I’m sure many of you who sell products online have gotten cold-call style emails or Etsy convos from various organizations, bloggers, charities, etc asking you to donate or otherwise provide a product to them for free. Yeah?
“Great exposure for your brand.”
Generally, these solicitors say that by providing your product free of cost to them, you will gain “exposure”. “This is an opportunity for your brand!”, they’ll say.
It can feel a bit hands-y grabs-y when someone writes to you out of the blue, swears up and down they LOVE your work, then asks you to send it to them for free in exchange for “exposure.” Better yet, when they don’t even address you by name (or worse, addresses you by the wrong name.)
The truth is that most of the time – nearly 100% of the time – these types of “opportunities” will leave you minus your product, angry, discouraged and feeling used. Why? Because they are empty opportunities – they provide no real exposure.
Relates reading: Should Handmade Sellers Pay for Posts on IG Feature Accounts?
What counts as good exposure for handmade items?
I’ve specifically written this with handmade businesses in mind, but really, this could apply to any business. The reason I think it’s especially pertinent to handmade businesses is because of the time and effort it takes to create a handmade product – while I respect the effort that goes into other products as well, I do think that it’s a different situation for someone who is hand felting christmas ornaments one by one to send a product for free than it is for someone with a big back stock of say, prints. But again, I think the overall idea I am expressing here can apply to any sort of business: be careful where you send freebies and pay for “exposure.”
A collaborative effort between a brand (you) and an influencer (them) is always going to trump a sidebar ad.
A good collaboration with the right blogger can certainly do wonders for your brand! The blogger needs to be in touch with their audience and know what they are looking for and what they like – and the product designer has to know what they want to get out of the experience. There are plenty of very viable sponsorship opportunities out there, you just need to be smart + take the time to research. The sort of bloggers you probably want to work with won’t email you and ask for free product… probably. A genuine and well planned effort to promote a product aims to promote sales – a random shout out on social media doesn’t.
Good exposure promotes the sale of your item to a compatible audience.
Here’s an example: a well known and liked lifestyle blogger with a highly engaged audience of young moms dresses her baby girl in your super awesome baby clothes. She then posts a photo of her little girl wearing one of your designs on instagram – the photo is lovely, prominently shows your product, fits in with her other posts, engages her audience, tags your brand’s account, mentions the time in the caption and refers her readers to a full post on her blog about how much she just loves dressing her baby in your designs. Perfect.
The size of the audience isn’t as important as the quality or engagement of the audience. There are some Instagram accounts (feature accounts) that reshare images from a lot of different accounts – sometimes for a decent fee (other times, for free- no money or goods changing hands- is never really a bad thing.) But be wary before paying for a “feature” on an account with an audience primarily made up of just people like you: product makers hoping to be featured. Also be sure the conversion rate on existing posts is good! Let’s use small numbers to make it easier because… ugh, math! If the account has 100 followers, but each post only gets 2 likes and no comments, that’s pretty bad conversion. However, if the posts average about 20-25 likes and 2-3 comments, that’s really pretty good for an audience of that size. You want to think, ‘ does it make sense for an audience of this size to have this level or interaction?’ if no, then save your money. Even if it’s not a lot of money, you don’t want to waste your marketing budget on bad exposure.
That’s why the lifestyle blogger example I used earlier is a better bet nearly 100% of the time. It might cost more, but it’s higher quality exposure.
When people buy products, they are enticed by the promise that this product will improve their life – good feelings, lots of benefits – they don’t buy for the features, they buy for the results. So working with someone who can present these benefits and feelings that come from your products will always garner more attention than a repost of a flat product image that’s already in your shop.
Exposure is not your brand name on someone else’s work or in black and white text in the back of a magazine.
Remember: exposure doesn’t pay the bills – sales do. The exposure is worthless if it doesn’t put your product in front of interested buyers.
Exposure is when your product or brand name makes a meaningful connection with someone who could love and appreciate what you do, that hasn’t heard of you yet.
When I was contacted by Cool Mom Picks about the opportunity to be on the Today Show, they told me I would have to send eight or so pieces (unpaid) over to Rock Center asap. That’s no joke. This was a legitimate opportunity and I was happy to “work for free” over it. The possibility of being on national TV, 13 days before Christmas, in a gift guide segment … no brainer, you guys. The money I made from this was many, many times to value of the pieces I sent for free.
When I get a message from a YouTube channel producer with 22 subscribers, whose target audience is teenage girls with no expendable income…this is also a no brainer.
Products = Money. You must be wise about how you make use of both.
Free exposure – always welcomed, sometimes better than paid exposure
When I say free, I mean no money or free product involved. An example of free exposure is when someone blogs about your item just because they really genuinely like it – with or without buying it. This happens a lot and it’s wonderful no matter what sort of audience they have for a few reasons: 1. it generates back links to your product 2. it creates shareable content 3. blog posts endure longer than say, tweets which move so quickly. Free positive exposure is always great and appreciated 4. you have nothing to lose.
Free exposure might put your items in front of buyers, or not, it doesn’t matter since you didn’t pay for it with money or products.
I’ve had totally unsolicited blog features that garnered more traffic and sales than paid advertising. Like, a LOT more. That’s partly because I was an idiot and didn’t investigate closely enough before paying for certain things, so don’t be like me – learn from that mistake. :)
Was your best bit of exposure paid or free?