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Sellerant Issue #1 — Influencers and Punching Up

Lantern Newsletter
Lantern Newsletter
Welcome to the new Lantern newsletter — recently migrated over to Revue! In our “first” edition, we are going to explore all things influencer marketing with Ian Borthwick!
Here’s a summary of what we learned:
🌟 When you can’t outspend them, outthink them — new mediums will let you beat out high rolling competitors.
🔎 Influencers with strong communities and long content are key
📝 Use micro-influencers to refine your pitch.

Ian Borthwick
Ian Borthwick
How did you get into social media and how did you get involved with SeatGeek?
I went to Colby College in Maine. I was going to be a political science major but realized that I had no interest in political science halfway through my senior year. I convinced this guy at a sports agency called Wasserman to give me a job. After doing that for three years, I wanted to go to the brand side. I thought startups were a place where if you worked really hard and you had skills, that would be more important than experience or tenure. SeatGeek hired me to do college sponsorships.
I saw we were having success on podcasts with Bill Simmons, one of the first podcast sponsors, and I tried to apply that same model to the internet. I thought, “What’s like podcasting?” I found myself watching NBA 2K gamers. These kids played NBA 2K all day got 200,000 views on their videos. That would be a major podcast. I reached out to them, and we did a trade deal for tickets where I gave them tickets to a Clippers game, and they promoted us. 
Our competitors had figured out Facebook ads and Twitter. This was back five years ago, and we were asking ourselves, okay, what’s next? Because we don’t want to compete head to head with them on Twitter and Facebook, where could spend us to death. For us, that was podcasting and YouTube. 
What are the things you’re looking for from influencers?
It’s more of an art than a science. One, is there a community? It doesn’t matter what size necessarily, but someone who has built a community that is rabid for their content. You can identify that by high engagement on their channel: a lot of comments, a lot of likes, ideally some inside jokes. Anybody that can develop an inside joke with their audience is on a different level. 
The second thing is long-form content. I’m a big believer that for startups, you’re in this for conversions, not impressions. Instagram is fine, but you’re getting a lot of scroll-through views. You need to focus on who people want to hear and what they have to say. To me, the two best platforms for that are YouTube and podcasting. If you’re going to hear what someone has to say for an hour, you care about that person and their opinion. 
Let’s say you’re a startup brand trying to decide your marketing campaign. You have a somewhat limited budget. Would you want to target a couple of midsize influencers or a hundred micro-influencers?
I think you want to own the pitch. I think everyone wants to go to the big-name first, but it takes a while to figure out the pitch that works. Also, a brand needs to build equity in space. Let’s say for us, the NBA 2K streamers, we were working with small guys, but they were receptive and willing to work with us when we had confusing directions.
I would recommend a startup look at it more that way, where we’re going to build to the mid-size, but these smaller influencers allow us to test what we’re doing and nail our pitch. We didn’t spend cash for the first year. I don’t regret it because we needed that time to nail it.
Our first sneakerhead that we worked with, we knew sneakerheads have a lot of money. They love to flex their basketball games, and they love our product. No one is marketing to them in a way that we can. Now let’s work our way up from the 10,000 to 15,000 view guys up to half a million. Once you’ve worked with small people, the bigger people suddenly email you and are like, “Wait, why does this guy have a deal and not me?” Even though the internet is a massive place, these verticals are actually pretty narrow in that all the creators watch each other. I’d recommend starting small and working your way up. 
My last question for you is how do you think the future of influencer marketing looks?
In terms of influencer marketing, I think it’s going to get tougher. You’re going to see more brands in this space doing the same marketing that SeatGeek does. If you look at Honey’s exit, a lot of their growth was because they partnered with Mr. Beast, and they were able to supercharge their marketing in a way that their competitors couldn’t. More brands in this space puts a lot more pressure on us to continue to push the envelope on our integrations. 
The biggest changes you’re seeing are the big creators building their own brands. I don’t think David’s going to build his own ticketing company. That’s too much overhead for him to deal with, but there are other categories where creatives ask themselves, why should I partner with a brand if I can just build it myself? These influencers are getting a lot more sophisticated.
Have you thought of angel investing in any of these?
Yeah, I angel invested in three companies so far. Before, tech companies viewed creators as celebrity investors that they can get for their company. Influencers are now viewed as a person with important thoughts that can be the primary distribution vehicle.
For me, I can help advise these companies on how to partner with talent because in the startup world, whatever company you’re working on occupies your brain one million percent of the time. That’s the only thing you think about every day. Sometimes when you approach talent, you don’t get why people won’t do things exactly how you want them. I can be the translator between those two conversations to say, “Yeah, I get it. They get 50 of these pitches a day, and we’re going to have to tailor how we do it to fit and get the attention of a specific influencer.”
Wrapping up!
Influencer marketing is an undeniable part of growing any company — it gives the little guys a chance to fight the big spenders. Being smart, nimble, and choosing the right influencers will give you a cutting edge that nobody can match.
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