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Influencer Marketing panel
Retail Trends

Customers are the new celebrities

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Influencer marketing is nothing new; companies have been using celebrity endorsements to promote products for decades, if not centuries. But the rise of social media has inspired a new generation of brand ambassadors, and they’re “real people” who are just like us.

At Retail’s BIG Show, digital marketing expert Kristy Sammis explained the power of authentic, customer-led storytelling to enhance brand awareness and influence purchasing decisions. Sammis and her fellow panelists recommended starting small by building relationships with a few carefully selected social media users. Here’s how three retailers have augmented their traditional marketing messages by partnering with customers to share brand and product stories.


Consumer-to-consumer word-of-mouth marketing generates more than twice the sales of paid advertising. (Source: McKinsey)

81 percent of consumers make purchasing decisions based on friends’ social posts. (Source: Market Force via Forbes)

43 percent of social users buy a product after sharing or “liking” it. (Source: Vision Critical)

Pottery Barn’s holiday influencers

The beautiful images in Pottery Barn’s catalog can be inspiring, but the level of perfection can also be a bit intimidating. Brand Marketing Director Kris Mulkey wanted to expand the company’s holiday marketing to show what items could look like in real homes, so the brand worked with 12 influencers to show how different types of customers across the country celebrate and decorate for the winter holidays. “When we’re posting things that are real and feel authentic, people really respond,” Mulkey said. Each influencer generated a set of images and posts that was used across different channels. In one example, a blogger posted on her own site and on Instagram, which was published in conjunction with a post on the Pottery Barn blog and Instagram account.

Zappos’ VIP fashion and style bloggers

Mullen Lowe executive Jaclyn Ruelle works on the agency side to build and maintain influencer networks on behalf of client companies including Zappos. To promote its offerings beyond shoes, the digital retailer engaged with influential fashion and style bloggers, giving the VIP group $300 in shopping credits each month to purchase and style an outfit from The strategy paid off: After just a few months, the top referring blogger had generated $9,000 in trackable revenue

Anthony Marino

ThredUP Chief Marketing Officer Anthony Marino on stage at Retail’s BIG Show.

ThredUP’s #badassmoms

In a separate session, ThredUP Chief Marketing Officer Anthony Marino emphasized the importance of showing customers that your company “gets it.” That requires a deeper understanding of what a shopper’s life is like.

“We have a campaign right now running on the site … where we profile some pretty ‘badass moms’ —moms who are makers, breakers, strivers, doing really great things in their communities who’ve had some really interesting lives,” Marino says. “We’ve found this has really been an incredible bit of storytelling that helps our customers see the types of other moms [who] get involved in ThredUP and how they choose to live.”

The allure of Hollywood stars and charismatic athletes is far from endangered, but for many retailers, the realness and authenticity of everyday customer stories holds powerful marketing potential.