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Sarah Grosz on Influencer strategies for CBD brands

A bunch of VERY specific audience questions lead us to bring in Sarah Grosz, head of influencer marketing at MuteSix to discuss how digital brands producing legal CBD can utilize influencers in their marketing strategy.

Episode Transcript — Sarah Grosz on Influencer strategies for CBD brands

Peter:
From MuteSix 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 US 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 Grosz, head of influencer marketing here at MuteSix. Sarah, thanks so much for joining us today. How you doing?

Sarah Grosz:
Thanks Peter. I'm so excited to talk about some influencer and then some CBD.

Peter:
Exactly. I think we're kind of doing this a little bit out of order, like 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, but instead today, you know, fuck it, let's just talk all things cannabis and CBD-influenced marketing, because we can talk a lot about the foundations to influence their 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:
So what I love talking about first is just the 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 Grosz:
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:
And does that mean brands kind of have to contend with sort of 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? How do you have to think about that in terms of which influencers you're targeting, but you can just jump into the attribution right out the gate?

Sarah Grosz:
Yeah, I mean so with influencer marketing, there's 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. The swipe up link 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." 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, 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:
Now, I can get behind that. And 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 talk about cannabinoids, Shopify doesn't let you sell oils and what have you on their platform because of Stripe, right?

Sarah Grosz:
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 process, their payment processor who is not on board with it.

Peter:
Gotcha.

Sarah Grosz:
And so, it kind of ... 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:
Right. So I felt like it's one of those things where the back end of your e-commerce actually becomes a little bit more DIY. Correct?

Sarah Grosz:
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.

Peter:
Right.

Sarah Grosz:
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 dropshippers with the same products?"

Peter:
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:
But I think another complication is 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 an influencer? I literally just moved you from the east coast. Legal weed completely boggles my mind. So forgive me if I'm asking like baby math questions, but that's where I'm coming from. That's my operational standpoint right now.

Sarah Grosz:
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. 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 a 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:
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 out 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 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 Grosz:
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 gonna make the conversions. A robot not give you their credit card number. And then you also have to kind of take into consideration their location. If they're out of ... I don't think it'll give you enough details as to what state they're in, but maybe it's half of them are from some random country in the Middle East. They're probably not going to buy your CBD.

Peter:
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. It's the very first foundational thing is, are these people legit or are they robots? And are they getting sort of artificial follower accounts? 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 they're 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 Grosz:
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 so 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:
Right. Because it's basically a two-prong process or 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 like 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 Grosz:
Totally. You nailed that one.

Peter:
Oh nice. Okay. Well good thing I'm the interviewer here and not the person answering 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, so 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 who are just like, "Ah, I'll just throw money at it and hope for the best." 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 Grosz:
Sure, so I mean UGC is a lot of ... 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:
Yeah, exactly. And it's one of those things where we, as a society, have a really bad habit of talking about things, is very black and white. Like you're either an influencer with 150,000 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, at that beginning point, if they're already following your brand is hugely valuable. Is that a good way of looking at it?

Sarah Grosz:
Yeah, and I mean I ...There's one influencer in particular that just stands out. We gave her a discount coach. She had just over 9,000 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:
Right. Because in 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.

Peter:
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? And 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.

Peter:
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 Grosz:
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 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 like 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 a subscribed email list. Keep on sending them content, use the influencers that they already know and love that preach for your brand and retarget them.

Peter:
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 could 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 Grosz:
For CBD specifically?

Peter:
Yeah.

Sarah Grosz:
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. And then of course, there's a huge boom on the west coast, especially in California. It's no secret, there's 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:
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, 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 Grosz:
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 ... You know, 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:
Exactly. The smart brands are going to be constantly evolving, because a lot of folks who get into the cannabinoid or CBD space, 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 attention economy right now is there's just no focus. So if you 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:
I want to keep moving down the influencer side of things. So as I start sending out ... I've found sort of 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 call 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 9,000 followers, who even has 35 sales a day? How do you begin sort of optimizing from there once you've set your foundation?

Sarah Grosz:
Totally. And I would say you have to think about what the foundation is in the first place.

Peter:
Right.

Sarah Grosz:
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 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." You kind of have to pepper it in and not make it super transactional. I become their really good friends. I become sometimes like the ... I become their therapist. They are working with so many brands and they're so busy and I'm just there to tell them, "You know, everything's all right, let me give you some products and let's start with with that."

Sarah Grosz:
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." 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 ... Kind of a more well-known term is affiliates. They're constantly posting. Sometimes we work with a lot of influencers who actually don't ask for a 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 XYZ, 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:
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? Because it's something that ... 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 kind of concerning a sales process as green selling?

Sarah Grosz:
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. 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. It's a whole new sales channel, 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, is 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:
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 over simplification?

Sarah Grosz:
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's my target? And then how do I get in touch with them?

Peter:
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 sort of interacting with will also be the ones who are the most reticent for making posts. 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 kind of 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 sort of think about the responses you get from influencers once you send out these initial emails.

Sarah Grosz:
Right. So to to do that, you have to kind of think of where you're getting your influencers from. And so what are those keywords? Is it ... 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. 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.

Sarah Grosz:
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. 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:
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 cause 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 like, "Hello. Yes. Products," which is ... 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 Grosz:
Yeah. And one thing that I would add is the @ sign. So every single Instagram handle starts with an @.

Peter:
Right.

Sarah Grosz:
In an email campaign, that @ acts as an emoji. So it's as clickbaity as you can get without adding like a million smiley faces and all these like crazy, whatever it is. The @ sign, for me, acts as the emoji.

Peter:
Because it's like it's eye grabbing or ... Okay.

Sarah Grosz:
Totally.

Peter:
So you're not throwing too many emojis and you've got that @ symbol, you're good.

Sarah Grosz:
It stands out in an inbox.

Peter:
Cool. So we're hitting time real quick. Is there anything about this that we didn't cover that ... Or you have any final thoughts for us?

Sarah Grosz:
No, we really hit all the big points. This was great.

Peter:
Awesome, yeah. 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 and what is this grin thing you were talking about? All of that friends, is coming soon. I'm so excited to get more into sort of 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 CBD and cannabinoid. Sarah Grosz, thanks so much for being on today. Hope you have a great day.

Sarah Grosz:
Thanks, Peter.

Peter:
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. 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 Grosz, head of influencer marketing here at MuteSix. Our associate producer for this production was 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 leave you with peace, love, and ROI. Everyone be well. Thank you so much.

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