When Startups Should Engage Influencers, Part 1

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More often than not, when marketers consider which brands are leveraging influencers for branded opportunities, they think of Fortune 500 companies. However, it’s not just big brands that have a lot to gain from social media partnerships–startups, too, can benefit from this dynamic and engaging marketing channel. Freddie Chavda, Founder at d clttrd, breaks down why startups have a very unique opportunity to engage influencers–from the onset. Read more to find out when and how to engage influencers throughout the entire conversion funnel, and even why entrepreneurs should have them on their advisory board.



Getting smarter with a minimal budget

Influencer marketing is not typically at the top of marketing strategies for startups. There are preconceived notions of influencer marketing being too expensive, too fragmented, and too hard to show actual value. The reality is that this has been said for all marketing channels at some point, and is often a deterrent to startups. However, when looking at three key stats, it is hard to question this channel:

  1. Influencer marketing content delivers 11 times higher ROI than traditional forms of marketing
  2. Companies that used influencer marketing got a 520% ROI
  3. Brands saw an ROI of $6.78 for every $1 spent on influencer marketing



Solidifying clear goals

Like any other channel, without a clear set of goals and a measurement framework, it does not matter what strategy is used. However, this is table stakes for channels like Google and Facebook where CPMs, CTRs, and CPA are the industry standard ways to measure performance against goals.

For influencer marketing, the ‘industry standard way of doing things’ is still malleable; however, there are clear standouts at the top. Based on a study of marketers by SmallBizGenius, the top three influencer marketing goals for marketers are brand advocacy (94%), brand awareness (92%), and targeting new audiences (88%).

Looking beyond follower count

With established goals, identifying the right type of influencer should become easier, yet it is still not enough. This is best shown with the fictional example of beauty influencers Amy and Ashley.

A new beauty brand, Beauty X, wants to partner with beauty influencers and has found both Amy and Ashley on Instagram. Unfortunately, given a limited budget, Beauty X cannot partner with both. Given that Amy and Ashley are asking for compensation within budget, Beauty X decides to move forward with Amy since she has 100K followers compared to Ashley’s 10K.

This is too often the deciding factor when choosing between influencers. Behind the follower count, Beauty X would have seen that Ashley would have been the obvious fit since she creates all of her content (including brand partnerships) and actively engages with her fans through comments and daily Instagram Lives. Ashley dominates when it comes to relevance, engagement rate, and authenticity–all three critical factors when selecting an influencer.

According to SocialBook, "Nano and micro-influencers [aka the Amys of the world] will make more relatable content and engage with followers' inquiries about your products. In addition to being less expensive, they are perfect for startups." Finding the right service that allows brands and influencers to work more efficiently together through software can make this process simple and allow startups to focus on other priorities.

Now, let’s look at the conversion funnel to see the best ways to partner with influencers and do things that Fortune 500 companies are either reluctant or can not do.



At the awareness stage, a startup just wants to get their name out there and explain what they offer in a simple way. For Fortune 500 companies, they can easily tackle this by casting a broad influencer net. However, they frequently limit influencers by providing approved messaging to talk about a new product or service.

Startups can outshine Fortune 500 companies by:
  • Partnering with influencers who would genuinely use their product in real life. A podcast ad read is more personal based on lived experience, rather than a robot reading from a script.
  • Allowing influencers to create their own product announcement content and trusting that it will resonate with their audience. An Instagram post is more visually and tonally in line with the influencer’s other content than a brand provided asset that will be jarring and disingenuous to their followers.


At the education stage, a startup just wants to ensure that its target understands the product or service and the problem that it solves. For Fortune 500 companies, these are usually manicured RTBs, each with a supporting data point. However, they erase any critical thinking or point of view that an influencer would use to help educate their audience.

Startups can outshine Fortune 500 companies by:

  • Accepting that influencers are not going to explain the product and its benefits with copy and paste instructions. A blog post is more personal and filled with anecdotes, rather than one that reads as it is stretching sentences in order to get to an agreed-upon word count.
  • Understanding that each influencer will take as much time as they need to educate their audience on a service. A Facebook video may range from 2 minutes for some influencers to 15 minutes for others, rather than the best practice length video for that platform.



At the consideration stage, a startup just wants to ensure that its target views them as a clearer solution to the problem than their competitors. Fortune 500 companies are likely against mentioning any competitors or coming to the conclusion that their service or product is not the obvious solution to the target's problem.

Startups can outshine Fortune 500 companies by:

  • Knowing the value of taking both the good and the bad from an influencer’s review of a product. For example, a YouTube video with the influencer and startup creator is a true conversation with back-and-forth commentary, rather than one that feels censored.
  • Being OK if an influencer or two decides a competitor’s service is a better solution to the problem, and open to understanding why. An Instagram Live review of a service is free-flowing and structured in a way that allows the influencer to be natural, unlike one that must result in a scripted conclusion.
In Part 2 of this article, the remaining stages of the conversion funnel - purchase, retention, advocacy - will be explored as well as the question ‘should a startup consider including an influencer on their advisory board?’

Freddie Chavda has spent the last 11 years in advertising and marketing in both the client and agency worlds. He has worked across brands like Puma, Verizon, Walmart, Hulu, and Coca-Cola. Recently, he has shifted his focus to the startup world and is developing a service-solution in the home decor space. Additionally, he provides strategic business consulting to small businesses in NY, NJ, and VA. freddie-headshot


July 13, 2020
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