They’re Small But Mighty: Why the Nano-Influencer Is the Surest Bet for Brands in 2021

Bigger is not always better. It’s a sentiment that rings especially true for brands right now. Challenges due to the ongoing pandemic led to store closures, furloughs and big budgets cuts, which hit marketing budgets hard. Many companies couldn’t afford to keep expensive celebrities on their rosters, which opened the door for nano-influencers more than ever before.

Nano-influencers are generally defined as those with 1,000 to 10,000 followers, who have a modest but dedicated audience. This small, but mighty group isn’t new to the influencer world, but it’s clear they sometimes hold just as much authority as the big guys — and most importantly, they can move product.

Take Nina Ward. The blogger from New York has 4,420 followers and is one of Aldo’s vital assets, not only for customer acquisition and garnering brand awareness, but also for internal purposes.

“Nano-influencers have created some of the top-performing content we’ve ever posted,” said Amanda Amar, the brand’s global director of social media and PR. “It informs our brand team on what they should [create in-house]. So there’s a lot to gain. You have to look beyond the big glossy number at the top of [Instagram]. Working with these people is also a great way to start and test, often somebody who’s just an incredible content creator that will eventually blow up. It’s better to be with them from the get-go, [foster] that loyal relationship and grow together.”

Nano-influencers are fueling the overall market despite concerns that influencer spending would decline in 2021 due to COVID-19. According to a survey by Influencer Marketing Hub, the industry is set to grow to approximately $13.8 billion this year, compared with $9.7 billion in 2020.

Amar said Aldo is investing more into influencer marketing in 2021 than in previous years. Typically, the company works with 150 influencers per month in North America — both through paid and gifting programs.

“We’ve increased the sheer volume of people we’re working with on every part of the influencer pyramid, and specifically with that power middle influencer and down — versus those real heavy-hitters,” she said.

Aldo’s strategy to conquer the market is similar to other companies who are betting on a larger number of partners. Twenty-two percent of respondents featured in the Influencer Marketing Hub report said they had worked with 10 to 50 influencers over the past year, 13% teamed up with 50 to 100 partners and 8% joined forces with 100 to 1,000 influencers. A further 6% worked with more than 1,000 names.

“Our [influencer strategy] amped up more because of [the pandemic], particularly in the nano and micro-influencer realm because people have had a lot more time to spend online, and more time to create content,” said Sarah Flint, executive chairman, founder and creative director of her namesake luxury label.

For Flint — who has had worked with larger players in the past — she’s finding that people with 10,000 followers or less are, in many cases, more influential and more cost-effective.

“Their followers are real. They are people that care and trust them, versus someone who has a million,” the designer explained. “It’s the woman next door that has the power.”

Flint cited one success story in Kim Le from St. Louis. She works at an accounting firm and has just over 4,170 Instagram followers. Le posts about corporate style, has a blog, and has proven she can move merch. Flint, who said her nano/micro-influencer program is done entirely through the gifting of product so the associated spend is just the cost of the shoes and shipping, added that these type of influencers have a high return on investment, with average impressions per post at 4,000. Plus, this specific program acquires customers at about half the cost of Flint’s performance marketing spend.

“You have to find someone who is wearing synergistic brands and who cares about the things that you care about,” said Flint. “And through nano-influencers, you can have a profitable customer acquisition from very few sales. It doesn’t take a lot to pay back if you’re gifting product. Whereas with a traditional influencer, you would pay $30,000 for an Instagram post and that can get very expensive very quickly, especially if you’re not seeing a huge amount of sales from it.”

Another tactic that is working well for Flint? Connecting with influencers in Texas, Florida, Georgia and Tennessee — all markets that retailers are targeting more heavily amid population shifts. “We just followed our customer path and where they were. We also started to look at what areas were opening up faster than others. That’s been effective both from a nano-influencer perspective and digital marketing,” Flint said.

For casual shoe brand Blowfish Malibu, influencer marketing in strategic areas has been key for brand awareness — even though the company doesn’t have its own e-commerce site to drive sales.

“New York and L.A. are saturated. We’ve got some really great people outside of the major cities to [connect with consumers] and it mirrors our business,” VP of marketing Karen Bueno said, adding that the brand is partnering with Midwestern and Southern influencers. “These people are more like brand ambassadors. The tend to create great content because they care. Their following is very loyal to them and overall you get better engagement.”

Blowfish Malibu is another brand that uses a large number of smaller influencers, upwards to 70 at a time. Plus, nano and micro-influencers aren’t contracted for a one-and-done post like their mega counterparts, so there’s an ability to reuse them over and over again and establish long-term relationships.

This sheer number of influencers that brands are tapping is something that has changed through the years as the marketing landscape has evolved, according to Gil Eyal, founder of influencer marketing database HYPR. Now the rise of newer platforms such as TikTok and Clubhouse — in addition to main players Instagram and Facebook — will allow for more opportunity, Eyal said.

Gone are the days when brands picked, vetted and verified just one person to represent them — which could be detrimental when any controversy arose. This month, social media star David Dobrik, who boasts 14.2 million followers on Instagram and more than 20 million on YouTube, has been dropped by multiple brands, including DoorDash, EA Sports and HelloFresh, following sexual-assault allegations, for instance.

It was a similar situation for reality star Stassi Schroeder when she had been fired from the Bravo hit TV show “Vanderpump Rules” following racist accusations against Schroeder surfaced in June. She lost several, if not all, brand partnerships at the time. Her wine line has been pulled from shelves, her podcast had been dropped, and shaving brand Billie and vitamin startup Ritual discontinued their partnerships with her. In addition, JustFab, who worked with the reality star in 2019, said it scrubbed Schroeder from its site following the revelations and issued a statement to FN on its policy condemning racism.

“Those risks don’t apply with the smaller guys,” Eyal said. “On the one hand, you relinquish control because you can’t control every word that’s going to be said in the campaign. But on the other hand, you gain visibility and a lot of flexibility to reduce the risk of any negative impact on the brand.”

Its clear that nano-influencers are the best bang for your buck as many work in exchange for item giveaways or for free. There are also a range of platforms brands can utilize, such as Trend or Tribe, that team up companies and pair them with range of influencers for low prices starting at $50. “Remember these influencers are seeking credibility so being associated with brands signals to other brands that they are professionals,” said Eyal. “We see a lot of influencers voluntarily promote products they like even if they aren’t officially sponsored.”

However, Eyal said not to underestimate the celebrity endorsement entirely. For a brand to thrive on the marketing front, it’s all about balance.

“You need the bigger guys so that everybody pays attention and then the smaller guys can take it from there and start selling and creating content for you daily,” he said. “The return on the spending of a big influencer is the ability to create the buyers, attracting retailers. It’s also the image that it creates for other micro-influencers to want to work with you. You may be an unfamiliar brand, but if they see that one person that they strive to be like works with you then suddenly they are knocking on your door.”

Aldo also looks at influencer marketing more holistically. “It’s about deciphering what you need as a brand in that moment and down the road. At one point you might need the awareness and that megaphone,” said Amar. “And then at the lower level, you’ve got these nano-influencers that are your convertors at the end of the day. They are absolutely essential.”

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