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"It's a Matter of Earned": Conor Begley Talks to BeautyMatter's Kelly Kovack About the Power of Influencer Marketing

Earned Media & Entertainment Beauty
In Ep. 59 of Earned Conor Begley chats with BeautyMatter

We’ve flipped the script for today’s podcast, with our very own Conor Begley taking the guest seat on BeautyMatter founder and CEO Kelly Kovack’s own podcast, “It’s a Matter of…” Today, it’s a matter of “Earned.” 

To start the show, Conor shares the origin story for Tribe Dynamics, which he co-founded nearly a decade ago at the forefront of the influencer marketing boom. Kelly and Conor reflect on how the space has accelerated since then to become a $100 billion industry, and Conor unpacks a few of the “new rules” governing the relationships between brands, creators, and social media platforms. Conor also offers advice to small brand startups around building successful, sustainable influencer marketing programs. Kelly and Conor then explore how influencer marketing has shifted from a side task for interns to a sophisticated area of focus for many brands, and Conor reveals the most important influencer KPIs brands should be measuring. The pair also discuss TikTok’s takeover, and how other social platforms are attempting to compete. To end the show, Conor shares the influencer marketing trends currently on his radar, and gives his thoughts about the metaverse. 

We’ve included a couple of highlights from the episode below, but be sure to listen to the podcast above, or tune into the episode on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or Google Podcasts!

The following interview has been lightly edited for concision.

Conor Begley’s Advice for Building Successful Influencer Marketing Strategies

Kelly Kovack: Influencer marketing is now a significant budget line item for most beauty brands. As what's called the creator economy has emerged, what has also evolved is the expectation around compensation. And rightfully so. Given the shift, how do you advise startups to approach building influencer strategies? Because the free product strategy really only gets you so far.

Conor Begley: Well, let's take a step back. So why did NYX start doing this in the beginning? It's because they didn't have money to run TV ads and print ads and other big media buys, and they couldn't compete there. And so they focused on this arena where they could compete, where you can win small battles and grow over time. 

When I'm advising a new brand on how to approach this space, I still think free product is the starting point. What you want to do is identify people that have a high propensity to talk about you. So you say, “Okay, I am a clean makeup brand. Who is it that's talking about Ilia Beauty? Who is it that's talking about Kosas? Who is it that's already talking about these clean makeup brands? First, let's identify those people, then let's reach out to them.” Glow Recipe did a really good job of this. They identified their first 300 people, then looked at all of their content and sent them a customized regimen that they recommended and said, “This is what we recommend based on your content. We love what you're doing. If you're interested in it, we'll send it to you.” And they’ve said that those 300 people are still the core of [their community]. And Glow Recipe is over $100 million in revenue. They're within the top three to five brands we track by EMV, and hit number one some months. So I think the core strategy is to find people that are likely to like your brand, reach out, build a relationship with them, and get your product into their hands. 

Once you've done that, then what do you do? The second stage to amplify this is to reward the behavior that you want to see repeated. So if you find an influencer, you reach out, you send them product, and they create really great content, then you want to reward that. So you say, “Hey, thanks so much for creating really great content about us. We love what you're doing. We'd love to make you an ambassador to the brand. We'd love to put you on an annual contract where you'll review our products, or get early access to our products. We'll use you as a model for upcoming collections. We'll highlight you in our gondolas in store.” So then that person goes, “Oh my God, when I talked about this brand, look what happened to me.” And everybody else does the same thing. Then you just build on that naturally. You just keep that motion going: finding people, reaching out, building a relationship, and then ultimately retaining them, making sure that they stick with you over time. So that's the motion that I've seen work repeatedly. If you do that, you won't fail.

The Core Influencer Marketing KPIs That Brands Should Pay Attention to

Kelly Kovack: I think as the budgets for influencer marketing get bigger, and it becomes more important, the KPIs have gotten much more sophisticated. Early on it was really vanity metrics that drove reporting. But can you share a little bit about how influencer content has become core to brand KPIs such as awareness, desirability, conversion, community? 

Conor Begley: For sure. So there are two things. There are the KPIs that lead to influencer marketing success, and then there are the KPIs coming out of that. Let's talk about the inputs first. So there are two core inputs to being successful with influencers in terms of measurement. The first one is retention. Just like you measure retention for your customer base, it is the most predictive variable we have for growth. If you get an influencer in and they talk about you one time, then never talk about you again, it is very, very difficult to become Olaplex. So being able to recruit and retain your influencers is the most important metric. And the second one is on the new influencer acquisition side. So am I acquiring new people? I'm keeping everybody around, but if I'm not acquiring any new customers, it's very hard to grow as a company. And so those are the two core levers to growth. Retention and new acquisition, and you can measure those independently. 

On the outcome basis, this is where I'm really excited. When we first started Tribe, we were like, “If you get a lot of EMV, you're going to blow up. We don't know why, but we know that happens." And so then people were like, “Oh, I have to get EMV.” But then they did it all the wrong ways, and we're like, “Oh no, Don't do that.” So first we had to figure out how you get there. And that's retention, new acquisition. You can measure those very specifically, and on a person by person basis. But then it becomes, “How do I know what this is getting me?” 

Most people tend to focus on ‘it builds awareness,’ or ‘it builds sales’. It's either brand marketing or it's end consumer. And actually, that’s a bad way of thinking about it, because there's so much in between. So high level, the first one is awareness. A video gets created about my brand. Somebody hears about me for the first time, they now have awareness of my brand. So that's the first thing. 

The second thing is, okay, now that I have brand awareness, a certain percentage of those people will proactively search for my brand. Doug Jensen from Estée Lauder just talked about this on our podcast. Estée Lauder measures it as desirability, which is when somebody searches for you, they desire to learn more. So the first one is awareness. The second one is desirability, which you can measure by Google search, people searching for you. 

And once someone searches for your brand or your new product, if in the search results, there's nothing there—no YouTube videos, no articles, no reviews, none of that stuff—it’s probably going to decrease the likelihood that that person is going to buy that product. So the conversion rates on that will go down. Alternatively, we know that if you get a bunch of influencer content, you tend to see more reviews on Sephora. Obviously YouTube videos show up in Google search, blog articles do as well. So the third thing is conversion rates. Conversion rates should go up when people actually search for you. 

And then the fourth one that I think is really critical, which Doug has also talked about in the past is, okay, now an influencer tags your brand on Instagram. Well, a certain number of that person’s followers will go to your brand’s Instagram account and follow that account. So it grows your fan count, it grows your community.

And then the fifth thing, which I'm not even talking about, is sales. It should theoretically generate sales. 

Those are the KPIs you should really be thinking about. What is the effect that it has on awareness? What is the effect it has on people searching for me? What is the effect it has on conversion rates once somebody searches for me? How does it affect the size of my community that I can communicate with on an ongoing basis? And then, ultimately, how does it direct sales? 

So if you're just measuring awareness and sales, you're missing everything in between that I think is arguably more important than just the beginning and the end. And I've run this by brands and they’re like, “Oh yeah, when we see our EMV spike, our conversion rates go up, our brand search goes up, traffic goes up, obviously our Instagram fan count goes up.” Those are the KPIs brands should be thinking about. 

Kelly Kovack: The consumer path to purchase, or how they engage on social or with brands, it's a whole ecosystem. It's like a spider web. There's nothing linear about it. It's fascinating because on some level, if you just think of the impact one person can have, and you take it back to old school marketing or customer service, it's that one-on-one relationship that then has that amplification—that person tells one person, who tells one person, and so on—but on social it's massive.

Conor Begley: Well, think about who's following a professional hair stylist on Instagram? It's not your average consumer. It's somebody who’s really into hair, or somebody following a professional makeup artist, or whatever. My wife isn't that into makeup, but she follows running bloggers. And so when her friends need advice on what the best running shoe is or where to go hiking, they ask my wife because they know that she follows all the running bloggers. And so the same thing happens here where the people that you are affecting, the community that's listening to you, is more than likely a disproportionate referrer offline, as well in terms of just the end consumer that's watching that video. And so that's why it's very difficult to measure, and I think people really get caught in this trap of how much revenue did this one post drive this day that I paid for? It just misses so much of the impact.

You can listen to the full episode here, or on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or Google Podcasts. To catch up on our other 58 episodes, featuring leaders from brands like Milk Makeup, Gymshark, Gucci, and Summer Fridays, visit our Earned Podcast page.

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“Working with Tribe Dynamics over the past 5+ years has been a true partnership in every sense of the word. The sophistication in their data is unmatched in the industry, and the level of insight in their analysis has become indispensable for any marketer in the beauty space today. They’re truly best-in-class.”

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