As consumers' work and personal lives merged, their wardrobes followed suit. Consumers no longer think of their wardrobes in terms of "work'" and "casual" clothes. Not just in urban hubs and coastal cities; offices across the U.S. have become more casual. In the last year, Pinterest has seen 46M searches across 11M users for "work fashion," with "stylish," "trendy," and "edgy" as the top saves for work-related fashion.
But while social media is instrumental for purchase inspiration, consumers increasingly trust and rely heavily on other people's opinions when deciding what to buy, attributing most purchase decisions to online reviews (47%), recommendations from friends (42%), and recommendations from family (38%).
Express, among the largest specialty apparel brands in the U.S. with $2.1bn in annual sales, wanted to increase word-of-mouth and brand buzz, especially among its target male audience (U.S.-based men, 20-to-30 years old).
Express' objectives for Spring 2018 were designed to address the business challenges it experienced with its male influencer program: scale, sales, and efficiency.
To solve its issues with scale, Express aimed to expand its micro-influencer network 10x and diversify its influencer marketing mix to include influential employees and consumers, recruiting from its store associates in key markets and existing customer loyalty program.
To connect influencer content to sales and increase efficiencies, Express provided its Express Mens macro- and micro-influencers with unique promo codes that could be redeemed in-store and online, with a goal of maintaining at least a 3% engagement rate on content.
Express' influencer strategy was borne from the insight that their customers now live in an influence-augmented reality, where influence is not just a touchpoint on the path-to-purchase – it is the path-to-purchase.
Yet, as consumers continue to grow wary of celebrity and social media star endorsements alone, marketers can no longer rely on them alone as the foundation of their influencer marketing efforts. Coinciding with this dynamic, marketers are also increasingly reliant on influencer content to power their owned and paid media strategies. Express needed micro-influencers, employees, and influential customers whose more genuine, trustworthy content, when scaled across key touchpoints, could better accelerate consumers' purchase decisions online and offline.
Express brought the idea to life by re-defining influence in the context of their customer: identifying and activating relevant influencer, employee, and consumer ambassadors to bring the "New Definition-of-Work" message and styling to market.
The first step was to increase Express' influencer footprint by expanding the Ambassador program. Express migrated to an influencer marketing platform partner that could create and manage a private, brand-owned network which employees and customers could safely join. All full-time, exempt Associates were invited to participate by email and Workplace by Facebook, and top customers from the EXPRESS NEXT loyalty program were recruited by email. To further expand Express' male influencer network, Express customers and relevant influencers were also identified from the influencer marketing partner's existing influencer database and invited to participate.
Ambassador applicants were divided into two groups of micro-influencers, determined by location, Instagram reach (2k+ reach and 500-2k+ reach, respectively), quality of Instagram content and aesthetic, Instagram post frequency, and quality of Instagram profile.
Approved Ambassadors (macro-influencers, micro-influencers, employees and consumers) were selected to participate by email in monthly campaigns to support key "New Definition-of-Work" messaging (#ExpressYourRules) featuring new Wear-To-Work (WTW) styles and expanded sizing options on their own Instagram feeds via posts and stories. The Express Ambassador campaign laddered up to Express' larger marketing campaign, Express. Your Rules., featuring macro-influencers like Jordan Woods and Candice Huffine and enabled influencers at all levels to showcase how they express their own individual style.
Ambassadors were offered cash rewards and points as incentives to create looks using new WTW products, with instructions to dress on their own terms: Express Your Rules: When it comes to personal style, "rules" don't apply. This spring, ditch the style book and go bold with bright patterns, colors and fresh styles. Express yourself on your terms. Macro-influencers also received cash payments.
All influencers (macro/micro) were also provided with unique promo codes to share with their audiences in Instagram captions and stories to drive and track sales lift. The codes were redeemable in-store and online, with offers to receive $25 off $100+ spend.
Express then took an omni-channel approach to customer engagement, knowing that its target audience would be looking for purchase validation outside of the feed. Influencer-generated content was amplified across the following high-impact channels to drive consideration, and to connect digital and store messaging: email, in-store, OOH, and brand Instagram.
Measuring ROI continues to be among the biggest influencer marketing challenges marketers face. As it stands today, engagement remains marketers' primary measurement of influencer marketing success, now even more complicated by ongoing issues of influencer fraud and gamification.
Among the first programs of its kind, Express executed an integrated influencer marketing strategy comprised of influencers, employees, and customers across three core objectives, driving the following results in Q2 2018.
Express surpassed its 2017 performance benchmarks and 2018 goals across all objectives:
Express not only successfully tied sales to Ambassadors' activity. The brand gained new insights about how its target male audience shops.
Perhaps most important to the continued growth and success of the Express Ambassador program and the business was the learning that, collectively, Express Men's influencers drove a higher volume of in-store sales (74%) than online sales (26%), indicating that Express' target male audience is more likely to shop WTW styles in-store than online.
Express micro-influencer ambassadors not only earned higher engagement rates (7.8%), but also drove a higher volume of in-store sales (86.8%) and online sales (79%) than macro-influencers. This suggests that when activated at scale on Instagram, Express micro-influencers increase brand awareness and conversions at a higher return and with greater efficiency than macro-influencers.