Five weeks from now, Influencer Marketing Days will be back in New York City to dive into all things influencer marketing. Today I am happy to bring you a new pre-conference speaker interview, one with Kim Westwood of Shopping Links. She will fly all the way from Australia to share her influencer marketing insights at our 2017 conference.

Question: In a few words, could you please tell the IMD’s community about yourself and what you do?

Kim: I am the Founder and Director of Shopping Links, an online marketplace designed to make it easier for Bloggers and Brands to connect and collaborate. With a network of 13,000+ bloggers in over 103 countries, we specialise in the identification and engagement of leading and emerging Fashion, Beauty and Lifestyle Bloggers. Our self-managed platform gives brands who are new to influencer marketing a cost-effective option to start engaging influencers, and our collaboration management service helps leading brands like Marks & Spencer, Macys, and Folli Follie develop long-term strategic plans designed to maximise their ROI.

Question: Influencer marketing has been around for a few years and has already had its share of ups and downs. What are the biggest challenges that you see it face now?

Kim: I think brands are still struggling to recognize the full ROI of Influencer Marketing. Specifically, many are failing to recognize the long-term value of a relationship-focused strategy over the immediate return they might see from stand-alone campaigns, which aren’t really representative of the strategy’s potential impact.

Part of this is because influencer marketing is still new to many brands, despite having been around for a few years. A lot of marketers are still trying to “retrofit” influencer marketing into other types of campaigns such as PR or advertising. So they’re seeing bloggers as they do other media and relying on the same tactics that have worked in PR, or they’re seeing influencer accounts and blogs as advertising platforms. For many marketers, involving influencers at all satisfies the feeling that they’re engaged in influencer marketing. Relying on this “check the box” mentality doesn’t provide the best results, and this is a challenge to the industry.

Question: How can marketers overcome these?

Kim: My best advice is to think critically about why influencer marketing works and developing a strategy based on the long-term value of influencers, rather than what might turn the most immediate profit. When you consider that influencers are effective because their audiences trust their recommendations as peers, a year-round strategy focused on developing relationships with influencers who genuinely appreciate and reflect your brand makes sense. It becomes apparent why this strategy works.

On the other hand, a single post showing an influencer holding your product looks like what it is — advertising. It is unlikely that followers will respond to that kind of content in the same way they would a more organic collaboration. When you cultivate relationships that inspire influencers to incorporate your brand into their daily lives — in other words, when their followers start to think, ‘Of course that brand is in her shot. That’s what she uses,’ — you’ll know you’re starting to see your full return on investment.

Question: What, in your opinion, is the biggest advantage of (doing) influencer marketing?

Kim: More than any other strategy, influencer marketing inspires your customers to act. Where other campaigns stop at generating brand awareness or perhaps sparking a conversation about an ad, influencers have the power to convert audiences into loyal customers. In many cases, they send their followers directly to your eCommerce site or directly in store. In others, they imprint an idea of your brand as one that a trusted peer uses, creating a feeling of familiarity and loyalty. The ability to generate short-term sales and long-term brand affinity is powerful. Beyond that, influencer marketing has all the tracking ability of a digital campaign. You have the data to quickly determine which influencers, social channels, messages and products are giving you the highest return. Moreover, influencer marketing boosts your SEO efforts and contributes to your overall awareness. We have seen.

Question: When operating on a tight budget, but wanting to hop on the influencer marketing bandwagon, where would you recommend a company to focus their efforts, how, and why?

Kim: We recommend investing in relationships with up-and-coming influencers who align closely with your brand. We recommend a particular focus on those who create high-quality content and have a strong personal URL.

Influencers who focus on creating high-quality content and invest time into developing their own websites are the ones most likely to build their audiences organically, which means their followers are likely to be more invested in their content. These influencers are also the ones most likely to take their brand relationships seriously and persevere toward building their audiences. By focusing on these influencers, you can start to develop a relationship while their fees are still low, but your brand will be integrated into their accounts as they grow.

By focusing on influencers who create high-quality content, you also get the value of owning this content for your current campaigns, which comes at significant cost savings. Influencer content, independent of reach, is an often-overlooked benefit of influencer marketing, and it’s one available to marketers even with very limited budgets.

Question: On September 26, 2017 you’re speaking at Influencer Marketing Days. Why should marketers want attend your session?

Kim: My hope is that marketers walk away feeling more empowered by influencer marketing than they were before, and can start taking advantage of all the returns on investment it delivers, not just those provided in the short-term. Using real case studies and examples from leading International brands,,I will take listeners through successful campaigns step by step, and offer examples of how brands of all sizes – even those who are just starting out — can succeed with influencer marketing.

Question: If you were to give one piece of influencer marketing advice to brands/advertisers, and one to influencers, what would they be?

Kim: My biggest advice to brands is to focus on long-term relationships over one-off campaigns. Remember, the goal is not to look like traditional advertising! Spend the time to prepare a strategy that is long term and perservere through the early learning days. There are so many benefits available…you just need to know what to look for and how to realise them for your business.

My biggest advice to influencers is to remain true to your personal brand and commit to only accepting collaborations that you feel passionate about or would actually use in your daily life. Your followers can tell when you accept a collaboration for the paycheck, and their trust in you erodes when the products you feature aren’t congruous with the rest of your blog or social media.

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