Hill House Home treats its influencers like artists—and isn’t worried about the metrics

CEO and founder Nell Diamond and Danielle McGrory, founder of comms agency Communité, spill the deets on the influencer marketing strategy behind the viral Nap Dress.
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· 7 min read

“Listen, CPM is whack,” Danielle McGrory, founder of influencer and comms agency Communité, told Marketing Brew over Zoom. Her client, Hill House Home CEO and founder Nell Diamond, burst out laughing.

Diamond agreed with McGrory’s anti-metrics take on influencer marketing. “Followers don't matter,” Diamond echoed. “What you're casting is an artist, somebody to shoot, the same way you would cast a photographer or a creative director. And what does follower count matter for that?”

Those strong opinions are integral pieces of Hill House Home’s overall influencer marketing strategy. Together, Communité and Hill House Home approach influencer marketing—specifically on Instagram, where the majority of its influencer content ends up—as more of a content creation funnel than customer acquisition play.

Hill House Home doesn’t obsessively track whether influencer posts lead to clicks or sales; instead, the brand treats its influencers as content studios who can produce the same kind of work that an ad agency or production company might. That’s partly because of Hill House Home’s popularity—its drops almost always sell out day-of.

For those who went on a fashion magazine detox over the past year, Hill House Home is a six-year-old lifestyle brand that entered the 2020 zeitgeist when its “Nap Dress” found market fit in one Covid-19 pandemic. The Nap Dress quickly grew in popularity, first becoming the thing to wear while working from home (and yes, to literally nap in) during quarantine—then morphing into the thing to rock at post-vax brunches.

The brand’s recent “Mermaid Drop”—which just so happened to be drenched in influencer content—marked not only the roll-out of new Nap Dress prints, but also its first full apparel collection.

How it started

“We actually started with influencer marketing really out of necessity,” Diamond explained. “It was May of 2020 for our first big summer [Nap Dress] drop…and we couldn't shoot our product in an e-commerce photo studio because of Covid regulations.”

So Diamond reached out to Communité, which has provided PR services for Hill House Home since 2018, for its influencer marketing services.

“I remember it so clearly,” Diamond continued. “We had this shipment of dresses coming in; it was our biggest drop that we’d ever had. And we were like, ‘Oh my God, we're an online company. How are people going to know what this looks like? We don't have any photos of this stuff.’ And so we worked really closely with Danielle's team to cast a group of influencers to shoot, style, direct, and create incredible content with our product.” HHH ended up selecting 12 influencers for the drop, including Megababe beauty line founder Katie Sturino and Pagerie pet fashion house founder Mandy Madden Kelley.

Since then, Hill House Home and Communité have worked closely on strategizing influencer partnerships—and their resulting content—around drops.

Although today’s more relaxed Covid-19 regulations allow Hill House Home to do more formal e-commerce shoots with models, influencers have remained a major part of the lifestyle brand’s content strategy.

How it’s going

For its recent Mermaid Drop, HHH focused on influencers it believed could style the core Nap Dress product alongside the brand’s new more comprehensive apparel collection.

One of Diamond’s favorite influencers of the 13 selected for the Mermaid Drop is Dominique Castelano, not only because she is Hill House’s first trans influencer, but also because of how she styled and shot one specific product in the drop.

“She wore that white Paz set in a little river/pond situation. She looked beyond gorgeous. I loved her styling—that was so fun,” Diamond elaborated. For Diamond, being able to partner with a mix of individuals, each in different locations and with their own styling choices, is what makes influencer marketing appealing in the first place.

Nap Dresses don’t pay for themselves

Another core tenet of Hill House Home’s influencer marketing strategy? Pay the influencers in cold, hard cash—not free products. Diamond told us it’s been that way since the brand first started using influencers more than a year ago.

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“If people are showing they have a rate below fair market value, we’ll tell them,” Diamond explained. “It's a significant amount of work. We put together these shoots and it takes producers and photographers and stylists and locations…and influencers are doing that themselves, the whole thing. This is real work and it deserves fair compensation, and we feel really strongly about that,” she emphasized.

McGrory thinks this system makes influencers more inclined to work with the brand again and create great content, which, to her, is a testament to the strategy’s success.

For organic Instagram posts or product shots on the HHH website, price negotiations are fairly simple. They get more complicated when the brand wants to put paid spend behind certain IG posts.

“I don't want to pay for six months of [paid] usage upfront if [a] product sells out in two days,” McGrory said; there would be no reason to put paid spend behind an Instagram image of a sold-out product.

So instead of paying extra to use a creator’s images before even seeing which products need an extra level of promotion, McGrory agrees with influencers on both an organic rate and a paid rate upfront. That way, if Hill House decides to turn on paid spend for an Instagram post of, say, a botanical print Nap Dress that didn’t sell out immediately, all it has to do is go back to the influencer and let them know they’ll be turning paid spend on. The creator is then paid based on the previously agreed-on rate.

“It’s a separate negotiation. If we're using an influencer’s content in paid marketing, we're paying them more,” Diamond said. For context, Diamond said that marketing makes up about 3% of Hill House Home’s yearly budget.

Low stakes hot takes

Rather than evaluating influencers by engagement rate or number of followers, Hill House is more interested in aesthetics—and both Diamond and McGrory don’t think it’s possible to craft a solid influencer marketing hub based on numbers alone. “It’s the human things that matter. It is not the data stuff that matters,” McGrory told us.

eMarketer senior analyst at Insider Intelligence Jasmine Enberg told us she’s seen the feels > followers mantra across the board. “Metrics still matter. But brands are increasingly moving away from so-called ‘vanity metrics’ like follower count and engagement rates and toward metrics that better reflect the success of an influencer marketing campaign,” Enberg explained.

“The product sells out so quickly, and that gives us the freedom to not have to worry about the clicks, or conversions … because we know each collection will sell out. So we don't have to worry about the conversion because the conversion is happening on its own,” McGrory told us.

Hill House Home has a few key strategies it uses for finding influencers, but the common thread is that they’re found individually, not via a specific tool or platform. “There is truly no easy way to arrive at this assortment of creators. It is very manual,” McGrory said. “We cast a wide net into the internet and we pull back who we feel is interesting.”

One of the places the team goes fishing (or should we say Mermaid hunting?) is on mutual followers’ lists. If a creator follows a lot of the same accounts as Hill House Home and Diamond, that indicates partnership potential.

“Someone can have a very small follower count, but if they have a very influential following, then we are able to reach more influencers and tastemakers through that specific person,” McGrory shared.

So what’s next for the brand’s influencer marketing strat? Diamond told us it’s sort of TBD. “Our strategy evolves each time we activate. It’s truly reactive to the landscape as it evolves, the world we live in, and the products from each drop,” she explained. For example, right now, Hill House Home is exploring longer-term partnerships and new platforms such as TikTok.

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Marketing Brew informs marketing pros of the latest on brand strategy, social media, and ad tech via our weekday newsletter, virtual events, marketing conferences, and digital guides.