Welcome to episode 196 of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast! This week on the podcast, Alexa interviews Nick Brucker from Sparq Designs about common questions about influencer marketing.
Last week on the podcast, Bjork chatted about an exciting update coming to Food Blogger Pro. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.
Answering Your Questions about Influencer Marketing
Nick knows marketing. His company, Sparq Designs, helps businesses with their online marketing, media needs, and strategic planning, and he has a deep understanding of marketing from both a brand and a blogger perspective.
Today on the podcast, Nick is tackling your questions about influencer marketing, and…we’re answering real marketing questions from bloggers like you!
We asked the Food Blogger Pro community about their influencer marketing struggles, and Nick is here to offer his advice and strategies for creating long-lasting and beneficial relationships with brands.
In this episode, Nick shares:
- How he started Sparq Designs
- Why brands like to offer free product
- How to start getting paid from sponsors
- How to measure ROI
- How to narrow your niche (and if you should)
- How you can fit into a brand’s strategy
- How to start a long-term relationship with a brand
- How to change your mindset when you work with brands
- What brands and influencers are looking for
If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions for interviews, be sure to email them to [email protected].
We’d like to thank our sponsors, WP Tasty! Check out wptasty.com to learn more about their handcrafted WordPress plugins specifically made for food bloggers.
If you’d like to jump to the comments section, click here.
Alexa Peduzzi: In this episode, I talk about my new favorite computer app, and then I interview Nick Brucker from Sparq Designs about influencer marketing.
Alexa Peduzzi: Hey, hey, lovely listener. You are listening to The Food Blogger Pro Podcast. We hope you’re having a fantastic day. This episode of the podcast is sponsored by, drum roll please, WP Tasty, our sister site for WordPress plugins for bloggers.
Alexa Peduzzi: If you’re a food blogger on WordPress, you know how important plugins are. Well, not just plugins in general, but rock solid plugins. WP Tasty understands that, too. That’s why their plugins, Tasty Recipes, Tasty Pins, and Tasty Links, are powerful, lightweight, and simple to use. You can learn more about these plugins at WPTasty.com.
Alexa Peduzzi: For today’s tasty tip, I’d like to chat with you about the app that has completely changed my life. I know that sounds super dramatic, but it really isn’t. It has been such an important app for me recently, and it’s called Notion. You may recall that I am a paper and pencil girl when it comes to to-do lists. But the problem with that process is that I’m constantly where my paper planner isn’t. It’s at home when I’m out, or it’s in another room when I think of a to-do to add. Notion is always with me, either on my computer or on my phone, and it’s so much more than a to-do app.
Alexa Peduzzi: It’s completely customizable. I actually have it set up to be my editorial calendar for my blog, my half marathon training schedule, my long-term goals scheduler, my reading tracker, my personal and work to-dos, and more. It can actually do so much more than that. It can actually act as a knowledge base for your team, it can track your income, it could do your laundry. Okay, maybe not the last one. But this app really can do so much, and I just cannot stop talking about how awesome it is.
Alexa Peduzzi: I can carry this around with me everywhere I go, so I can instantly add my ideas to my list without forgetting them. Notion has been such an incredible addition to my work flow, and you can learn more and download it for free by going to Notion.so.
Alexa Peduzzi: Now, the episode. This is actually a super exciting episode for me, personally, because I got to interview one of the guys I actually know from my local gym, Nick Brucker from Sparq Designs. This is a really fun interview because Nick comes into this conversation with a deep understanding of both a brand perspective and a blogger perspective when it comes to marketing content. He’s here to give advice to you about the problems you might be facing when you start to think about taking a brand relationship to the next level.
Alexa Peduzzi: We actually recently asked our Food Blogger Pro members about their struggle points when it comes to influencer marketing and we’re sharing those questions and Nick’s answers today. Without any further adieu, Nick, welcome to the podcast.
Nick Brucker: Thank you Alexa, I appreciate it. Thanks for having me. Looking forward to it.
Alexa Peduzzi: Yeah, this is really cool because this is my second time interviewing on the podcast and it’s the second time I’m interviewing a fellow Pittsburgher, which I’m really excited about. Nick and I met at a gym, a local gym, shout out to Brian and Beat Fitness. It was just really cool to connect because we both understood what the other one does for a living, which is interesting because blogging is not the easiest thing to describe to an outsider, so it was cool to have someone who’s on the inside to talk about blogging with. Really excited that you’re here.
Nick Brucker: Likewise, thank you.
Alexa Peduzzi: Before we get started into the meat of the episode, why don’t you start out by talking about your background because we talked about this a little bit before off the call and you have quite the interesting background about how you got to where you are right now with Sparq.
Nick Brucker: In 2013 I started Sparq Designs, which is a creative agency based here in Pittsburgh. The story of how that came about was I was interning at a healthcare organization in 2011–2012. I was in the events trade show department and I saw the money they were spending with ad agencies downtown and throughout the country. As an intern trying to show as much value as I could I said, “Let me get some of the design software and see if I can help save the internal department money.” They agreed to do that and what I ended up doing was learning and teaching myself the software. I always thought that I had a creative eye and a decent eye for design and how things should look. Healthcare branding, healthcare marketing is pretty simple, it’s whites and blues. What I decided to do was just give it a try and see if I could help save the department money. I ended up doing that, but as an intern and a temp employee my job time duration was limited. But what I was able to do was create enough leverage so that it gave me an opportunity to stay connected and ended up taking on this healthcare conglomerate as my first client, first account out of my bedroom whenever I was still living with my parents. That created a stepping stone to really create a marketing company for the future.
Nick Brucker: That was late 2012 and at that same time a friend of mine that I went to college with was in between jobs. We’d stayed connected after we graduated and him and I had a conversation and we said let’s see what we can really try to create and let’s try to leverage our network as much as we possibly can, and put ourselves in the right positions, go on network. From 2013 on that’s what we did and we just started building really good relationships, continuing to meet the right people that could put us in rooms with potential new business, potential people who could help us on the creative side, help us execute on some of the projects that we were working on. Year over year we just continued to reinvest back into the business, continue to build our team, continue to add services. One thing that we did was always paid attention to trends where marketing and branding, and design, and everything was going. First, we were just a design and a web firm, but then one thing that we were able to understand was we’re starting to see how do people get to a website. It was social is picking up and businesses are starting to adopt social media and you had Google search. That ended up allowing us to spin off different business units.
Nick Brucker: Today we are full service. We just opened a new office down in downtown Pittsburgh. We’re a team of 20 people right now with the goal to expand into new markets and really hit, and focus on verticals that we feel we’re strong at, which are food and beverage, and consumer goods, healthcare and medical, and sports and entertainment. We are riding a momentum wave right now and it’s very exciting because we’re a young energetic firm and we look forward to what’s in store and what’s to come. It’s exciting.
Alexa Peduzzi: Definitely. Well I think it’s really important what you said there about keeping on top of the trends because SEO is just a huge trend right now. I saw that is one of the services that you offer with Sparq. What are some of the other services that you guys do offer as a firm?
Nick Brucker: What I had mentioned, we are full service, so anything from branding, design, we do web design and web development, full on social media, campaign management, search engine optimization. We also have a full in-house video production studio, as well as audio for putting out podcasts and things like that. We hope to expand in the future into doing more PR and experiential marketing as well.
Alexa Peduzzi: That’s great. I feel like every day is probably a little bit different because it’s such a fast moving industry. Just last week what you were on a cruise for work, so it seems like you have a really, really awesome job and it’s really cool that you can just focus on so many different things.
Nick Brucker: It is a pretty interesting gig. We partnered with an organization that’s also based in Pittsburgh, but what they do is they run the non-game day experiences for a few different NFL teams, being cruises. We have the ability to go and film with current players and retired players, legends, and what we’re tasked to do is just create good marketing material and really sell cabins to fans for the next year. It provides a lot of opportunities for us because we get to really continue to grow our sports and entertainment vertical, and that’s a big piece of it and so it is exciting and it’s exciting because these are people and players that I’ve grown up watching, people on our team have grown up watching. Now we’re filming pieces of content with them, getting soundbites and doing a lot of social and business-related items when it comes to marketing their teams’ cruises, so it’s pretty cool.
Alexa Peduzzi: That’s definitely awesome. I was just looking through your Instagram pictures from it and I was just like, “That is the life.”
Nick Brucker: Everybody thinks it’s just a vacation, a glorified vacation, but it is a lot of work.
Alexa Peduzzi: Oh my gosh, for sure.
Nick Brucker: … 10 to 12 hours filming, we get up early, we’re filming, and there are music and entertainment events in the evenings. It’s a long four days, but it’s definitely worth it and it’s a lot of fun.
Alexa Peduzzi: Yeah, definitely and a to of exposure to a lot of different people, so that’s really great. Kind of leads me to the meat of this episode, which is marketing. One of my gripes with going to business school and the case studies that we always did was that they were super vague and they didn’t really apply to issues that were actually happening in the business world. It would be me like Company A needs 6,000 widgets and Company B sells 200, something like that, just super abstract. For the focus of this podcast interview, I’d really love to focus in on the real problems that some of our Food Blogger Pro members on the Food Blogger Pro membership site are having, which is why we came up with a couple of questions ahead of this podcast episode and I took those, and I asked our community, and we got some really great responses back. We’re actually going to talk through some of those questions and responses, then Nick you’re going to just talk through some of the ideas you might have and some marketing strategies that they may be able to apply moving forward.
Alexa Peduzzi: The first question that we landed on for this interview was what is your biggest obstacle when it comes to marketing your blog in business? There are so many that I’m sure a lot of the listeners are experiencing right now, myself included with my blog. Marketing is so not my forte, so I’m really excited to learn from your today Nick.
Alexa Peduzzi: Our first response is from my good blogging friend Casey. It says, “My biggest obstacle is getting noticed by brands. When I am noticed they are wanting to send me free product for mention. For some brands in my niche I will do this to build a relationship in the hopes of working together again in the future, but how can I actually go after them afterwards or how do I ask for payment instead of that free product?” Which I think is a really great question and I think a lot of the listeners today will be in the same position. I know a couple of years ago I was in that same position. I kept getting free product, free product, but I kind of wanted to make that transition to getting paid because the money pays the bills. Do you have any advice Nick on how they can take that business relationship to the next level?
Nick Brucker: Yeah. Obviously, if you’re a food beverage consumer brand, product is the one thing they would love to give away because then it doesn’t impact their bottom line as much. Obviously, that’s going to be the first thing that they offer up. However, we do a lot of work with brands and we have food beverage brands as well and free product is the first thing that they want to give up. However, what I would say is how do you as the blogger or influencer, whatever you want to call it, show as much data as you possibly can. What us as marketers are looking for is the analytics that if you can tie a direct ROI or impact to what you can do for this brand, then you create a point of leverage for your following, for your blog.
Nick Brucker: Brands and influencers, and bloggers in general, they’re all trading on the currency of attention. If you have a built in following that you know, you can put something creative that stands out and these people will actually make a purchase, then that’s value. If the brand can see then, then you’ve created a point of leverage where then you can offer up free product just won’t do it anymore and you want X, whenever it comes to a monetary trade off. I would say that the biggest thing that us as marketers or on the brand side as an internal marketing team would be looking for is how can you directly tie an ROI or a sales impact driver to what you’re going to be able to do. If you can do that, you should have no problem being able to charge really what a post, or a recipe, or an article would be worth.
Nick Brucker: It goes two-fold as well because a lot of brands and decision makers on the business side are not going to be worried about likes, or views, they want sales. They want people to actually go to the store and buy a product. If you can figure out a way that you can convert your audience to people who will make a purchase, then you’ve created a point of leverage. That makes that conversation of asking for money or asking for a form of payment much easier.
Alexa Peduzzi: Right. I think that’s something that as food bloggers it’s a little bit difficult because if there’s a certain pretzel brand that I’m helping promote on my blog, it’s really hard to measure my influence because people might see that brand at the store and buy it but they won’t necessarily come back to my post and report back. Just as a follow up to that question, are there any ways that you can think of to help measure that influence?
Nick Brucker: Yeah, that’s another good question because you only control so much of the buying process. You may influence somebody to go to the store and buy, but the brand on the other side would never know that. Certain things that we do has really put a lot of the burden on yourself and say that if you know that your audience has a tendency to go and really trust what you’re doing, go and buy, tying a promo code to a particular post or saying, “Hey, I’ll feature you guys in a story or in the next recipe,” or something, take a picture while you’re at the store when you’re buying this type of pretzel or this pretzel brand, or something like that. There’s creative ways that you can add an ROI to what you intend to do that would influence the brand to give it a shot. If this is the first time test run with a new brand or a new product, and if you prove yourself once then the likelihood of them coming back to you is a lot greater.
Alexa Peduzzi: Definitely. I think that just goes back to one of my biggest pieces of advice when people come to me and they’re like, “Hey, I really love this brand, how do I set myself apart,” it’s that relationship and just showing your value. But I think it’s really important to have both sides of the equations to form that relationship but then also show that my work is extremely valuable and you’re getting that ROI, like Nick was talking about.
Nick Brucker: If you think about it, these brands today are faced with so many different people who want to work with them. We’re in a social and a digital world where everybody wants to be an influencer, whether they’re a large scale influencer, a micro-influencer, and these guys can’t pay everybody, so how do you set yourself apart and really dive into what is in it for them, what do they really want, and they want sales. They want their product to move off of shelves. If you have the ability to do that and you can prove it, then that’s golden. They can’t say no if that’s the case.
Alexa Peduzzi: I love that, yeah totally, totally, totally. I think there are some really great nuggets of takeaways right there, but let’s move on to the next question right here from Rebecca because it’s sort of on the other side of refining her offering. She says, “Condensing down our niche to a more focused brand is one of our biggest obstacles. I am passionate about seasonal produce and whole health, body, mind, soul for families. Although most of my recipes are created with nutrition in mind, I believe health and well-being are much more than just the nutrients we take in. We create recipes, cooking videos, and animations for kids that celebrate fruits and vegetables,” that sounds so cool, “but I really struggle with marketing all of those ideas into one cohesive brand.” Nick, do you have any ideas for how to condensing down that niche?
Nick Brucker: Yeah. That’s something that a lot of people struggle with whenever it comes to having different areas of interest and different areas of focus. How do you appeal to a wide audience when you have all of these different things to offer? My thought would be to really, really hone on in the different niche markets because if there’s a community there and you can be a big fish in a small pond you carry a lot more weight. Now, you obviously end up appealing to a smaller pool of people, however, your impact becomes much greater. I would say to really try to focus as much as you can on what’s core to your brand or what you’re passionate about, really try to focus on that and build your community around those things because it’s hard to appeal to everybody. Everybody has a lot of passions, but go to where passion and opportunity meet or where you see opportunity because you’ll probably have the most success when you hone in on a smaller niche market.
Alexa Peduzzi: Definitely. I think another way to do that is just to ask your readers what they want. If you’re not necessarily working with brands right now, but you’re more interested in forming your own brand and just refining that own brand, I think there’s no harm in asking your readers what they want to see from you. That might help give you a bit of a direction too.
Nick Brucker: Yeah and what that does is it creates transparency and a deeper loyalty to yourself whoever you’re asking, because it shows that you also care-
Alexa Peduzzi: Definitely
Nick Brucker: … and if the people that are the face of these brands, or blogs, or whatever it may be, they have to realize that their success comes from their audience and being able to continually deliver to their audience what their audience wants to see. I do think that asking them and opening up that level of transparency is important and important for success in the future as well.
Alexa Peduzzi: Oh great. For those of you listening, you can even do that by writing a blog post and just say, “Hey, let’s have a conversation in the comments,” or you can do a reader survey with a tool like type form, or I think Google Forms maybe. Just ask your readers what they want to see. There are a lot of different ways you can have that conversation with them and I think that’s just a really great route to take.
Alexa Peduzzi: The next question that we asked our community members was have you figured out how you can fit into a brand’s marketing strategy. We’re kind of going back to what we initially talked about, Casey’s question, but this response is from Nissa. It says, “In some ways, I think I have that figured out, how they can fit into a brand’s marketing strategy. If a brand reaches out and has certain criteria or a message that they’re working to promote via a specific campaign I generally have a good understanding of how to do that. But it’s something that I can’t always foresee when it hasn’t been laid out in certain terms. I would love to learn how to connect with brands in a way that is more valuable to both myself and them, and build more long-term relationships with like-minded companies.” I honestly think that’s a fantastic question because you’re looking for a way to just build that value and make sure that your relationship is valuable. I think that’s something you should definitely be asking yourself as a blogger, as an influencer. Do you have any thoughts on that Nick?
Nick Brucker: This question is very well thought about because a lot of people they would want to get a post and they would want to get paid for it. However, here what we see is somebody who wants to create a long-term relationship. If you’re setting yourself up for a long-term relationship one of the things that I think is very important is to be very strategic. In this instance, it may be the right move to show as much value early on as you possibly can by saying, “I am a huge fan of your product. I want to do this,” and don’t ask for anything in the beginning. You know that what you’re going to do is prove and show value to this brand. Use that as a point of leverage for long-term. If you know what you’re going to do is going to show value to them, do it pro bono in the beginning and then create a relationship. That relationship is what’s going to turn into compensation over the course of however long.
Nick Brucker: I’m a big believer in being the first person in a relationship to show value because if you can show value early on then the person on the other side, and you don’t ask for anything, the person on the other side is indebted to you if you need something at some point in time. I think that’s very important and I think that would be a good strategy to adopt, especially whenever you’re going into this situation and you want to build a relationship. That should be the key. You never go into a relationship with what can I get out of this. Go into the relationship thinking what value to I bring to this person and if the value is there, the compensation and the money is going to come regardless.
Alexa Peduzzi: Absolutely. I think just going along with that, just being there. This is something I’ve talked about Food Blogger Pro a bunch. We have a sponsored content course that I made probably a year or two ago and in it I talk about the story of how I started to work with my first brand that I ever worked with on my blog. It was basically giving them exposure on my Instagram account. On my posts whenever I would use one of their products I would tag them, say how much I loved them. By the time I got up the courage to actually reach out them via email about a business relationship I got the response back saying, “Well you can already tell that we are fans of yours already.” They already knew who I was. They’re already sharing stuff that I had shared, that used their products. It was all about just making sure that they, first of all, knew who I was and also they understood that I just loved their product so much and that our niches fit together really well. I think being there, being strategic, like Nick said, are great ways to help form that long-term relationship.
Nick Brucker: Right. One of the things you had done, that’s a great strategy, just reach out to brands, whether it’s through social media platforms, and just create lines of communication. As soon as that connection’s built there’s opportunity of a relationship there.
Nick Brucker: We interact with brands all the time, but to spend the time to just reach out and say, “Hey, I like what you guys are doing. I would love to work with you in the future, here’s what I do,” I just think it’s important to take the time to create those lines of communication with brands through social channels, because it can be very effective.
Alexa Peduzzi: Definitely. Do you have any advice on a preferred way of communicating with brands? Is it best to just reach out on social media or would getting the contact information of their marketing team and emailing them help, or what do you think?
Nick Brucker: Well it depends. Being in the food space, I think that lends itself naturally to social channels, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, bloggers, you’re taking pictures. A lot of you guys are photographers as well, so a lot of what’s being promoted is on Instagram and even if you’re reaching out to brands on Instagram, a lot of the times the person that you’re contacting and you’re talking to is part of the marketing team anyway. That’s probably one of the people who are making decisions on who is our brand going to be partnering with, what sort of partners do we want in the upcoming quarter, does that mesh with our strategy. Those are going to be the people that you’re going to want to talk to. In my opinion, I think that’s probably the quickest way to a decision maker.
Alexa Peduzzi: Definitely. I would agree. It’s just so natural, like you said, to tag a brand on Instagram say, hey, I really love your pretzels, or cookies, or whatever, and just show them who you are.
Nick Brucker: Another thing I was going to say was even on the brands post, going into the comment section and writing personalized messages is … You see a lot of people who go in and they’ll just put a thumbs up or, “Follow me here.” But that just seems spammy to me. I’m not a fan of that. But I would say what worked very well is taking the time to go into certain channels that make sense or going on Instagram and following certain hashtags that make sense to your particular blog, and going in and engaging in conversation because that’s not only going to build trust with the brand, but engaging in conversation with other people that are in that thread that may want to hear what you have to say and that also goes to build your following and your brand as well.
Alexa Peduzzi: Definitely.
Nick Brucker: And making it personal and authentic is important too.
Alexa Peduzzi: Oh for sure. That’s what we talk about all the time on Food Blogger Pro is the importance of engagement and intentional engagement using a Bjork word. Bjork, Nick, I’m not sure if you know, is my boss, the guy who typically does these podcast interviews, but he’s all about that intentional movements and intentional engagement. I think brands can definitely see through it when you’re being fake, giving those thumbs up, being hey, this is great. But actually putting some meaning behind what you’re saying to these brands will really go a long way.
Nick Brucker: Right, absolutely.
Alexa Peduzzi: That hits all of the questions that we had from the members on Food Blogger Pro. We could only go through a couple. We had a lot more in the thread, but we could only get through a couple in this podcast interview. Nick, do you have just one key takeaway that you would love to leave listeners with?
Nick Brucker: I would say in the position where I sit is I almost am in the middle between bloggers and influencers are on one side and I work with a lot of brands, organizations on the other side. I’m kind of like a middle man here. One thing that I’ve seen is that corporate brands, organizations, companies, they want to be able to partner and find people who can drive their brand for them. On that other side are influencers, people who have created huge followings in a particular space or category, entertainers, athletes. What they want to do on that side is they want to be able to monetize what they’ve built in terms of following and reach, and engagement, so there’s a value chain there. If you can figure out how to create as much value for one another as you possibly can, it’s a good fit and it makes sense.
Nick Brucker: I would say figure out where your core competencies are in terms of your message, your brand, your blog, your reach, and try to find organizations, or companies, or food brands that are looking to grow in your space. When you can do that, that’s when you create a win-win scenario for both parties and that’s what everybody’s looking for. I would say the way to do that is to figure out to just be authentic and partner, and reach the right people. That’s really it. I could talk about this for a lot longer, but that’s it. Create as much value as you possibly can, know your numbers, know your audience. Once you understand those things, you shouldn’t have any trouble going and reaching out to brands and companies, and organizations.
Alexa Peduzzi: That’s great and a really great note to end on Nick. Thank you so much for joining us on the podcast. If listeners want to connect with you, follow along with what you’re doing, learn more about Sparq, where can they do that?
Nick Brucker: I’d be happy to do it again if there’s more questions in the future. I would love to do this. We have a food and beverage vertical. I know our social team, some of the girls would love to be a part of this, so food for thought in the future. Our website is sparqdesigns.com, www. S-P-A-R-Q Designs.com. On Instagram, sparq_designs. Me personally, Nick_Brucker, B-R-U-C-K-E-R. If you want to follow along or engage in some conversation, or take a look at some of the people that we’re working with, maybe it’s a good fit, feel free to reach out. That would be great.
Alexa Peduzzi: That’s awesome. Thank you so much Nick. Really appreciate you joining us today.
Nick Brucker: You’re welcome. Thanks.
Alexa Peduzzi: That is that, my friend. Thank you so much for tuning in to the Food Blogger Pro podcast this week. Before we wrap up today, I’d like to take a second to ask you to subscribe to this podcast if you’re enjoying. You can subscribe to the Food Blogger Pro podcast on your favorite podcast listening app, like iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, or Google Podcasts and you’ll be notified whenever we release a new episode.
Alexa Peduzzi: What are the benefits of subscribing? Well you’ll never miss an episode. We release a new episode every Tuesday where we talk to incredible people about the topics that matter to you as a blogger, business owner, and/or influencer. Subscribing makes sure that you’re always in the know whenever we release a new episode. You get it automatically every Tuesday, easy as that. We would absolutely love to have you, dear friend, as a subscriber. Thanks again for tuning in this week. We’ll see you here next Tuesday, same time, same place, but until then, make it a great week.