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Building an influencer growth strategy: outsourced or in-house

Adrian Alfieri profile picture

Adrian Alfieri

Sep 16, 2022

Influencer model poses with brand's latest apparel for Instagram post

If you're eager to leverage the power of influencers to grow the profitability of your DTC brand while building a sustainable paid marketing roadmap–Manny is your guy.

Before selling his DTC apparel brand Wearva to OpenStore, Manny built an impressive influencer marketing engine from the ground up. In this growth playbook, we dive into:

  • How to create and ship TikTok content that goes viral

  • Why you should always start small when courting creators

  • Structuring influencer deals that drive long-term performance

“I truly believe our influencer marketing base single-handedly propelled Wearva to become a six-figure and then seven-figure business in 18 months.”

How Wearva launched its influencer marketing from zero to one

Although leveraging Facebook and Instagram ads is the typical route DTC e-commerce teams take to meet growth objectives, Manny quickly grew weary of the ever-growing CAC and seemingly diminishing returns. It was time to pivot.

He decided Wearva’s next best play would be influencer marketing. And he succeeded. Rather than paying a traditional influencer agency, Manny scaled a “personal influencer army” to hundreds across TikTok and Instagram, driving the company to seven figures. 

Two of the top-performing ads that Manny shipped–reaching 8.3M and 4.5M viewers respectively–were created by micro-influencers that had only 100–200K followers.

When Wearva structured influencer agreements, almost every contract was slightly different. For example, some influencers create content for free, while others would ask to get paid upfront. 

As long as the content continued to perform and drive sales for Wearva, Manny would continue to send payments each time they’d work together. If 2 to 3 posts in a row failed to perform, he would move on and find another content creator. 

Critically, he adds that his team would never ask the influencers to create the ad in a specific way. Rather, Manny prioritized allowing each creator to put their own unique twist on the content–something their followers could relate to.

Manny breaks down his detailed influencer playbook for us below. 

The Wearva playbook: start small, then ramp up spend

For young brands that are just starting out with influencer marketing, Manny has one piece of advice: Start small. Before pursuing the biggest names and followings within your niche, consider micro-influencers who'll be far more accessible to your lesser-known company. 

Even a pool of ten micro-influencers with 1,000 unique followers each results in 10K individuals learning about your product from a  creator whose opinion they respect. 

Manny recommends the following order of operations: 

  1. Define your brand’s or specific product line’s niche

  2. Follow creators with a sizable audience within that niche

  3. Reach out and continually build up your database with contact info

  4. Follow up with this list about new opportunities roughly once each month

  5. As you establish your credibility, approach creators with larger and larger followings

To scale Wearva’s influencer marketing engine, Manny relentlessly (and single-handedly) sought out creators and conducted relevant due diligence, asking questions like: 

  • Does this creator resonate with Wearva’s mission? 

  • How consistently and reliably do they post content? 

  • On what platform(s) is their content most successful? 

“I always recommend starting small by approaching micro-influencers. Even ten smaller-scale creators can generate a small army of followers and go viral.”

How to repurpose influencer and UGC content

Beyond producing ad material native to their platform, Manny considers influencers a high-ROI investment for the wealth of repurposable user-generated content (UGC) they provide. 

In his experience, running paid ads with content by third-party photographers or videographers is more costly and less effective than micro-influencer content.

For instance: 

  1. One TikTok by a Wearva influencer garnered millions of views on the app

  2. Manny then repurposed a series of high-performing TikToks for FB ads

  3. These ads wound up generating huge ROAS rates between 3x to 10x

“Influencers aren’t just shilling ads. They’re creating broader content for you to leverage, from repurposable UGC to a whole new array of material for paid ads.”

Growth tactics: what makes a TikTok post go viral?

As for how Wearva's influencers regularly produce viral content on a platform as new as TikTok, Manny admits there's no formula, rhyme, or reason to an algorithm-friendly video. 

All you can do (as Wearva has done) is approach as many different creators for as many different approaches to video content as possible.

If you’re an early startup: 

  1. Find 5+ micro-influencers compatible with your brand

  2. Ask if they’ll work for free, a discount, or a free product

  3. Have each create three entirely unique pieces of ad content

  4. Ensure variability in form, post time, and tone until you go viral

Each of these influencers will have a unique audience reach and content style. Let them create as usual, then suss out which personalities and content qualities speak to your target user. 

Beyond this, Manny reiterates two lines of wisdom: 

  1. Never rely on a single type or style of influencer content

  2. Optimize your posts for Friday evenings (more browsing time)

“Don’t force your influencers to recreate the same TikTok dance or whatever. Lean into what’s helped them build their own unique, loyal audiences.”

When you should outsource vs bring talent in-house

For any brand looking to start paid ads, Manny cautions against agencies for two reasons: 

  1. Quality—Both agencies and freelancers are hit-or-miss investments, so conduct your due diligence to ensure all third parties are the best match for your business. 

  2. Cost—As a result, many brands wind up cycling through options. For instance, trialing three established agencies may put you anywhere between $15,000 to $30,000 in fees. 

Unless you have the capital, Manny recommends taking direct control of your ad machine and bringing organic and paid marketing workflows in-house. As Manny puts it, Wearva is living proof that your early-stage brand can independently run ads and spend way less to generate strong returns, especially compared to agency premiums. 

More tactically, he recommends leveraging influencers to build content, then running paid marketing using UGC and influencer content internally on your brand’s own ad accounts.

If you'd like to go the self-instruction route to ramp up influencer marketing, there are structured course providers like Udemy and free instructional videos by experienced Shopify founders and operators on YouTube. 

After deploying influencer campaigns, he recommends setting up pixel tracking on Facebook to begin layering in paid spend promoting the highest-performing influencer content. 

Manny adds a cautionary reminder to avoid overcomplicating your Facebook paid marketing settings. Rather, simply input your target customer’s gender, age group, niche, and interests and let Facebook’s targeted performance engine handle the backend execution.

"If you have the capital, you can find an agency to meet your needs. But it's completely possible to teach yourself to master your ad presence."

Wearva’s top three marketing mistakes to avoid

Looking back, Manny can point to three common errors he’s made on the paid marketing front—and how younger founders today can circumvent them. 

Diversifying channels too early

Before you try breaking through on every channel, Manny strongly advises mastering one platform; establishing a steady, positive ROAS; and then adding on the next logical channel. 

In the early days, he easily took on far too many platforms—until he realized his strengths in Facebook and influencer marketing and doubled down on growing Wearva that way. 

Overspending on external agencies

Prior to running Wearva’s marketing in-house, Manny admits to blowing a decent amount of capital by contracting some bad agencies.

He simply didn’t do the necessary due diligence. 

If you're outsourcing, he heavily emphasizes forgoing published reviews for your own research on any freelancer, agency, or general third party. This can look like: 

  • Turning to friends and colleagues in the space for direct recommendations or, conversely, any warnings about a third party

  • Extending your search for first-person reviews to Facebook groups, Twitter/X communities, or any space that’s rife with e-commerce and advertising operators

Outsourcing the wrong functions

In retrospect, Manny would have focused primarily on owning his core competencies and keeping Wearva’s marketing and advertising efforts in-house.

It’s critical that founders honestly evaluate for themselves what they are talented at and where their operating weaknesses lie.

He recommends clearly articulating what you’re not great at first, then deciding how and where to outsource your weaknesses–whether it’s an e-commerce agency, freelancer, studio, or contractor.

Building a profitable exit strategy from day one

With these insights, Manny built his store to a profitable exit within 2 years–and you can too. In this growth playbook, we unpack how to leverage competitive advantages around influencer marketing and paid creative testing. 

To dive deeper into the OpenStore portfolio, we spoke with brands like Jack Archer and Yogaste to distill their best practices around maximizing an acquisition offer and transitioning to build dozens of Shopify stores.

For more information about how you can scale and sell your Shopify brand, or to find out how much you can get for your store, get an offer for your store

“Don’t put too much on your plate or assume the priciest agency will do the best work. Do understand your capabilities and outsource or delegate respectively.”

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