At least once a day we receive an email from a “fashion influencer” wanting to “collaborate”.
These emails have increased in frequency (and decreased in quality) over the past few months.
It’s happening so often now that I thought I should address the current market of influencers, simply so I can link to this post in my reply emails.
I happen to have a unique perspective here; as a former men’s style blogger turned online fashion brand I’ve had the opportunity to dive deep into the business models on both sides of this new game.
Here is some advice to “fashion influencers”, along with some of my unfiltered observations (as usual).
DESCRIBE YOUR OFFERS BETTER
These emails almost always read exactly like the one below (this is an example of a real email which we just received about an hour ago).
Apologies for putting you on blast Eddy – it’s for the greater good.
The most immediately frustrating thing about these emails is the “soft offer” that provides no actual information to determine whether the deal is a good one, or not.
It’s important to understand that the brands that receive these emails are getting many of these “offers” every day. We simply don’t have the time to dive into market research and determine the ROI (return on investment) on this “collaboration” just to properly respond to your offer. This is probably why you get very few responses to these emails.
I also find that many “influencers”, or “content creators”, or “image consultants”, or (the titles go on-and-on), either don’t understand their true value add (ie. what they are selling), or purposefully leave out important metrics in order to make the “offer” sound better than it actually is.
If you’re a “Instagram influencer” you’re in the advertising business. You are competing against every other influencer on every other platform, as well as other forms (old and new) of digital advertising, including but not limited to: banner re-targeting, demographic-pinpointed Facebook ads, search-term targeted Google ads, Youtube pre-roll, etc, etc.
UNDERSTAND THE BRAND’S PERSPECTIVE
From a brand’s perspective (ie. your clients – the people who pay you), we are simply looking for ROI (return on investment).
More specifically, we are constantly testing and analyzing many different forms of digital advertising, trying to find a channel that will acquire us customers for less than we profit on a single order. In other words, we are seeking a form of advertising that brings us more dollars in profit than what we spent on the ads themselves, consecutively and consistently. To support a business we need a channel that we can routinely spend X dollars on, and make Y dollars in return (where Y-X must equal to more than the cost of the goods that the ad sold). We are looking for a scalable “funnel”; pour ad dollars in, and get sales dollars out – every time. This is how a business can grow and scale.
Most of the channels that “work” are filled with incredible amounts of data. We obsessively track every dollar we spend on advertising (how many people saw the ad?, who are they?, who clicked through to visit our homepage?, who made it all the way to the product page?, who added a product to their cart?, where do they live?, how similar are they to our typical customers?, what did they buy?, did they buy again?, etc, etc etc). The data that comes with digital advertising is virtually endless – this is why magazines are going out of business and desperately scrapping (more on the later).
So, going back to Eddy’s email as the example, what I want (ie. need) to know right away; what is the offer you are making (how much do I pay for a sponsored post) and what is your typical ROI (how much will I make in sales from a sponsored post)? The more data/evidence/case studies you can provide to back up the numbers, the better. Have you advertised for a product similar to mine in the past? And if so, how many units did your followers actually buy from clicking on the link in your post? If this information was explained clearly in the email, I would be more inclined to respond.
Again – you’re competing with GOOGLE (who also sends emails about advertising opportunities)!
BASIC MATH TO ESTIMATE R.O.I.
Here’s a good ‘ol “back of the envelope” calculation to determine the value you are creating.
Let’s say you have 50,000 followers and you charge $1,000 for a post on Instagram (#ad or #sponsored).
Let’s break that down.
The average Instagram post is typically seen by about 20% of your audience. That means 10,000 people are going to see this sponsored post with my product in it. Of the people who see the post, roughly 2% of them will click the link to visit my Instagram page.
So that means for $1,000 I am really paying for about 200 people to visit my Instagram page, only. Now I have to figure out what new Instagram visitors are actually worth, in dollars. So how many new Instagram visitors does it take to get one person to actually buy something? Depending on the brand, this number can be very low. For example, for AOS it takes far more than 200 new Instragram visitors to equal one new customer.
Also, think of it this way. In order to make money on my $1,000 advertising investment, I need to sell more than $2,000 worth of products (assuming that most brands have about a 50% margin – again this is all just a rough break-down). In other words, when I sell $2,000 worth of product, it usually costs me $1,000 just to make and ship the product I sold. So my break-even on this $1,000 investment is $2,000 in sales. I only begin to make money after selling over $2,000.
So if you’re offering a $1,000 advertisement, you better be damn sure you can move at least $2,000+ worth of product, otherwise you are taking my money, not providing any growth value.
WHO IS YOUR AUDIENCE?
This leads us to a very important question: who is your audience?
Firstly, are they real humans? (yes, buying followers to increase ad revenue is an astonishingly common fraud in today’s influencer market)
If they are real humans, who are they? Are they male or female? How old are they? How much money do they make? How much money do they spend? Are they mostly in one country, or all over the world? How do they dress? What brands do they shop with?
Again, you’re in the advertising business; it is your business to understand your market, and what – specifically – you are selling.
Another important question is: what is the intent of your audience? For example, if you do luxury product reviews, there is a good chance people looking at your content might be thinking of buying a luxury product.
The problem I see with most “Instagram influencers”, is that the personal ego of the “content creator” is at the forefront of the publication, often drowning-out any real value to the advertiser (whose message is tacked-on as an afterthought and often purposely downplayed, or even hidden).
In other words, if your “publication” is all about cute photos of yourself (like Eddy who’s profile is mostly selfies and topless pics) then your followers are most likely following you simply to look at cute photos of you – they do not have the intent to shop, and likely do not consider your opinion before shopping for luxury products.
Another problem is that you have the same audience seeing all these ads over and over again. If I compare that to what I would get if I spent on Facebook ads or Google ads (which are designed to target new people in a very specific demographic), it is a completely different analysis (and perhaps strategy) than spending again and again to get another impression in front of the same people. Put simply, there is less and less value to me (your customer) the more frequently I advertise. That is a major problem when you think about growing a business.
For those reasons, many influencers are stuck constantly looking for NEW brands to promote, because the ROI is not positive and brands can’t justify repeat advertising spend. Again, if you’re in the advertising business, this is a HUGE problem. There are only so many brands out there with the budget and strategy to spend on your demographic.
ARE YOU ALIENATING YOUR FOLLOWERS?
Just like brands don’t want to keep paying to advertise to the same audience, the audience doesn’t want to see keep seeing ads, either.
The classic phrase used by “content creators” is: “we only advertise products that we genuinely believe in, or would genuinely purchase”…but we all know this is complete bullshit. People aren’t that dumb. We get it – you have to make money, and in order to do so you have to continually find brands to pay you for sponsored posts. The amount of dancing around advertisements, trying to bury the #ad tag, etc. is frustrating for everyone involved.
This is why influencers with 50K-100K followers send these blanket emails to any and every brand seeking a new “collaboration” (ie. pay me to post a picture wearing your product). And with more and more “fashion influencers” popping up every day, this bubble is about ready to burst.
SEE THE BUBBLE COMING
Think of this way; sponsored social media posts is one of those new bubble markets created by the digital revolution – it has virtually no barrier to entry, and all of your followers are being trained on how to operate their own “business”, just like you. Soon enough clones pop up, then clones of clones. I’ve seen it myself, but I’m not here to name names (other than Eddy – again, sorry Eddy).
Even worse, your audience and your customers are at odds with each other. Meaning; the more sponsored posts you publish, the more your audience gets frustrated seeing sponsored posts, and the less value you provide to the advertiser (the less likely your audience is to click through on an add). This is simply a bad business model.
In a good business model, when you sell something (ie. create value) it should immediately become easier for you to sell something again. As you create value, it becomes easier to create more value in the future. This is how a business grows and scales. Satisfied customers come back to purchase again, tell their friends, word gets out, etc. Ultimately, the people paying you should be the same people who are benefitting from your service, all of which serves to grow your operation. If you’re a middle-man who passes messages to people who don’t want to listen, then you’re eventually going to find yourself in a tough spot.
Indeed, many “fashion influencers” are just models and/or photographers. The only real value to the audience is a distraction – a sense of escapism – for a couple micro seconds a day, as they procrastinate from the duties of their real lives. In some ways, this can actually be considered detrimental to the health and well being of the audience (we’ve all read articles about the rise of anxiety as young people continue to compare their real lives to the doctored lifestyles of online influencers…but more on that later as well).
In my opinion, the “paid Instagram model”, is a bubble that is soon to burst. Unless you have a lot of followers (say, 1M+) your “business” is likely going to zero. Or at least it will be very difficult to create longevity or provide enough wealth to live the lifestyle you’re promoting, raise a family, sustain a recession, etc.
MAKE A TRANSITION TO VALUE
If I had one piece of advise for the fashion influencer today, it would be to turn your platform into a brand, by focusing on how/where you can provide real, tangible value to your followers.
Create content that people actually care about, or can use. If you’re a good writer; write something that is worth reading (can be entertaining, or educational, etc) and be laser-focus on a topic/angle that you can become known for.
If you’re a product-review person; get to know the ins-and-outs of the products you review in great detail. So many people are “review specialists” but don’t actually know anything about the product itself. Just imagine being a craftsman who spent his whole life studying and perfecting a craft, only to have a young uneducated person snap a photo and tell his 50,000 followers that “it feels pretty well-made” with no understanding or vocabulary for what that even means.
If you’re really, really, ridiculously good looking; be a model. Put a booking contact on your Instagram for other modeling jobs.
If you snap amazing photos, be a photographer, and promote yourself as such.
I think you get the point.
Get creative and innovative. I made the transition (based on my area of expertise) but I don’t have all the answers. What I can say is that the world is changing, dramatically. Just about every industry is getting turned upside-down, and for you that means opportunity. Look for an old industry, or way of doing business, that hasn’t been properly updated for the modern era, and use your platform to be the expert to own that industry in the new digital age. I truly believe it is the “digital land grab era”, and there are countless industries that can be shifted by digitally focused people who are willing to hustle and build the infrastructure for the methods of the future.
GET LASER FOCUSED
Don’t be a generalist.
Be as specific and “niche” as possible, and be honest and up-front about who you are and what you do.
It blows my mind that Instagram is such a transparent place, yet so many people are trying to fake (or don’t understand) what message they are putting out to the world, with their names attached to it.
I see a lot of strange self-proclaimed titles like “creative consultant” or “image coach” or “content creator”… This is confusing and misleading for both the audience and the customer (advertiser). What kind of “content” do you “create”?What is the focus of your platform? What is your specialty?
Again, this all comes back to value add. If it’s “fashion advice for buff workout guys” – great! Or maybe it’s “outfit ideas for conservative tall/skinny males in Kentucky” – ok that makes sense. Be is specific, and honest with yourself, as possible. The audience is not as dumb as you might think – we can see right through you.
DON’T BLAME THE ALGORITHM
Lastly, it’s important to understand that social media is always changing, and will continue to change. If your business is purely on Instagram, then the future of your business is completely out of your control. For example, just this week Facebook (ie. your real employer) made plans to “merge Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram“.
Not to mention the number of legal problems that Facebook is having right now (illegally selling user data, not being able to control the spread of fake news, publishing advertisements under false names, etc). In my opinion, some regulation will have to happen here; the level of misinformation coming out of this platform is downright irresponsible and is a danger to our society and culture.
On this topic, it’s important to diversify. There are many platforms you can reach people on, don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
In closing, I’m not writing this to bash anybody.
As usual, these are simply my thoughts and observations on the continuing evolution of the “online menswear space”. I hope they can help some people think about the future of their followings.
It might seem cool now to be able to travel, snap some pics, and make a few bucks – but one day this market is going to come crashing down. The dollars are going to get thin, the number of influencers is going to be unmanageable for brands, and most importantly, the ROI simply won’t be there to sustain a continued business.
Lastly – please stop sending emails like Eddy’s. We do not pay influencers to wear our products, nor do we ever trade product for post – no matter how many followers you have.
Thanks, as always, for reading.
Yours in Style,