Social & Influencers

No budget, no worries: How to craft a successful influencer gifting strategy

Three marketers share their tactics.
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Disney/Lady and the Tramp via Giphy

· 5 min read

If you’ve been wanting to dip a toe into the giant pool of cash that is influencer marketing—but you don’t have, well, a giant pool of cash—you’re not completely out of luck.

Compensating influencers in cash (rather than in exchange for free product alone) is considered best practice and is becoming the new industry standard. But brands like DTC olive-oil brand Graza have gotten influencers, like cookbook author Molly Baz, to post their products 100% for free. All Graza had to do was send Baz its sweet, sweet olive juice…with no strings attached.

“You never expect anything from a gift,” Lauren Stephens, CEO and co-founder of clothing brand Dudley Stephens, told Marketing Brew in April, adding that whether the influencer decides to post about a gift on social media is up to them.

Sometimes they do. Marketers we spoke with who said they’ve had success using this old-school PR method in the influencer marketing realm not only explained how they entice influencers to actually post about the gifts they send, but also shared what this strategy looks like in terms of ROI (spoiler alert: it’s not bad).

No strings, just ribbons

Danielle McGrory, founder of PR and influencer marketing agency Communité, told us that although there are no guarantees when it comes to gifting, “the more targeted that your list is, the better relationships that you have with the influencers, the better results that you would see.”

Kayley Reed, founder of influencer marketing agency Hermana, agreed that relationships are key. Following an influencer on Instagram for a while and talking to them over DM isn’t a bad idea, Reed said. “Now this influencer knows your brand, you’ve been in their hands, you’ve exchanged a few conversations, they recognize you. So when they receive a product from you, they already have that warm, good taste in their mouth about your brand,” she said, adding that an influencer is more likely to post once you’ve engaged with their content.

Plus, following and interacting with an influencer gives brands a better idea of how that person posts about products—like if they do unboxing videos, for instance, Reed explained. “You can view how they interact with gifted product on their stories [and] on their feed, which is going to give you a better idea of how they will interact with your product when you gift it to them.”

Think outside the box

Reed also suggested making the unboxing experience so phenomenal that an influencer can’t help but post. “Don’t just stuff your product in a blank envelope with no note and nothing else attached. Make it fun, make it colorful, make it something that’s memorable for the influencer and/or personalized, so that when they receive it, they do want to share it with their audience,” she told us.

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For brands that can’t afford to give away free products, she said creating a positive unboxing experience for customers can generate UGC. “Your customers become your influencers,” Reed explained, adding that brands that send “amazing PR boxes” to influencers only are likely missing out.

What’s even better, according to Lindsey Gamble, associate director of influencer innovation at Mavrck, is sending free products to creators who are already posting about a product organically. “Since those creators are already creating content around your product, more likely than not, they’re probably going to post about it” if you send it to them for free, he told us.

Wait, does this actually work?

For Reed and McGrory, the take rate from gifting campaigns—the percentage of influencers who actually post about the product—is set up to make the ROI positive. Basically, they know not all influencers who are sent gifts will post, so they factor that in when determining how much they can afford to spend on a gifting strategy.

Reed said that from the gifting campaigns she’s run at her agency, she sees take rates of around 80%–90%. “We build in that threshold within the expectation of the budget and say, ‘Okay, we’re gonna send out 100 products. Even if 80 of them post, that’s going to produce a positive ROI for us,” she told us.

From a PR perspective, if the take rate is anywhere between 20% and 50%, McGrory said she’d consider the campaign a success. At Communité, her team can see much higher take rates—closer to 80%—which she attributes to the agency’s working with higher-end brands and having close relationships with the influencers they send gifts to.

McGrory, who executes both gifting campaigns like these and paid influencer campaigns at her agency, said she absolutely thinks gifting campaigns are still very effective and drive great results, especially when targeting influencers with a product that you think will resonate with them. But she added that it’s “just about managing the expectations of what kind of results you’re going to see.”

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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.