How 'Influencers' Are Becoming Marketers' Preferred Way to Sell Brands
Amber Venz Box, founder and president of influencer network rewardStyle, discusses the process of building a billion dollar company, the importance of big data in validating influencer impact, and the role China and India's smartphone growth plays in growing influencer's value
Open any social media platform, scroll through your feed and it likely won't take you long to find an influencer sharing a sponsored post about almost anything, from a backpack to a new pair of shoes. This increasing amount of sponsored posts is being driven in response to how consumers across the Gen Z and Millennial demographic are now consuming content, globally.
For instance, new research from eMarketer found that for the first time ever, consumers will spend more time using their mobile devices than watching TV by the end of 2019, with smartphone use dominating that time spent. What exactly are consumers spending most of their time doing on smartphones? Scrolling through social channels. Moreover, territoires like China and India, who are predicted to have over 800 million smartphone users by 2022, will only increase the importance of social media and influencers when CMOs think about reaching younger global consumers.
This paradigm shift in the consumption of content has increased the value of the influencer economy by tenfold. Estimates from Business Insider Intelligence research show that brands will spend upwards of $15 billion on influencer marketing by 2022. Tapping into this booming market since 2010 is Amber Venz Box, the founder and President of rewardStyle, whose tech platform partners with brands and influencers in over 100 countries. RewardStyle drove more than $1 billion in annual retail sales in 2019.
Box offers an inside look at how she built rewardStyle, the importance of big data in validating influencers' ROI and the role China and India's smartphone growth plays in growing influencer's value.
You started rewardStyle first as a blog and then transformed the company into an e-commerce platform that collects commissions from retailers on behalf of bloggers and historically traditional publishers. Can you walk us through the evolution of the company and how you are positioning it for the future of e-commerce?
In April of 2010, I launched a blog, Venzedits.com; it was initially developed as a marketing tool for my offline business, personal shopping. I would post three times per day–usually a trend story, a "get the look" story and an outfit of the day, all with the hopes of attracting more offline customers.
I quickly learned that my audience preferred to use my recommendations to shop online at their convenience, instead of booking and paying for time with me. I needed to be compensated for the sales I drove online and that was the impetus for rewardStyle.
Back then, it was me, a handful of my blogger friends, and a couple of retailers who were willing to honor the traditional model of commission on sales, but in a new digital capacity.
In 2013, Instagram became the new preferred publishing platform; our influencers began to create more content there than on their primary Web domain, their followers were dramatically more engaged on Instagram and the platform provided their fastest growing, most visible audience.
At that time, we provided monetization tools on every platform except for Instagram. We needed to create a tool that empowered our influencers to provide the same high level of service on Instagram that they were able to provide on their primary domain and other social platforms: linked product information that made their content actionable and therefore more valuable to readers and followers.
In early 2017, LIKEtoKNOW.it expanded beyond Instagram and is now a platform agnostic tool and also a channel of its own. LIKEtoKNOW.it is a shopping app and a place for consumers to go shopping, all in the context of real, influential people's lives. Every image in the app is 100 per cent shoppable and you can search for products and get 100 per cent shoppable image results where you can see who used the products, what they had to say, and quickly click to buy.
Prior to launching the rewardStyle platform, you mentioned you held various jobs as a jewelry designer, freelance stylist, wholesale intern, luxury boutique buyer, personal shopper, and blogger. How did all these various jobs help inform your decision-making process while building the rewardStyle brand?
For me, working on all sides of the industry that I wanted to be a part, which was fashion, meant wholesale, retail, design, publishing–if you know all of the elements that drive the industry, you are well positioned to get ahead. Knowing what people want is the biggest advantage. Also, maintaining my blog and actively using rewardStyle's suite of tools has helped me drive the company forward and understand the needs of our clients.
One area you noted that was critical to your company's success was how you are leveraging data to better service your brand and influencer stakeholders. Can you explain why data is such a critical component to the value your company brings to the thousands of fashion, beauty and apparel brands that your platform serves?
For brands, their goals have not changed: they want a lot of people to buy a lot of stuff. The way they are meeting those goals has changed dramatically, even in the last six months.
Now, to reach consumers, brands have to wade through a highly distributed and fragmented media landscape, on increasingly closed mobile social platforms, where people want to buy the things they discover right now and also turn a positive ROI. A lot has changed in a very short period of time.
With the continued pressure to show positive ROI in a period of transition from what I like to call "bricks to clicks," marketers require true rationalization of influencer marketing spend.
The highest growth in smartphone usage and adoption has been in territories like India and China over the last 5 years. Do you think that as 4G / 5G takes hold in these territories, that the value of influencers will increase globally?
More consumers gaining access to smartphones, internet and apps are tailwinds for the influencer market. As a global company, we serve the marketing needs of brands and retailers in more than 100 countries and have physical offices on four continents, including North America, South America, Europe and Asia. Early in our history we built and protected a global shopping technology that empowers shoppers to easily shop from influencers outside of their native region and for marketing fees to move with ease to the receiving country, to serve the needs of the commissioning retailer. We expanded into Asia in 2012 and opened our Shanghai office in 2015.
Lastly, for the young entrepreneurs out there who are also looking to build a company like yours, what advice would you give them?
The most valuable education is gained outside of the classroom. Once you choose your industry, work on all sides of it and work for the best. Work is the only thing that will get you ahead. Relationships, money and social status do not guarantee you professional success. Experience and work ethic do.
The author is not affiliated with the company mentioned in the story, in any capacity.