According to the founder of RewardStyle, the careers of influencers aren’t going anywhere

A recent study from InfluencerDB, a company that tracks the impact of influencers, found that the number of followers clicking on influencer posts is dwindling. And perhaps you yourself may finally have reached your saturation point when it comes to officially like a beautiful girl jumping in front of a painted city wall. But if you think influencer marketing is just going to be gone when you wake up one morning because maybe we finally don’t want to drink rose all day, then you need to recheck your filters.

For example, did you know that the word “influencer” is part of the Merriam Webster dictionary now? Of course, so are “guac”, “tweetstorm,”  and “hangry,” but this inclusion of the word is particularly significant in regards to how this is viewed as a profession. “It’s proof that it is a legitimate career choice and it is a huge win. It definites what is happening and is tangible proof that this is a legitimate career choice,” Amber Venz Box, the cofounder of RewardStyle, an invitation-only platform that allows fashion and lifestyle bloggers and influencers to earn money from the content they post on social media, told Ladders. “There’s now over 700 platforms [like this though RewardStyle is the biggest player.] There is so much noise in the market, but it’s validating in that that many people are investing in the space.”

Amber Venz Box
Amber Venz Box

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RewardStyle has 25,000 influencers across fashion, beauty, travel and lifestyle using their platform and as a result, 5000 brands applied to RewardStyle last year to run their campaigns. The influencer marketing industry is set to be a $10 billion industry by 2021 and that’s actually a low estimate according to Venz.

Behind every great Instagram post, is a woman… named Amber Venz Box

Box can speak ad infinitum about this industry as she is one of the pioneers in this type of marketing in that she essentially figured out the formula for monetizing influence. So how did she do it? Well it helped that she had worked in many aspects of the retail industry and had been a publicist before running her own Dallas-based lifestyle blog and trying to launch a styling business around the same time in 2011. The problem was that because the then 23-year-old gave so many great ideas for outfits on her blog, no one wanted to make a styling appointment with her which meant she was doing more work and not reaping the reward or really any reward. She told Ladders she remembers commiserating with her friend Leandra Medine who had a blog called Man Repeller (now one of the most popular fashion sites ever) about their lack of commissions for fashion advice and recommendations people were actively using. 

So she took action. Box and her then engineer boyfriend (now husband) Baxter Box built RewardStyle and figured out how to enable bloggers (they weren’t quite influencers yet since the actions they were influencing hadn’t been transformed into dollar signs yet) to get a commission from retailers and brands through their web content. But even smart ideas take a lot of work to execute. Venz admits it definitely took a lot of blood, sweaty blouses, and tears to get retailers to come on to the platform.

After all, this was in the dark ages of very early Instagram (it only launched in 2010) so it was the wild west for retailers that were used to only working with traditional marketing agencies and notable celebrities and models and not no-name bloggers. “Like any business, we had a very messy middle but it looks good from the outside and polished,” she said. But thanks to Box’s brilliance as a business strategist and her experience as a publicist who knew what brands wanted she was able to get Net-a-Porter to first sign on which was a game-changer for the small company.

Eventually, RewardStyle, which now has 250 employees, was growing and thriving so the company quickly followed up with the launch of the platform in 2014 which helps both retailers and influencers generate and track their profits strictly from their social media content and then the app in 2017 which lets consumers shop via screenshots. The company made $3.8 billion in sales in 2018 (the company gets a percentage of each commission made on the platforms.)

The evolution of influencers

Though Venz believes that influencer marketing is expanding she will admit that it is absolutely evolving and people are changing what they want from influencers. “We definitely saw a huge consumer shift. You were seeing top influencers get so much better with cameras and everything looking like a beautiful editorial spread but now people want a more realistic view. They want the selfie in the elevator,” she told Ladders.

An influencer that shares a more realistic view of their life, even if they are a micro-influencer, potentially can connect and engage with viewers on a more powerful level. Those interactions with consumers can lead to dollar signs for brands but Box points out that many brands are still trepidatious when it comes to influencer marketing. “Brands are still coming to grips with that [loss of omniscient power.] These brands are just getting comfortable with influencers because they can’t direct what it says. When a brand previously worked with an agency they had full control over the copy, photos, etc., Now they can’t direct what it says,” she said. She recalls working with a brand that sent in 13 people to shoot a campaign for a coffee cup with her when it could have been completed and a much more authentic photo if her husband had shot it with his phone while she drank her morning coffee and held her baby. “The question isn’t should you work with an influencer anymore. It is how big do you want to go?” she said.