The Power of Influencer Marketing: A Q&A with Lee Greene of GRIN

Ray Hartjen
Ray Hartjen
Guest Contributor

As consumers continue to be less engaged with paid media advertising, the impact of influencer marketing and other communication channels grows more powerful within retail.

Lee Greene is the vice president of partnerships for GRIN, the leading influencer marketing software suite for brands and retailers to scale their in-house influencer marketing programs. Ms. Greene is responsible for leading enterprise sales and strategic partnerships within the retail, fashion and beauty verticals for GRIN. Previously, Ms. Greene founded WearAway, a venture-backed online marketplace for influencers to connect with fashion brands. After growing the business to more than 5,000 members, 7,000 products and 900 brands, WearAway was acquired in January 2019 by GRIN. Ms. Greene is an innovative entrepreneur, influencer marketing expert and host of the Stairway to CEO podcast, a popular podcast featuring interviews with top CEOs and founders about what it takes to start and grow a business. Ms. Greene has been mentioned in WWD and Innovation Leader among other publications, and speaks often on the topics of entrepreneurship and influencer marketing at esteemed events including eTail West, the SAP Retail Executive Forum, the FCD Summit and the RetailNext Beyond events. 

What is influencer marketing?

To put it simply, influencer marketing is essentially digital word of mouth advertising. There are several ways in which brands can leverage influencers and their content, but at its core, influencer marketing is about individuals spreading the word and getting others to listen. 

Brands have been using influencer marketing long before social media ever existed, but it’s social media that coined the term and democratized the playing field. An ‘influencer’ has evolved from supermodels, athletes and Hollywood stars to now nearly anyone on social media who consistently creates engaging content and has cultivated an authentic, receptive audience. 

Unlike traditional advertising where the line of communication to the customer is a one-way street, influencer marketing is a two-way street. Traditional celebrity endorsements lack the authenticity and personalized relationships that make influencer marketing ultimately more effective, especially when targeting Generation Z and millennials. Social media influencers constantly engage in conversations with their followers, relate to them on a personal level and can communicate brand messages in ways that advertisers can’t. 

Is influencer marketing here to stay?

Influencer marketing is certainly here to stay, and it’s just the beginning. According to MediaKix, global influencer marketing ad spend on Instagram alone is estimated to reach $5-10 billion by 2020. Not only that, but according to a Tomoson study, businesses earn $6.50 for every dollar spent on influencer marketing, with the top 13 percent earning $20 or more.

For years, television advertising was the pinnacle of marketing, but with digital marketing spend exceeding TV advertising spend, combined with the increase in social media usage and shift in trust from traditional celebrities to digital influencers, there’s no question in my mind that influencer marketing is here to stay and will continue to grow.

Where should brands start if they’d like to adopt influencer marketing strategies?

There are different types of influencers that brands can leverage to achieve a variety of goals. Whether it’s to boost brand awareness, drive sales or gain followers, the first step is to determine your goals, desired outcomes and key performance indicators. By implementing the right tools, brands can then analyze influencer audience data and content to discover the best influencers for their brand, as well as monitor KPIs to help them track and measure success. 

The brands that take the time to test out different influencer marketing strategies in-house and use the right tools to measure success from day one are the brands that can learn, adjust quickly and move forward with a winning strategy the fastest. 

What major trends have you seen unfold within the influencer marketing space this year?

There are five top trends that we’ve been seeing a lot of and expect to continue to see as brands refine their influencer marketing strategies. These five trends include: 1) shifting from outsourcing influencer marketing to building in-house teams, 2) engaging in long-term partnerships with micro-influencers, 3) leveraging employees as brand ambassadors, 4) getting creative with repurposing influencer content, and 5) hosting influencer events.

The first trend is a major shift away from outsourcing as many brands, especially digital natives, are focusing on building extensive influencer marketing departments in-house. Now that brands understand how valuable influencer marketing is, many are making it a core part of their overall marketing strategy. Building in-house influencer marketing teams enables brands to develop direct relationships with their influencers as well as gain access to more data and insights. Owning the influencer relationship and campaign process allows brands to be nimble, improve their strategies and increase return on investment.

In addition to building in-house teams, the brands that are extracting the most value from influencer marketing are the ones engaging in long term partnerships, especially with micro-influencers. Instead of “spraying and praying” and engaging in one-off collaborations, many brands are now opting to create longer-term campaigns with select micro-influencers who best communicate the brand’s message and drive performance. The most obvious benefit to long-term partnerships is trust, but also the ongoing support appears much more genuine to the influencer’s followers. Long-term partnerships can also bring with it the opportunity to feature unique aspects or ways to use the product, as well as the ability to A/B test different approaches, imagery and messaging. 

When it comes to leveraging employees, retailers are realizing that they can reduce the cost of acquiring and paying influencers outside of their network by empowering their own employees to become social media brand ambassadors. The Macy’s Style Crew program is an example of how retailers can turn store associates, who are already on payroll, into digital brand ambassadors and compensate them based on sales rather than per post. With this program, Macy’s is able to increase sales both online and in-store, as well as gain access to additional content which they can repurpose. Kate Spade and Everlane are also empowering their employees to become brand ambassadors by featuring them on their social channels.

The fourth trend is getting creative with repurposing influencer content on more than just your own social media channels. Marketers are leveraging user-generated content and influencer content across all parts of their marketing strategies. Brands are reusing this content throughout their websites, on home pages and product pages, as well as within email marketing and digital ad campaigns. A great example of a brand that maximizes return on investment and repurposes content well is influencer marketing leader and GRIN customer, MVMT watches. They post influencer content on their homepage and on their product pages within their “See It Styled on Instagram” gallery, where customers can view and shop influencer content from their website. Doing this helps MVMT showcase their products in real-life settings, and implies a recommendation by the influencer.

And, last but not least, the fifth trend is hosting influencer events. According to Launch Metrics, collaborating with influencers for events was the second-most popular strategy for engaging with influencers last year. Retailers can use tools like GRIN to identify hyper-local influencers to help bring attention to local and regional stores, as well as discover mega influencers to draw a crowd to store events. Brands like Bobbi Brown, Armani and Tarte Cosmetics all leverage influencers to reach millions of consumers before, during and after their events. The key to success with any event involving influencers is to create shareable, Instagrammable moments. People share experiences more than they share things; that’s why emerging brands are putting the experience of the brand at the forefront instead of the product.

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