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Iyia Liu: the Kiwi millennial using influencer marketing to build a multi-million-dollar business

You don't need to look far to find detractors of influencer marketing. Campaigns are difficult to track, audiences are spread across the world and every celebrity is only one faux pas away from a downfall. However, as Kiwi entrepreneur Iyia Liu tells us, influencer marketing also has the the potential of spreading a brand's message rapidly. And it's something the 23-year-old has harnessed frequently in building a multi-million-dollar enterprise from the comfort of her Auckland home.

By Elly Strang | October 14, 2016 | news

Liu’s two brands are Waist Trainer New Zealand Australia – a company that sells corset-like garments that are meant to help shape women’s waists and aid weight loss – and Luxe Fitness, a supplements and apparel company.

Digital is integral to the two businesses, with both marketing their products solely through Facebook and Instagram – and mostly through paid posts done by social media stars.

Judging by the profile the brand has built, it’s paid off.

Both Waist Trainer and Luxe Fitness have since amassed a large following, now collectively boasting over 500,000 likes or followers on the platforms.

The large following has also translated into sales: Waist Trainer’s turnover in the last financial year was $3.5 million, with profit sitting at around 30 percent of that.

Though many New Zealand companies are active on social media, not many are experimenting with social influencers.

For those who don’t know, ‘influencers’ are bloggers or social media users who command a relatively big online following and are seen as influential in their field.

Brands are increasingly turning to these individuals to reach their highly engaged networks and get their message out, seeing as consumers are suspicious of brands’ messages on their own social media pages. 

Learning the tricks of the trade

Liu’s first business venture was starting her own fashion website called I’ll Take All Three in 2013, which imported and sold clothes online from the US, Australia and China.

However, the online boutique space was crowded.

Despite her youth giving her key insights into her target market, Liu said her inexperience in marketing was a hindrance.

“I didn’t know anything about social media marketing at the time. Looking back, I did everything wrong. I didn’t use any social influencers and just assumed people would come look at the website anyway, and I didn’t know how to do giveaways properly."

In 2015, Liu spotted an American company selling waist trainers on Instagram and wanted to order one for herself.

She soon discovered shipping one all the way to New Zealand was expensive and time consuming, so she decided to jump into another business endeavour.

“I thought if I wanted one, heaps of other people would want one too, so I made an Instagram and Facebook page and began advertising them,” she says.

With a small marketing budget, the two social media channels were the only tools Liu used.

Being a digital native, she already had a good understanding of what content worked well with her peers, but she needed to get word out about her products.

She looked at what businesses were doing overseas and started employing small-scale social media influencers to post about the products.

One of the first people Liu used to promote waist trainers was glamour model Rosanna Arkle, perhaps best known for appearing on New Zealand reality show, The GC.

Liu said it turned out Arkle’s social media following was almost all males, so Arkle’s post didn’t exactly make waist trainers fly off the shelves.

However, it was a good learning curve. Liu started paying attention to social influencers’ followings and found women who posted feminine, image-orientated products – such as makeup stars or fitness celebrities – were a great fit for promoting waist trainers with their mostly female following. 

YouTube makeup star Shannon Harris.

Tracking sales

Initially, the sponsored posts would include a code for shoppers to use at the checkout for Waist Trainer to track the return on investment.

However, Liu said every time there’d be a good return, so they dropped the codes as the method was proven to work.

When she was getting Waist Trainer off the ground, Liu says she invested $6000 worth of savings into the waist trainers and originally hoped she’d sell 10 of them a day.

With the help of her social media skills, to date, just under 100,000 waist trainers have been sold in the space of 18 months. Liu says Luxe’s sales are tracking along steadily too.

She says she doesn’t think other New Zealand businesses realise the power of social media as a marketing tool.

“People follow social influencers and trust them. A lot of people view their photos, so it’s actually a really cheap form of marketing. They don’t charge that much in comparison to how many people see it. A lot of businesses haven’t realised that, I don’t think,” she says.

“There’s so many things that other big companies aren’t doing that we’re doing and I feel like they could get so many more sales if they tried them. Sponsored posts, giveaways, more of a focus on social media marketing. A lot of them are focused on traditional advertising.”

She says looking around at her peers, everyone practically lives on social media, so it makes sense to target them there.

“We’ve tried other types of marketing but with the cost per engagement – social media is definitely the most effective and cheapest.”

The 'Kylie Jenner' effect

One of the most prolific social influencers Waist Trainer has used to date was American reality TV star and member of the Kardashian clan, Kylie Jenner, in July.

Liu got in touch with Jenner’s agents through a celebrity talent management agency based in the US.

She says the process was actually relatively easy to get such a high-profile celebrity to promote a product.

Liu paid just under $300,000 for a photo featuring Jenner wearing one of the waist trainers with a link to the Waist Trainer website in the caption to go up on Jenner’s Instagram (over 76 million followers) and Facebook page (over 16 million likes).

The post received 1.5 million likes on Instagram and garnered hundreds of thousands of comments and sales leads, which Waist Trainer tracked through the code ‘Kylie’.

Liu says the post helped the company break into the American market, but it would’ve been more successful if it was done a year earlier when the product came to market.

“We did make our money back, but just not as good as I thought it would be. It didn’t beat our best months last year, either.”

Still, Liu says these sponsored posts have proven to be the most effective form of marketing for her businesses.

Measuring success

Waist Trainer and Luxe continue to use high-profile influencers to promote products, such as New Zealand YouTube star Shannon Harris, but also smaller-scale influencers who have high engagement on each post from their audience.  

At any given time, Liu says she tries to have as many as possible on the go.

“There’s not really a limit, we try to get as many as people [to promote our products] because the more people who post, the more sales we actually make.”

Generally, influencers are paid 0.1 times each engagement (1000 likes = $100). Liu says that formula seems to be the industry standard.

However, companies interested in social influencer marketing also need to be careful that paid posts are transparent to the consumer.

Social media content is covered by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) code of ethics, which requires advertising material to be declared.

My Food Bag recently ran into trouble for this when several Super Rugby players posted pictures of its products without disclosing that they were brand ambassadors sent it for free.

A photo posted by Tj Perenara (@tj_perenara) on

Pead PR, the firm behind the campaign, said because the product was free, no “sponsored post” disclosure needed to be made because there was no editorial control over the rugby players’ reactions.

The rules around social influencers are quite murky in New Zealand, so it pays to read up about it. NZTE has a guide on its website for ‘engaging with social media influencers’.


Looking to up your social media marketing? Here are some tips straight from the guru, Waist Trainer’s Liu:                                                    

  • When picking a social media influencer, look at the engagement on each of their posts, as some people buy their followers or don’t actually have an engaged audience. Liu says a good tip is to look at video views, because some people have high amounts of likes on each photo but not many video views, which means their likes aren’t actually genuine.
     
  • Know who your target market is and find someone that understands the target market to create the content on your social media sites. “I’ve seen a lot of content that businesses have put up and it doesn’t relate to the target market,” Liu says. Waist Trainer and Luxe Fitness’ Instagram posts tend to focus on being inspirational or relatable, such as funny memes and fitness posts, while the Facebook pages are there more to remind people of the products.
     
  • Facebook is making it more difficult to advertise with its relevancy score, which only allows posts to get in front of eyeballs it deems relevant to the product. Liu says you can get around this by hosting lots of giveaways to encourage people to like the page and share its posts, therefore increasing a page’s organic reach and likes.
     
  • Pay close attention to the wording and imagery of giveaway and promotional posts and experiment with what works and what doesn’t. When Liu tweaked the wording and imagery slightly of a competition to win Kylie Jenner lip kits, it performed 10 times better than a previous, similar post.

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