Smoke Shack Jerky on the Benefits of Influencer Marketing for Start-Ups

JBWe’ve had a lot of guests on this podcast who have made dramatic career shifts into influencer marketing. Now it’s time we talk with someone who did the reverse: meet Jonathan Brown, marketer turned gourmet jerky entrepreneur.

Jonathan Brown, or JB, didn’t completely abandon his marketing roots when he founded Smoke Shack Jerky. In fact, he seized the opportunity to dive into influencer marketing – this time for his own brand. Grab a snack (you’ll need it!) and hit play to hear about how JB uses influencers to grow his small business and how Perlu is helping him break into niches he’d never considered before.


Key Takeaways:

  • In an industry with a lot of competitors, having influencers react to your product to their audiences can be the best and most authentic way to get your product out there.
  • Sometimes the markets your product is best for could be a market you’d never considered before.
  • Perlu is a great tool for brands trying to reduce costs and time coming up with content and content marketing.
  • Nothing comes for free. For the best results from your collaborations, you need to pay your influencers.

Interview with Jonathan Brown

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’ll be speaking with a Perlu member who recently began cracking into influencer marketing for his startup business. Jonathan Brown, or JB, is an experienced marketing technology leader with over 28 years of experience in interactive marketing, digital product development and product management.

In 2017, he founded Smoke Shack Jerky, a small upstate New York kitchen making handcrafted smoked jerky and snacks. His products are all natural, have no nitrates and are wood-smoked with no artificial smoke flavorings. JB finds his inspiration for his unique flavors in Asian, African, Indian, Mexican and Middle Eastern cultures. He uses his unique cuisine to develop original non-traditional flavor profiles for his jerky that stand out from his competitors. And this year, he joined Perlu to find influencers to help him promote his unique and tasty products. Thank you so much for joining us today, JB.

JB: Great. Thanks for having me.

Perlu: Could you tell us a little bit more about Smoke Shack Jerky and how you started this company?

Smoke Shack Jerky KidsJB: Sure. Well, as you mentioned, I’ve been in the technology space for a long time and randomly got into a kind of late love of food. My kids got me a smoker a few years back, and I started … making all my own seasonings and recipes and got pretty into it. So I ended up trying to make some products, and people really liked them, so I thought I’d sell them. So … that’s kind of how it started. I just sort of fell into it.

Perlu: Well that’s great. That’s how a lot of successes happen, isn’t it? So how did you come to realize that influencer marketing could be a good strategy for Smoke Shack Jerky?

JB: I’ve done a lot of work for brands in the past, working in both digital marketing and content marketing and those kinds of things. The jerky space – there’s a lot of big brands in that space, so in order to get people to realize that my products are different … it’s hard to get into that through traditional marketing. So the best way to do that in my mind was to try to find people who are influencers or people who are interested in food and basically get them the product and have them react to it, good or bad. That’s kind of the way it goes, and hopefully, they would help me build my brand as a unique brand, and that’s what the other people aren’t doing.

Perlu: Very, very cool.

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Perlu: How did you first hear about Perlu, and how did you come to be such an active member?

JB: I actually have a friend who was my boss at one point in time for one of my digital marketing jobs who works on Perlu. So he had mentioned it, and I got all excited about it, joined up, and I’ve been working on trying to figure out how best to utilize the tools in there and get in touch with influencers.

One of the things that I’m trying to do is focus more on the east coast while I’m growing, so one of the things I was trying to find was a way to get in touch with people in the region that I’m interested in as well as who are interested in food products or have some cred in that space.

Perlu: Okay, that’s awesome.

What successes have you seen on Perlu so far, and have you seen a good ROI from your influencer campaigns?

JB: I’m sort of experimenting. I started out pretty small. I’m not paying any influencers yet. I’m just asking to give away the product and have them review it, and that’s gone really well. I’ve gotten some pretty interesting people who I didn’t expect. It’s interesting what happened when I got into it. The way Perlu is set up is I set up some collaboration with a few ideas in mind. One was to look at just my smoked snack products, which are nuts and pistachios and pumpkin seeds, which is super unique.

Nobody’s really doing that. And then I set up a separate one for the jerky products. I got those out there and had people do reviews and I got really good reviews. People were really psyched about the products. They did some great posts – social media posts on all the various channels – and I absolutely had gotten some orders from that, which has been great, but again, I’m starting pretty slow.

Perlu: Well, that’s great for you. As a new business, as a startup, it’s very important for you to be getting any reviews at all and that feedback from the influencers. I’m sure that’s very valuable to you.

JB: Yeah, absolutely. That’s really the most important thing. I want to make sure that the products really are doing what I need them to do, which is when people try them, they’ll talk about them.

Perlu: What has been your favorite influencer marketing collab on Perlu so far?

Smoke Shack Jerky BikesJB: I’ve had a couple. Some really cute families got involved with the kids and they were all eating the product and that was super cute. And it also just speaks to the products, something that the kids will like as well. And one of the things that really surprised me was the healthy food angle, which I hadn’t really been pursuing.

Several of the collaborations I’ve gotten have been people who are trainers or into the healthy food side of things. Vegetarian, as well. So it was really interesting to see their take looking at my product and coming at it from a different angle. I really hadn’t come with that idea in mind. I mean, I know the products are healthy but I wasn’t really thinking about that as specifically a marketing tactic. So yeah, that’s been interesting.

Perlu: That is so cool to hear that there are certain niches that you could be cracking into and you didn’t even know that until you had some influencers jump onboard. That’s so exciting.

JB: Yeah. And the nut products, in particular, I think people find super interesting because it’s different. So that’s another thing that I’m leaning on as well.

Perlu: That’s cool. Love pistachios, pumpkin seeds. That sounds really fun and exciting. Sounds tasty.

What were some unexpected challenges you encountered in this process and how did Perlu help you overcome them?

JB: I’m trying a couple of different tactics, one which I don’t think is generally used. Giving away products and getting feedback – that seems to be pretty straightforward and I think influencers understand that relationship and that work if your products are good.

Smoke Shack Jerky BeerThe second angle … A big group of my customers is actually breweries. I do a lot of partnerships. I’m in over 38 locations with my products, most of which are breweries. You try to do an incentive program on Perlu to have influencers help me get in touch with and then market to local breweries in their areas, figuring that these people have local relationships if they’re fans of beer and breweries. The craft brewery scene is pretty big, so I thought that would be an angle that might work.

I haven’t been able to make that work quite yet, but I still think it’s a valid technique or a valid idea, and that you’d compensate these influencers for helping me get into these things by paying them a fee for any sort of contacts or information. That one’s been a little more difficult to get going and I’m still trying to see if that’ll work.

Perlu: Okay. Okay. I know that I love beef jerky whenever I’m going on road trips or whether I’m hiking or camping. Have you cracked into those adventure travel influencers on Perlu yet?

JB: I have not. I’m trying to figure out … Again, I was sort of focused on a regional area, but yeah, I mean, that is absolutely another vertical that I should really be tackling. I’m in some subscription boxes for other companies who’ve put my products in their subscription boxes who target those travel site influencers or travel people, people who are hiking and outdoor adventurists, so I am trying to break into that through the subscription model. But yeah, it’s a good idea. I should really spend some time looking at what’s available in that area from Perlu.

Perlu: Yeah. Yeah. Oh my gosh. If I had a subscription to beef jerky, oh man. Maybe I’m going to sign up for that right away.

What have been some of your biggest lessons learned from your experience with influencers so far?

JB: We just talked a little bit about it actually. It’s just understanding how to best pick the right groups within the verticals within Perlu and figuring out what’s the best collaboration. I think this season I want to put some money into it and try to maybe pay influencers to do some holiday marketing. I think it’s just me having the time and the right plan to spend and go through and try to see what works.

That’s one of the things I love about Perlu, is that I can come up with a campaign in days, then roll it out and get reactions pretty quickly and test it out and see how it goes.

So that’s one of the things I really like about it. It makes it really easy. I can easily pick the influencers I’m interested in, and then I can execute really easily. It’s a great tool for companies like myself who are smaller and want to get into this as opposed to some of the larger engagements that I used to do with larger brands, which you’re spending a lot of money to come up with content and content marketing and influencer marketing. But I’m not at that scale, so that’s where Perlu really does shine.

I love the way this is set up. I don’t know if people understand how some of this stuff works, but the way Perlu is set up is really good with the Collabs and then having those groups – influencer groups – which really do help you target the right people. But I also do think to really get into it, I think you need to fork up some money for these people.

Smoke Shack Jerky Products

Perlu: Yeah, definitely. Well, okay, so I have to ask you, of course,

What is your favorite flavor of jerky?

JB: I sort of have a whole thing on jerky. My approach is I don’t make any normal jerky flavors. I do not make teriyaki. I do not make original beef jerky flavor. I do not make it a black pepper. So all of mine are really interesting, and I have one favorite. It’s called Safari, and that one is sort of based on African spices, so it’s cumin, celery and ginger, and it’s got a good spice to it. It’s one of my favorites.

Perlu: Yum, yum, yum. Okay, cool. So I’ve got to try that out.

Where do you want our listeners to go find your beef jerky to try it out?

JB: I have a full Amazon store, so you can get it online. You can use, if you want to go there. And of course my website, is also a place where you can go.

Perlu: Perfect. Perfect. Well, thank you so much for joining us today, JB. I hope you get into those adventure travelers, and I’m going to go order some of your beef jerky today.

JB: I’m going to go on Perlu and see if I can find some of those adventure travelers.

Perlu: Perfect. All right. Well, thanks so much again. And thank you to everyone listening to our influencer marketing podcast. If you like our show and are interested in what it takes to succeed in influencer marketing, check out our blog at for more podcasts and blog posts. Sign up for Perlu at to meet, mingle, connect, collaborate, and grow your career. We hope you join us for our next installation of The Perlu Podcast: Influencer Marketing Reimagined. is a community of brands and influencers collaborating for growth. The Perlu influencer marketing podcast takes this to the next level, helping brands achieve more with influencer marketing, and helping influencers understand how to effectively connect and engage with brands and other influencers.

We’ve interviewed the best of the best in the influencer marketing world to see how they create campaigns and experiences with a lasting impact, so you can do the same. Our influencer marketing podcast is here to help both brands and influencers grow. Happy Listening!

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