Cosmetics and Blogger Outreach, an Interview with Amy Eleftheriadis
Interviewer: Tim Martin, January 2014. Episode #7 from the NET:101 podcast.
TIM: With me today I have Amy Eleftheriadis from Sukin.
AMY: Thank you.
TIM: I brought you in today specifically to talk about blogger outreach, because I know that Sukin is actively involved in that space.
TIM: But before we do that, can you tell us a little bit about Sukin?
AMY: Yeah, sure. We’re a natural skincare brand. We’re Australian made and owned. Just going on 7 years old, and we are in fact one of the top selling natural skincare brands in Australia in our channels. So through pharmacies and health food stores, we do very, very well, and we’re international as well, so we do sell overseas.
TIM: Oh, very good. Now, blogger outreach. I know you’ve been involved in that for a little while; can you give us some background to that?
AMY: Yeah, sure. I started with the company in 2010, and right from the get-go, we had a few bloggers here and there contacting us wanting product, wanting to trial and review product. It got me intrigued, so beginning of 2011, I started a strategy to begin to really communicate with them, explore them as a channel for getting press, I guess, to get the brand name out there and just have a different perspective on the brand as well from traditional media such as print and magazines, that sort of thing.
I consulted a big database that we have in the beauty industry called Beauty Directory, and they have great lists of all sorts of people, from PR agencies to online to bloggers. So that’s where I started, and I reached out, send a lot of emails, and that’s how the communication started. And it’s just grown from there.
TIM: Was that something you decided “Right, blogger outreach, we need to get into that,” or did it just sort of organically, naturally – did you find your way there?
AMY: In terms of actually building that list of people, that happened quite organically, but I did make a conscious decision to reach out to them, to up the amount of blogger contact we were having and to get our product in the hands of them. It was definitely a decision for that, yeah, that that was something I was going to explore and grow.
TIM: Right, okay. Are there media kits that you download? Are there particular individuals that you try and pull out of the marketplace?
AMY: It’s different depending on who they are, but – and I didn’t really know, if I’m being honest, I didn’t really know how to contact them. Quite a few of them along the way had actually written posts about how to communicate with bloggers, which really helps. Because obviously, it’s a very, very different space to print and paid media, so I think they understand that we’re not really sure as well, and I consulted those resources.
But mostly it was just a case of reading their blogs, seeing if they were a good fit, and touching base with emails. They’re such an amazing network and they’re all friends, and they all communicate with each other. And that then snowballs, so you might contact one and then you’ll get three contacting you because of that one. So it grows very quickly.
TIM: So you built up a community of bloggers.
TIM: Right. To what extent does that relationship form? I mean, do you know these people – have you ever met them?
AMY: Yes, I’ve met some of them. I’ve been lucky enough to meet some of them. Some of them we’re still waiting to meet. And I stay in close contact with probably a group of about 10 to 20 of them. We have regular contact, and sometimes I’ll just touch base to see how their blog’s going, to see what they’re doing down the track in case we can be involved in anything. And then there’s a wider group of people who I might touch base with four or five times a year.
But I think blogger events and meeting up with them will have to be part of our strategy in future, because we want to maintain those relationships because we see them as being important.
TIM: Yeah. So not just a case of maybe sitting down and breaking bread at an event, but maybe inviting them to participate in some sort of event or a tour through the factory, that sort of thing?
AMY: Yeah, absolutely. There’s a range of things you can do. As you mentioned, you can have events where you put on a bit of food and you take them through the products; you can also invite them to be part of product trials and that sort of thing, and you can meet up with them then. Or discussion groups, even. They’re a great resource for bringing out your products and having them talk about what they think before you release it to the wider market.
That’s something you don’t get necessarily with paid media as well, because they don’t always have the time to participate in those events, whereas bloggers do tend to be more open to those sorts of things.
TIM: Would that go down as far as packaging ideas, that sort of thing?
AMY: Probably not. Our packaging is pretty streamlined; for consistency reasons, we tend to discuss that and knock that out at a company level. But definitely in terms of feel and scent and effectiveness, we would contact bloggers to find out what they think. Because really, they try a lot of products. They really do know what the market wants. They are the market as well. So their insights are really valuable to us.
TIM: Their credibility obviously comes from the fact that they’re not exclusively your people or in your pocket; they’re trialing products from the general market, and they’re giving their genuine feelings or thoughts about what they’ve trialed, yeah?
AMY: Yeah, absolutely. We are quite open to the fact that not everybody is going to like everything you bring out. It’s just not a reality. We work on it; if a majority loves the product, then it’s something that we’ll either release or keep on the market.
Bloggers are a great way of also getting in contact with the people using your products, because they have huge, huge databases of people that follow them, that give them feedback on products, that comment when they review. So they really know the ins and outs of your product and your competitors’ products. We would definitely consider them an authority, absolutely.
TIM: A mainstream media person might say “Look, The Age newspaper, we’ve got a write-up there that’s got a circulation of 300,000,” which your blogger communities, I would imagine most of them would pale against a number like that. How do you get around the idea that it’s not about the big number?
AMY: We tend to work on a quality over quantity with all of our marketing, because we don’t have huge budgets to spend on things like a The Age write-up or things like that. I’m lucky in the sense that my superiors, the people that I then answer to, they understand the value in a review like a blogger review.
Because you might have a huge amount of people reading something like The Age, but they’re not all necessarily engaged. Whereas with a blogger review, the people who have found that review are actively engaging with it because they’ve sought it out, whether it be because they’re already following that blogger or because they’ve done a Google search and they’ve come across it.
TIM: Yeah. Within the beauty industry, you would have bloggers that are niching into skincare products. Are there niches below that, potentially?
AMY: Yes, there are. Some of them focus specifically on cruelty-free products, so skincare and then cruelty-free skincare. Some are vegan; we’ve got some amazing vegan bloggers who do incredible things, outside of skincare as well. We obviously fit into those categories, where we have an environmental ethos. There’s a lot of green beauty bloggers. So yeah, absolutely.
And I think in future, there’ll probably be even more definite niches, more things popping up that people can find very, very small interests in a very, very large industry. It’ll be interesting to see what pops up.
TIM: The power of niche.
TIM: Yes. Now, from my observations, there are many organizations and people whose responsibility it is to get a return on investment that maybe still don’t realize the power of niche. They’re still looking for that large number, the 300,000.
AMY: Yeah. And don’t get me wrong, we still do in a certain capacity, but I think – blogger outreach really doesn’t cost very much at all. The return on investment may not be as great as something like a huge Body+Soul article, but you’ve invested very little. You’ve sent them a product, you’ve spent time building a relationship with that person.
So in terms of when you come back and you say 3,000 people have read that article versus 300,000 that might read Body+Soul, or even more, that’s great. That cost us the cost of the product in sending it out and a bit of time, and we got 3,000 people reading it. So I think you always have to consider what you actually outlay before you are concerned about what you get out of it.
TIM: That makes sense. In terms of reaching out to bloggers, do you give them the product or samples and ask for them to review? Is that right?
AMY: I actually never ask them to review. I always send product when they ask for it, but I don’t like to put an expectation on them, because I think that puts pressure on them to like it. And they may not, and that’s completely fine. We really value their genuine opinion, and we’re very confident with our product that once we put it in the hands of people, they will like it.
I think it’s important not to make them feel like you’re using them or you really expect something from them. Because at the end of the day, most of them are doing it for the love, and if you lay that expectation on them, you’re turning it into a job for them. Not all bloggers, and I certainly don’t want to generalize, but most of them don’t want to feel that way about their blogging.
TIM: Sure. Do you wait for bloggers to ask for samples, or do you proactively offer?
AMY: Both. Usually if we have new products, I will quite strategically pick which bloggers I think would be interested, and I’ll let them know that it’s come out and give them the opportunity to try a sample if they would like to. Then I will always send out other emails that say “We’re still here; visit our website. If there’s anything you think will fit in with what you’re writing, please let me know and we’ll send that out.” And then throughout the year, people will contact you anyway for product.
TIM: Are there some bloggers out there that are happy to review your product, but they’ll only do it if they get paid?
AMY: Yeah, there are. A lot of them do work as more freelance writers, and that’s how they view their blogging. We haven’t at this stage paid for an actual review. We’ve paid for things like trial teams, because we see that as something different; you’re basically paying to use their database, and I think that’s completely warranted.
TIM: How does that work, Amy, when you say trial team?
AMY: They’ll put a call out on their blog saying “We have this product from Sukin which we’d like 10 people to try,” and essentially their database, or whoever’s following them, will express their interest, and then they’ll pick 10 people to trial a product for a set period of time and post the reviews and have a discussion about what they thought, that sort of thing.
TIM: So that’s like a value add to the blogger’s community.
TIM: And those people may have their own blog in their own right?
AMY: Correct, yeah. And a lot of them do, because as I said earlier, they’re all very close. They all share information, they’re all friends. It’s actually a really nice community to be, even in a little part, to be a part of.
TIM: Have you ever had a negative review from a blogger?
AMY: No, not really. There was one review that wasn’t negative; it was just “this product wasn’t suited to me, but I think you should try it because this, that, and the other was great about the brand.” They then expressed their interest in trying other products. So no, we haven’t really had any. We’ve been very lucky.
TIM: How would you or your management react if a blogger were to post a negative review?
AMY: I think it’s important to comment, at least, on that review, to just let them know “we’re sorry that you’ve had that experience” or “we completely respect that your opinion is your own and it didn’t work for you.” Sometimes we’ll offer to send them other products that might be more suited.
But I think it’s just important to respond in some way, to acknowledge them and to let them know we’ve seen it and we completely respect their review.
TIM: You sell internationally; do you reach out to international bloggers?
AMY: We do, but we have distributors in each country. So we don’t actually manage our brand in those countries. Well, to an extent, obviously, we feed them with the information. But if we get contact from an international blogger, we send it on to the relevant distributor to be in contact with them.
TIM: The budget that you’ve got allocated to manage the blogger outreach process, was that a case of moving expenditure from another marketing channel into this channel?
AMY: To be honest, I’m not 100% sure. It has certainly grown, but so has the business. I really think it’s just something that we’ve added to over time without actually having to pull from other areas. And as I said, it’s actually not really a huge expense. It’s really just product, so it all comes under what we would call a PR budget, and that has grown over the years with the company.
TIM: Yeah, so it may be more cost-effective in terms of financial expenditure but more resources around time and managing the relationships?
AMY: Yes. Yeah, it does take a lot of time, and I really think you have to be prepared to put in that time, because it is relationship marketing. You’re not paying for it; they don’t have to give you their time in the same respect that you don’t have to give them product.
But I think you need to build that relationship. There has to be give and take with bloggers, because it’s their personal project. It’s their baby in a way, and you have to respect that, and show them that you do as well.
TIM: You’ve been active in the space of blogger outreach for a couple of years now. How did you work out what to do? Did you make some mistakes and then iterate from there, or did you have some manual or guide that just explained what to do?
AMY: No. I’ve always been very much into relationship marketing anyway, because that’s what I was taught, to build your relationships with bloggers, with customers. So yes, I did make mistakes.
I don’t know if you would really call them necessarily mistakes, but I did at the beginning do a few blanket send-outs, so just pop product in a box and send it out. A lot of them came back, and to be perfectly honest, we didn’t get a lot of reviews out of that, because – and again, I don’t want to generalize, but a lot of bloggers do not like to be sent blanket send-outs because it’s an assumption that they will write or it’s an assumption that that’s something that they’d be interested in. You really do need to contact them and ask them first. That’s just something I learnt along the way.
I also learnt that you need to feed off the response that you get from them. You really need to be in tune with how to contact certain bloggers. They’re not all the same; some of them like a very, very personal approach and some of them like a more professional approach. And it comes back to time. You do need to spend a lot of time investing in working out what their needs are and how they want to be communicated with.
Actually, in all honesty, the database that we use, the beauty database, one of the questions they ask in each of the blogger’s profiles is how they prefer to be contacted. So that always gives you a good indication. If it’s by phone, they’re usually a pretty casual, personable blogger; if it’s by email, often they’ll like to really address your questions and get back to you in time.
So yeah, I guess it was certainly trial and error, and it’s just developed over time. Some have dropped off contact, and then I’ve picked up new bloggers along the way.
TIM: The metrics – when you are appraising a blogger for suitability, obviously the audience and what they’re interested in, get back to the idea of niche. But do you look at metrics such as unique visitors, page views, number of subscribers, those sorts of things?
AMY: Not initially. We – well, I say “we” – I really look at their content, because I find that relevant content is key. It’s going to be there forever. So long as the blogger is writing, their stats are increasing, and what I’ve found along the way is that sometimes you’ll contact a blogger, and in a year’s time they’re in a completely different place metrics-wise than they were at the beginning of the year, and your post is still there.
So in a sense, sometimes I will if I’m not sure as to whether I should send out product or of their suitability. If I’m a bit wary they’re just asking for product just to try it rather than actually for their blog, I will actually have a look at their metrics. But it’s certainly not my first protocol.
TIM: You’ve raised an interesting point. You know my position on content that can be indexed by the search engine spiders and potentially can provide value or brand exposure for months, if not years, to come.
It seems such an obvious thing to me, and I know that you understand how it works; I get the impression a lot of people out there don’t realize the power of long-form content, a blog post for example, that can be retrieved through organic search for a long time into the future.
AMY: I actually find people who don’t read blogs generally feel that way. So if you’re not someone who’s actually actively in the blogger space, the perception is that “it’s just a blogger and she’s just writing one article, so why would I do that over paid media?”
Once you start getting into – because to be perfectly honest, I didn’t understand the space until I was in it with work. I think it’s just a matter of over time, people’s perceptions will change, as it has for social media. I don’t think we ever thought Facebook was going to be what it is today. So it’s just going to take a little bit of time before people understand that that content is there and it stays there.
And it’ll become evident – I mean, we record all of the coverage that we get, all of the coverage we can find from blogs as well – and I think as it grows year on year, that’s when companies will start to realize the importance of it.
TIM: Would it be your opinion – I don’t want to put word into your mouth here, but do you think this is still early days, that a lot of organizations or brands don’t understand the power that bloggers wield?
AMY: In certain industries, yes, absolutely. I think I the beauty industry, it’s well advanced. I do think that certainly our competitors understand and the cosmetic industry as well, the beauty industry as a whole, really does understand that blogger reviews are really important.
But there are spaces where it’s still developing and there are early days, and I think that’s just to do with the amount of blogs that there are and the amount of content that’s going up about that particular industry. That will grow, and then they will catch on and develop into more advanced stages, I think.
TIM: Would there be some companies out there that just see this as just another channel to flog? “We’re going to grab some $2 nail remover and we’re going to blast it out to 1,000 bloggers and hope to get a review,” that sort of mentality of just spray and pray.
AMY: Yes, and I think absolutely there would be so many companies that do that. Actually, it’s not their fault, because that is how it always was with traditional media. If you wanted to get coverage that you hadn’t necessarily paid for advertising, then you really did have to work on a numbers – it was a numbers game. The more you sent out, the more traction you’re likely to get.
So it’s just a matter of reeducating, and as I have done, learn about the bloggers and the way they like to be communicated with. I think that’s going to take a little bit of time still.
TIM: Come back to the bloggers. Do they have their own media kits? Does that make it a little bit easier for you to understand what sort of commercial relationships they’re open to, for example?
AMY: Yeah, a lot of them do now. In fact, more and more have them, and I think they realize the importance of them, too. Because bloggers are just as interested in working with companies as companies are with them, and so I think bloggers understand having a media kit is often a first port of call. Particularly for PR agencies, they’ll have a look at that.
And it does make the relationship a little easier, because as you say, it gives you an indication of the kinds of things they write about, for one, but also how they like to receive product and how they like to be contacted.
TIM: Would you have any advice for bloggers out there in terms of the type of information you as a brand like to see in the media kit?
AMY: I think often they provide quite general overviews of what they write about; I would like to see more specific examples of what they write. Because you could spend a lot of time going through their blog, but it does take a lot of time, and not everybody has that time.
And if they have a particular angle that they usually take with their writing, as I say, if they’re quite niche, that’s something that probably needs to go into the media kit as well.
TIM: What about their social media? Does that have any bearing on it? They may have a blog that’s around a particular subject matter, they’ve got X number of subscribers, and they get all sorts of comments every post. But what about their extended footprint around Facebook or Twitter or Instagram, that sort of thing?
AMY: Yeah, I find bloggers tend to love Twitter. It’s a really great way of them posting a link to their articles, but also of staying in and around the issues in their industry. So they’ll always have a Twitter account that’s linked.
I find less and less of them have Facebook accounts. I think there’s probably less value in a Facebook account for them than there is with Twitter because it’s such a fast-moving medium.
But they all pretty much have Instagram now as well, so that they can add that visual aspect to their writing. Yeah, so mainly I think they use it to sort of facilitate and I guess brand build, because their blog is their brand, so they certainly use Instagram to build images and different facets around their blog and their brand.
TIM: Do you proactively promote hashtags, for example, around the Sukin brand?
AMY: We’re just starting to, actually. We didn’t, and now with Instagram, it’s quite new for us; it’s only almost a year old now, and we are – I think #glowingskin is one of them, and we do try and include a certain amount of repeated hashtags so that people learn that that’s one of ours and that’s something we like to be associated with.
TIM: You’ve been to a couple of my courses, NET101 courses; thank you, Amy. Generally speaking, what’s on your radar? What are you excited about in terms of online in the future, over the next year or two?
AMY: Well, I do love how everything’s becoming very visual. It’s not so text-based. And in terms of content creating, that’s opening up a whole new space for us, because I think for cosmetic brands, for example, who they work on color, it’s a lot easier for them to create images and different associations with their brand.
For us, it’s a bit of a challenge, because we are quite environmentally-focused, but we have this line of skincare that doesn’t really change all too much. And certainly we don’t experiment that much with color.
So I guess I’m excited about visual content creation. We’ve got some really talented creative people on board at Sukin, and I think the next year particularly, with video and Instagram, that’s going to really grow for us. I’m excited to see what we come up with.
TIM: I’m excited to see what you come up with. Online video, you’re excited about that?
AMY: We are, yeah. A lot of our competitors aren’t doing too much in the video space, and yet our demographic is screaming for tutorials and how-tos. Because even something as simple as cleansing, people don’t know how to do it properly. Or “what’s the best way to apply this product or use that product?”
Often it can be a barrier to them actually purchasing. So we just want to remove that barrier and open the brand up. It’s not just “use our products in this way”; just “use your skincare.” So even if it’s not our brand, we do want to be seen as I guess an authority in the skincare space.
TIM: I guess we could categorize that as content marketing, where you’re actually going to help your target audience and not just sell stuff to them.
AMY: Yeah, absolutely.
TIM: Amy, what general advice would you give to anybody – I mean, not necessarily in the beauty industry or the skincare space, but if a business thought there was some upside to reaching out to bloggers – they don’t know anything about how it works, but they want to get into the space and experiment – could you give a couple of fundamental pointers to set them on their way?
AMY: Sure. Usually there’s some form of directory that will point them to a number of bloggers that they can initially get in contact with, and I think that’s a good place to start, because what they have to understand is that will grow very, very quickly once you start making contact with a few.
The other thing is, be prepared to create relationships, not just contact people or have association with bloggers. You need to put in the time to understand their blogs, to speak to them about it, and to constantly be in contact as well. It needs to be something that is regularly scheduled into your work time, that you put time into bloggers.
Updating your lists is always really important as well, so you’re not contacting people who no longer have that blog or who you are no longer at that address.
And I think be prepTweet: test http://ctt.ec/m3Jgs+ared to get it wrong a number of times as well, so that you learn from that and then you move on and you grow.
TIM: Excellent, thank you so much. Amy, tell the listeners where they can find Sukin online. You’ve got a website, yes?
AMY: We do, yes. Sukinorganics.com is our website, and we have a fairly new online store there as well. But bricks and NET:101 Inforgraphic: Social Media Manifesto mortar is still definitely number one for us, and that’s Priceline, Chemist Warehouse, and the major one is Terry White. Most pharmacies and health food stores will stock Sukin.
TIM: Tremendous. Thank you so much for coming in.
AMY: Thank you.
TIM: Looking forward to getting you back somewhere down the track. Thanks, Amy.
AMY: Great. Thanks, Tim.