Influencer marketing has worked its way into nearly every industry, even meal solutions. And no one knows this industry better than Lauren Schultz, senior manager of influencer marketing at Home Chef. During her career, Lauren has worked with influencers of all kinds, from micro-influencers to Angela Kinsey and Brian Baumgartner of the hit TV show, The Office.
We sat down with Lauren to learn how she develops and sustains relationships with the influencers she works with and how she creates a seamless and efficient process for scalable influencer marketing. So whether you’re stuck in rush hour traffic or just on your way to Whole Foods because you haven’t jumped on the meal delivery service trend yet (may we suggest Home Chef?), just hit play to make your commute a little more fun.
Interview with Lauren Schultz
Perlu: Hello and welcome to the Perlu Podcast: Influencer Marketing Reimagined. A podcast where we chat with influencer marketing professionals, social media influencers, bloggers, YouTubers, podcasters – you name it – about what has led to their success.
I’m your host, Alexis Trammell, and today we get to hear from influencer marketer, Lauren Schultz. Lauren is a senior manager of influencer marketing at Home Chef, a meal solutions company that is a part of the Kroger family of companies. She formerly worked in integrated media at Weber Shandwick, serving as an influencer marketing consultant across the network, advising account teams on influencer strategy, influencer selection and content development. Here, Lauren worked with brands such as Mondelez, Tracfone Wireless, Mars Petcare and Aldi. Thank you for joining us today, Lauren.
Lauren Schultz: Sure. Happy to be a part of the podcast.
P: Tell us a little more about yourself and how you got into influencer marketing.
L: I am actually a Chicago transplant. I am from southern Virginia and grew up there. I’ve been in Chicago now for about 10 years. I came up here for college and then kind of started my career in the agency world.
Actually, I started my career at Weber Shandwick. I was there for a little over three years, focusing primarily on social strategy and then later establishing influencer marketing as my specialty. I’ve always been really fascinated by the space and kind of amazed to see how much the industry has really changed and grown over the last several years.
While at Weber Shandwick, I worked on a lot of larger brands more with a public relations bent to what we were doing, so it was very brand awareness focused and brand perception focused. We did a lot of great work with influencers across the board. Everything from really high tier YouTube influencers to beautiful Instagram content creators, and really, really had some fun campaigns during my time there.
I actually worked with a group of people that kind of consulted across the Weber Shandwick network on different clients’ projects related to influencers, so they would tap our team whenever they had a new campaign. So it was a really great way to be exposed to a lot of different brands, a lot of different influencer campaigns and a lot of different client problems that they were looking to solve with influencers.
P: Awesome. Awesome. I know Home Chef has seen some great success in its influencer marketing. Such success that they may be working with 100 to 300 influencers in one month. So I’m curious, what do you do to develop and sustain relationships with influencers you work with?
L: I had joined the Home Chef team a little over a year and a half ago. Basically when our team brought me on, their goal and their intention for my role was to essentially build a program from the ground up.
We really had dabbled a little bit in influencer marketing in the past, but didn’t really have a robust program in place. So I kind of worked over the first few months to figure out and do a lot of testing and experimenting of what would work for our brand and starting from scratch with that. We’ve progressively grown each quarter and have been able to scale the program and work with more and more influencers each month. So now at this point in time, we do work with anywhere from a hundred to 300 influencers in a given month.
What our philosophy really with regards to forging and maintaining relationships is we do like to take a very personal and intentional approach with that. I know there’s a lot of platforms and systems out there that kind of enable brands to automate the process and to send out a hundred outreach emails in five minutes. We have used some systems like that in the past, but we’ve found that really keeping that relationship component is crucial.
So we do work with a couple of agencies that help take on the burden of that for us. But then we also have quite a few relationships that we manage in-house. It’s really the old fashioned way. It’s emails and it’s phone calls and we just find that for those really valued partners, it’s a much better way to operate.
It’s a two-sided conversation and partnership, as opposed to a transaction, which I feel is really where a lot of the value of influencer relationships gets lost, once it becomes a transaction with a brand.
So we really work hard to have that not be the case. Obviously working with such a high volume, it can be challenging, but something that we really try to be intentional about keeping the relationship component strong.
P: That’s great to hear. So you’ve said before that you like to work with micro-influencers because you found that they have a greater cost per acquisition. Could you elaborate on that?
L: Yeah. Our goals are very different than a lot of brands, especially compared to the brands that I worked on back when I was on the agency side of things.
Home Chef is really a performance based direct to consumer brand. For the most part, our e-commerce business is central to what we do, although we also are now in Kroger stores, which is really exciting. So our goals are very set in stone. We know that with all of our marketing initiatives, the primary goal is to acquire new customers, and to do it in the most efficient way possible.
So when developing this influencer program, that was the lens that I was looking through. It was not so much brand awareness. It was how can we acquire customers efficiently and effectively. So in developing the plan and the strategy that we hold to, we work with actually all tiers of influence at this point in time, so we do work with a huge base of micro-influencers.
But what we’ve actually found in recent months to be the most successful is our power middle group. That’s a term that can sometimes be thrown around in the industry, but essentially, this group is kind of in-between the celebrity level and the micro level, and they always have highly engaged audiences. I believe a lot of them are really seen as experts and trusted sources in their categories, whether it be a beauty influencer, a fashion influencer, a family and parenting influencer, or a food influencer. They’re really kind of seen as that go-to source by their audience for whatever it is that they choose to share on their channel.
Forging relationships with that group has been highly, highly impactful for us. They’ve been able to give us that reach that we need, but still maintain really engaged audiences. So their audience is really tuned in to the lifestyle content that they share, and then of course the products that they’re recommending. We’ve seen an amazing response from that. I think the key to our strategies, or one of the keys, has been to layer in multiple tiers, all the way from micro to the celebrity level.
P: Awesome. Can you tell us about some of your most impactful influencer marketing campaigns?
L: At Home Chef, we really kind of operate on an “always-on” basis. That basically means that we are working to every week of the month have consistent programming, consistently sharing our brand message and different offers in order to get people to sign up. That’s something that we work really hard to do to keep it consistent. Obviously, we have key times of the year. January is a really, really big time for us because it’s kind of the new year, new you. People are looking to form better habits with regards to eating. So our product really fits in very nicely to that.
It’s not really a standalone campaign, but our “always-on” campaign I think is something that I’m really proud of because it does, I think over time, build and you start to experience a lot of the fringe benefits of influencer marketing, which is really that natural advocacy, that added value content that you start to see from partners that have really turned into genuine fans of the brand.
But on a more specific note, we actually did a really fun campaign back in January actually, with Angela Kinsey and Brian Baumgartner who starred in The Office. We did a fun content creation campaign with them where we had Angela in an office asking people what they were having for dinner and filming their funny responses to that. And then she and Brian Baumgartner, who plays Kevin on the show, went back to Angela’s house and were cooking the Home Chef meal together.
That was a really, really fun campaign and also a way to work with that higher level of celebrity and add that into our program. So what we did with that is we repurposed the content and used it for paid social on Facebook. That was a lot of fun to be a part of that campaign.
P: That is so cool. I’m a huge fan of The Office. Very awesome.
L: Aren’t we all?
P: Well on that note, what would you say is the most creative influencer marketing campaign you’ve seen in your career?
L: I really do try to pay attention to as many of the campaigns as I can and I think that I’m always really learning from other brands in our space. Not only our competitors, but especially brands and kind of the direct to consumer space. All these fun e-commerce brands that have popped up over the last few years, I think they do influencer marketing really, really well.
One brand that I really love is TULA. It’s a skincare company that has an amazing influencer program. I use them as my inspiration and North star a lot. But I think they do an amazing job at really creating buzz and demand whenever they launch a new product. It just seems like whenever there’s a new product that they come out with, it is everywhere but in a good way. I just think they do a really good job of creating that natural buzz while not having it feel in your face or overly saturated across the influencer ecosystem.
But I think they do a nice job. I think when you can create that buzz and actually get people really, really excited about a product release or a sale or special promo going on, I think that’s really, really special.
P: Very cool. What about the brands that we listed? Mondelez, Tracfone Wireless. Do you have any specific stories you’d like to share, influencer marketing-wise on those?
L: One of the brands that I worked with while I was at Weber Shandwick was Aldi, the grocery store. They’re actually a German company, but they obviously have kind of a cult following at this point in the US, but it hasn’t always been that way.
I think one of the main goals that Aldi had when leveraging influencers, was to change the brand perception and to build advocacy around their brand and share the message that the ingredients in the products that they sold in the store were very high quality and also affordable, and that those two could go hand in hand together.
So the influencer program was really great because it helps to validate that idea. We worked with some awesome, awesome food influencers who created custom, beautiful recipes using Aldi ingredients. We had amazing live events with influencers where there were dinners. We were able to work with chefs to create elaborate meals where the entire menu was created with Aldi ingredients. Just lots of really neat things that we did with the Aldi brand.
What we saw is amazing engagement and buzz and conversation around and advocacy for Aldi. We saw that emerge, I think, due in part to our influencer program, which we called our Aldi Insiders. It was a group of ambassadors that we worked with throughout the year who would constantly talk about the brand and their favorite things to buy and the Aldi hauls, and would create beautiful recipes with the ingredients and kind of share those with their audience. That was a really fun campaign to work on. Just with kind of that overarching goal of advocacy and changing brand perception.
P: Yeah, definitely. How do you and your team incorporate influencers’ creativity upstream in the brainstorming process even before launching a campaign?
L: Sure. As I mentioned, we really do take a personal approach to our influencer partnerships and relationships. I think especially in terms of our larger partnerships. Maybe that’s a year long relationship where they’re acting as more of an ambassador, or maybe it’s a more creative type of project like the Angela Kinsey project.
We try to involve them really early on and I think ultimately, influencers, I believe, they know their audience best and they know what their audience responds well to and what is going to be the most well received on their channel. So I love to incorporate them as early and as often as I can, whether it’s brainstorming what the deliverables are going to be for the campaign, the cadence of it, how much is too much, the make of the content, what they feel like will be most natural. Oftentimes, they bring really, really great ideas to the table and are able to make the partnership that much more authentic and natural and ultimately impactful.
P: Awesome. Yeah. I guess my final question for you would be, do you have any advice for brands who are just starting out in influencer marketing?
L: Absolutely. So I think I will say I think it’s never too late to start out in influencer marketing, however, it may not be right for every brand. So I think there is a time and a place for it and it depends on ultimately what your goal is and what you’re trying to achieve with your influencer marketing campaign. Is it awareness? Is it leads or sales? Is it strong engagement and creating conversation?
I think that first you need to determine what your goal is with the campaign, and then back into it as strategy from there.
I also think that it’s really, really important to take risks and to not be afraid of testing and trying new things, even if maybe an idea seems a little crazy.
A lot of the best tactics and ideas that we’ve tested are things that we had no idea would work and then work along the way by their results. I think taking risks is really, really important and iterating on things that are working well and finding new ways of doing it until you come up with a plan that’s working for you.
And then lastly, just keeping that relationship component of influencer marketing, keeping that intact and really being intentional about forging relationships with the partners that you feel are a great fit for your brand. I think building those long lasting relationships is very impactful, especially as the space becomes more and more crowded with more brands increasing their influencer marketing budgets. I think it’s important to hold on to those relationships once you find partners that are solid.
P: Awesome. Really great stuff, Lauren, thank you so much for speaking with us.
L: Thank you.
P: And thank you to everyone for listening to the Perlu Podcast. If you like our show and are interested in what it takes to succeed in influencer marketing, check out our blog at blog.perlu.com for more podcasts and blog posts. Sign up for Perlu at perlu.com to meet, mingle, connect, collaborate, and grow your career. Don’t forget to join us next month for our next installation of the Perlu Podcast: Influencer Marketing Reimagined.