What is “gifting at scale?” Learn how to use this strategy to enter new markets, test new audiences and identify your best customers.

When leading British retailer MARKS & SPENCER sought to gain traction among American shoppers during the holiday season, the brand did not place a single advertisement — nor did they run a traditional paid social campaign.

With a fixed investment of $3,250 and a new mindset toward influencer marketing, the brand reached a potential audience of 2.9 million customers ahead of the peak holiday shopping season by sending personalized gifts, such as monogrammed Christmas stockings or a present for a new baby, to 20 influential consumers in key US markets. Each parcel also featured a handwritten note and “classically British” items such as a Paddington Bear and English breakfast tea to reflect the M&S brand and values.

Notably, no influencer received payment for the collaboration, but the response in terms of brand awareness among US shoppers was significant. In addition to the Instagram posts, M&S received valuable exposure on Instagram Stories and and ongoing content weeks and even months after the initial collaboration. Based on the audience size and standard rates of the influencers engaged, the free exposure was worth several times the brand’s financial investment.

This approach, called gifting at scale, is a modern take on product seeding that brands of all sizes are starting to seize on as they realize the benefits of testing new demographics, exploring new markets, and expanding overall awareness in a way that also earns them valuable product feedback — all of which is contributing to a greater ROI from influencer marketing.

The Benefits of Gifting at Scale

Gifting at scale, or seeding product by gifting several influencers through a single collaboration, allows brands to reach multiple audiences without having to negotiate payment by influencer. With our Product Seeding collaboration type, for example, brands pay one amount for guaranteed exposure from 10, 25 or 50 influencers. This is a far different approach to product seeding in the pre-digital age, which often referred to dressing celebrities through their stylists or contributing to gift bags at red carpet events.

Influencers have changed that.

Unlike celebrities, influencers directly engage an audience of followers who have “opted in” to view their content. In many cases, these followers aren’t just interested in the influencers themselves — they’re also seeking fashion, beauty and style advice. This gives influencers a far greater ability to convert followers into shoppers than celebrities, and it makes influencer product seeding one the most cost-effective marketing strategies available to brands.

Gifting influencers at scale, whether you’re working with 10 bloggers or 50, allows brands to manage selection, product fulfillment, and relationship management at a single time, rather than diverting resources over several campaigns. Viewing the results of several influencers at once also gives you an opportunity to see which demographics, geographic areas and niche audiences perform best for you.

Moreover, you receive the benefit of having multiple conversations take place about your brand at once, which boosts your overall brand awareness while creating a feeling that ‘everyone’ is talking about you. The repetition also leads to easy recall when customers are ready to make a purchase. Shoppers often buy what’s top-of-mind.

Gifting at scale also increases your chances of securing additional, complimentary posts as influencers leverage their content through Instagram Stories, additional Instagram images, or even blog posts. The inbound links you receive from these posts can give your SEO a significant boost, since bloggers can often have high domain authorities. We have seen brands continue to receive organic mentions weeks or even months after a collaboration, resulting in thousands of dollars in added value.

The thoughtfulness of MARKS & SPENCER’s campaign earned the brand organic mentions and comments long after the campaign. The below Instagram post, published weeks after the holidays, shows the M&S Peppa Pig pajamas gifted to the young daughter of Something Navy’s Arielle Charnas. The reader comments still ask where to buy the PJs.

Kate Somerville is another brand benefiting from gifting at scale. The brand recently earned 3 complimentary Instagram posts and 10 complimentary Instagram Stories from bloggers with an average audience of 53k followers each — more than doubling the amount of contracted content, while adding a potential 712k impressions. Laura Rivas (lauriir18) was among the bloggers who posted complimentary Stories content:

San Diego Hat Co. received 23 complimentary Instagram posts from bloggers with an average of 63k followers, giving the brand 1.5 million free potential impressions, counting valuable repeat impressions to bloggers who trust influencer recommendations. Tienlyn Jacobs (@thoughtfulmisfit) included multiple Instagram posts, and Juan Jose Rancel (@juancherangel) added multiple Instagram Stories:

Between the ability to swiftly raise brand awareness, compare the effectiveness of various influencers by demographic and geographic region, and the potential for complimentary content, we have found gifting at scale to be one of the most impactful and cost-effective ways that brands can leverage influencer marketing.

How You Can Use Gifting at Scale

One of the biggest advantages of gifting at scale is that it’s available to brands of every budget. Here are 3 quick ways to get started:

1. Think about what you can offer — and remember, gifting doesn’t require a product. If you’re a hotel, think about offering last-minute stays to influencers. If you run a software company, consider giving your industry influencers a free subscription in exchange for exposure. Just remember that disclosure applies to gifting as well as paid collaborations and remind your influencers that they need to make the relationship clear.

2. Find a good platform. One of the drawbacks of working with multiple influencers on your own is that collaborations can be time and resource-intensive for your staff. If you spend too much time identifying interested influencers, securing delivery details, and following up to ensure you see timely posts, you can start to diminish your overall ROI. Working with a turnkey platform allows you to make one payment, see which influencers are interested in your brand, and receive delivery details in one place. A good platform will also guarantee exposure.

3. Plan ahead. Before securing your influencers, think about how and when you plan to engage with them. If your business is cyclical — say you’re an eCommerce retailer — you may want to engage 10 influencers ahead of the summer season and another 10 ahead of back-to-school season. If you’re a tech product that plans to launch multiple products this year, you may want to secure a different set of influencers for each launch. Planning in advance can help you take advantage of the savings that gifting at scale offers. Securing 50 influencers at once gives you the flexibility to quickly engage as you need them.

Whatever your industry, company size or budget constraints, influencers can be one of the most powerful tools you have to grow your business. Gifting at scale allows you to start forming influencer relationships with little risk and a low financial investment, allowing you to test new opportunities, enter new markets and find the influencers who will champion your brand and become your long-term ambassadors.

This article first appeared on the Shopping Links blog.