TikTok, Gen Z and the Future of Influencer Marketing - Brandon Brown

Welcome to the Retail Rundown, your go-to weekly podcast where RETHINK Retail teams up with industry experts to discuss the news and trends defining the world of retail.

Does your brand need a Chief TikTok Officer? Many retailers have been catching on to the TikTok craze, with some brands even hiring special teams to whip out viral campaigns. Late last month, toymaker Nerf announced that it would be hiring a Chief TikTok Officer to create new ways to connect with the TikTok community

In this episode, we spoke with Brandon Brown, CEO of GRIN, an influencer marketing platform that helps DTC brands build and manage influencer relationships on social platforms including TikTok. You’ll hear what Brandon thinks of Nerf’s new “CTO” role and his key tips for running viral influencer campaigns.

If you enjoyed this episode, please let us know by subscribing to our channel and giving us a 5 star rating us on Apple Podcasts. 

– – – – – –

Hosted by Julia Raymond Hare
Written and produced by Gabriella Bock
Edited by Trenton Waller

 

 

TRANSCRIPTION

Julia Raymond Hare:
Hi, everyone. Welcome to the Retail Rundown. Today, I will be speaking with my guest Brandon Brown. Brandon is the Chief Executive Officer of GRIN. GRIN is a super cool influencer marketing platform that helps D2C brands build and manage their influencer relationships on social platforms, including perhaps the hottest right now, TikTok. Brandon, thanks for joining.

Brandon Brown:
Yeah. Happy to be here and thanks for having me, Julia.

Julia Raymond Hare:
I’m happy to have you on the show because, Brandon, this is great timing. Last week, if you remember, we had Brandon Rael guest hosting the Rundown with Andy Austin and he’s the co-founder and CEO of The Industrious and they really dove into the topic of Gen Z because, as we know, they are coming into the market and they have pockets that are pretty deep and they’re ready to spend. So how can we attract them as brands and retailers and what characteristics define them as a consumer group? There’s a lot of needs that they have that are maybe a little bit novel compared to past consumers and then in some ways the same. So that all leads up to today’s topic, which is influencer marketing and specifically TikTok.

Julia Raymond Hare:
So, I will dive in and ask you Brandon a little bit about influencer marketing because the TikTok craze is ramping up. Last month, the toy maker Nerf announced that it would be hiring a chief TikTok officer to create new ways to connect with the TikTok community. So that was… I mean, personally, I just think it’s a little hilarious but it’s also probably a well-paying great role that is tough. It’s tough to create good content on TikTok. So Brandon, as an expert in influencer marketing, what do you think of this new role, chief TikTok officer?

Brandon Brown:
Yeah. I mean, I probably share some of your sentiment. So I think, personally the title of chief TikTok officer, it’s an interesting title. I think it’s a little funny as well. It’s a little kind of PR headline, grabby on behalf of the brands that are hiring for these roles. It feels like the title could be something like head of emerging platforms and channels or even CMO, chief brand officer, those things but I think without doubt, the core thing here is that ensuring that you have people on the team in key roles who understand modern consumer marketing and modern consumer behavior and how that aligns within emerging trends, within youth culture and these emerging platforms is key. So I think it’s a very important role and I think it’s an important skill set that every brand needs to build. I just think the title is personally a little funny.

Julia Raymond Hare:
Absolutely. And I want to ask because Nerf is obviously huge brand and we’ve seen some of the other powerhouses target Walmart and Amazon on TikTok as well and there’s been some unique challenges that have brought them a lot of eyeballs and I’m wondering what your thought is on their strategies and the success that they’re seeing.

Brandon Brown:
Yeah. I mean, I think brands know that Gen Z is using TikTok and it’s important that you need to go to where your audience is and build deep trust in those channels as a brand because when you’re trusted and top of mind by the consumer, your sales and marketing investments are more performant across the whole mix, not just in organic social or paid social in these things and so I think TikTok is an incredibly important platform. I think brands are spending time in TikTok. They’re repurposing, reposting content from TikTok onto Instagram into reels and it’s really creating this streamlined multi-channel approach.

Brandon Brown:
And I think while Instagram is one of the first platforms where influencer reach really gained a lot of momentum and importance for brands, I think TikTok on the other hand feels more real. It’s more relatable. I think it resonates with a lot of people now because of the raw nature of it and the focus on authenticity and I think when you think about brands and products like Nerf as an example, right? That’s a great product to be demoed through short form video on TikTok, showing how the Nerf guns work. I think beauty is similar. You can do that with makeup tutorials. I think food for recipes, right? I think these are just huge opportunities for brands to show products in action and get in front of that younger demographic in a way that’s honest and relatable.

Julia Raymond Hare:
And fast, quick, like you mentioned. So the one thing that we looked up on our team before we jumped into this chat is the shocking statistic and this is from Statista that TikTok users spend more than 850 minutes per month. So to translate that, it’s 14 hours per month on TikTok and that’s not including the other apps they’re on. So, that’s pretty impressive in terms of hours spent scrolling through videos. Can you tell me about… first, let me just ask this. Why is GRIN called GRIN because I was curious about that?

Brandon Brown:
There is no crazy story for it. We felt it was a great balance. I need to think of a cooler story. We felt it was a good balance between not taking yourself so serious, but also what we’re doing is serious because it is going to create real impact and change in the world but our company culture is one of high performance accountability but also lots of fun, relaxed, there’s music on in the office. It’s a young set of employees and so we felt it was a good culture fit for the founding team and the type of culture that we wanted to build.

Julia Raymond Hare:
Cool. I like that. So at GRIN, you guys are a SAS platform for influencer marketing and you help marketers manage these programs and I want to ask for all of our retailers listening and I don’t always ask this, I’ll be honest. Some vendors are not as interesting but I think influencer marketing is a hot topic that a lot of people are curious about, especially the mid-sized retailers that maybe haven’t invested as much as some of the big boxers so far. So what are some of the biggest opportunities and then what are some of the challenges that retailers encounter with programs like this?

Brandon Brown:
Yes. So GRIN is a SAS platform to manage creator marketing, influencer marketing. You’re basically managing a bunch of creators on social media through GRIN and the person who is managing that at the brand is typically a marketing manager or something like this. If you sell direct to consumer online… so I noticed the retail podcast, right? Physical retail, but also, online retail. If you sell direct to consumer online, influencer marketing and working with creators to drive branded content, product endorsement, traffic engagement at top of funnel, bottom of funnel, a key piece of your mix, this is actually table stakes now. It’s critical for brands to run these programs in-house, to own long-term relationships, to drive outcome on behalf of the brand. If you want to really compete with the fast-growing challenger brands like Allbirds, who are a customer of ours and many others. When you run these programs in-house, there’s all this complexity.

Brandon Brown:
The marketing manager is typically tracking influencers in spreadsheets. They’re going into the E-commerce backend platform and they’re creating discount codes and assigning those and then they’re texting or emailing hundreds of people at once telling them, “Hey, I just shipped the product. Here’s your code. Let me know when the content goes live.” And if they’re sharing commissions, maybe they’re using some affiliate or link tracking tool to track the revenue on the backend and then they’re manually aggregating all the performance and it just takes hours and hours to run these programs. GRIN is a SAS platform that takes that painful process and just makes it incredibly easy. Brand signup, they bring all their creators, they import them into GRIN. It goes into a private instance so those don’t get shared with any of your competitors.

Brandon Brown:
We have tools that help you recruit more people. So you grow your program and then we have tools that help you activate those creators across the whole life cycle from discovery to recruitment, to content production and because we plug into all the E-commerce backends, we show you all the revenue and the performance data, as well as the content engagement, we help you with payments, taxes, and compliance. So we take this process that is typically done by anywhere from two to 15 people in a brand in these siloed, messy hacked together systems and we bring it into one software system for streamlined efficiency, clarity, scale and we’ve just really solved that problem very elegantly, if you’re a consumer brand who sells through E-commerce.

Julia Raymond Hare:
Now you said something interesting. You said it’s a private instance of your programs. Your competitors can’t see who you’re selecting or working with but is there some recommendation engine based on a look-alike model that says, hey, you probably should check out this group of influencers because they’ve done well with people similar to you or is that confidential completely?

Brandon Brown:
Well, we do it but we don’t do it like cross brands. So we have a recruiting engine. It’s multi-channel. So, if you go buy something on… we have a bunch of customers. So you go buy something on allbirds.com. We will then notify the person who’s running the influencer program at Allbirds. “Hey, Brandon just bought these shoes. He has 50,000 followers on Instagram. Recruit him into your program.” So you’re trying to find people who have brand affinity and fit and I can go into why that’s important.

Julia Raymond Hare:
Okay. Interesting. So that’s the other way around then.

Brandon Brown:
Yeah. That’s one way but we also do it. We track data on millions of creators on social and we serve up recommendations based on audience interests, content type affinity, things like that and we also do have a look-alike as well. So you can take any social profile, plug it into that search engine and we’ll show you look-alikes of people who have similar content. So we are doing it but it’s on a per brand basis and the reason we don’t share the influencers across brands is because our philosophy is that brands need to own their direct relationships with influencers and they should never have a middleman in between, a middleman in the transaction because a direct relationship inspires brand belief in product affinity, which is necessary for the creator to be able to make an honest endorsement and when you think about the first… most of this solutions to influencer marketing are these two-sided marketplaces and networks where they’re like, “We’re going to get a million influencers. We’re going to get a hundred thousand brands and we’re going to be the eBay of influencer marketing.”

Brandon Brown:
Those solutions they’re too transactional and there’s this incentive for influencers to promote products they don’t use just to make money.

Julia Raymond Hare:
Sure.

Brandon Brown:
The content ends up feeling fake and inauthentic and so the way that you get around that is by building direct relationships and so you have brands like Fashion Nova or Allbirds or these other brands who look at their influencer roster or their creators as an asset. They don’t want that asset to be uploaded into a network for a bunch of people to poach and all their creators to get spammed with, excuse my language, crappy brand deals that they don’t want to do.

Julia Raymond Hare:
Tommy T.

Brandon Brown:
Yeah. I mean the truth is that people who have a big audience on social, they’re not in those platforms trying to convince brands to work with them. Brands are reaching out to them directly and so that’s our view to our software. Own your direct relationships, no middleman but we also help you with recruitment. We just do it in a little bit of a different way.

Julia Raymond Hare:
Yeah. And I like Brandon how you said it inspires brand affinity when you’re working directly between brand or retailer and influencer and getting rid of the middleman because it touches on the psychology of it and it comes back to your core value of you shouldn’t be promoting products you don’t believe in because people can tell and that brings me to the topic of authenticity, which has been talked about a lot in the last year, maybe more so because we’re all at home. So we want things to feel real, even when we’re stuck in a virtual setting. Would you say that the authenticity and these influencer relationships and these campaigns is more important on a platform like TikTok than maybe other platforms? Or do you differentiate the channels?

Brandon Brown:
I don’t know. The way that I would cut it wouldn’t be platform-specific. It would be marketing that goes through people and marketing that doesn’t go through people, right? So, if you were to just bucket programmatic marketing, that’s paid social, paid search, content syndication at some level, digital billboards, these things that their goal is to achieve a scale via reach and frequency. So you’re trying to optimize for a reach and frequency at the lowest cost with the right audience, right? But then you have this other set of marketing that goes through people that it’s actually not programmatic. It goes through a person and so influencer marketing is in that bucket and so to me, athlete marketing is in that bucket, ambassador programs are in that bucket, customer advocacy is in that bucket, influence marketing is in that bucket, this is marketing that reaches the consumer through a person. That type of marketing.

Brandon Brown:
Yes, there’s a reach and frequency component because at the end of the day, you’re trying to reach the consumer but fundamentally, it’s about creating a deeper, emotional connection between the brand and the consumer. So what you’re really doing is building trust with the consumer because the consumer has elected to follow that person and at some level aspire to be like them and then that person who they trust is introducing the brand to them and that’s why it’s actually so powerful because it’s not just advertising, it’s not just about reaching the consumer, It’s about the depth of the experience when you reach the consumer. So in order for that to work, right? This is why authenticity is important. The person who’s delivering the message needs to actually believe what they’re saying and if they don’t believe what they’re saying, the consumer will be able to read between the lines and it’s quite nuanced and they’ll be able to tell and the way that you get someone to believe in the brand, like we touched on, is by building a direct relationship with them and inspiring them to do so.

Brandon Brown:
So authenticity is key on any platform within influencer marketing. I would argue that authenticity is not really important in advertising and that doesn’t mean that advertising is not an important part of the marketing mix. It’s always going to be key piece of the mix. You have to spend money on advertising but I just think it’s fundamentally the core issue that it solves for is slightly different and they’re in [inaudible 00:17:12] why GRIN is the category leader in influencer marketing. I say that with respect and humility and understanding that I feel very fortunate and proud of what we’ve built but it’s because we understand the problem in a different and more deep way than other people who are building companies in the space and I think when you drive out, come through people, it’s all about trust and all about authenticity because you need that to transfer to the consumer for it to work.

Julia Raymond Hare:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). And I like that viewpoint you have because it could be an opposing viewpoint and those are always the best to have on podcasts and things because it makes people think. Do you need authenticity as much in advertising versus marketing that goes through people, as you said and I think that in a way I would argue that influencer marketing has become democratized and is now more easily accessible to the D2C brands that maybe only sell through Amazon or they only sell through a couple of marketplaces and they’re smaller but we saw a huge campaign. I don’t know if it was started organically or not, probably not, but it was the things you didn’t know you needed off Amazon. I don’t know if you saw this but it was a lot of TikTokers and they were just highlighting random Amazon products or seemingly random Amazon products that they love that you can buy, usually for a pretty affordable price and that’s impacting the smaller sellers too.

Brandon Brown:
I was smiling when you said that. I didn’t see that particular thing but that’s so good, right? And why is it so good? It’s so good because it looks honest and organic. Was it? Who knows. But it looks like, someone’s like, “Things you didn’t need on Amazon.” I could just imagine the TikTok video now and they’re talking about these products that are super interesting and solve problems that they really actually like. They bought it and they’re like, “Wow, this is amazing. I want to tell people about this.” That works because of the authenticity and the trust.

Julia Raymond Hare:
Absolutely.

Brandon Brown:
Yeah. Whether Amazon seeded that idea or paid for it or those brands that were involved in who knows but the reason it’s so powerful and the reason you’re talking about it is because the excitement and the belief transferred to you and, or the people who saw that and it stuck with them.

Julia Raymond Hare:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). And I wonder, Brandon, if you have any certain types of feelings about Amazon’s influencer platforms that it hosts in-house. I’ve seen them roll out videos where you can see live videos of this product being demonstrated right now, kind of like QVC. Do you think that’s something, I mean, Amazon’s known for testing things. So do you think that has any stickiness in the longterm?

Brandon Brown:
Yeah. I mean, I think live shopping, whether it’s on whatever the social platform that it is. I think that’s a super powerful disruption to me that is really interesting. It’s like a modern QVC and I think it’s going to be here for a long time and I think it will only get better and I think in other parts of the world, I’m based in the US, I think in other parts of the world, it’s already really large. So I think that’s a great innovation for brands and consumers. I am a big fan of Amazon. I buy tons of products on Amazon and I think it’s a solid company. It solves a huge problem in the world. I think as a brand marketer, Amazon’s tough because it’s quite hard to differentiate, right?

Brandon Brown:
I think smart brand visionaries and CMOs, they understand that one of the most important rules in marketing is differentiation and owning the customer experience. I think it’s really challenging to do that on Amazon because it’s kind of sandbox that you’re in. That said, I think live shopping presents a really interesting opportunity to create differentiation and a more owned experience by the brand because they can collaborate with that person who’s introducing the brand and the product and so in that environment, I think it’s a really powerful tool to drive differentiation and owned experience in a notoriously hard to do place.

Julia Raymond Hare:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). I like that. And this is a bit of an off the wall question that popped into my head for you but Snapchat not too long ago acquired an AR type of software solution which they’re already a leader in. They have the coolest filters but there has been migration away from, maybe a little bit away from Snapchat and onto the other platforms. Do you think that Snapchat will be around in the foreseeable future?

Brandon Brown:
Yeah. I mean, I think, I’m just looking at how they’re doing on market cap. Yeah. So this is the thing. Snapchat… I think it’s hard to count people out, right? Because when you have high engagement and high user retention and you have loyal audience. People who use Snapchat really like Snapchat and if they continue to innovate, I don’t think it would be smart to count them out at the game. I think that’s a strong product, strong community, a demonstrated ability to at least take big swings within innovation, which I think is the key to long-term success, strong visionary leadership.

Brandon Brown:
My view is I think they’re a staying power. They’re here for a long time. Does it have the meteoric rise that everybody expected when they IPOed? I think we’ve seen not so but I think at the same time, they’re continuing to grow. I just googled their market cap on our call because maybe I’m kind of a tech CEO nerd but now they’re doing something right. They’re continuing to grow value and it’s a good strong business that I think will be here for a long time personally.

Julia Raymond Hare:
Yeah. And some people have said maybe if they keep investing in their AR capabilities, they might even be a solution provider for retailers to show products in-house, better than maybe you could at an in-house company. It’s also more accessible. So if you wanted to see a couch, maybe you go on Snapchat and you’re following Ashley HomeStore and you can see a couch in your living room and it’s not as buggy as… I’m not calling out them but just whenever you use AR, sometimes it doesn’t work still, even though it’s gotten a lot better. I do wonder because of the quick nature of Snapchat and how things are gone within 24 hours. Is that maybe not as right of a platform, as optimal as a platform versus TikTok or Instagram or reels on Instagram, things like that?

Brandon Brown:
Again, I think, right? They all serve different purposes. So I think when you… if you’re thinking only in terms of cheap reach, then the long tail of the content engagement, which like an Instagram feed post or a YouTube video is great in that regard because consumers can go back and access it months in advance, right? Sorry, not in advance, months later and so there’s definitely a long tail of outcome there that’s super valuable. That again is important.

Brandon Brown:
If you go back to my view of influencer marketing, when you think about Snapchat, what a powerful place to build trust, right? Short form, quick kind of what’s the word ephemeral. It’s there and then it’s gone and I think you can have content that’s super engaging and resonates and just because it’s not there forever doesn’t mean that it didn’t make a deep impact with people and perhaps it could be argued that it’s more of an impact because of the relationship that that person has with the audience in that platform.

Julia Raymond Hare:
Sure. And you mentioned long tail, so that’s probably something I’m assuming at GRIN is a really interesting metric to look at. Hey, you guys did this campaign a year ago and all of a sudden someone picked up this content and you’re getting more sales that track back to that.

Brandon Brown:
Yeah. I think there are certain marketing channels that when you turn the spend off, they go away completely and there are other ones that we try to spend off they don’t go away completely and influencer marketing is somewhere in the middle, right? Because, so if you think about Just Paid and I’m thinking about digital marketing primarily. So if you think about Just Paid, the second you stop spending and with paid media, the outcome goes away because you’re not advertising anymore and you look at something like SEO, that’s obviously super important for every brand today. It doesn’t go away. You build your domain authority up in the search engines. You create great content, that content lives on for very long time, continues to drive traffic.

Brandon Brown:
I think influencer marketing is somewhere in the middle where you’re paying either through cash or product costs and, or resources and head count to drive outcome on social but you could theoretically scale and slow that down and you’re probably still going to get some organic uplift because when things become top of mind on social and the consumer starts to engage with it, then you organically get other people talking about the product in the same way that the creators are without paying and then secondarily to that, you get this long tail content, especially on platforms like YouTube, where videos can pop off way after they were posted. So I think that’s the smart way to think about it and I would agree.

Julia Raymond Hare:
That’s amazing.

Julia Raymond Hare:
Well, this has been a great conversation, Brandon. Can you tell our listeners where they can learn more about you and GRIN?

Brandon Brown:
If you want to learn more about GRIN, you can go to www.grin.co. And I’m pretty easy to get ahold of on all the platforms. The main one, probably being LinkedIn and we’d love to chat and collaborate and hopefully, there’s a way that we can work together either now or in the future.

Julia Raymond Hare:
Excellent. Brandon Brown, the Chief Executive Officer of GRIN. It was great to have you on the show today and I hope you come on in the future.

Brandon Brown:
Thank you.

 

Title

Go to Top