Product Seeding (Influencer Gifting): What is it & how does it work?

Influencer gifting is one of the best strategies to help you build authenticity and trust. But that boost of brand awareness — and sharp increase in sales — is often short-lived.

The problem with influencer gifting programs is the requirement. I give you my product and you give me a post for x amount of impressions.

Sure, this kind of exchange is tangible and gives you clear markers on what results to expect. 

But what if I told you that there’s another way to generate hundreds of influencer posts for free AND help you build a credible affiliate program?

It begins with product seeding. An approach that focuses on building relationships on giving, not asking. To bring you up to speed on product seeding campaigns, this article will cover five key sections:

  1. What is Product Seeding & How Does it Fit into Influencer Marketing Strategy?
  2. You Reap What You Sow: The Short & Long-term Benefits of Successful Product Seeding
  3. Influencer Product Seeding vs. Influencer Gifting: The Reasons Why They Are So Different
  4. Product Seeding Walkthrough: The Process We Follow Internally + Tips to Get Started With Your Own Product Seeding Strategy
  5. Product Seeding Case Study: How We Scaled Animal House Fitness from $0 to $1M in 4 months by Seeding Product to Influencers

First, a caveat: What we’re about to share with you is a long-term game plan that will sustain your influencer marketing efforts. It’s not a quick fix, it won’t be easy, but we promise you it works. We wouldn’t have built our whole influencer marketing agency based on this approach if it didn’t.

What is Product Seeding & How Does it Fit into Influencer Marketing Strategy?

Product seeding (also referred to as influencer seeding) is when brands send free products to influencers with no strings attached (i.e. no expectations on a post in return). 

The term ‘seeding’ describes a long-term mindset where the goal is the relationship and everything else is a bonus.

Most brands want to get to a place where every level of the influencer pyramid is utilised. 

  • You have new influencers you’re sending product out to
  • You have consistent organic conversations and posting going on
  • You’re repurposing influencer content (UGC) into your paid media mix
  • You have 2-3 faces of your brand that are on yearly contracts

Again, this is long-term. Even if you have all the budgets to do this now, it doesn’t mean you should. There’s a process of getting there and relationships take time to build.

But it’s worth it.

how product seeding fits into the influencer marketing pyramid

You Reap What You Sow: The Short & Long-term Benefits of Successful Product Seeding 

Product seeding benefits can be immediate: word of mouth awareness, product feedback, and a collection of UGC content.

But this doesn’t even scratch the surface of the long-term benefits effective product seeding can lead to.

Product seeding is the foundational piece that leads to credible affiliate programs (paying influencers a commission of sales), finding great content creators, and locking down the flag bearers who will represent your brand long-term.

See how each of these long-term benefits nicely align with the stages of the influencer pyramid we mentioned before? That’s not by coincidence. It’s the reason why we call product seeding the foundation.

Influencer Product Seeding vs. Influencer Gifting: The Reasons Why They Are So Different

Gifting programs lure brands in with the tangible benefits of guaranteed posts and impressions. 

Don’t get me wrong — there can be a lot of potential upside to this arrangement, especially if you score yourself some great UGC. 

But that’s where the upside ends …

Since the whole deal is based on this transactional arrangement, the influencer forgets about your brand the second they post and move onto the next business opportunity. Product seeding is a more sustainable approach.

The difference? Influencer gifting is a one-time, transactional experience. Product seeding is a long-term, relationship building exercise.

Think of product seeding like you’re planting a seed that you hope will eventually grow into a strong, healthy plant. You can probably guess the analogy here ...

Seed = free product gifted to the influencer 

Plant = a long-term relationship with the influencer

Just like any smart investment decision, you’re banking on the compounding return. Same for product seeding. You’re building a long-tail effect of the network of social media influencers actually using your product.

Over time, you’ll have a solid base of people to kickstart your affiliate marketing program and because you were so focused on building the relationship from the get-go, this will help in negotiations too.

Moral of the story: There are no shortcuts. So how do you go about doing this the right way?

product seeding formula - how it works

Product Seeding Walkthrough: The Process We Follow Internally + Tips to Get Started With Your Own Product Seeding Strategy

Let’s look at the steps you need to take and what can happen after seeding your product to 100 influencers.

The Results Are Surprisingly Formulaic ...

Not only will seeding 100 influencers lead to 30 influencers creating and posting 60-90 assets each month, 

But also, by year's end...

  • A Min. of a 360 influencer affiliate program
  • A Min. of 20-30 Contractualized Top Performing Influencers

There’s still a lot of work required to get you there. Each month we recommend two actions following seeding efforts:

  1. Onboard every influencer that posted into an affiliate program.
  2.  Dissect and analyze how all of their content performed organically, as well as within paid media in order to find your top performers to contractualize.

Seeding serves as the most organic and seamless funnel in onboarding genuine product adopters into your affiliate program. 

Let's dive into why that is, using our own agency efforts as an example …

 Every month, our team identifies and reaches out to 500 influencers for each of our brands. 

Here’s what we expect to see for each brand:

  • A minimum of 100 influencers (20%) opt-in to receive product 
  • A minimum of 30 influencers (30%) end up posting free of cost on avg. 2-3 assets each

So each brand now has 60-90 influencer posts, with content usage rights, at the cost of the COGS of sending out 100 products.

Based on these numbers alone, you can understand why this is the most cost-effective mass organic distribution and content creation you’re ever going to get!

But this is not where the value ends. These efforts lead to so much more.

So where does an Affiliate Program and contractualization of top-performing brand ambassadors fit into the process of seeding each month?

Seeding lends itself incredibly well to being the easiest onboarding system in history for an affiliate marketing program.

It's as simple as this: For every influencer that ends up posting within your seeding program (free of cost), send them the message below immediately following their organic post:

Hey [influencer name],
We're so glad you loved the product we sent you, so much so you were willing to share this content with your audience.
We'd love to honor you for any and all future posts you decide to share by getting you compensated through our affiliate program!
If you decide to post about us again, we want to make sure you share in the profits that you're driving.

 

The influencer is already posting about your brand for free, so it's a no-brainer for them to onboard into your affiliate program.

Extra bonus: You look like a genuine partner that wants to honor them, something uncommon within this space, fostering an even greater relationship. 

So to recap ... if you were to identify and reach out to 500 influencers within a seeding program, it would lead to a min of 30 influencers posting each month.

30 influencers x 12 months = a robust affiliate program including a minimum of 360 influencers by year's end

Realistically, not all 30 of these influencers will be top performers. But you might as well onboard ALL of them to your affiliate marketing program, otherwise you'd be leaving money on the table.

In addition to an affiliate program, we also recommend dissecting & analyzing who were the top performing influencers out of the 30.

From the 60-90 posts, look at who's content performed best organically as well as within paid media when repurposing that content into ads.

Then, you want to contractualize these top performers to become paid ambassadors, outside of your affiliate program. You’ll want them to provide ongoing services each month for your team including but not limited to...

  • Video content creation
  • Organic posting
  • Whitelisting

Not only does seeding lend itself to a smooth transition here but also these top performing influencers have proven to be genuine product adopters that have posted and granted usage rights free of cost. 

Meaning…

They will be much cheaper to contractualize in comparison to engaging in the pay for post model without seeding first. You will receive pricing that is half of the typical market rates.

Let’s switch from theory to an example where we used this exact same process of seeding products to influencers to scale Animal House Fitness’s marketing efforts.

Product Seeding Example: Scaling Animal House Fitness from $0 to $1M in 4 months by Seeding Product to Influencers

First step, you guessed it, product seeding ...

Before anything else, we got Animal House products into the hands of influencers. We seeded well over 100 influencers with products — no strings attached. We didn’t ask them for a post in exchange for product, it was all about building genuine relationships with them.

Products were the only investment. There was no other ad spend or marketing strategy expense of any kind. It was that simple. 

Side note: To make a simple process even easier, we developed a Shopify app that streamlines getting the products to your influencers. Our all-in-one app seeds products to all of your influencers and treats them as a customer within your store and eliminates backend frustration. You can modify it directly in the app, and you can track and monitor it in real time. Check it out here

Next, we monitored and built up a library of free organic content with the help of an incredibly inexpensive & effective tool ...

We use MightyScout to start collating the influencer content posted on all the social media platforms. 

MightyScout’s biggest value to our team is its ability to collect all the content that is being organically posted on behalf of the brand in real-time.

 

As seen in the video above, you’re able to download the content that’s posted on behalf of your brand directly from MightyScout’s platform. 

Instead of making a massive upfront investment in a studio shoot or paying the right influencers in exchange for a shout out, product seeding helps generate a ton of influencer generated content, free of cost, from people who were authentic, product adopters.

Then, we redistributed this content using Animal House Fitness’ own paid media channels ...

All of these free organic posts from influencers are great, but the main value of this content is our ability to redistribute it across Animal House Fitness’ own distribution channels — specifically Facebook and Instagram ads. 

Our team launched 10-15 new, unique ads every week on behalf of Animal House Fitness that all came from content that was posted and collected in MightyScout. All this free content is a testament to the power of product seeding. 

This isn’t just some run of the mill Influencer Generated Content that isn’t usable either. 

As we all know, good creative is the number one key to success. So we seed products to the right influencers that create great video content. This makes sure we can easily transition the assets into top-performing Facebook and Instagram ads with high engagement rate.

When scaling and optimizing Facebook and Instagram ad performance, our team has never been in need of fresh content due to the strategy laid out above.

Here’s some examples of social media posts, directly resulting from the product seeding we did for Animal House Fitness:

 

 

 

 


The results?

Over a four month period using this influencer seeding strategy, we generated $1M+ in revenue off the back of influencer content that is posted organically and then repurposed as Facebook and Instagram ads.

Animal House Fitness was named to Shopify’s fastest growing companies in 2020 and they launched in October, which would not have been possible without product seeding.

So there you have it … the philosophy & method behind product seeding

We hope by now you understand why product seeding is the foundation of every profitable influencer marketing program. It’s all about taking small steps in building a genuine relationship from the beginning, and remember the vital principle of product seeding: give without asking.