key takeaways | influencer marketing done right
Follower count isn’t everything. When choosing an influencer, focus more on finding a reputable person who you trust to represent your brand.
For influencer marketing to be effective, the influencer has to authentically love your products or service. Paying an influencer to “fake love” your product is pointless.
Build relationships with your influencers. Have fun with them. Scratch their backs, and they’ll scratch yours.
A few weeks ago, my partner and I had to haul our home out of the water (yes, we live on a sailboat) to do some maintenance work. Much to our surprise, when we laid eyes on the hull—oof—what a sorry sight. She needed repainting—bad.
We also needed to get her back in the water—fast. Sailing from midcoast Maine to Cape Cod in December is risky business, and we had a solid-looking weather window approaching. We had to hit that window.
My partner put in a quick call to TotalBoat. How fast can you ship us a few cans of bottom paint?
We had what we needed in less than 24-hours, delivered to our front…uh, hull?
What does any of this have to do with influencer marketing? Well, my partner is a social media influencer—he documented the process of building the 38’ wooden sailboat we now call home, from stump to ship. He cut the trees, milled the lumber, collected scrap lead to melt down for the ballast keel, and handcrafted every. single. inch. of our floating abode. In the process of doing so, he picked up a cool 180K subscribers on YouTube, and now makes a living running his channel, Acorn to Arabella: Journey of a Wooden Boat.
TotalBoat was his first sponsor, and, over the years, has provided him with all the resins, paints, and wood finishes he has ever needed (and then some).
Acorn to Arabella has worked with other sponsors: several portable power brands, like Bluetti and EcoFlow, Audible, AeroPress, Better Help, and even a Japanese knife manufacturer (no judgement, he’s got bills to pay). But there’s a reason why, when CBS Saturday Morning and the NBC Today Show came out to do features on the project, my partner chose to wear a TotalBoat hat for his interviews. The approach that TotalBoat takes—not just with Acorn to Arabella, but with its entire team of influencers—has been by far the most supportive, the most authentic, and the most successful. Here’s why:
there’s that word again: authenticity
Follower count isn’t everything, and any brand looking to invest in influencer marketing needs to know that. I would argue that authenticity is the #1 most important factor for a successful influencer marketing strategy—in more ways than one:
the influencer needs to be real and authentic
In early 2023, outdoor brand, Eddie Bauer, basically fired its entire team of pro athletes, and partnered with a collection of social media influencers instead. One particular influencer had built a following based on their image as an athlete and climber…but on a guided trip alongside some of Eddie Bauer’s remaining pros, apparently did not know how to put on a harness. This level of inauthenticity—had it made its way into the public eye—could have caused irreparable damage to Eddie Bauer’s brand’s image and reputation.
TotalBoat, on the other hand, has taken great care to partner with influencers are are doing the damn thang, and doing it really well. Jimmy Diresta, Lindsay Zeulich, Jason Hibbs, and Acorn to Arabella are just a few of the woodworkers, boatbuilders, and artists on TotalBoat’s team of influencers and brand ambassadors—and they are the real deal.
“We pick and choose makers who are going to use and represent our products properly. We trust our brand ambassadors to do the right thing, without us having to tell them what the ‘right thing’ is,” says Kristin Browne, TotalBoat’s Director of Brand Ambassadors & Events.
If you want influencer marketing to work for your brand, you should also choose reputable people who you trust to represent your brand. Don’t “shop” for an influencer based on how many followers or subscribers they have. Yes, that number matters—but not as much as how authentically awesome they are at whatever it is they do.
the influencer needs to authentically love your products or services
If an influencer is already using your product or service, well, that’s a no brainer—sure up that partnership, already! However, that’s usually not the case. Most brands start by identifying a few influencers they would like to partner with, and provide them with their product or service.
Now, here’s the important part: the influencer absolutely, unequivocally, and emphatically needs to love your product or service.
Nothing is easier to sniff out than fake inauthenticity, so paying an influencer to “fake love” your product is pointless.
Prior to partnering with TotalBoat, Acorn to Arabella was not using any TotalBoat products. While working out the nature of their partnership, my partner was clear: if we don’t like your products, we’re not going to use them. TotalBoat agreed. But, they make great products—my partner was quickly sold on TotalBoat, and fast became an authentic brand devotee.
Not all influencers will be open enough to say they don’t like a product or service, especially when a paycheck is on the line. As a brand, your job is to gauge the authenticity of the content your influencer is creating, and determine whether they are helping or hurting your brand image.
the actual integration needs to feel authentic
I’m always shocked at the type of integration most brands want when they partner with an influencer. An uninterrupted 4-minutes of video content, focused only on the positive aspects of your product or service? You might as well run an ad!
The whole reason why influencer marketing works is because it feels authentic. It’s more public relations than advertising. If viewers get the sense that they’re being sold to—a.k.a. if the integration doesn’t feel authentic—they just shut down. They’re out. See ya later. Peace out.
For Acorn to Arabella, some of the more sales-y integrations they’ve done (again, no judgement…they’ve got bills to pay) have been met with some pretty annoyed fans and followers. Of course, the explanation—hey, we need money to keep this channel going—is valid. But will that kind of messaging support the growth of your brand? Absolutely not!
What works so well about Acorn to Arabella’s partnership with TotalBoat is that the use of their products is seamlessly integrated into the content of the channel. There’s no spiel. There’s no script. Just explanations, like, Hey, this is what I’m doing, and these are the products I’m using to do it.
“We try to control the message, but not the influencer,” says Browne. “It works best if we just let everybody do their own thing.”
My partner also almost always wears a TotalBoat hat—it’s kinda his signature look. Side story: we’ve been out in public and had fans come over saying, I wasn’t sure if it was you, until I saw the TotalBoat hat. You can’t put a price tag on that!
So, lean on your influencer to come up with a mutually beneficial plan to promote your product or service on their platform. They know their audience, and they know how branded content will land with them. Don’t be afraid to err on the side of authenticity. In fact, the biggest threat to the success of your influencer marketing strategy is being overly sales-y, and presenting as an obviously-paid integration.
scratch your influencer’s backs, and they’ll scratch yours
Going back to the anecdote we opened with…I don’t know how much you know about what it takes to ship a few cans of paint, but it’s neither cheap nor easy. But, one phone call to TotalBoat, and boom: my partner had the supplies he needed in less than 24-hours. How above-and-beyond is that?
“We make sure our brand ambassadors always have what they need to get the job done right,” says Browne.
Of course, the payoff for TotalBoat taking such good care of their influencers is also pretty above-and-beyond. TotalBoat gets consistently authentic (and consistently appreciative) shout-outs from Acorn to Arabella, as well as from the rest of their team of influencers. They also get mounds of useful video content, which they can use in their own marketing.
“Because we’ve focused on the YouTube aspect, the best part is that we’ve ended up with a library of resources to show our customers how to use our products,” says Browne.
When it comes to working with influencers, remember that support flows both ways. Be there for your influencers, and they’ll be there for you.
build a relationship with your influencers—and don’t forget to have some fun!
I feel like I’m saving the best for last here, but I have to highlight the brilliance of TotalBoat’s annual Get Your Ship Together maker’s event. During this event, TotalBoat brings in almost its entire team of brand ambassadors, puts them together in a few teams of five, gives them each the exact same materials—a few pieces of plywood and all the TotalBoat products they could ever want—and a few days time. The mission: build a boat, and win the boat race. Teams earn bonus points for every TotalBoat product they can incorporate in their boat…or in their corresponding costumes.
This event is genius for so many reasons:
1. It fosters brand loyalty amongst influencers, which leads to more authentic-feeling integrations.
2. It allows influencers to access the full breadth of TotalBoat’s products—even those that may normally be irrelevant to their trade.
3. It’s a great PR opportunity for TotalBoat.
4. The nature of the event is fun, and has a party-vibe that is perfectly aligned with the TotalBoat brand image
5. It makes for some great content—for both the influencers and TotalBoat. I mean, look at these pictures from the event…
Photography by Drew Lederman Photography
The bottom line is this: invest in your influencers—not just by paying them or providing them with free product, but by engaging with them, and supporting them along the way. Influencer marketing is unique in that, unlike other marketing strategies, its efficacy is dependent on the strength of a relationship. If the sponsor and influencer don’t have a mutual respect and appreciation for each other, it’s just not going to work.