How Retailers Can Tap Into Influencers to Drive Word of Mouth and Sales


When it comes to factors that drive purchase decisions, few things are more powerful than referrals and word of mouth. A nod or endorsement from a friend or influencer carries more weight than traditional advertising. Why? Because people are more inclined to act on the recommendations of sources they know, like, and trust.

This is why it pays to have an influencer strategy. Getting key individuals to recommend or talk about your brand can drive awareness, traffic, and ultimately, sales. And the good news is, unlike traditional advertising, influencer marketing doesn’t always require a massive financial investment. Check out the tips below to learn more:


Identify key customers and influencers

You want to be selective and targeted when reaching out to people. Influencer marketing can take up time (which is pretty expensive in its own right), so before diving into outreach tactics, you should first determine who you should be spending your time on. Below are a few ways on how to do this:


Find out if your existing customers can be influencers

You may not have to look too far to find the key people you need. Customers who love your store would likely be more than happy to refer their friends or talk up your brand. Go through your database, find your best customers (Hint: these are your top-spenders and frequent shoppers) and see if they’re up for the task.

That’s what Sony did when they wanted to ramp up their credit card referral program. According to Marketing Sherpa, their marketing team identified influencers from their cardholder base by first collecting data on:

  • Purchasing history (preferred products, purchase frequency)
  • Interactions with Sony
  • Preferred channel of interaction
  • Prospect data

Sony used that information to find the loyalists and enthusiasts in their database. From there, they gathered deeper insights on the reach of these customers and how they interacted with others. Doing this helped Sony figure out who among them were influencers.

Once they had their core group of customers, Sony launched a referral campaign encouraging these influencers to spread the word to their friends. For testing purposes, the company also sent the same email to a control group of non-influencers, and they saw that the results for the influencer segment were 2.8 times better than the control group.

See if you can do something similar in your business. If you’re looking to launch a referral or influencer campaign, start by identifying key individuals from your customer base, then encourage them to participate through rewards, incentives, and other programs (more on these below).


If you’re using Vend, you can identify your best patrons using the software’s CRM features. You can view customers’ purchase histories, generate reports, and sort them based on their Year To Date (YTD) balance so you can see who your top spenders are.

Use web and social search tools to find influencers in your industry

Your industry’s bloggers and social media personalities can get you in front of tons of potential customers. The key is finding the right people to partner with by:

Searching on social media – Use the native search features of Facebook and Twitter, or leverage a tool like Social Searcher to find mentions of your products or brand.

Hashtags can also do the trick. Tiffany Willson, co-founder of home design app Roomhints says that they make use of hashtags to find influencers in their space. “Retailers can find the right influencers by searching relevant hashtags on Twitter. The key people within the industry will pop up.”

Scouring the web – Finally, use tools such as Alltop, Alexa, or even good old Google to search for bloggers in your niche. Sort through the websites, check out how authoritative or influential they are, and then take note of the ones you could approach.


Want to improve your influencer outreach results? Caitlin Gustafson of Web Talent Marketing shares the following advice:

1. Look for middle-level influencers; they aren’t as expensive to work with and oftentimes they’re still at the stage where they are flattered to be contacted by brands. Sometimes you can find influencers who are willing to do a review or mention your product on social media in exchange for free products and you featuring their review on your own social channels (especially if you have a great social presence.)

2. Look for influencers who may have mentioned your products before but do not regularly do so. It may be that they enjoy your products, but they just aren’t top of mind or they can’t afford to buy them regularly. Just sending a few free products – no strings attached – with a personalized note saying thanks for talking about your product – can get you a few new mentions.

Tap into micro-influencers

What Caitlin said about middle-level influencers (i.e. “micro-influencers) is spot-on. Major influencers — those who have followers in the six- and seven-figures charge higher rates, but recent studies have found that they actually have lower engagement levels when compared with micro-influencers (those who have 30,000 or fewer followers.)

According to HelloSocieity, these influencers deliver engagement rates that are 60% higher (on average) compared to those with larger follower counts. Not only that but micro-influencer campaigns are said to be “6.7 times more efficient per engagement than influencers with larger followings.”

Why? One reason could be that micro-influencers are seen more as “peers” rather than celebrities, and so their followers tend to trust them more.

As Kyla Brennan, the founder and CEO of HelloSociety told Adweek:

“Influencer marketing is still effective when they’re looked at as peers… When it comes to celebrity accounts, who have maybe millions of followers nobody actually believes that a celebrity is a real fan of a product they’re trying to sell.”

Vetting influencers

Once you’ve found a bunch of people who can help you spread the word, you’ll need vet each of them to determine if they can really put you in front of the right people. To do this, you’ll need to look at two things: reach and engagement.

The former pertains to the number of friends, fans, and followers that the person has. Ideally, the influencer has plenty of people following them. Do note, however, that while having a large social following is a good sign, it’s not the only indicator of influence. You also have to measure how engaged their audience is by checking if people are actually interacting with their posts.

This is a tactic that Willson often uses when evaluating influencers to team up with at Roomhints. “Nowadays, it is very easy to vet influencers by taking a look at their engagement statistics,” she says. “If an influencer is pushing a lot of content out and getting a lot of engagement, then we know that they will be a great person to partner with.”

Follow the steps above to zero in on influencers for your business. Scour the web, social realm, and blogosphere for prospects, then evaluate each one to see if they’d be a good fit.

Getting people to talk about you

Once you have solid list of key customers and influencers, you’ll need to figure out the best way to get them talking. Influencer engagement strategies vary, depending on the people you’re working with, but here are some suggestions on what to do:

Referral incentives

Some retailers are offering incentives to existing customers who refer their friends. In the Sony example above, the company sent its top customers an email offering up to $250 in products if they refer their friends.

If it makes sense for your business, consider launching a similar program by giving a discount or freebie for every referral brought to you by existing customers.

Enlist industry influencers to amplify your brand

Team up with bloggers or social media personalities in your industry and come up with ways in which they can promote your business. One of the most obvious tactics for this is to send them free samples that they can review, tweet, or talk about.

Kohl’s, for example, recently partnered up with 10 health and wellness bloggers to help spread the word about the retailer’s new fitness gear. Kohl’s sent the bloggers free gift cards that they can use to purchase products like yoga mats, juicers, workout clothes, and more. They’ll then write about the products and spread the word to their followers.

Do note that sending free products isn’t the only way to get influencers talking. Plenty of them would actually be more than happy to work with you if you offer them information that would be valuable to them and their audience. A study by eMarketer found that around three in 10 influencers cited “exclusive and worthwhile information” as reason to collaborate with brands.

So if you have special tips, scoops, or any other type of information your target audience would find useful, see if you can offer it exclusively to an influencer in your niche.

Putting the spotlight on the influencers themselves

Urging influencers or customers to talk about your brand isn’t the only way to engage them.  Many brands are finding success by talking about the influencers themselves.


Roomhints, for example, runs competitions to find designers and influencers from within their community and then features the winners on their blog. This enables them to get content on their site, while engaging customers and influencers at the same time. Plus, the individuals featured on the site are thrilled to share it and spread the word with their friends. Win-win.

A word of caution: always disclose your relationships

Influencer marketing can be an effective tactic to put yourself in front of a relevant audience. However, problems may arise if the people you team up with fail to disclose that they’re posting sponsored content.

Check out what happened to Lord & Taylor earlier this year, when it launched an influencer campaign on Instagram. To promote its Design Lab collection, the retailer rounded up 50 fashion influencers one weekend, and got them to post photos of themselves wearing the same dress on Instagram.

The results were tremendous. According to AdWeek, “many of the posts generated more than 1,000 Likes each, with several surpassing 5,000 Likes and some reaching rarified levels like 13,000 Likes.” The initiative generated sales as well, and it sold out that same weekend.

But there was one hiccup: The Instagrammers who were part of the campaign weren’t upfront about the nature of their posts. While widely successful, the campaign received some negative attention because it may have violated guidelines by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which requires brands and users to let audiences know if a post is sponsored or paid for.

Additionally, some users who follow the same influencers were put off because they noticed that the posts didn’t contain any disclosure.

Learn from Lord & Taylor’s mistake and be very transparent about sponsorship campaigns that you’re running with influencers. See to it that they fully disclose their material relationship with your brand by tagging their posts with hashtags like “#ad” or “#sponsored”).

This will ensure that you stay on the good graces of the FTC and that you don’t break consumer trust.

Bottom line

There are likely plenty of people in your industry who would be more than willing to help spread the word about your awesome business. The key is finding these individuals and coming up with the right arrangement.

Do you implement an influencer campaign in your business? Tell us how it works in the comments.


Image credit: luigi diamanti.


About Francesca Nicasio

Francesca Nicasio is Vend's Retail Expert and Content Strategist. She writes about trends, tips, and other cool things that enable retailers to increase sales, serve customers better, and be more awesome overall. She's also the author of Retail Survival of the Fittest, a free eBook to help retailers future-proof their stores. Connect with her on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Google+.

3 Comments - Add Comment