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What a $100M Subscription Business Knows About Influencer Marketing That You Don't

October 3, 2021

In 2019, pre-Sharma Brands, I consulted for a couple of brands while I figured out what I wanted to do. One of the brands I was consulting for was The Pill Club

The Pill Club does over $100M in revenue per year, and just this past year took in another ~$40M in funding to keep growing its user base and product offering (some of which are really exciting). They differentiate themselves by delivering birth control for free (or at a very low cost if your insurance doesn't cover it) and by unique monthly packages. Each package is something to look forward to, with free goodies.


One reason TPC does so well is they are very native to the way its customers communicate. Their DMs on Instagram route straight to customer service, they have an SMS line with quick response times, and even if you go to their site, you'll notice on their homepage their "reviews" are in the format of Instagram posts. Everything feels like it should for a brand reaching its audience in today's day and age. 

One of the tasks they wanted me to help with was figuring out how to tap into leveraging influencers in a way that could be classified as performance marketing. Organically, they get many women who post, story, advocate, and evangelize for the brand. But, how can we take what we know people love about TPC and push it to the masses?

The plan I had was: let's do a very performance-driven creator-whitelisting campaign. The goal will be to create a new format of creative that can support a lot of spend, without the creative going "stale" as fast as the normal paid creative.

Here's the plan for how we were going to get this done:

  1. Put together a cheat sheet for the creators based on first-party data we have from TPC.
  2. Creator outreach for this campaign.
  3. Production of the ads with creators.
  4. Testing in paid media channels.
  5. Assess learnings, make notes of what worked and what didn't, and repeat.

The result was that this proved to be quite a scalable channel for customer acquisition and one that didn't negatively impact the CPA.

Here's the breakdown of each one.

The Cheat Sheet

The cheat sheet is something that you probably have already gotten if you're on this list. However, you can click here to see what it looks like.

We make it easy for someone who's never shot a direct-response style UGC video before to do it. Everything from lighting setup to making sure you have a "hook" in the first few seconds to making sure that the video isn't perfect because perfect things aren't relatable.

We assumed most people would film on their iPhone, and most ended up doing that, so this guide was helpful. The second page of this doc is full of bullet points specific to your brand, product, or the type of campaign you're pushing.

We dove deep into customer reviews, customer pain-points, negative customer feedback, what people say when they tag/post about TPC on social, insights from customer surveys, and any other insights we could get our hands-on. The culmination of all these insights helps us craft a cheat sheet that outlines the bullet points we want creators to speak to, giving us the best chance to convert someone who doesn't know about TPC to trying it for a month.

If you were going to have the creators edit the content, you should also make sure you make it easy for them to download a style guide, font files, attach the hex colors, and any other relevant information.

Creator Outreach

The first step here is making sure you have a contract in place that hits all the checkboxes of your legal team. If you don't plan to own the content outright, then make sure you have a smart way to know when it's no longer able to run as an ad.

The worst thing to be blind-sided by is that three years later, you have a marketer who joins the team, finds this great piece of content, runs it, and then it turns out you're unintentionally violating the agreement. 

Next, it's time to find your creators. Before going into any creator management platform, I worked with someone to help me identify our "mood board" creators. This helps us make sure that the creators we are going for have a reason to be tied to this campaign, not just that they can speak well into a camera or have good engagement on their accounts.

After that, it was outreach time. We used Dovetale to handle most of the creator outreach and make sure that the creators we were bringing into the campaign were legit about the numbers they had. You can compare and choose a platform that fits your needs here.

The main things we look for:

  • Why does this creator deserve to be in our campaign?
  • Is she already a customer, or has she tried TPC before? If not, can her switching be the punchline of her video?
  • Do her values as a creator align with those of the brand?
  • Is she good at making you feel like she's speaking to you directly when she talks to the camera?

Once we identified our creators through all of this, it was time to get them onboarded to TPC if they weren't already a customer. You can't have a high-quality piece of content coming from a customer's perspective if they're not genuinely a customer. Well, you can, but the people who will end up watching this in their feeds will be able to smell the BS from the beginning.

Asset production with creators.

In this instance, we told the creators we would handle all the video editing and revert to them for final approval.

I worked with my editor to ensure that the videos were quick, fast-paced, have all the essentials of a good performance/direct-response ad creative, and represented the brand well.

Because TPC is such an established brand and did an incredible job with its visual identity (shoutout to Red Antler), we wanted to incorporate that as much as possible.

The main things we added:

  • Subtitles to follow along with what the creator was saying, even if your sound was off.
  • Logo placement, either throughout the video or early on to make it obvious the video was associated with TPC.
  • B-roll footage that dove deeper into some of the talking points. For example, if she addressed the freebies in the package, we cut to videos of that.
  • A strong call to action to try it out.

Once my editor finished the creatives and the creators approved the videos they saw, it was time to test into paid media channels.

Testing into paid media channels.

The first step was to import their social handles into the business manager. Most of the creators had already set up a business manager before, so it was as easy as adding us as a partner. For those who didn't, I walked them through the setup process and then showed them how to add us as a partner.

It doesn't take more than 15 minutes, at most.

We tested each video with three variations of copy, first into audiences that had great performance. The goal was two things: 1) make sure the flow worked, the video made sense, there wasn't anything broken, & 2) get some social proof on these post IDs before we put them into completely cold audiences.

The social proof allows these specific posts (“specific” because you leverage the identical post IDs) to drum up engagement across likes, comments, shares, and replies to concerning statements before they launch to people who have never heard of TPC, or may be skeptical about its offering. Whether or not it’s directly correlated, you also tend to get better pricing in your CPMs when doing this to new audiences. 

Once everything is set, begin optimizing for the conversion objective, and start scaling. Test new copy, rotate out the versions that don't work, and repeat.

Assess learnings and repeat.

After the initial test run of this campaign was over, it was time to look back and see what worked.

  • What kinds of creators worked better than others?
  • What kinds of storyboards performed better than others?
  • Did the YouTuber do better than the creator whose native platform is Instagram?
  • Was there a better call to action in one versus another?
  • What kind of opening angle held the highest video watch time?
  • What headlines and ad copy drove a better CTR? 

All these learnings helped shape what the next iteration of this campaign looked like. With iOS 15, some of these metrics are a little harder to track but not impossible.