For years, brands have leveraged product seeding, or product gifting, as a way to drive brand awareness and sales in a cost-effective way. It’s become an essential way for brands to develop touchpoints with influencers they want to work with, educate their audience on their products, and gain honest feedback.
In this guide, let’s delve into the nitty-gritty details of product seeding — from best practices to examples of brands doing it right.
What is Product Seeding?
Product seeding, also known as product gifting, is when brands send free products to creators, affiliates or customers with the intention of building relationships or getting product feedback. There is no obligation for the influencer to post. The goal of this commitment-free gift should be for creators to try your product and build a relationship. If they love your product and feel compelled to talk about it, that’s a bonus.
Brands that excel at product seeding strategically choose influential partners who will actually use and enjoy their product. When you target creators who post genuine content, reviews, and comments about your brand, their communities will be more likely to engage with that content.
4 Ways To Leverage Product Seeding To Grow Your Brand
Product seeding helps you build trustworthy relationships with influencers and consumers, but it can also be an affordable way to kickstart your influencer campaign. Costs are limited to shipping and the product itself and the benefits typically outweigh the costs – especially when you consider the long-term impact these relationships can offer your brand.
Here are 4 ways to leverage product seeding to grow your brand:
- To Open The Door For New Creator Relationships
Gifting a product to a creator can be the perfect first touchpoint to an authentic collaboration with your brand. It gives the influencer a chance to try your product before you enter a paid partnership with them. It is in a brand's best interest to work with creators who genuinely like your products. Influencers who feel truly connected to your brand will spend more time and effort on their content and it sets the premise that you really care about working with people who are authentic, which audiences can pick up on.
Imagine you’re a pet supplies brand, and you find a creator who often posts about their dog. You reach out and send them your best product: a new harness that promises to be sturdier and more comfortable than your competition. You start the conversation by reaching out to tell them you love their content and think this would be perfect for Buddy. The more personal you make your message, the more likely they are to appreciate the gesture and agree to try it out.
Once you know they are happy with the product, you can open the conversation about a more long-term partnership where they post about your brand on a more regular cadence. If it goes really well, you could offer to license their content to use it in your paid social campaigns or run an allowlisting campaign through their account. You could offer them an affiliate code to generate commission on sales.
The key to product seeding is to focus more on relationship building and less on transactions and obligations. Seeding/gifting products to creators without a contractual obligation to create content enables the creator to organically decide if they’re a fan of the brand/product, ultimately cultivating long-term, meaningful relationships that customers will appreciate.
- To Nurture Pre-Existing Creator Relationships
Invest in the partners you already have. While there is no guarantee that a creator will post about the products you send, when they do, it will mean all the more. Consumers can tell when an influencer is being paid to talk about something, as you know the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requires that influencers clearly disclose sponsorships. So consumers know that posts with #ad or #sponsored are being commissioned by a brand. However, if an influencer posts about a gifted product, the guidelines for seeding only require them to say the product was a gift. Consumers see that as more authentic, and they know the influencer actually loves and uses your product. There are also plenty of other implicit factors that consumers can sense when a creator is genuinely excited about a product.
Creators still share things they enjoy, even if they’re not being paid for it or posting about it regularly. If you find the right creator who genuinely uses and enjoys your product, they’re likely to talk about that openly with their audience.
- To Generate Product Reviews
Why not send free products to your highest value customers or most frequent buyers in exchange for reviews you can use on your website? Reviews from people who genuinely love your brand will come off less like advertisements and more like a trusted recommendation, while also improving your relationship with customers who already love your brand.
- To Get Honest Product Feedback
In product seeding campaigns, influencers don’t have an obligation to post content for your brand. However, when they do post after they’ve tried out your products, you’ll gain honest feedback — because again, they are not contractually obligated to discuss specific talking points you’ve sent them or follow strict content guidelines.
This not only leaves room for them to provide you with constructive criticism, but the influencer’s audience will also appreciate their genuine reactions and authentic opinions about your products.
Why Product Seeding?
Depending on the price point of your product, product seeding can be an affordable way to build brand awareness and accumulate brand fans.
For example, imagine your brand sells candles. Your candles sell for $12, and your profit margin is around $7. Shipping costs $3. So the total possible loss on a seeded product is $10. If a person posts about your product and influences two people to buy a candle, you have already made your money back; that’s a positive ROI.
Now imagine how much you’d have to spend on cost per click (CPC) ads to get the same return. It costs advertisers anywhere from 40 to 70 cents per click on Instagram. This is just for someone to click on your ad, and we all know that buyers need multiple touchpoints before they make a purchase decision. If just 20 people click on your ad, you’ve already spent more than if you would’ve seeded a product.
Alternatively, if you have a high price point product like furniture, you can gift the product in partnership with customers, affiliates, creators or influencers in exchange for content like Outer did. Whether you pay an influencer does weigh up against the cost of your product - so that needs to be considered.
Just think: you’re trading a product for potential user-generated content, product feedback, and ideally, a loyal brand advocate. Plus, the content influencers create can save time for your internal content creation team. A creator’s content can be repurposed for your own social media platforms, emails, and other marketing avenues.
Will Product Seeding Work for My Brand?
If done right, product seeding can be a powerful tactic in influence based marketing strategies. However, there are certain things to consider to weigh up whether it is right for your brand.
Consider product seeding for your brand if:
- You have a product based business
- You have a limited budget for influencer marketing but the time to build relationships
- You have a clear brand message that will resonate with a niche audience
- You’re willing to accept authentic (even potentially negative) product feedback
- You’re comfortable with long-term strategy
Take SKINN Cosmetics, for example. In 2019, the Shopify brand wanted to expand its target market to include women in their 20s and 30s. Because their budget was limited, they tried influencer product seeding. SKINN sent products to influencers with no obligation to post but hoping for word-of-mouth referrals. Within a year, they saw nearly a 20% increase in site traffic and sales.
Who Should You Send Products to?
When it comes to product seeding, you will want to be strategic about who you send products to. The goal is to send products to influencers, creators, affiliates or brand fans who are most likely to love your products, so that means people who are already talking about your industry or already show an interest in the type of product you have created.
Consider sending products to:
- Engaged consumers: Reach out to consumers who have organically tagged you in photos, mentioned you in stories, mentioned you in comments, or are constantly engaging with your social pages.
- Like-minded creators: Take a look at the followers and fans of brands whose mission/identity you align with to find like-minded consumers. Look at the brand’s tagged photos and user-generated content on their own feed. This will show you consumers who are willing to post about brands they support.
- Brand fans: Who is already engaging with you online? Check your tagged photos and consider inviting these fans to write official product reviews on your website. Or, use an influencer marketing platform like Aspire to to generate inbound interest from a creator community.
LUSH Cosmetics knows the value of leveraging engaged consumers to promote their products, and they rely heavily on product seeding and UGC for their influencer marketing strategy. LUSH partners with brand fans who already use and post about their products, who they call micro-micro-influencers. Once someone posts in a facemask, for example, LUSH reaches out to them with more information about the brand.
LUSH’s Community Manager, Sabine Schwirtz, explained their strategy to Stackla: “The influencers we work with are posting something because they actually love something. I think our audiences can see the difference.”
Tips for an Effective Product Seeding Strategy
If you’re just starting out, product seeding can take a bit of trial and error, but once you get it right, it can have a huge impact on your visibility and sales. Our tips will help you create a successful product seeding campaign.
Find the Right Influencer for Your Brand
It’s important to be selective with the influencers you choose to send products to; these should be well-researched creators in your niche.
When researching, find influencers who:
- You know your target audience admire
- Have posted about similar products in the past
- Regularly post about the industry or niche your product relates to
- Have an engaged audience
You can search for influencers manually, or use an influencer marketing platform, where you can get access to advanced profile insights and more granular search capabilities. At Aspire, we enable you to search by aesthetic, industry, audience demographic, and much more. But being able to filter through millions of creators to find the right fit can save a ton of time!
For example, SKINN Cosmetics used Aspire’s search database to connect with creators who had well-aligned audiences. “Aspire has helped us develop more genuine relationships,” Jessica Selfridge, Social Media, Brand, & Influencer Partnerships Specialist, said. “It gives us the ability to organize and keep track of these relationships so we can scale while still maintaining the ability to be personal and human.”
“Aspire has helped us develop more genuine relationships. It gives us the ability to organize and keep track of these relationships so we can scale while still maintaining the ability to be personal and human.”
Simplify Your Product Sending Process
To get your products in the hands of creators and potentially posted about quicker, streamline manual work
Consider implementing the following.
- Standardize communication. Create templated outreach and follow-up messages and share them with the team to save time and simplify communication. Check out these 16 email templates >
- Send a compelling campaign proposal with your products. A campaign proposal can be used to explain your goals, why you are sending the products, and what’s special about your brand. It should get influencers excited about the campaign, making it more likely to get their buy-in.
- Ask for approval. Always ask for approval before sending your products to an influencer. Despite your best research efforts, you cannot be 100% certain that the creators you choose will be interested in using your product. Asking first avoids unnecessary waste, while ensuring the product goes to someone who is truly eager to give it a try.
- Automate product tracking. Onboard a platform with trackable delivery methods and real-time analytics that will help keep your campaign on track. Check out Shopify’s order tracking apps like Parcel Panel and Order Status Tracker or use an influencer marketing platform.
Learn more about the smart way to send products to creators, in our recent blog.
Personalize Your Outreach
Make a good first impression with influencers by showing you’ve done your homework and sharing why you’re interested in working specifically with them. Creators will be impressed by brands who know about their niche and are familiar with their content.
Consider personalizing your outreach by:
- Telling creators why you sought them out and mentioning something specific that sparked your interest
- Including a handwritten note or personalizing their product with their name
- Sending a product based on their interests or personality, if possible
- Making your package aesthetically pleasing so they can quickly post about it if they want. If you have products with unique packaging, consider sending those (but don’t forget sustainability. Gorgeous packaging is great for content, but remember to consider the materials it's made from, and how easily it can be recycled by your chosen influencers!)
- Include a one pager with details of any campaign hashtags or personalized affiliate codes. If they do decide to post, they’ll have everything they need to maximize the reach and impact of their content.
ColourPop does a great job of sending Instagrammable packages. For the release of their Limelight makeup collection, they sent products to influencers in stunning lime green packaging that got immediate attention.
Another option to encourage influencers to recommend your content is to let the creator browse your catalog and select a product they’ll use in real life. Send them an email, DM, or letter with their own personalized discount code or gift card, and let them choose a product they’d like to try.
Nurture Relationships & Offer Incentives
While it may be tempting to follow up after an influencer receives your product, it’s good to give them time and make sure your communication is positive with no strings attached. Remember, there is no obligation for them to post, and being overly pushy in your follow ups can have the opposite effect in terms of nurturing long term relationships. Patience is key. Influencers may be juggling a few product seeding or paid campaigns and have your product in a queue. Or they could simply be on vacation or taking some time away from their work emails. Keep communication light and friendly and, most importantly, have patience!
Start by monitoring your social media notifications daily, and be on the lookout for feedback, mentions, or tags. If you’re using an influencer marketing platform, you may have access to social listening tools that’ll notify you when someone mentions your brand and allow you to connect with them through their DMs and comment on their posts. Once some time has passed, continue to nurture the relationship by following up and asking how they enjoyed the product. Keep the conversation flowing and answer any questions they might have.
If nothing has been posted but you’ve made a connection with the creator, you could reach out with an offer of an upfront commission to motivate the creator to post. We suggest a commission range of 10-30%, depending on your existing margins. You could also offer perks, such as first access to new products, regular briefings on the status of the brand, opportunities for meetups, becoming a brand ambassador or affiliate, and more.
For example, say you’re a fitness brand, and you recently gifted an influencer your new line of leggings. You’ve been monitoring social media but haven’t seen the influencer post anything. Consider reaching out to them, sharing why you love their content, and asking for their feedback. If they didn't like your product, maybe they can give you an idea on how to improve, or their opinion might help you refocus your efforts on a different niche.
If they loved your product, we strongly recommend rewarding engaged creators by considering them for your paid programs. You might invite them to participate in a longer-term partnership that includes a 10-15% commission per affiliate sale. Or, depending on your budget, you could offer monthly products, access to your newest clothing lines, or discounts to local fitness events.
Streamline Product Seeding With An Influencer Marketing Platform
Save time finding the perfect influencer by working with an influencer marketplace that allows you to search for what you’re looking for and get matched with like-minded creators.
Aspire’s Influencer Marketing Platform allows you to:
- Search millions of creators using filters such as age, location, follower count, engagement rate, interests, and more. This allows you to find creators who are connected with your target audience.
- Streamline campaign management from product fulfillment to nurturing relationships through our influence CRM.
- Choose products from your ecommerce store, send them to influencers, and track your shipment, so you know when to follow up.
- Use social listening tools to see when creators mention your brand. This helps you find brand fans to send products to and alerts you when a creator posts about your product.
- Effectively measure the success of your product seeding campaign
If you’re interested in getting started, book a demo today!