Today, MuteSix CEO Steve Weiss swaps chairs to be interviewed by Peter Starr Northrop. This is our most meta episode in a while, but it is the start of a new chapter for 10K a day. Listen to meet our new host and get our broader insights on where e commerce is going in 2019.
Episode Transcript — Steve Weiss on the future of e commerce and 10K a day
Peter Starr: From Mute Six Media, This is 10k A Day, a podcast about the details it takes to scale your business online. I'm your host, Peter Starr Northrop, bringing you this time, kind of a niche one. A lot of our audience out here in California and the rest of the U.S. West Coast has been asking us a lot about the nuances specifically in marketing cannabis and CBD products, as this new wave of legalization hits America. So, to focus in on that as specifically as possible, we're actually going to be talking about all the complications that come from using influencers to market cannabis and CBD products. And to do that, we've brought in Sarah Gross, head of influencer marketing here at MuteSix. Sarah, thanks so much for joining us today. How you doing?
Sarah Gross: Thanks, Peter. I'm so excited to talk about some influencer and then some CBD.
Peter Starr: Exactly. I think we're kind of doing this a little bit out of order. You're really blowing up the influencer market, and now you've left being an influencer yourself, and are now sort of being a boss to influencers. And I would really love to get your grand unified theory for all things influencer marketing.
Peter Starr: But instead, today, fuck it. Let's just talk all things cannabis and CBD influence marketing, because we can talk a lot about the foundations to influence your stuff later on in a much more in depth episode. But this is something that I'm seeing a lot of folks try to figure out and completely fail at, because cannabis and CBD just add this whole new wrinkle to the influencer space.
Peter Starr: So what I love talking about first is just to be complicated things so it helps us get at the more foundational stuff later. So just take me through this, in terms of the beginning foundations of using influencer strategies for E-commerce CBD and cannabis, because it's already really difficult in terms of doing any of this cannabinoid stuff on the Internet. So, what sort of high level complications do CBD and cannabis brands need to deal with when they're beginning to think about not only selling online, but getting into that influencer space?
Sarah Gross: Sure. So, especially right now CBD and cannabis is such a new industry being legal, and so there's so many rules and regulations depending on what state and what county. And it has been really difficult for brands to go more of a traditional digital marketing route using Facebook ads, Instagram ads, even Google. It's been so difficult. And so, once you can own content and own the accounts that you're using, it's really easy to do some marketing. And that's where influencer marketing comes in, is these influencers own their content. They own their audience to an extent. It could be ripped apart from them at any point, but it's a way more reliable channel to do digital advertising, especially for CBD and cannabis than it is for Facebook advertising and traditional digital marketing.
Peter Starr: And does that mean brands kind of have to contend with a break in the attribution chain, like people can't really think about appropriately attributing for influencers, or is it one of those things that just becomes a direct sort of channel in your Google analytics? Like how do you have to think about that in terms of which influencers you're targeting? If we can just jump into the attribution right out the gate.
Sarah Gross: Yeah, I mean, with influencer marketing there is really two ways to attribute ROI or sales at scale, and that's using unique discount codes per influencer. And then also having unique swipe up links. This swipe up links, could embed a discount code within, but the attribution is just what people are using these discount codes, that you can go back and say, "Oh, I gave this code to this influencer, this influencer."
Sarah Gross: So, we use a dashboard coming from Grin, grin.co, that gives us all this information. It pulls all the Shopify information out of their dashboard, and gives us a beautiful database and analytics spread of even down to the influencer. Like, how influential this person is, how relatable are they to their audience and x, y, z. And so that's how we've been able to attribute not only content, but then sales as well.
Peter Starr: Now, I can get behind that. I want to talk for days about Grin. That's not going to be this episode. Check a couple episodes down the way, once we start talking about sort of the grand foundational theory to influencer marketing that folks like grin.co bring to the game. But before we get into that, one thing, as we talk about CBD, as we talking about cannabinoids, Shopify doesn't let you sell oils and what have you on their platform because of stripe, right?
Sarah Gross: Yeah, it's interesting. So you can have products that are for gels and for your dogs, whatever it is. But when it comes to the actual CBD oil, Shopify, I believe, is okay with selling. It's actually their payment processor who is not on board with it. And so, again, it's a battle of who has the highest authority. And right now, it's Stripe that Shopify uses as their payment processor.
Peter Starr: Right. So I feel like it's one of those things where the back end of your e-commerce actually becomes a little bit more DIY. Correct?
Sarah Gross: Yeah. And I see a pretty big trend, especially with fitness brands, and CBD has came into that category, where there's a lot of drop shipping. And so Shopify is a really great platform for drop shippers. It's really affordable. There is a lot of preset templates, where you can just find products and start selling, literally in the same day. And so that's kind of come up with CBD as well, where a lot of these smaller drop shipping brands are finding these big manufacturers. They're selling the exact same product. But then again it's like, "Okay, how can I distinguish my brand that people will choose me versus the other hundreds and thousands of other drop shippers with the same products?"
Peter Starr: Exactly. And that's coming into setting up your brand character and going out there and being in places where people already are, which is why influencer marketing is so powerful. It's people already on Instagram, already following these people. It's much more organic. It feels way better, both as a direct buy and branding game.
Peter Starr: But I think another complication is that a lot of these influencers are very, very obsessed with their personal brand. So, as you're going out selecting influencers, specifically in the cannabinoid and CBD space, how are you thinking about what kinds of influencers work? What kind of products can you even send? Can I just send a bliss pen to a new influencer? I literally just moved here from the East Coast. Legal weed completely boggles my mind. So, forgive me if I'm asking baby math questions, but that's where I'm coming from. That's my operational standpoint.
Sarah Gross: No, it's a great question. And a lot of brands were able to kind of use their follower lists and their email lists, and even past purchasers to find and identify influencers. But for that question specifically, it has to come down to content. And so that's how these CBD brands are differentiating themselves, is they're taking the influencers with the most beautiful content, the most, I would like to call it thumb stopping, where it literally stops you in your tracks and you have to see it to really believe it and understand it. And that's the power of content.
Sarah Gross: And so, when you're finding influencers to promote CBD brands, the best advice that I would give is use a product that is entry-level. So, maybe it's not an oil, maybe it's CBD for your dog, maybe it's some gel that works for physical trainers. Maybe it's a candle that just has CBD infused into it. I would start with the smaller, low hanging fruits, and then, as you understand that they're CBD users, they're interested in what the benefits are, then introduce your bigger products. Maybe it's an edible, maybe it's an oil.
Peter Starr: And as you sort of send out these foundational products, as you sort of get the foot in the door with these people with the thumb stopping content, first of all, just making sure as we sort of filter around the kinds of folks who are worthy of our influencer marketing and those who are not. Is it sort of a quantity versus quality play? If they're doing a post once a week, but it's just astonishing, do you send stuff? Or is it one of those things where you just have to send to people who are constantly growing and doing that sort of one post a day, two posts, three posts a day? Is that overthinking it, or is there sort of a math there when you're thinking about who you're going to make your influencer gamble on?
Sarah Gross: Oh, there's definitely a really big strategy behind choosing the right influencers, and a lot of it has to do with their actual followers and then the accounts that engage with their content. And so we take all of the influencer profiles and run them through a scan to verify that these are real people and these are real accounts that are engaging with their content, because otherwise you're not going to make the conversions. A robot will not give you their credit card number. And then you also have to kind of take into consideration their location. I don't think it'll give you enough details as to what state they're in, but maybe half of them are from some random country in the Middle East. They're probably not going to buy your CBD.
Peter Starr: Probably never, too. Yeah. But it's one of those things where it's not even figuring out where those people are in the world, but it's where their followers are, too. The very first foundational thing is, "Are these people legit, or are they robots, and are they getting artificial follower counts?"
Peter Starr: So, when you're thinking about that, that base level is, "Are they real?" Once you have sort of that pile of folks who are definitely not robots, how do you tell brands to think about, "Okay, so this person has this number of followers, but they're growing at this rate. So, there are the most valuable." Is there an algorithm that you point at, or is it going to be different on a brand by brand basis?
Sarah Gross: For that one, it's different brand by brand. So, I'd like to think of influencer marketing as a two part strategy. So, one is the growth. You have to be able to validate their followers and engagement, location, whatever it is. And then there's also the content part. And it's really depending on what your strategy is, because you can use influencers to get that organic reach, but then you can also build out an email list specifically for influencers, and use that user generated content in the email to make it more believable, make it more relatable, and get those influencers excited, and give them more ideas based off of other content.
Peter Starr: Right. Because it's basically a two prong process, or a three prong process with influencer marketing. It's basically getting your premium UGC. It's getting as much brand awareness as possible at the same time. And it's also getting people who are directly using your products to allow people to direct buy from Instagram, from Facebook, from whatever channel. Is that, Kind of the three pillars, or is there a better way of thinking about all the different kinds of goals you can have in mind for influencer marketing?
Sarah Gross: Totally. You nailed that one.
Peter Starr: Oh, nice. Oh, man. Well, good thing I'm the interviewer here and not the person answering the questions, should set this up a little bit more, so I'm letting your thought process shine through. Forgive me. When I'm thinking about that though, when you are starting out, because there's so many brands who are just flailing in the influencer space right now. People who are at that growth stage are just like, "Ah, just throw money at it and hope for the best."
Peter Starr: When you're thinking about folks who are being very thoughtful about their brand, really serious about making that growth happen, but just not super sure about the first step to take, is there any sort of recommended pillar to start out? Is it going to be just all UGC right now, or is it something where you're just getting your brand out there?
Sarah Gross: Sure. So, I mean UGC, it's the play for the long term. You can use it whenever you want for whatever reason. And so, what I do, actually, is when I work with a brand, I actually take their followers, their email subscribers, and their customer base and say, "Who are my most influential followers?" And that's the best low hanging fruit advice that I can give you, is these people are already familiar with the brand, they probably know a few benefits of the products that you sell. And so, there's really no better advocate that you can start with than the people who actually follow your brand already.
Peter Starr: Yeah, exactly. And it's one of those things where we, as a society, have a really bad habit of talking about things as very black and white. You're either an influencer with 150000 followers minimum, or you're not. Whereas, in the real world, it's actually always on a spectrum. There's always a gradient of influential potential. I'm going to cut that because that's the grossest statement I've ever made in my entire life. There's always that potential to be an influencer. Even somebody with even 10k followers, like at that beginning point, if they're already following your brand, is hugely valuable. Is that a good way of looking at it?
Sarah Gross: Yeah, and I mean there's one influencer in particular that just stands out. We gave her a discount code. She had just over 9000 followers, and to this day, she's ranking in sales every single day. I think we're up to maybe 35 or 40 purchases just from her. And these are not small purchases. These are people buying multiple products in their shopping carts at once.
Peter Starr: Right. Because e-commerce in the past decade, the single most important factor has been word of mouth, in terms of getting people to come back, having those high LTV customers. And what I love about influencer marketing is, basically, just building its own word of mouth for you. So, I love thinking about this in terms of sales, but as you are also starting out, it's one of those things where one other major goal you can have is making sure that you are building out that email list. So, how do you structure these initial products in, so you get people to get on your email list, because as a CBD brand, you're probably not going to be direct selling. You're getting people on your email list, getting them to a store or getting them to a point where you can validate them and make sure you can actually ship them, or whatever it is you need to do as a CBD/cannabinoid brand. So, when you're doing that email list play, how does the content look, how does your discount code factor into that, and how does attribution play into there?
Sarah Gross: Totally. So there's three ways that a CBD brand can really do digital advertising and it's influencer marketing, email, and then native ads. And so, the big part of this is for retention. So, for influencer marketing, it's all maybe their first introduction to your products. With email marketing you capture them.
Sarah Gross: And so you can use influencers to build email lists. We have a number of different tools that we use to do viral referral marketing. And so, when an influencer gets maybe five email addresses, they get a tiered bonus, and so that just grows and grows and grows, and then you can directly use those email lists. Since they opted in, you can add them to subscribed email lists, keep on sending them content, use the influencers that they already know and love, that preach for your brand, and retarget them.
Peter Starr: Exactly. And to go back real fast to selecting your right kinds of influencers. Let's really define our terms there, in terms of as a cannabinoid brand, I want to make sure that I'm finding the right people. What are the broad categories of influencer types I can be looking for? You mentioned pets, you mentioned fitness. Are those the two categories, or is there a way we can think about that with a little bit more nuance as we're finding the right people to send our products to?
Sarah Gross: For CBD specifically? Sure. So, you have those natural, holistic people. You have pets. I'd say a lot of athletes and fitness trainers, and then you also have a lot of entrepreneurs, business people, even students, which might get a little bit tricky, but when you're in college, I've been seeing a bigger trend, especially with CBD, on the East Coast and New York and Boston, where there's a huge pop of CBD users in college.
Sarah Gross: And then, of course, there's a huge boom on the West Coast, especially in California. It's no secret. There is a lot of CBD brands popping up all over the place. And so a lot. If you think about the physical stores where they sell cannabis, it's usually in really high, busy places, where a lot of businesses are booming or a lot of schools are emerging.
Peter Starr: So that's one of those things that kind of gets into what you really need to think about as a CBD brand trying to break into this eCommerce space, because it's not necessarily, "Oh, I just can make this cool oil and sell it." It's, "Let's find the actual niche you can fill and expand from there." Your ultimate goal is, as anybody making cannabinoids, is to sell everything, but you should pick your niche product first. Correct? Is that a way of building your digital identity out there?
Sarah Gross: Totally. And that, again, has to do with a lot of content, like you said, branding. It's about finding your niche, and it's okay if you have one niche right now, but that's going to get you in the door. Once you find that really cheerleader type of customer base, that's when you go in and you explore other avenues for CBD. Start with, maybe, pets, then go into more health, then go into focus. It just gives you an idea. And since CBD is pretty much the same all across the board, it's just how can you rebrand and how can you reutilize what you have.
Peter Starr: Exactly. The smart brands are going to be constantly evolving, because a lot of folks who get into the cannabinoid or CBD space, like a lot of us selling these green products, had to do a lot of homework on the front end. And so we have just so many different categories to sell, and too many of these brands are getting to this moment where they're selling everything at once. And the whole issue with our retention economy right now is there's just no focus. So, you do not have this single-minded focus on a single product right now, you're going to kind of stumble over your own success, in terms of getting your products launched.
Peter Starr: I want to keep moving down the influencer side of things. So, as I start sending out, I've found my niches, I figured my life out. This is what I'm gonna focus on for this quarter. Maybe this month, maybe this week. I don't know. It depends on how fast you want to play your e-commerce game. As you're doing that, how do you begin pulling the levers? How do you cull people who just aren't working? How do you give people second chances? How do you try to solidify a stronger influencer relationship with people who, like the 9000 followers, who has 35 sales a day? How do you begin sort of optimizing from there, once you've set your foundation?
Sarah Gross: Totally. And I would say you have to think about what the foundation is in the first place. So, if you're sending out a message, I like to use email as my main form of communication with these influencers. So, when I send out an email, I really, really hype them up about their content, because, again, the content is what makes them believable. Then, if it's an initial list of influencers where I pulled all my following, I can say, "Oh, maybe you've tried my brand before, maybe you'd be a good fit to work with us."
Sarah Gross: You kind of have to pepper it in and not make it super transactional. I become, they're really good friends. Sometimes I become their therapists. They're are working with so many brands and they're so busy, and I'm just there to tell them, "Everything's all right. Let me give you some products, and let's start with with that."
Sarah Gross: And then it's always the followups and the communication after. So, checking in, "Did you get your products? Do you want the tracking code? Whatever you like. Whatever makes you feel comfortable working with my brand, that's what I'm going to do."
Sarah Gross: And then once they get your products and you've confirmed, "Well, okay, how long does it take for you to create some content? Do you want to go back and forth with strategies?" It's not an easy game. It's not a set and forget kind of thing. But what this does in the end game is turn these influencers into your number one brand advocates. They turn into, a more well known term is affiliates. They're constantly posting.
Sarah Gross: Sometimes we work with a lot of influencers who actually don't ask for budget or some compensation right up. They want to get to know the brand. I want to get to know them. I want to know how well their audience reacts with the products that I'm giving, and then also how do I have a followup? "Okay, next time let me pay for X, Y, Z. Make some beautiful content. I'll throw in a budget." Whatever it is, but it's always in the followup to keep these influencers and content creators continuously posting and advocating for your brand.
Peter Starr: And this is one of those mistakes that so many brands make. They get their social media manager to also be their influencer person, when really, you need a sales role managing your influencers. Right? Is there any success in starting an influencer relationship via DMs, or is it always going to be email? How do you sort of begin that conversation, especially when you have as concerning a sales process as green selling?
Sarah Gross: If you think about it, a lot of these brands have a few thousand followers, and if you want to reach out to influencers and see an impact with it, you have to reach out to influencers at scale. You have to have multiple people posting about you every single week for a while before you start to really see impact.
Sarah Gross: And so, to do that, I like to use email, just because it's reliable, and I can automate it. With using Instagram DMs, I can automate it, sure, but there is that potential that a brand's Instagram account will be restricted, it will get flagged, whatever it is. And then, so that's why I use email. And then, also, email allows me to create a CRM. So, again, I use the grin.co email CRM so I can continuously add influencers to sequences, making sure that I'm always top of mind.
Sarah Gross: It's a whole new sales channel, is exactly that you mentioned before, using email to reach out to these influencers, keeping top of mind, getting them interested and then also being able to follow up at scale, because scale is the real exclamation here. One or two influencers will not do anything until you start seeing a lot of interest and a lot of mentions happening at once.
Peter Starr: Right. It's the same deal. If you are a poor, hapless, inbound person trying to figure out how to manage your influencer life, go over to the sales desk, find a bunch of SDRs, and get those kinds of strategies because the exact same process. If you're a strong SDR, congratulations, you can be an even stronger manager of influencer marketing. Is that a good way of looking at it or is that a gross oversimplification?
Sarah Gross: Totally. And it's cool because how I kind of started with influencer marketing, was I was on the sales team, reaching out to hundreds and hundreds of brands at any point, scraping email lists, doing whatever I can to find opportunities. And that's the same mindset that you have to go into influencer marketing, is, "Okay, there's millions of accounts. Even, sometimes, I think there are billions of accounts now on Instagram. Where is my target, and then how do I get in touch with them?"
Peter Starr: And when I think about that, I guess the main thing, just to really bring this home, is that sort of initial sales pitch, one last time. Just getting into that idea of how do I assuage the worries of potentially very brand conscious influencers, because the most valuable ones that you're interacting with will also be the ones who are the most reticent for making posts.
Peter Starr: So, when you're to get through as many sequences as possible, and get as many influencers on board as possible, how do you get people on board with the idea of CBD oil for their pets or whatever, edibles, how do you play that game? How do you get people comfortable with your brand? What's that introduction like? Tell me how you think about the responses you get from influencers once you send out these initial emails.
Sarah Gross: Right. So, to do that, you have to kind of think of where you're getting your influencers from. And so what are those keywords. Have they mentioned #dog in a post recently, or do they mention they're a doggy mom in their bio? And so it really depends on how you source your influencers.
Sarah Gross: And then me, personally, I always have a human touch, ensuring that the content that they share is actually beautiful and on brand with the companies that I'm working with. And so, once you have those two pieces of information, they have beautiful content and some sort of interesting thing about their content or about them in their bio, that's how you personalize a message at scale.
Sarah Gross: So, then you can say, "Hey Name. I really love your content. It's so beautiful. I noticed that you had a dog. I have this awesome product. I was wondering if you'd be interested in collaborating." And then I always personalize it a little bit more, and use their Instagram handle in the subject, so they know that I did take the time, and I know who they are beyond their first name.
Peter Starr: It's one of those things where you have to add as many of those details as possible, but at the same time, with as much rapidity as possible, because you have only a few seconds to get their attention. And it's one of those things where, if you put the actual Instagram handle in the subject line, that is an instant signal, as opposed to very generic, "Hello. Yes products." You get so many of those. I just don't understand what some of these brands are doing as they just flail wildly into potential influencer inboxes/DMs.
Sarah Gross: Yeah. And one thing that I would add is the @ sign. So, every single Instagram handle starts with an @. And in an email campaign, that @ acts as an emoji. So, it's as a click baity as you can get without adding a million smiley faces, and all these crazy, whatever it is. The @ sign, for me, acts as the Emoji
Peter Starr: Because it's eye grabbing or?
Sarah Gross: Totally.
Peter Starr: So, you're not throwing too many emojis and you've got that @ symbol. You're good.
Sarah Gross: It stands out in an inbox.
Peter Starr: Cool. So, we're hitting time real quick. Is there anything about this that we didn't cover, or you have any final thoughts for us?
Sarah Gross: No, we really hit all the big points. This was great.
Peter Starr: Awesome. It's a great way to sort of get at a complicated side of your perspective before we have just a million episodes about how do you actually source influencers, and then how do you optimize from there. What is this grin thing you were talking about? All of that, friends, is coming soon. I'm so excited to get more into your grand, unified theory of getting influencers to work for e-commerce at scale, but for now that's a really solid look into all things a CBD and cannabinoid.
Peter Starr: Sarah Gross, thanks so much for being on today. Hope you have a great day.
Sarah Gross: Thanks Peter.
Peter Starr: So, once again, huge thank you to Sarah Gross, head of influencer marketing here at MuteSix. Audience, thank you for listening to this whole interview, if you're still here. As always, if you liked this episode, please make sure you subscribe to us on Apple, Stitcher, Overcast, wherever fine podcasts are sold, or you can feel free to check us out at mutesix.com/10kaday and subscribe to us from there.
Peter Starr: Either way, audience, this episode was produced, hosted and voiced by me, Peter Starr Northrop. All of the amazing ideas you heard today came from Sarah Gross, head of influencer marketing here at MuteSix. Our associate producer for this production with Sarah Hart, and as always, our executive producer and CEO is Steve Weiss. Audience, thank you so much for your time, and as always, we like to lead you with peace, love, and ROI. Everyone be well. Thank you so much.