true to their respective brands, influencer marketing content should be genuine, not sales-y. A well-managed influencer marketing program is a harmonious blend of performance marketing and brand building.
  • Creativity and content: Ad creative is only as good as what the brand (or their agency) dreams up. But an influencer marketing program can help you capture the savviness of creators to embrace diversity and authenticity as part of your brand. Your influencers should be representative of the people you want to see in your customer base.
  • Broader reach for lower CPMs: While brands are struggling with the recent rise in CPMs and untenable volatility in ad platform auctions, influencers are a cost effective way to connect with your audience. It might feel like you’re giving up targeting control—and we admit that you can’t granularly target geos and demos directly. But strategically stitching together multiple influencers can create impressive grassroots-type reach with relatively low overlap and broader channel diversity without having to hit minimum pay-to-play thresholds before seeing results.
  • Higher conversion rates: Brands don’t just invest in influencer marketing because it’s trendy; it works to drive business goals from sales to sign ups and app downloads. The key is knowing how to track your ROI in a meaningful way.
  • The long tail: Once an ad impression is delivered, it’s gone. Influencer marketing placements, from posts to baked-in video ads and even podcasts (if a host read isn’t influencer marketing, what is it?), have a long tail that has the potential to keep delivering results over time. The content lives on after being posted and it’s not uncommon for months-old content to continue driving conversions.

Is it worth it?

This doesn’t mean that paid media and influencer marketing can’t work together.

The answer to whether or not influencer marketing should be part of your growth strategy is, in most cases, yes. From a small brand ramping up marketing for the first time to a digital native trying to break through a local maximum in their performance marketing program, there's a good chance your brand could benefit from investing in an influencer strategy.

Launching an Influencer Program

Although the actual process is quite intensive and dynamic, here are the basic steps for starting an influencer marketing program:

  1. Research influencers (platforms, personalities, content types)
  2. Outreach (direct messages, email, reaching out to agencies and representatives)
  3. Briefing (content guidelines, setting expectation, aligning on reporting)
  4. Activation
  5. Tracking and analysis

Before jumping into influencer marketing platforms or vetting partners, figure out what role influencers will play in your marketing mix. It also helps to identify any pain points or barriers you’ll need to overcome. 

For example, if you typically work in performance marketing, you might have a hard time building anything into your growth plan that can’t be tracked back to a defined marketing investment. But when done right, influencers are a performance marketing strategy that requires the same familiar investment, discipline, and measurement you're used to seeing in any other paid channel. 

Attribution in this industry definitely isn’t perfect. It’s not totally unlike the attribution challenges you’ve dealt with in other areas of marketing (looking at you, iOS 14). With the right mix of affiliate links, discount codes, and landing pages, you can piece together a directionally accurate picture of how influencers are impacting your bottom line. 

Where there is reach, there is value

When it comes to brand marketing, influencers offer incredible opportunities to build share of voice. Not only do many influencers have a huge amount of reach, that reach is valuable.

These numbers were pulled in Q4 2020 to determine where brands should park their huge Black Friday / Cyber Monday budgets. You're not alone in wondering how a single person commands an annualized impression share worth $130M at a modest $5 CPM. 

Thinking as a brand marketer, that means that influencers aren’t just an affordable option in terms of cost per reach. They also provide the distinct ability to tell different stories through diverse voices, which rarely happens when pushing the same brand messages over and over.

Capturing Influencer Program ROI

As growth marketers who need to prove out influencer marketing ROI, we pay attention to metrics like:


  • Estimated inventory
  • Cost per activation
  • Estimated conversion rate
  • Implied CPA (don’t forget the long tail)
  • Budget (start with a multiple on your CPA in the 100–200x range)


  • Reach and cost per reach
  • Brand recall
  • Total reach potential (look at the total TAM penetration from DR YTD and you’ll think harder about diversification)

If you compare the metrics from your planned influencer investment to analogs in your current marketing mix, that should help you decide how much you are under or over allocating to influencers.

Tips to Help Your Influencer Program Succeed

We won’t walk you through an exhaustive, step-by-step guide on starting an influencer marketing program here. But here are some insights rooted in experience:

Pick your partners and build competencies in-house

Pilot your program with strategic partners that are in tune with your business life stage and are willing to scale with you. Influencers have a high barrier to entry with a lot of upfront investment, and there are many partners that can help smooth over manual work, like research and outreach.

Long term, make sure that your brand has ownership of the program in-house. Even if it means that you're partnering with outside resources or leveraging martech to make the program easier to scale, you need to have the core competencies for your most important channels in-house if you want to own the results. There are multiple partner categories and many partners these days cover multiple functions in their scope:

  1. Research and discovery
  2. Operations (outreach, payments, briefing)
  3. Content management
  4. Measurement and tracking
  5. Additional features (cross-platform, microsites, etc.)
  6. Managed services

The key to finding the right partner isn’t going for the one that has the biggest scope. It's finding the one that offers the right services for your goals and is open to starting small with you and scaling up.

Relationships are everything

Ever feel like the growth marketing world is tiny? The creator economy is, too. Successful brands build deeper relationships with their influencers, making sure that there's brand mission alignment with the influencer’s content and personal brand. Strong alignment on brand, goals, and execution leads to better results. 

Transactional brands and transactional influencers have little runway and consumers are seeing right through highly commercialized partnerships. Brands are reflected in the way they treat their partners. And there’s no shortage of horror stories about how not to work with an influencer (just ask @derrickdowneyjr). 

Brands that build with their influencers recognize that any business relationship is a two-way street and that the influencer is both a business and a human being. By treating creators with respect, maintaining open lines of dialogue, and always aligning on incentives, both parties can grow happily together.

Whitelisting is your friend

Whitelisting is when influencers authorize brands to access and run social content on that influencer’s social platform, directly from their handle. Nothing dilutes the impact of influencer content more than running it all out of a brand handle. 

Your team worked hard to build the partnership and create the content. Now take it one step further and make sure the story and voice come from the influencers themselves.

Incentivize properly

For many creators, influencer partnerships are their livelihood. Structure your business relationships fairly. Uphold ethical business practices. Pay your influencers on time. And above all else, try to be flexible with structure. Structures like a minimum payment with the option to move to pay-per-performance above a certain threshold can go a long way in building solid rapport with influencers. You want to be the brand that has a reputation for being fantastic to work with.

Examples of Influencer Marketing Wins

Interested in what a successful influencer program looks like? There are many brands that execute on influencer programs at scale, but here are two that are crushing it:

  • Curology has some of the best influencer and user generated content out there. This company has built a machine around using ad creative from user generated and influencer content. (Check out their Facebook Ads Library for top-tier content.)
  • TechStyle is a sparkling example of how to make the most out of influencers and whitelisting. TechStyle has a powerhouse program for developing influencer activations and partnerships. This is a brand that creates an enormous volume of organic and paid social content with their network of influencers, affiliates, and designer partners.
Facebook ad for skincare products.
Facebook ad for skincare products showing person holding a small container.
Facebook ad for skincare products showing a person in a green shirt.

Interested in exploring influencer marketing to diversify your channel mix? We’d love to chat. Reach us at hello@rightsideup.co and we’ll get back to you stat.

Garrison is a numbers person turned growth guy. He started his career designing renewable energy projects and applied a background in systems design to product and marketing. He has helped launch digital product and growth marketing programs for brands of all sizes, from Nike and Walmart to disruptors like Upstart and Curology. Currently the Head of Growth at Incredible Health, Garrison is building a team of non-marketers into a world-class growth team.

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Let's talk growth

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Let's talk growth

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