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For brands that sell physical merchandise, product seeding is one of the easiest and most budget-friendly ways to start or scale an influencer marketing program that boosts brand awareness and drives sales.
Product seeding, or influencer gifting, is also one of the best ways to build brand love among your influencers by allowing them to learn about your brand, try your product, and become fans of both.
Product seeding and influencer gifting are when brands send free products to a carefully selected group of influencers. In return, influencers post about the item and share photos and opinions of the product with their followers.
The idea behind product seeding is that getting your product into the hands of an influencer who is likely to use and enjoy your product will result in genuine, relatable content that the influencer’s community will find engaging and memorable.
Today’s top brands use product seeding to grow their influencer programs. After identifying personalities that align with their core values, brands can send products in exchange for high-quality content and nurture relationships with their favorite creators, which often leads to long-term partnerships.
MVMT Watches—a sleek, modern watch brand—used product seeding to build a thriving influencer marketing program and nurture authentic creator relationships. Ethan Frame, MVMT’s former influencer marketing manager, said influencer gifting was instrumental in launching the brand’s influencer marketing efforts and growing it into one of the most successful influencer programs around today.
“We spent a lot of time on Instagram, and we started noticing people getting followings there and were like ‘Hey, I wonder if we can send these people some watches and a promo code they can share with their fans and see what happens.’”— Ethan Frame, former influencer marketing manager at MVMT Watches
Ethan recruited the right influencers by finding creators aligned with the MVMT brand. He then cultivated a personal relationship with each creator, sent them a watch, and eventually asked if they would take a picture wearing the gift and share it with their followers. This product seeding approach helped the MVMT influencer program scale and become a tremendous marketing tool for the company.
GoPro’s small, attachable lenses are perfect for the travel and extreme sports creators the tech brand generally targets for its product seeding campaigns. The company encourages its creator partners to use its “action cams” to capture stunning content they can share with their followers.
In January, the brand sponsored the Natural Selection Tour in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Four of the 24 elite riders on tour competed for the GoPro Snow team, and each was equipped with plenty of GoPro gear to document every step of the extreme journey.
ZAFUL is a fashion brand that offers affordable prices on trendy looks for men and women. The ecommerce company is a web-based marketplace that allows its buyers and sellers to connect online. Founded in 2014, the brand used product seeding to help grow its Instagram following to more than 5.2 million.
One of its most popular campaigns is “ZAFUL Hauls,” where influencers can select an outfit from the store and upload a photo of themselves wearing it on their feed. The brand also includes a promo code for the creator so their fans can save money on purchases.
There’s a reason that influencer marketing has taken off in the past few years—it’s wildly effective. In fact, influencer marketers see an average of $5-6.50 return on every $1 invested in social media creators.
Product seeding is one of the keys to creating a robust influencer program and greatly benefits brands that want to build and quickly scale their influencer marketing program.
Brands are best off partnering with creators who actually use and enjoy the products they make. Ideally, creators who align with a brand’s mission and values already use—or have at least some knowledge of—that brand’s merchandise.
If not, product seeding is the next best thing.
By allowing the creator to browse your catalog and select a product they will use in real life, creators are more likely to develop genuine brand affinity and pass that love on to their followers.
Research shows as many as 37.8 million influencers exist collectively on Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok. So how do you find the ones who can become authentic, long-term ambassadors?
The key is to build an influencer program based on partnerships and not just transactions.
Creators who are only interested in making money and accumulating as many followers as possible want a transactional relationship. This tactic won’t succeed for either party and will not generate the quality, long-term relationships necessary to scale an influencer marketing program.
Great influencers want to nurture brand relationships that genuinely help their audience. That’s why product seeding is essential. It lets the influencer decide if your product is something they would endorse organically and opens the door for conversation about how creators really feel about an item.
For most brands, product seeding is highly cost-effective. Unless a brand has an extremely high-ticket product, the exchange of product for user-generated content (UGC) is by far the most inexpensive way to build brand awareness and eventually drive sales.
Getting professional-grade content for the price of a product is a no-brainer for any marketer. Just be sure to choose influencers who are already producing content that your audience loves so you end up with material that can be reused and repurposed through paid ads, email marketing, and more.
Sending out a product to influencers without asking for an immediate response builds the kind of trust that leads to brand love. You’re more likely to turn an influencer into a “true believer” by taking the time to slow down and build a real relationship. In turn, you’ll earn the support of the fans who genuinely believe in that influencer’s mission.
Product placement works. A recent survey showed that 80% of consumers favor product placement over other traditional paid advertisements because it’s more organic.
Organic and effective product placement occurs when a brand links up with a high-profile social media influencer who uses or wears their product. Even if the influencer doesn’t initially tag the brand in their posts, they will likely take a positive photo with the product that will appear in their content. This creates a natural brand-influencer alignment that the creator’s followers will notice.
You constantly create opportunities to convert new customers by getting products out into the world. Even if the goal isn’t to acquire a new influencer to represent your brand, a free product could create a loyal fan that will buy from you in the future.
MVMT’s Ethan Frame believes there’s value in product gifting even if the influencer relationship doesn’t work out.
“Hey, if it’s another watch on someone’s wrist, it’s still advertising for me,” he said.
Many social media users follow influencers based on aesthetics and notice when their favorite creator is wearing or using something they haven’t seen before. Whether through influencer content, shout-outs, or word of mouth, influencer gifting guarantees more people will become aware of your brand.
Though simple in theory, it’s essential to have a clear plan and processes in place to implement a successful product seeding campaign.
Here are the steps you should take to get the most out of product seeding:
Now let’s take a closer look at these eight steps.
As mentioned before, brands need to approach the right influencers to partner with. The key is to find people who would organically use your brand’s product in their everyday life. Taking the time to identify the right creators ensures that the influencer will likely appreciate your product and consider endorsing it.
Don’t just look at an influencer’s latest content and send a free product right away. Take some time to get to know them first. Investigate different posts, blogs, comments, and online engagement and understand what that influencer is all about and which products are best to send them.
It also improves your chances of successfully reaching out to an influencer by including details that show that you really understand who they are. The best method for warm outreach is to mention something personal about their past content and why your brand thinks they would appreciate the product.
Pro tip: Don’t forget to watch out for red flags. Take your time searching the influencer’s profiles to ensure they haven’t posted anything objectionable, inflammatory, or discriminatory in the past.
Authentic influencers don’t want to hear a sales pitch, and they definitely don’t want to be bombarded by brands that know nothing about them.
Brands should demonstrate that they’ve done their homework and connect with the influencer’s content. The easiest way to turn your outreach from cold to warm is to let the influencer know you checked them out. Mention a specific piece of content they created or a caption they wrote to prove that they aren’t just on the receiving end of a spam campaign.
You may think that anyone would want your product for free, but it’s polite to ask first. Put serious thought into which product to send a creator based on their personality and interests and personalize the gift whenever possible.
Don’t be pushy about asking for a return on the free products you send to an influencer. Allowing connections to grow naturally gives creators a chance to fall in love with your brand and merchandise and creates authentic, organic promotions.
Don’t send it and forget it—continue to build a relationship with the influencer after sending a gift. Follow up after a bit of time has passed. Ask how the product is working or if they have any questions about it. Be natural and create a genuine, positive exchange. Keep the conversation flowing!
After the relationship has signs of progress and you’ve made a real connection, it’s time to ask for content subtly. There’s no need to ask for mentions or tags right away. Any post with a product in use or worn is precious to a brand. If you invest the time to nurture the relationship, the influencer will be ready and willing to give you their best recommendations, tags, or mentions without being asked.
After the influencer posts about the product, the brand should create a cadence with that influencer and initiate collaboration for ongoing content. This is the point where product seeding can grow into a full-blown influencer partnership, including affiliate links, swipe-ups, brand mentions, etc.
Product seeding is one of the most effective and cost-efficient ways to scale your influencer marketing campaign. By partnering with the right influencers, your brand can get its products in front of an engaged audience ready to take product recommendations from their favorite creator. Plus, the ongoing relationship you build with your favorite influencer partners ensures loyal, long-term customers.
Learn more about how the right influencer marketing software can help maximize the success of your product seeding campaigns.
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