What we're talking about

Gifting is when you give your brand's products or samples to an influencer for free. The hope is that they'll share it with their audience in some way. Though you might give a gift in person at an event – such as goodie bags – it's usually done by sending products out by post, with the influencer then sharing it on their social channels. The aim is to identify – and then establish relationships with – relevant people in your sector or those who engage with your target customers.  

Why it's important

It seems that influencer marketing is sticking around. Influencer Marketing Hub's benchmark report showed the global industry is predicted to grow to $16.4 billion in 2022. In terms of platforms, Instagram is used by nearly 80% of brands who engage with influencer marketing. Gifting is a pretty logical route into influencer marketing for small businesses with limited budgets.

If you can establish relationships with the right people, this is a really cost-effective way to get your products in front of an engaged and relevant audience who trusts what the influencer has to say and who might not otherwise come across your brand. Given the increasing limitations of paid advertising due to privacy settings changes and the rising costs of digital advertising, you need to be resourceful when it comes to spreading awareness. Influencer marketing is also good for community-building and creating relationships with people you want to work with on a long-term basis – gifting can be a great first step.

Things to note

There's no guarantee it'll work. As this isn't a paid partnership with a contractual agreement, it's completely at the influencer's discretion whether they create content to share with their audience. And it's also at their discretion how they share it, if they decide to. The people you contact might receive a fair few gifts at their door. Be aware of the chance of failure – you could lose stock through unanswered gifts.

You're aiming for micro influencers. While it'd be a huge boost for your brand to get a celebrity to share your product, it's not a realistic strategy. Instead, you should be aiming at micro influencers, where the levels of engagement and trust are typically much higher and who you're more likely to build real, long-term relationships with. The research phase of finding the right people is super important – here's our guide to finding the right micro influencers

There are rules to follow. Depending on the country you're operating in and which platform your influencer is sharing content on, there are different rules to adhere to. For example, in the UK, influencers have to clearly disclose if the products they're sharing have been sent by a brand. Make sure you read up on what's allowed and prepare for that to be included as part of any messaging. 

Focused campaigns can be more effective. Gifting is normally a lot more effective if you're strategic about how you pull it off. For example, if you're looking to highlight a product you're launching, you might send it to around 10 micro influencers at the same time and try to manage it so that they post at a similar time. If you want to monitor the campaign's effectiveness, you can build customized links for stories, so that you can track the traffic driven by each individual with Google Analytics.

How to develop a gifting strategy

1. Outline what you want to achieve. Be clear in what you want to get out of this. Is it to coincide with a product launch or a new season? Increase brand awareness with your target market? Drive more traffic to your website? Make more sales? If the latter, you'll need to include discount or affiliate codes when you send products out to track the sales impact. 

2. Clarify how you'll measure success. Based on your aim, think about which metrics you'll track to monitor how successful the gifting has been. That might be site visitors, brand mentions online, direct sales or new followers. But keep in mind that gifting can take a long time to show any significant return on investment. It can also be quite intangible in the case of something like strengthening brand perception. 

3. Confirm you have the resources to run it. This isn't about simply sending out a few freebies. There's a lot more to planning – and executing – a successful gifting campaign. This will require a significant chunk of someone's time. Make sure you have the internal capacity and make it someone's responsibility. Plan ahead from a financial and inventory perspective to make sure that your gifting strategy doesn't end up running the company dry. 

4. Draw up a longlist of potential micro influencers. This is the crucial part: finding the right people. It makes sense to start with any loyal, engaged customers you already have who have an appropriate-sized following (if applicable), before embarking on a more outward-looking search. More info on that process can be found in our guide to working with micro influencers. Try to come up with a list of at least 30 potential micro influencers.

5. Vet them. The vetting process is ultimately about making sure that the person in question aligns with your brand and has the right audience in terms of who you want to reach. But it's also worth seeing if they've done a similar style of post in the past – and whether promoting brands on their channels is something they're receptive to. It's also important to check their engagement rate – Phlanx is a great tool for that.

6. Outline why they should care. This is an important one – you need to be clear on the unique value proposition your brand has. Why should they open your product? What's special about it? Why is your brand unique? Especially if they're not familiar with you, you need to articulate clearly what your offering is and why you think it's especially relevant to them. Can you offer them exposure on your social channels? Can you combine your gifts with events or experiences? Be creative in making it an attractive proposition. 

7. Be intentional with your outreach. It's important to not just surprise people with a package – get in contact first. Often, micro influencers will have clear contact details outlined on their social pages but, if not, you might DM them instead. Keep your messaging informal, friendly, succinct and personal. It can be helpful to be clear in what you're hoping for them to do, though this will depend on the situation – and you can't set any obligations. 

8. Decide what you'll send out. This should be relatively straightforward based on what your business is and your goal. But, keep in mind, this is something that'll hopefully be put in front of a whole new audience who've never come across your brand before. It needs to be something you're particularly proud of and eager to highlight. 

9. Make it memorable. There's plenty you can do in this regard: personalizing the product with a name, including a handwritten note, using custom packaging or adding other brand materials or extras in the box. Some influencers might make unboxing of the gift itself a piece of content if you can pull it off right. The key is to elevate the experience as much as you can and create something as distinct and reflective of your brand as possible. 

Key takeaways

• Gifting is a relatively low-cost, resource-light way of dipping your toes into influencer marketing. It's especially suitable for new brands looking to reach a new audience. 

• Finding the right people is crucial. Typically, they'll be micro influencers who are relevant to the customer base you're hoping to attract and who you can build long-term relationships with. 

• Throughout the process, you should be thinking about how to elevate the experience – and why the micro influencer would want to share your products. There's no guarantee that they'll share what you send. 

Level up

Example. In this case study, the co-founder of specialist influencer marketing agency GIFTA outlines how he launched an effective gifting campaign with food brand Gosh.  

Tool. Creator.co and GRIN are two platforms that can help you find the right micro influencers. 

Perspective. This podcast episode from marketing expert Neal Schaffer features a deep dive into how one business owner approached gifting, with a specific focus on maintaining relationships in the long term. 

A version of this article was published in the Courier Workshop newsletter. For more deep dives into essential business concepts, sign up here.

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