Everything You Wanted to Know About Influencer Marketing

Episode #042: Mae Karwowski, CEO and Founder at Obviously

Episode Information

Influencer marketing has skyrocketed in popularity over the last few years. It's time for companies of all types to jump on the trend.

In this episode, we chat with Mae Karwowski, the CEO and Founder at Obviously, an influencer marketing agency. Mae has over 10 years of marketing experience and has partnered with top brands like Sephora, Saks Fifth Avenue, and L'Oréal Paris.

We’re talking about how both B2C and B2B brands can get started with influencer marketing, tips for content creators, metrics to track with influencer marketing, and so much more.

Stephanie's Strong Opinions

  1. Work with influencers who truly love your brand. Inauthenticity can be detected a mile away.
  2. B2C brands aren't the only ones who can benefit from influencer marketing.
  3. Influencers, be picky with your opportunities. Trust us, the bigger brands will take notice.

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Stephanie Cox: Welcome to Real Marketers, where we hear from marketers who move fast, ask forgiveness not permission, obsess about driving results, and are filled to the brim with crazy ideas and the guts to implement them. This is not a fireside chat and there's absolutely no bullshit allowed here. I'm your host, Stephanie Cox. I have more than 15 years of marketing experience and I've pretty much done about everything in my career. I believe speed is better than perfection, I use the Oxford comma, I love Coca- Cola, have exceptionally high standards, and surround myself with people who get shit done. On this show, my guests and I will push boundaries, share the real truths about marketing and empower you to become a real marketer. So first question. Tell me something about yourself that few people know.

Mae Karwowski: I love to read. And actually, my first journey into entrepreneurship was launching an online bookstore with my dad for rare and used first edition books. That's something that's a little bit obscure about me, but it's something that I think about and collect books now, all the time.

Stephanie Cox: How did that love for rare and obscure books come to be?

Mae Karwowski: My dad was into it and I was just such an avid reader as a kid. I would look for new books that came out from new authors, and then we would go to a book reading. I grew up outside Boston, so we'd go to a book reading, get it signed. And then, all of a sudden, we had this really cool collection of books. Then, we started going to yard sales and thrift stores. It was just a fun thing for us to do together. Then I was like, " Hey, let's actually put these online and see if we can make a few dollars from this." It's never been a blockbuster business, but it definitely brings in a few hundred dollars a month.

Stephanie Cox: Very cool. Let's talk a little bit about your day job, which is all in the world of influencer marketing.

Mae Karwowski: Yeah.

Stephanie Cox: Let's get started maybe with what does influencer marketing mean to you?

Mae Karwowski: Influencer marketing, to me, is finding creators who are actively creating content, putting it out into the world. And then amassing an audience organically, of people who just find their content, love it, and want to learn more about this person and want to get more of their content. That's what becoming an influencer is. And then, the influencer marketing part is how do we pair brands with these great creators, so they can really make money and really see this as a viable career path forward, as their creating that content all the time.

Stephanie Cox: I guess, first question, how do people get started with being an influencer? Where does that come from and how do you know that you should? Or, that that's a real career path you can take?

Mae Karwowski: Yeah. With the younger generation now, a lot of people want to be creators because they are so used to seeing their favorite creators just grow up in front of them on YouTube, on TikTok, on Instagram. Definitely, teenagers, 20- somethings really are all over it, " This is a real career path, I can make serious money here if I focus on it." But, I think the one biggest thing that I look for is, is this person already creating a ton of content? Are they already really experimenting with different formats and different types of content? Are they really thinking about how they're crafting their story and what the copy looks like? And, you'd be surprised at the number of people actually, Stephanie, who'd reach out to Obviously. They're like, " Hey, can you make me an influencer?" And, they have five followers on their account. It's like, " No, you can actually do a lot of this yourself. You can really get started, you can get that traction yourself." We come in once you're really showing momentum. I think one great thing about becoming an influencer is that you can do so much of it on your own. From your bedroom, from your basement, from your garage. So many huge influencers just started out that way, with a ring light.

Stephanie Cox: To that point of you need to have more than five followers. How do you know that you're creating the right amount of content where this makes sense? Or, what is the amount of content that an influencer should create in order to take it seriously?

Mae Karwowski: Yeah, that's a great question. I think what I'm really looking for is someone who is really excited about the process of creating the content, and who is experimenting and trying new things. They're not trying to skate by with the least amount of content possible. There are a number of hugely successful YouTubers, who they were really known for posting... Tati Westbrook is a great example. She would post every single day to YouTube, sometimes a 20 to 40 minute video. She really made her name in the beauty community as just creating way more content than anyone else. And then, you have other creators who maybe they post once a week, or twice a week. Or once a month now, as they get bigger. I think the quantity can vary, but it's really having that consistency and really having that drive, as you're starting. It's really hard to start and amass that first 5000 followers. It gets a lot easier, once you get up there, in terms of hundreds of thousands.

Stephanie Cox: Let's say I'm a brand, and I'm thinking about dipping my toe into influencer marketing and working with an influencer. What are the things I should be thinking about in that area? I think, as consumers, we see that all the time. My Instagram is full of influencers. But, how do I know that working with one is a good idea for my brand?

Mae Karwowski: Yeah. I think this space has just exploded in a way that I think few people outside of the marketing community understand. Other than, " Hey, I'm on Instagram and I'm scrolling, and I'm seeing a ton more brand sponsorships than I was two years ago." It's over a $ 10 billion industry. It will be this year, or we'll surpass that next year. It's just really aggressively taking off. That's because brands are really seeing that this works extremely well. There are also a lot of brands doing it really poorly. That's just par for the course right now, when you just have so many brands trying it out and just trying out this new marketing technique. A few things that I really recommend are, one is to really focus on who are you working with. Don't just work with an influencer who you follow, if you're a marketing manager at a brand. If you really want to work with someone who reaches the core demographic, that is your brand's customer. This sounds obvious. A lot of brands actually forget to do this. You want to look at all the date behind a given influencer's audience. What's the gender breakdown, what's the age breakdown, what's the geographic breakdown? What brands do this person's audience follow? Once you learn more about that, you're going to get a much better idea, rather than just, " Oh, they tend to get this many likes and comments per post." I think that's hugely important, right off the bat. The second part of that is the person really has to love your brand, or really like your brand. Bad influencer content is literally terrible and can actually do some pretty negative things for your brand. You want to find people who genuinely are super excited about this sponsorship and see this as, " Oh, I really want to have a longer term relationship with this brand because they're fantastic. I'm texting my friends that I'm actually going to get to work with them, this is super cool." And then, I think a third thing is making sure that the incentive and the creative brief for the influencer are really in line. We see a number of brands starting out who will give a 10- page deck of single- spaced instructions to an influencer. And then they're like, " Cool, I'm going to give you product and$ 100." You're like, " This is going to take that influencer at least 10 hours to actually create a really great piece of content for you and these instructions are really intense. This incentive probably is not in line with what they need to be making in order for this to be a fair transaction." Those are my top three. I have a lot more, but those are my top three.

Stephanie Cox: I love what you said about finding an influencer who loves your brand. Is that typically someone that I would search for, that's already commenting on things that I'm doing on social? Or, is it more of an outreach of influencers that I think could be a good fit based on their profile of who follows them? And then, starting conversations to see what they would think about it. How do you recommend finding the right person?

Mae Karwowski: Yeah. We really like to do both. We like to look at what brands and topics does this person post about frequently. And, what's the response from their audience when they post about that brand or when they post about that topic. That's first glance, that's important. We do find a lot of influencers who, maybe they haven't posted about the specific brand yet, but they do love the brand. Or, a great example is we work with a lot of parenting and mom brands. A lot of influencers are just having their first kid, maybe they haven't posted about that many parenting or kids clothing brands yet. So, really learning more about influencers where they are in their lifetime, in their own story, is important, too. We do a lot of passive research where hey, they haven't actually posted about this yet, but they're a new mom and they're super interested in learning more, and they heard this was a great brand. When we do outreach to them they're like, " Yeah definitely, I'd love to hear more." It's important to do both.

Stephanie Cox: When you do that initial outreach, what do you recommend you do to start that conversation with someone? Because to your point, you don't want to start it with sending them a 10- page deck of single- spaced content. How do you start to see whether or not... It makes sense where obviously they're creating content that benefits your brand, but then you're also paying them what their time and level of effort is worth.

Mae Karwowski: Yeah. I think this is where influencer marketing gets pretty tricky for a lot of brands. Because what we like to say, " Hey, these are people not ad units." Marketers are used to doing the most efficient, and the most efficient thing that's going to drive results. Working with people and trying to form relationships with people is inherently less than efficient. That can definitely be hard when you're a brand trying to reach out to influencers, because what you want to do is actually send them a really nice, tailored note either to their email, which is posted in their bio, or via direct message. Have it be customized to them, explain a little bit about your brand and why you like them, why they could be a great fit. Try to get them on the phone or try to get them in email correspondence, and then show that you are committed to doing more with them. That being said, that is super hard to scale. That can be the tricky thing, for a lot of brands. And candidly, that's a lot of what my company does for companies. They have initial success. They're like, " Hey, we did some outreach, we've built some really great relationships with a few dozen influencers. We really want to work with several hundred or several thousand influencers. How do we go about that, how do we do that?" That's really why I started Obviously.

Stephanie Cox: Thinking about what you've said, Obviously you started obviously... That was funny.

Mae Karwowski: That happens a lot.

Stephanie Cox: Thinking about influencers, a lot of times my mind goes to B2C, where it makes sense for maybe products, it definitely makes sense in the health and beauty area. Where else are you seeing influencer marketing used really well? What other industries does it make sense?

Mae Karwowski: Yeah. The big thing about 2021 for us has just been the rapid expansion into verticals that really were doing very little, in terms of influencer marketing in 2020 or in 2019. We're now seeing personal finance. We're seeing several in the B2B space. So hey, do you have a blog? Do you have a podcast? Have you tried this new software? Are you editing videos? Are you producing your own music for the background of your TikTok videos? We'd love to work with you, we'd love to get in touch with you, we'd love for you to try out our product. The B2B side is actually growing really quickly. And then, also some of these verticals that you would think, " Oh, insurance. They wouldn't work with influencers." We actually have four insurance clients right now and they're some of the largest in the industry. It's really changing, it's not just the beauty influencer, or the beauty company, or the great furniture brand. It's almost in every industry now.

Stephanie Cox: Is there any industries where you think, I'm thinking B2B, that it's harder to find someone? Or, the profile of the influencer looks just different than what you normally would see?

Mae Karwowski: Yeah. It's really all about the identification and the recruitment of the right people. Say you're a library, like a librarian influencer. We could be finding people who have 5000 followers, but their 5000 followers are obsessed with the library sciences and are all the 5000 people that you really want to get in front of because that's what they care about. When this person speaks, they listen. When you get into certain niches, it's really about finding the right people, rather than the person who has half a million followers and has worked with a slew of other brands. We do a lot of work where we're reaching out to a creator and they've never worked with a brand before. That's really exciting because usually they're like, " Oh my God, really? This is great, let's do this."

Stephanie Cox: Thinking about influencer marketing, I think it's really obvious how it's changed what shows up in my social feeds, it's created income stream for a lot of people. What other benefits do you see happening from influencer marketing, both on the side of the influencer and the side of the business?

Mae Karwowski: Yeah. I think on the side of the influencer, this is now a viable career path or a viable side hustle for someone whose really passionate about a given hobby or a given passion project. You can be a yarn influencer and that is a real thing. And, we will get you real brands who want to work with you and you could be making real supplemental income. Maybe you could get to the point where you can grow it so it's your full- time gig. That is pretty wild. Two decades ago you'd, what, have to get a book deal in order to be a yarn influencer? And, to actually tell people and share that with the hundreds of thousands of people who care about that topic as well. I just think this level of meritocracy that's been created because everyone literally has a phone and a camera in their pocket, and they now create this content, and they can create a career out of literally any niche. I know influencers who create DIY slime and make millions of dollars every year. It's just like, " What? Where did all this creativity come from?" Now, there are no gatekeepers necessarily saying, " No, you can't do this. I've never heard of you, you don't have the pedigree. Go back to wherever you came from." I think that, for me, is super exciting, from the influencer perspective. Literally anyone can be an influencer, if they have what it takes. I think for brands, what's great is that they're getting all of this feedback from people who really know a ton about their space. We work with a few fitness influencers, they know exactly what they like about those workout pants and exactly what they hate about those workout pants. Their feedback is so, so specific, where we get the brand being like, " Oh my God, this focus group of creators. This is the most intense feedback on the fabric we're using, and on the stitching, and on the placement of the stitching, and on the design. We can believe that there was just this resource of super informed and passionate people out there, who just know so much about our brand and so much about the space. We can now tap into those people." It's not just, " Hey, whose on our marketing team, whose around the conference table." It's now, " Whose on the internet who really loves and cares about this space as much as we do." That's actually a huge resource and it's relatively untapped, still. We have a lot of brands who do branded content partnerships, but we're now starting to get more and more brands who are like, " Let's just have coffee with these creators. Let's just have some informal focus groups. Let's see who has some really great design ideas for our new products." That just benefits all consumers, because their products and their brands get that much better.

Stephanie Cox: How do you measure this? I think that's the one thing that is hard for people to do. Obviously, I've seen where an influencer has a coupon code and you can clearly tie sales to that. But, what are other ways that brands are measuring this effort?

Mae Karwowski: Yeah. I think the obvious one is, " Hey, we sold 15% more of that product that day that TikTok went live." That happens all the time. We have either a directly attributable lift or an indirect lift of sales from an influencer posting. That's amazing, because that's literally what every marketer wants to see. I think then you have other metrics like, " We reached this many people, and this many people engaged with that content. And, here are the demographics of the people who engaged with that content." You now reached a totally new customer, who had no idea who your brand was, prior to this work. And then you have, " Hey, we have this many people signed up to our email. This many people signed up to attend an event. We sold this many tickets to an event. We had this many people actually come to a meet and greet in our store, because this influencer and her friends showed up and talked about it two weeks beforehand online." There are a lot of ways to measure. I think that it's just new for a lot of marketers.

Stephanie Cox: Do you find because it's new and it's harder to measure it, it makes marketers a little bit anxious, or maybe apprehensive, in order to jump into testing out an influencer strategy?

Mae Karwowski: I think maybe that was true a year ago, or a few years ago, that was really the conversations. We have so many brands now who are like, " Yeah, we tested this out. This works really well for us. Facebook ads are getting super expensive, Instagram ads are getting super expensive. Let's work with some people who are real, who love our brand and want to talk about our brand. Let's scale this up." Actually, I think it's really proven itself out in the market, and we now just see this explosion of brands doing really, really savvy influencer marketing. We have ambassador programs with a few of the top brands in the world and the brands are coming to us with awesome ideas. I'm like, " Oh, usually we're the ones who are pitching all the really interesting ideas to them." Yeah, it's working really well. I think that that shift has already really been made.

Stephanie Cox: Let's say you're getting started with influencer marketing for the first time as a brand. Is your recommendation to start with one influencer and test it out? Should I start with a couple different ones? How do I have enough skin in the game to know that it's going to work or not work for my brand, before I make a rash decision about it?

Mae Karwowski: I think you're highlighting a problem that a lot of brands deal with. It's just, " Hey, I want to dip my toe in the water here." It can be pretty time intensive to find influencers, reach out to them, develop a rapport with them, give them a creative brief, negotiate, do the contract. Figure out how you're going to pay them, how you're going to send them the product, approve the content, have it go live, report back on that. That's a lot of work, even if you're working with one influencer. A lot of brands will then work with... " Hey, we'll work with two or three." But then, the sample size just is not large enough to really know if you're able to truly see results. Did you just work with the wrong influencers? Was the incentive too low? Was the creative brief off? There are just so many different variables. Just like with any other marketing channel, you really have to assess all the different variables and see what's working, what's not. That's why I'm a really big advocate for get to a scale where you can actually learn something significant from your first campaign, whether that's working with 25 influencers, whether that's working with 100 influencers, make sure that you set it up so you actually can really learn something very specific. We have a lot of brands who are like, " Yeah, we tried this with a few, we really couldn't tell anything." Yeah, because you worked with two people. It's going to be really, really hard unless one of them hits it out of the park for you. And then, you still really don't know why that happened so you don't know how to scale it, either. I think that really is the challenge, is just balancing, " Hey, this is a lot of work," versus, " We need to reach a certain scale to make this something that's actionable in the future."

Stephanie Cox: Let's say we get started with what you were talking, with somewhere between 25 and 100 influencers. What type of investment are you typically going to need for something like that? What does it look like to really test out the strategy the right way?

Mae Karwowski: We really recommend started with at least$ 100, 000. I think if you do that, you're going to get great influencers and you're going to have a scale where you can say, " This worked for us, this didn't work for us. Here's what we should do going forward." For smaller brands, that is a big commitment. So we really say, " Okay, well then test out with 10 influencers, or test out with a lot of smaller influencers who are already talking about your brand a ton." Get them to create more content for you, start doing paid ads through their accounts. There's definitely a number of things you can do there.

Stephanie Cox: Speaking of that, you just mentioned paid ads through influencer accounts. What do you find works better? When they're creating their own content when you're doing paid ads that are targeting their followers, what really drives the needle? Or, do you need a combination of both?

Mae Karwowski: We see, on average, a performance of around 30% when the influencers create their own content. I think that's sometimes hard for brands to accept because they love to creative that they're creating and so do their creative agencies. But yeah, influencers do a great job creating content that's native to that platform that can get attention. We're really big proponents of, if you're the brand, don't give us assets to promote through this person's account, let's use assets that they create. The results can just be really overwhelmingly positive.

Stephanie Cox: What's the best advice you would give to someone if they're getting ready to start an influencer program for the first time?

Mae Karwowski: My advice is really work with the right influencers for you. Make sure that you set it up in a way that is measurable. I see a lot of brands just, " Hey, we'll just try this out." They don't set it up in a way where they can measure and learn. That's really frustrating, because it does take a lot of time if you're doing it manually.

Stephanie Cox: Now on the flip side, if I'm an influencer and I'm getting started for the first time, and let's say maybe even posting my own content, but more ad hoc and I want to take this seriously. What should I think about as my strategy around content creation to be noticed by brands?

Mae Karwowski: That's a good question. You know, it's really interesting because there are a few influencers that we work with who are not that big, who work with a lot of very high end, very cool, like Moncler, Tiffany, big, well known brands. They've really just been like a snowball. They worked with one, and then they did a really awesome job. Then, they worked with another. And then, their name really got passed around to someone as someone who's really great to work with. And then, you have other people who are huge, yet they really are not getting those really big brand deals that you'd expect. One piece of advice that I would give is be pretty picky about the brands you do work with because Tiffany does not want to work with someone who is working with a detox tummy tea, for the most part. So you really need to know what's my niche, what's my vertical, what are the types of brands I realistically want to work with, so you don't shortchange yourself by working with maybe some kind of tacky brands in the beginning. That's one thing, be picky. Make sure that they're brands you actually really like. The second thing is do a really good job with the brands that you do work with. It's pretty new to be a content creator, it's pretty new to have that be a job or to get compensated for that work. Brands really appreciate it when you do what you say you were going to do and are really pretty professional about it. That's really important, too. Once you do those two things, you'll really develop a good reputation. Your content will perform well because you actually really took the time to do an awesome job with that content, you didn't just phone it in, like doing your homework at 11:59 and you have to email it in to your professor before midnight. If you do a really good job with it, it performs well, you then have a really great portfolio, and you have a great portfolio of content that performed well for big brands. You're just going to be able to build, and build, and build from that.

Stephanie Cox: You've been listening to Real Marketers. If you love what you've heard, make sure to subscribe, rate and review our podcast. And, don't forget to tell a friend. All of this marketing goodness shouldn't be kept a secret.

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