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How I Used Instagram to Make $1 Million Flipping Sneakers

In this exclusive case study, you will learn how I mastered the art of selling sneakers using Instagram and transformed a fledging local shoe delivery service into a seven-figure, global powerhouse through strategic digital marketing.

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KickBackz

by Godson Michel,
Digital Marketing Specialist at Blue Surge Marketing Agency

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    + 100000
    Instagram followers after 72 months

    In 2022, building an audience on Instagram is no small task. But it didn’t always use to be this way. So much has changed since the days of Instagram’s first launch; back when it was just an iOS-only app, you could only upload square photos with a handful of filters, and Direct Messages weren’t a thing. 

    Fast forward to now, and you have a myriad of features that have extended the app’s core functionality, from shoppable tags in Stories to long-form uploads in the form of IGTV and TikTok-like Reels. Despite all these changes in the past ten years, the constant has been the psychology of how users engage with the app. 

    Instagram’s success lies in how it intrinsically rewards users emotionally. This reward takes place in the shape of base interactions like swiping down to refresh your timeline, being tagged in a friend’s post, or even just seeing your follower counts creep upwards over time. Nir Eyal, author of “Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products,” details how a four-step process taps into users’ minds to ensure they can’t put Instagram down.

    As a maverick thinker and inexperienced entrepreneur, I was able to use that hook psychology to transform an unknown shoe reselling hobby into a global sneaker powerhouse that gained an organic Instagram audience of nearly 260,000 followers and grossed $1 million in sales in less than 48 months — without the use of paid ads or a budget.

    Keep reading to explore the specific strategies with examples, screenshots, and credible data of how I did this successfully with no previous experience.

    Would you get mad if an A-list celebrity like Will Smith had the gall to unfollow you after you followed him first?

    The Will Smith Growth Hack

    Imagine you wake up one morning; what’s the first thing you do? It’s for most people to grab their phone and tap the screen to check on any missed alerts from the night before.

    Now imagine looking at your lock screen and seeing a new follower notification from Will Smith’s Instagram handle. Yup, The-Fresh-Prince-of-Bel-Air-Bad-Boys-I-Am-Legend-Will Smith. Your jaw would drop, right?!

    What would you do then? The first instinct for most would be to swipe the notification open immediately and follow Will Smith back on Instagram. Maybe you would like a few of his photos, or leave a comment. You might even tap the link in his profile and see what new projects or films he’s working on while you try to scratch your head as to why Will-freaking-Smith just followed you on Instagram. Either way, you’re probably feeling pretty good at this moment. At this point, you go on about your day, and life goes on.

    Now let’s say in about a month, you head back over to Will’s page, and you realize he’s not following you anymore.

    Bummer, right?

    But what do you do now? Would you get mad and throw a fit that A-list celebrity Will Smith had the gall to unfollow after you followed him? Perhaps you would be somewhat annoyed. But probably not. You probably won’t take any action in terms of unfollowing his account back. After all, a month in, you’re too invested. His content was excellent. You might as well stick around; who knows, maybe he’ll do a secret follower giveaway and invite you to a Hollywood screening of his upcoming movie.

    But how does this relate to growing an Instagram account for businesses? Let’s take this scenario and shed some light on it.

    The Psychology Behind Instagram For Brands

    Part of the psychology that makes Instagram so compelling is the neverending stream of fresh content. It does not matter what time or where you open the app, whether it’s 5 AM or 5 PM, in a sleepy suburb in South Dakota, nor a booming metropolis in Los Angeles. There is bound to be a new, never-before-seen video, funny meme, or screenshot that evokes an emotional response. Committed and hooked to these feelings, users return to their favorite accounts to satisfy their digital indulgences.

    I learned early that to be successful brand on Instagram brand, you had to feed the beast.

    As an early user who adopted the app before it became the darling of the social media world, it wasn’t challenging to see how to reverse engineer behind keeping people satiated. You had to feed the beast. As long as you presented a steady river of enjoyable posts, your Instagram page would remain popular with its followers.

    I took that knowledge that realized the only thing missing was to garner attention. As explained in further detail later in the {{curation section}}, I devoted hours to assembling the best pieces of sneaker culture and fashion related content I could find. Once collected, I added them to my content calendar and scheduled them for publishing.

    Armed with a battalion’s worth of content ammo, I knew all I had to do was capture eyeballs, sans Uchiha-style. As long as I could get someone to just *look* at my page, I knew my chances of getting them to become a follower were reasonably high. And based on the raw insights I knew about my audience, converting them to become purchasers after leading them down my sales funnel was not overwhelmingly challenging.

    Simple Strategy, Big Results

    Based on that knowledge, my strategy was simple. Focus on getting people to visit the account page by any means necessary. Like most marketing endeavors, there is an option to either trade time or money to accomplish objectives. With no ad budget or funds, my resolution was equally unsophisticated. 

    I traded time and played the “following” game.

    Using a few hours every day, I manually followed accounts in rapid succession. I first pinpointed my energy into the individuals in my cohort who lived in my community and neighboring towns. Once I exhausted that market, l then shifted my activity to the followers of specific accounts, most similar to KickBackz.

    I hypothesized that individuals who enjoyed the content shared by my competitors would likely be interested in mine as well. This seemingly simple but effective approach is not unlike Facebook’s Lookalike audiences and Google Ads ‘similar audiences’ targeting features.

    As this strategy began to return financial dividends, which culminated in KickBackz, expanding in producing in-house apparel, I added streetwear fashion accounts to this repertoire. Eventually, I explored the furthest fringes of popular pages related to the culture to find new leads. In no time, sourcing new accounts became an essential marketing task.

    Target account types to follow:

    But like the law of gravity, what goes up must come down. Having an excessive following-to-follower ratio is usually negatively perceived by users on most social media platforms, and Instagram is no different. Likely anticipating its most ambitious users exploiting strategies like this, the engineers behind Instagram added a cap on the maximum number of followers any user could follow. This number was 7,500.

    Upon stumbling on this barrier, I employed another strategy to counter this cap. Every few weeks, I would proceed to manually unfollow all the accounts I previously worked so hard to follow in the first place. After getting descending from the heights of the 7000s, I’d have the handle back down to an acceptable following number of absolute zero. Free from the burden of limits, I would then carry out the meticulously hammer-fisted method of following thousands of accounts all over again. I rinse and repeated until I cracked 5K. 10K. 50K. 100K. 200K. And so on.

    Strategy Caveats

    Like with all marketing strategies, this method has notable strengths and weaknesses. In 2021, this technique does have a limitation. After Mark Zuckerberg purchased Instagram, Facebook has increasingly sought ways to monetize the platform, most frequently seen through advertisements. To curb power users from exploiting this unfollowing loophole, Instagram has placed limits on the number of followers you can unfollow within an hour. The cap is about twenty an hour at the time of this writing.

    Furthermore, accounts that attempt to press the full limits of this restriction may find themselves temporarily banned from unfollowing more users or even locked out of their accounts. These changes have exceedingly made this method a shell of itself.

    Notwithstanding, business owners today will often attempt to execute a diluted version of this tactic with unpleasant results. Inexperienced and tyro brands will randomly follow other accounts en masse, with no audience research to support their actions. Over time, as their following column approaches 7,000, they find that they are no longer able to follow new accounts, stuck in no-man’s land. If they’re proactive, they may realize the best approach is to unfollow many accounts to grow again. Unfortunately, by this point, the damage is already done. Mass unfollow attempts are struck down by Instagram’s unfollow limits, thus severely limiting their account’s ability to connect with new audiences other than through one-sided outreach. Without the right social media marketing strategy, growth may be protracted and unfruitful.

    In summary, I found an unorthodox method of gaining organic Instagram followers by taking advantage of my target audience’s psychological need to feel socially validated. A follow often resulted in a follow back request. If an unfollowing happened about a month later, as long as the user was satisfied with the page’s content, this act was generally written off as negligible, if noticed at all.

    I learned early that to be successful brand on Instagram brand, you had to feed the beast.

    Curation: How To Fill Your Content Calendar Without Creating a Thing

    In the era of social media and Internet 2.0, the adage “content is king” has been a phrase that every online marketing guru is preaching to the masses. And it’s not entirely off base. With consumers glued to their devices like never before, having something fresh to put in front of their eyeballs is an excellent way to keep their attention. 

    Content marketing has proven to have veritable benefits over outbound marketing. 

    Expertly produced content has the ability to be shared massively online or even go the mystical route of going “viral,” whether it be a retweeted tweet, forwarded newsletter, or screenshotted Instagram post. One positive side effect this tends to have is that it bolsters search engine optimization efforts (SEO). The more locations your content lands on the web, especially as a link, the better its effect is on SEO. Content like this signals to search engines like Google that the search results should include that piece of content in more of its user’s queries. More visibility on the Internet and SEO go hand in hand.

    How Content Can Build Your Brand

    This improved SEO ranking reveals a bonus of content marketing: it helps build credibility. Great content comes in multiple flavors. It can be educational, humorous, or just engaging enough to make its end users take a specific action. Whichever type of content is produced, the more consumers who see your quality content and find value from it, the more likely they are to recognize it as an authority. 

    For instance, John Doe is an aspiring chef who shoots and shares videos of himself preparing easy-to-make dinners with a comical twist. Let’s say that one of these videos goes viral across social media. The video gets seen by the legendary Chef Gordon Ramsay, who, in turn, creates a reaction video to it. This reaction video then gets picked up and retweeted by the Food Network Channel’s Twitter account. Aspiring comedian chef John Doe now gains credibility (and likely momentum) in front of a brand new audience since credible industry authorities have interacted with his video in a meaningful way. Building authority online can be attained through planning and executing a content marketing strategy.

    Because audiences are always on the prowl for amazing videos and posts to consume, excellent content marketing helps increase audience retention. Just like a bee to a nectar-filled field of flowers, potential customers are likely to keep returning if they are enjoying what you’re giving them. 

    Next, content marketing helps brands build a rapport with your target audience. Platforms like Instagram or Facebook have built-in bidirectional features. You can talk to your audience, and your audience can speak back to you. Consumers can directly reach out to brands, provide valuable feedback, and share grievances. Brands that share a regular output of content may inevitably end up putting the right piece of content in front of a consumer at the right time. And because marketing is about reaching the right person, with the right message, at the right time, content marketing’s next benefit comes into play: it generates leads.

    When followers find your brand’s content from a friend’s page, and you’ve included a call to action in the caption, it is no surprise that they indeed take action when it suits them. This action can occur in the form of something as simple as giving up their email address on your website or mobile number in exchange for a free consultation. They might download a PDF report. They might subscribe to your latest podcast. These micro-conversions steps are hypercritical from a convention sales funnel standpoint. But the buck doesn’t just stop there. Content marketing plays a role in influencing the almighty conversion rate.

    For example, consider these two parties: an advertising agency looking to land their next client and a marketing coordinator at a local nonprofit organization looking to find an agency that can help them with brand awareness. The marketing coordinator is an avid social media user and stumbles upon an interesting whitepaper on the state of the nonprofit world’s events. This whitepaper happened to be concocted by the advertising agency. After seeing the catchy headline in the post, and click-worthy graphic, the coordinator decides to click the article and download the whitepaper. Because this marketing coordinator has engaged with the advertising agency’s post, Facebook’s algorithm takes note. Facebook pushes more articles and videos by the advertising agency in the coordinator’s timeline. 

    A few weeks later, the agency creates a case study of their recent work for a local charity. In the case study, they initiated a nonprofit campaign that resulted in an 80% increase in donations. The marketing coordinator sees this new piece of content in their timeline. Intrigued, the coordinator reads the case study and submits a request for a call on the agency’s website. After two weeks of phone meetings and negotiations, the agency wins the nonprofit as a new client.

    While hypothetical, this series of events happens daily on social media. With Instagram reporting over 1 billion users worldwide, the platform has aided the sales cycle for businesses worldwide. 

    In business, making sales and closing deals is the macro-conversion that keeps the lights on. Premium content marketing goes beyond reach or awareness and allows for companies to prosper in digital spaces.

     

    The Challenges of Creating Original Content

    Now after exhorting the undeniable rewards of content marketing, the only thing left to do is create it, right? 

    Here’s the thing though, creating original, high-quality content is HARD. According to a 2020 study by the CMO Council, , 57% of marketers said their content misses the mark with customers and does not drive value. To add insult to injury, many marketers haven’t found effective ways to measure the real impact of the content they are working so hard to create. These inefficiencies devalue content and often leave department leaders unsure of the worthiness of allocating so much budget for content production.

    How do you estimate the actual cost of a Canva-made social graphic? Are video carousels shared more frequently than standalone posts? How would you determine the engagement level of a short video promotion clip? And even when you do have those metrics, can they be fully trusted? During Facebook’s pivot to video content in the mid-2010s, the platform seemingly prioritized video over static image posts. This shift caused numerous media companies to follow suit and drastically modify their content marketing plans. This short-sighted plan ultimately backfired, as Facebook was later found to be reporting artificially inflated video views. This travesty directly led to the eventual demise of content studios like College Humor, in an unhumorous fashion.  

    Swinging the pendulum back to KickBackz now, content would no doubt be a core of how it reached customers. But early on, crucial questions lingered that needed to be answered. Millions of uploads already were happening daily on platforms like Instagram. How would KickBackz be any different from the other businesses creating content and adding more gasoline to an ever-burning fire of Instagram? 

    My thought process was simple. There had to be dozens, if not hundreds of accounts in my niche that made better content than I could ever dream of. And faster too. And with a higher potential for virality. To make matters worse, I had no allocated dollars when I started out, meaning content would have to be produced by me. This raised another problem: I had no native skills as a graphic designer or photographer other than basic Photoshop editing. It did not appear that producing “double-tap worthy” content from scratch was the most pragmatic highway for social media growth. Or for success online, for that matter. I needed to find a solution that solved KickBackz’s need for content without creating it myself. 

    And I found one. Enter content curation.

    Content Curating 101

    Content curation is “the process of gathering information relevant to a particular topic or area of interest, usually with the intention of adding value select, organize, and look after the items in a collection or exhibition.” [add wiki link] Instead of reaching out to independent artists and putting their artwork in a gallery, I found other accounts with the content my audience wanted and put them all in one place for viewing. Curating content online didn’t have to be more complicated than simply rounding up the best pieces of content already produced by experts, industry veterans, and breakout newcomers. I used content curation as the open secret sauce to “feeding the beast.” 

     

     
     
     
     
     
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    But why 😭😭😭 Twitter: @kickbackz

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    There's still time 🙏

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    #SNEADSBYREE

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    While this logic seemed to fly in the face of gurus proclaiming the need to create original content, I learned that it did not matter for my audience. Like all market research, industry practices may infer one thing, but the customer’s wallet is ultimately the gatekeeper of your efficacy. In my community-based niche, sneaker connoisseurs love their connection to other sneaker connoisseurs. 

    Why?

    Because the ability to purchase limited-edition shoes is regarded as a status symbol. Their exclusivity makes them esteemed items, only attainable to those with connections or deep pockets. The concept of keeping up with the Joneses has never run more true until you’ve met the proverbial sneakerhead. But with millions of sneakerheads located worldwide with a penchant for Nike Air Jordan Retro IV’s and Adidas Yeezy 350’s, following every single top sneakerhead on social media wasn’t just impractical; it was impossible. This was the paint point that I identified. By curating content, I gave this audience a centralized location to view everything they’d want to see at once. 

    I solved a hidden problem that they had by merely rounding up all stupid, dope, fresh stuff they wanted to see. 

    Standing Out With a Unique Selling Proposition

    Now the idea of content curation wasn’t a revolutionary concept. And how could I be? It was as rudimentary of a solution you could be. There were other popular pages on Instagram that showcased and featured visuals of the latest kicks, new sneaker releases, and coveted streetwear collection drops. That’s where being different came in. 

    All successful businesses have a unique selling proposition (USP), a differentiating factor that separates them in the marketplace from their competitors. For Netflix, it was enabling people to consume an unlimited amount of movies from their home. For Starbucks, it was personalized, premium coffee. McDonald’s? Fast food and low prices.

     

     
     
     
     
     
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    @fettywap1738 got his! Lace up in the Timberland 6″ Premium Boot “Old Glory”. Purchase HERE >> kickbackzny.com

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    School’s out, let’s play! 🏈

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    KickBackz’s USP, from a social media standpoint, was that it served as one of the only curation-based sneaker pages that also doubled as a store. Here’s an example of what you could do all on our account:

    • See your favorite sneaker influencers wearing top models
    • View exclusive leaks of upcoming releases before brands officially announced them
    • Get industry news from the major manufacturers
    • See photos from both local and national events like SneakerCon
    • Steal comical sneakerhead memes
    • Buy sneaker-inspired streetwear from independent brands
    • Preorder hyped sneaker drops before they were open to the general public. At this time, this was even more significant because one, Instagram had yet to release shopping-focused features like shoppable posts, and two, standard stores did not authorize pre-sales of their products. If you were a fan of sneakers and the culture, the decision to follow the KickBackz page was a no-brainer. 

    This one-stop-shop model is pervasive in many areas outside of the sneaker culture.  Walmart had become such a staple in American retail for the same reason. At Walmart, you can shop a wide swath of products, pick up groceries, refill a prescription, get fitted for glasses, and get your tires rotated, all under their legions of fluorescent white lights. 

    The benefits of this social media game plan of content curation came in multiple forms. One that was most satisfying solved one of the reasons why content marketing is so challenging in the first place: it’s easy to run out of content. 

    As already expounded upon, my curation strategy revolved around finding the best content in the niche and sharing it on the KickBackz account page. In this process, the original content creator would be credited in the caption and tagged in the photo, whenever possible. Behind the scenes, the mechanism of crediting users on social media involves a ping sent to the original poster, generally in the form of a notification on their mobile devices. According to a 2018 Harvard study, the brain’s dopamine centers, the area of your brain commonly associated with feelings of pleasure, are now primed “to respond robustly to the sudden influx of social appraisal.”  

    For modern-day people, these notifications are essentially like “little hits of happiness.”

    In addition to literally making users happy that they’ve received a notification, they’re also naturally alerted of our account’s existence. This form of content marketing caused users to scan our page content. Upon realizing our account was a must-follow in the sneaker culture community, these users rewarded us with a follow.

     

     

     
     
     
     
     
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    #kbzasks. Comment and discuss below.

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    The Network Effect

    Now here’s the best part. Subsequently, those same original content creators who now followed our account would do something unusual that we didn’t anticipate. These creators began tagging our Instagram handle and our branded hashtag, #kickbackz, in all of their posts. The psychology of this was simple; these creators hoped that by mentioning us, when scouring the web for new content to share, that we would feature their account again on our page. They hoped that a feature would lead to more follows on their account as well. 

    Little did we know, this act too had a latent effect. By doing this, the friends of these creators, who were often shoe fanatics, would see our tags in their friend’s posts. This tier of friends would then follow our account and tag us, hoping to replicate their recent publicity on the KickBackz page. Thus, the cycle would repeat. 

    Network effects like this played a direct role in KickBackz’s growth. This positive feedback loop was a natural byproduct of our content curation technique. Even if our account never featured or used their content again, we gained a follower that had the potential to become a loyal fan and possibly a customer.

    Adopting the use of content curation on Instagram ultimately helped me generate millions of impressions annually for KickBackz.

    Instead of spending hours creating content, I learned to simply collect it and share it.

     

     
     
     
     
     
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    Naruto Uzumaki X Yeezy Season.

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    For The Love Of The Game; anywhere.

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    SHOP: Nike SB Dunk PRM “Chicken & Waffles” | in stock at kickbackzny.com

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    How I Used Audience Research to Determine What to Post

    Do you remember your first date?

    Scary thought, right? If not, it’s probably tucked away in the deep recesses of your memory for good reason. 

    Going on your very first date is an anxiety-producing experience for virtually anyone who’s ever done it. The fear of the unknown paralyzed us, and the thought of embarrassment loomed like a dark cloud threatening to rain out the entire event.

    That’s why if you polled most people on the street and asked them what superpower they wish they had on their first date, their answer would probably not surprise you.

    The power to read minds.

    It’s the stuff of folklore. Knowing how to read minds would’ve worked wonders back on your first date and probably saved you a lot of grief. It makes sense that people have always wanted to understand how to figure out what’s going on in other people’s minds.

    Since ancient times, man has sought to break down the process of human thinking as the mechanical manipulation of symbols. Contemporary current concepts like artificial intelligence are based on the idea that human thought can be mechanized. Going as far back as the early 9th century, Persian mathematician Muhammad ibn Musa Al-Khwarizmi, was indirectly responsible for the term, algorithm. Algorithms are used to perform calculations, process data, and automate reasoning.   Being able to use data to gain insights and make predictions has wide-ranging uses in everyday life, including digital marketing. Predicting what to post on social media is a nuanced undertaking.

    Knowing What Doesn't Work

    While content curation is an excellent tactic that solves the execution question of “how” when it comes to content marketing, it leaves the question of “what” unanswered. 

    When it comes to social media, brands are often at a loss when it comes to knowing exactly what type of content to post online and share. Or, more granularly, what kind of content works. The key performance indicators, or KPIs, that most people use when assessing whether a social post yields positive results varies per platform, but the premise is the same. Stakeholders want to see micro-conversion in the form of likes, shares, or retweets that ultimately lead to macro-conversions in the way of sales. 

     

    Unfortunately, without proper foresight or the ability to read their audience’s minds to figure out what they want to see, frustration and often failure can occur. Renown business coach Michael Gerber often shares that 80% of businesses fail within the first 5 years. And of those that survive, another 80% collapse by the 10-year mark. 

    Inexperienced brands waste valuable time producing and sharing irrelevant, non-impactful content that clogs social feeds. Even worse for them, lousy content increases the likelihood that a user will tap your account and hit the dreaded unfollow button. Repeat that process over and over, and you may very well end up without a business. 

    Brands that don’t have a full grasp on the market or their audience fall victim to this. Many often dive right in and begin posting random content without a plan. While there are many ways to not know what you’re doing, one model seems to occur more commonly than others. The “pray-and-spray” method is exactly what it sounds like. Brands will haphazardly post content of various forms, at various times, on various mediums, with no consideration for the all-powerful algorithm. These ephemeral posts are sent to the digital void, courtesy of the algorithm, quickly buried beneath quirky cat memes.

     

    Strategy and planning are paramount to a systemized approach to efficient sales on social media. My path to early success involved investing time in audience research. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, audience research is defined as “the study of people who watch a particular television program or film, read a book, etc.”. 

    From a digital marketing perspective, audience research is the systematic investigation of a specific group (generally your target audience) to establish facts about their psychology, interest, behaviors, background, and more. Most small businesses fail when their audience research lacks or makes flawed assumptions based on this research. Such mistakes can have catastrophic results. However, small companies are not the only ones that can succumb to this. Take, for example, the notorious failure of the $1.8 billion short-form streaming app, Quibi. 

    Aside from poor timing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Quibi CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg mistakenly assumed that their target audience, mostly millennials, would be inherently hooked to consuming 10-minute shows on their phone. Better analysis using their audience research and surveying would have likely revealed that premise to be flawed. 

    How I Cracked The Target Audience Code

    Mastering the art of knowing what content to post on social media for KickBackz was directly tied to the audience research I completed. (Disclosure: I had a strategic advantage of being in the same age, demographic, geographic location, and shared some of the major interests that my target audience did. While this helped me concoct sound campaigns, I still invested energy into fine-tuning my audience’s thoughts.) I made it a point to understand their lives on multiple surfaces. Proper audience research meant learning how their experiences, both psychologically and culturally, made them the ideal targets of my brand activations and campaigns. 

    Here are some of the audience insights I uncovered that aided me in molding a local door-to-door sneaker concierge service into a premier sneaker powerhouse:

    • While sneakerheads live around the world, customers with the highest average order value lived in major U.S. cities including NYC, LA, Houston, Chicago, D.C, and the Bay Area
    • Gender breakdown was 80% men, 20% women
    • Highest level of education completed was some high school
    • The most highly engaged ages were 14 – 18. There was a drop after 18, which suggested that while college students were still interested in these products, they did not have the disposable income to purchase them, unlike high school students who could still expect their parents to make these purchases on their behalf.
    • In opposition to the previous point, women’s names as nearly half the customer purchases. This shed light on the fact that mothers (and sometimes girlfriends) were responsible for making financial decisions.
    • Interests included: hip-hop music (specifically mainstream artists like Drake, Kanye West, and Future, basketball (i.e., the NBA, LeBron James, the 2K video game series); and streetwear fashion brands (i.e., Supreme, BAPE, VLONE)

    Delving into the mind of hypebeast required actively listening to conversations. As part of my audience research, I found it imperative to access deep levels of consumer signals beyond just the positive, negative, and neutral. I studied my competitors’ social channels and learned to classify the emotional sentiments that their fans shared in conversations. Doing so allowed me to launch click-based activations that saw triple-digit spikes in social engagement year over year. 

    For example, I analyzed large-scale consumer conversations and discovered that sneakerheads did not mind paying shipping fees for highly coveted items as long as they were safely delivered. Historically, shipping and processing costs have always been understood as a cost of doing business for both consumers and brands. This was the de facto operating procedure until Jeff Bezos upended the retail market with Amazon Prime, introducing fast, “free”, 2-day shipping to consumers nationwide. 

    Indulging upon this newfound convenience, customers began objecting to retailers who charged for shipping and handling costs as line items in their cart. Spoiled by Prime Shipping, customers would add goods to their carts, and reflexively abandon them at checkout when shipping costs were calculated. Stuck between losing entire sales or no longer charging for shipping, many brands elected the latter, eating the transportation costs. 

    KickBackz was not immune to having to decide on this critical matter. In 2016, the average cost of shipping a men’s pair of size 11 Nike Air Force 1’s from Long Island, NY, to San Francisco, California, was $10.28. Being forced to eat these costs would have resulted in the loss of thousands of dollars annually. In an age where Amazon’s totem pole position was forcing merchants to erode profit margins by offering free shipping, thereby reducing profitability, KickBackz used audience data to hedge against the pressure of unprofitable shipping practices. 

    Audience research taught me how to expertly position KickBackz against competitors in the saturated sneaker marketing and standardize KPIs to meet social media benchmarks that met the company’s objectives.  

    I learned to work with the algorithm' and use it to uplift KickBackz's growth...

    This same audience research was what I used to growth hack followers, as mentioned earlier. It also manifested in other formats, using Instagram’s native features. As the platform increased monthly active users, Instagram engineered improved discovery into the app over time with their algorithm. I learned to use the algorithm’ enhancements to uplift KickBackz’s growth. 

     

     
     
     
     
     
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    The end of an era.

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    For example, the Explore page uses an algorithm based on several factors, such as the activities of people you follow and the posts you personally engage with. Based on those events, the Explore page dynamically updates with fresh, relevant content. By spending time investigating more in-depth into the accounts shown on the Explore page, I consistently found rising influencers in the streetwear and sneaker niche who produced well-liked content that I might not have seen had the algorithm not revealed them to me.

    The Explore page also served as a conduit to identifying emerging consumer trends and behaviors. By analyzing the accounts operated on this page, I understood better critical trends based on their interests, conversations, and actions. 

    Hashtag Hacking

    In 2021, hashtags are a well understood native tool of most social media channels. Social media users add hashtags to categorize their posts under similar topics and enhance their reach. Users expect that the hashtags will make their posts more visible on the platform (and sometimes search engines).

    In my time at KickBackz, I exercised specific measures to increase reach and improve brand awareness by employing a high-output strategy that ensured I used hashtags to maximum effect.

    Optimizing for hashtags is somewhat similar to content pillar on-page SEO strategy. With this method, you start with a key phrase and create a ‘web’ of relevant topics relating to that keyword. When done correctly as an SEO technique, it can yield network effects that improve search engine rankings. A boost in Google’s search engine results generally equates to an increase in website traffic. On social media, this tactic has a similar effect in which your posts are seen more frequently on relevant tags when users type or search for a particular hashtag. This method, of social-media-hashtag-search-engine-optimization, or SMHSEO, proved to be effective.

    Instagram natively includes a limit of 30 hashtags per post, so while you have multiple chances to get it right, they are not boundless.

    How I Created Optimized Hashtag Groups

    Using a standard notes app, I compiled a list of nearly 300 hashtags relevant to the sneaker and streetwear fashion industry based on keyword research and their use volume.

    I then organized the list into categories and added hashtag topics of similar messaging into each category.

    To ensure each post would gain enough impressions, I further diversified the hashtags within each hashtag group. To do this, I considered that while generic, single word hashtags, like #sneakers or #nike, had high volume, which resulted in more visibility, they were also more likely to disappear more quickly in the sea of similar posts by other users.

    Conversely, multiple word hashtags, like #iamasneakerhead or #newyorkstreetwearbrand, had much lower volume, which meant less visibility. However, that meant that you could expect your posts to remain visible for days or even weeks if it had a high engagement. These hashtags also appeared to show a higher intent when used, translating to more targeted outreach.

    I developed a strategy to balance the need for visibility with targeted posts in each hashtag category to magnify the efficacy. This meant that each post had a high probability of appearing in a user’s hashtag search, regardless if they were intending on looking for that particular post or not.

    The breakdown of a hashtag group would look something like this:

    • Niche or Longtail hashtags: #smithskicks, #solesupremacy — Tags like these were used only by users who either shopped at specialized sneaker boutiques or had a high affinity for the culture.
    • Generic Tags hashtags: #sneakerhead and #hypebeast would
    • Branded hashtag: #kickbackz — Which helped add results to search engines.
    • Local

    A Real World Example: #ChicksInKicks

    For example, #ChicksInKicks was a defined hashtag category that we used. Users created the hashtag to highlight women who were fans of the sneaker culture. Due to several factors, including societal biases, gender demographics skewed women’s interest in sneakers far below men’s. With a few notable exceptions, like WNBA champion Maya Moore and Vashtie, the most desired shoe models were inspired or designed for male athletes or celebrities. As a result, women’s sizing was often an afterthought in production runs. Manufacturers produced most shoe models in men’s and sometimes grade-school children’s sizes.

    While the average spectrum of women’s shoe sizes allowed them to fit these grade-school sizes, manufacturers would sometimes strip these models of the same advanced technology that their men’s counterparts featured. On the web as a whole, society attempted to reduce the sneaker culture’s female participants to simple sexual objects of desire. Due to the sneaker community’s sexism, #ChicksInKicks, thrived, and allowed women to shine in a community overwhelmingly dominated by men.

     

     
     
     
     
     
    View this post on Instagram
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     

     

    Get bae hooked up for #ValentinesDay! New women’s kicks and apparel available at kickbackzny.com.

    A post shared by KickBackz (@kickbackz) on

     

     
     
     
     
     
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    Follow our Snapchat: sixringsny View our Periscope too: kickbackz

    A post shared by KickBackz (@kickbackz) on

    I used #ChicksInKicks to identify women and provide a platform for them to share content and gain visibility. In doing so, these women became new followers and, eventually, brand fans. In our segmented email marketing, I designed email campaigns that allowed women to find lady-friendly styles available on our website, increasing sales from an overlooked segment on the market.

    For companies looking to personalize hashtags, branded hashtags serve that purpose well. Owning a branded hashtag is a great way to connect with your audience, track down fans, and curate what people post about your brand.

    For those in the sneaker and streetwear fashion space, following hashtags posted by other users is a brand discovery tool, as discussed earlier. Because I created branded hashtags and actively promoted them in KickBackz’s inception, sneakerheads quickly co-opted the hashtags into their posts. This action helped boost visibility tremendously. To what degree? At the time of this writing, #kickbackz has nearly 50K tags on Instagram alone.

    Image coming soon :)
    Image coming soon 🙂

    In the next section, I’ll expound on how I used a branded hashtag to build credibility and trust in my audience.

    The Hidden Value of User Generated Content

    Okay, so storytime.

    Last week after a trip to get an oil change at my local auto shop, I was advised by one of the technicians to replace my outdated, worn-out windshield wipers. I recalled that they had been performing considerably worse the past few weeks upon him mentioning it, so I agreed that a new set was in order. I finished my service trip and headed home to order wipers.

    Everything was fine, except the problem was, I had never ordered windshield wipers myself. I had zero clues as to what brand to use.

    Like most people in my predicament, I headed over to Amazon.com and typed “windshield wipers” in the search bar.

    Immediately, dozens of wiper options populated my screen. Overwhelmed at this influx of styles, I realized I had become a victim of the choice paradox.

    I began filtering out options by price, delivery time, and which models fit my car. Yet even with those combinations, I still was viewing eight different windshield wiper brands.

    Not so fun.

    So how did I narrow down my selection to just one? I did what everyone does on Amazon when before they whip out their credit card.

    I went for the reviews.

    Starting from option one, I read the reviews of each brand, emphasizing the verified customer reviews that featured pictures and video uploads that showed the product clearly. Scanning these reviews methodically gave me the confidence I needed to feel secure in a choice. Satisfied, I found a brand with glowing ratings and entered my 16-digit code and auto-filled by shipping details. Within a few days, I had a brand new pair of well-crafted windshield wipers. Riveting stuff, indeed.

    Looking back at my scenario, it’s easy to pick out what converted me from a stressed-out prospect to an at-ease buyer. The uploads shown in the reviews were perhaps the vital piece of content in the product listing I needed to see. Brands on Instagram and other channels can use this form of content to generate sales.

    User-generated content, or (UGC), is one of the most valuable types of content brands can use to pique prospective customers’ interest and drive sales significantly. UCG empowers customers to buy with confidence. Visual marketing with user-generated content is one of the most trusted forms of marketing. Why? Because consumers trust the opinions of their peers.

    Customer reviews research shows that 94% of consumers use reviews to guide most of their ordinary purchase decisions. However, reviews are more than a powerful information resource; they also represent a fundamentally social endeavor.

     

    A Word On Net Promoter Scores

    Robert Cialdini’s psychology book, Influence, discusses how informational social influence, or social proof, is a phenomenon where individuals assume the behaviors of others to best reflect what is considered the correct behavior for any given situation.

    Imagine your close friend invites you out to eat at a Brazilian restaurant downtown. Flattered, you go out with them, and both of you order your meals. Your friend is a fan of the restaurant and loves their meal. Yours is okay; nothing particularly good or bad about it, just okay. After paying for the dinner, a waiter invites you both to leave reviews on their website. Out loud, your friend proclaims how much they enjoyed their meal and says they’re leaving a 5-star review. Throughout the meal, you were thinking of leaving an average rating. When it’s your turn to leave a review, while you were initially going to leave 3-stars, your friend comments about how great the food is and how low the prices are. You then decided to leave a 4-star review.

    These biases that Cialdini discusses highlight occurrences that happen in our lives all the time. The actions and experiences of other people can subliminally influence how we think and operate. In the example above, your dining experience was still average and worthy of 3-stars. The unintentional influence your friend had on you caused you to change your mind and leave a higher review than you intended. In digital marketing, brands can cleverly exploit these biases to boost sales over time by encouraging user generated content.

    Social proof and user generated content go hand in hand. This can be measured by indexes like the Net Promoter Score®, or NPS®, which is considered a trusted anchor that measures customer experiences and predicts business growth. 

    Using a 10-point scale, respondents can be ranked depending on where they land.

    On the lowest end of the scale, respondents who land in the 0 – 6 range, known as detractors, are unhappy customers who can damage a brand’s reputation by leaving poor reviews and negative word-of-mouth.

    Slightly better in the 7 – 8 range are unenthusiastic customers who are the “passives.” They neither strongly like nor strongly dislike your brand, making them susceptible to poached by other brands.

    Lastly, respondents in the 9-10 range, known as promoters, are ‘extremely likely’ to recommend your brand to a friend or colleague.

    Your promoters are more likely to create user generated content for your brand. Encouraging your promoters to do so is suggested, as people often need incentives to leave reviews.

    Fakes: The Ultimate Cultural Faux Pas

    Currently, the secondary resale market is valued at over $6 billion

    Customers globally are lining up all over to fork over their hard-earned cash to score high priced, limited-edition sneakers that casual fans struggle to get. However, with low inventory, demand far exceeds the supply in this market. This need for products has allowed KickBackz, Flight Club, Stadium Goods, and other merchants in the secondary resale market to thrive.

    Unfortunately, these market conditions also allowed for the proliferation of counterfeit resellers to invade. Armed with undercover factories and better technology than ever before, fake resellers have muddled up the market. While counterfeit goods have always been a thorn in the side of major brands, the sneaker boom has made these nefarious resellers millions.

    One of the worst things to be called out for is allegedly wearing fake sneakers from a cultural standpoint. Fans of the sneaker culture pride themselves on being able to procure high-priced collectible kicks. To err and be found to be donning a pair of illegitimate tennis shoes is the social equivalent to be marked as a leper. This stigma proves hard to wipe and can lead to bullying and negative self-esteem issues, particularly in school-age children. While this may sound like hyperbole, these issues are so rampant that the United States’ StopBullying.gov website lists being bullied about sneakers as a factor that “…can have long-term mental health effects.” 

    Today, companies like GOAT, StockX, and most recently, eBay dedicate sneaker authentication processes in their operations. When I conceived KickBackz, these screenings did not exist. There was no standardized way to promise authenticity. The market was more of a wild west, where fake sneakers roamed the land, and consumers were particularly wary of buying products on the aftermarket.

    And how could you blame them?

    The sneakers on aftermarket websites and consignment stores regularly averaged over $250. With such a high average order value (AOV), and with the average consumer often unable to expertly differentiate between a pair of fakes from the real product, resale-based companies faced an uphill battle. Unless you had a brick-and-mortar store with a lengthy history and an established, consumer-facing process for verifying the legitimacy of shoes, you were pretty much screwed.

    For a brand to be successful, it would have to solve these high hurdles to make customers feel comfortable.

    For online brands, the lack of physical presence magnified these problems even more. At least in-store, customers had the opportunity to visually and physically scrutinize the product in hand. Online, it was all a crapshoot. Anyone with a domain and hosting plan could pull stock images from Google, or steal product images from other legitimate websites, and list shoes for sale. Customers were rightly hesitant. For online brands, these factors limited their growth. Most online sellers at the time were confined to selling to each other, using tight-knit digital communities like #NikeTalk, and Sneaker Twitter to evaluate the trustworthiness of each other.

    The idea of buying from a third-party intermediary instead of directly from a manufacturer was inherently risky.

    Yet, somehow I convinced thousands of people across the globe from Baltimore to Bangkok to purchase hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars of merchandise from me without ever seeing my face or factory.

    But how?

    #KBZCustomerAppreciation

    Remember user generated content?

    Early on, I recognized the value of collecting user generated content and adding it to my content marketing system.

    People were scared, and for a good reason. Nobody wanted to be scammed or tricked into buying fakes. At KickBackz, we prided ourselves on sourcing only legitimate, real goods directly from authorized retailers and manufacturers. In the entire history of the company, a counterfeit or replica pair has never touched our operations.

    Despite this impressive statement, I still had to overcome the stigma that secondary resellers could not be trusted. But I found a cracked the code by finding a creative way to do so by leveraging Instagram’s native visibility tools, hashtags.

    In the previous section on hashtag hacking, I presented how personalized hashtags could be used for visibility purposes. But they can also be used as ways to increase conversions while simultaneously giving the brand legitimacy in the face of doubt.

    The original branded hashtag, #kickbackz, aided top-of-the-funnel awareness. 

    My second branded hashtag, #KBZCustomerAppreciation, was conceived directly for objection-busting.

    Save for a small percentage of orders that were processed by trusted partners; I fulfilled the vast majority of KickBackz’s customer orders at our Long Island, NY location. As items were shipped from my area and transported to customers, I manually inserted thank-you-for-purchasing notes inside each order’s packaging. On each of these notes was an instruction on how to join the illustrious #KBZCustomAppreciation community.

    To do so, customers were encouraged to take a photo of themselves holding their brand new, legitimate sneakers in hand. From there, we advised them to email or text us their image. For peak effect, I added this messaging to order delivered emails and scheduled posts on social media.

    I would then collect the images, feature each customer individually in a standalone social post on Instagram, and other platforms, thanking them for their purchases openly.

    But why would a customer go out of their way to invest energy and purposely create this UGC for a brand they just spent hundreds of dollars on?

    Because in a world of seedy resellers, fakes, and horror stories of replica sneakers, authenticity was the highest arbitrage available. Customers were more than happy to validate their purchases by uploading photos of themselves with their pricey, newly acquired footwear in hand (or foot). The hashtag became a form of social endorsement in the sneaker culture on Instagram, visible to all other hypebeasts and sneaker aficionados.

    This brand-generated social endorsement strategy worked so well that customers started beating me to the punch. They began uploading their shots directly to Instagram, tagging our handle @kickbackz in the photo, and added our signature #KBZCustomerAppreciation to the caption. I hypothesized that this would take away from the carefully curated aesthetic of the hashtag. In actuality, it made the hashtag even more powerful. 

    Here’s how:

     

    I would then screenshot these pieces of content and post them on our social channels. By intentionally keeping posting a screenshot of an Instagram post, it added authenticity to the #KBZCustomerAppreciation hashtag. Indeed, a brand could fake their own testimonials on their page. But it was less likely that a brand could fake their own testimonials on hundreds of pages of other accounts.

    Only a promoter on the NPS scale would engage in this type of behavior. These social proof actions strengthened the KickBackz brand and helped consumers establish trust in our products, eliminating the biggest obstacle for an online secondary market reseller at the time.

    Like most actions on social media, this had ripple effects. In our case, it created a positive feedback loop similar to our feature effect in our content curation strategy. When customers uploaded their own #KBZCustomerAppreciation images to social media, this attracted their immediate friends and family’s attention.

    They are searching for authentic stories to validate their purchasing decisions.

    These posts served as the social proof that their family members or friends needed to warrant following our page. Furthermore, since all hashtags are public, any sneakerhead could scan the hashtag and see past customers’ verified testimonials. At a time when sneaker companies struggled with brand trustworthiness, #KBZCustomerAppreciation became a curated digital gallery of winners.

    By collecting and repurposing this user-generated content from promoters, I succeeded in instilling the consumer confidence necessary to drive sales, despite the perceived risks of purchasing from a relatively unknown retailer.

    I would then screenshot these pieces of content and post them on our social channels. By intentionally keeping posting a screenshot of an Instagram post, it added authenticity to the #KBZCustomerAppreciation hashtag. Indeed, a brand could fake their own testimonials on their page. But it was less likely that a brand could fake their own testimonials on hundreds of pages of other accounts.

    Only a promoter on the NPS scale would engage in this type of behavior. These social proof actions strengthened the KickBackz brand and helped consumers establish trust in our products, eliminating the biggest obstacle for an online secondary market reseller at the time.

    Like most actions on social media, this had ripple effects. In our case, it created a positive feedback loop similar to our feature effect in our content curation strategy. When customers uploaded their own #KBZCustomerAppreciation images to social media, this attracted their immediate friends and family’s attention.

    They are searching for authentic stories to validate their purchasing decisions.

    These posts served as the social proof that their family members or friends needed to warrant following our page. Furthermore, since all hashtags are public, any sneakerhead could scan the hashtag and see past customers’ verified testimonials. At a time when sneaker companies struggled with brand trustworthiness, #KBZCustomerAppreciation became a curated digital gallery of winners.

    By collecting and repurposing this user-generated content from promoters, I succeeded in instilling the consumer confidence necessary to drive sales, despite the perceived risks of purchasing from a relatively unknown retailer.

    Affiliate Collaborations

    One piece of log creates a small fire, adequate to warm you up, add just a few more pieces to blast an immense bonfire, large enough to warm up your entire circle of friends; needless to say that individuality counts but teamwork dynamites.

    The Rewards of Working Together

    Due to several factors, building a significant Instagram presence quickly without external help can be formidable, if not downright unlikely. When you’re starting an online channel from scratch, growth often requires the use of creative collaboration. This collaboration can take form in many ways. However, when you learn how to do outreach and partner with other accounts, you can speed up the number of followers gained versus if you were alone. On Instagram, this is particularly useful in e-commerce. Temporarily borrowing an audience can lead to a lifelong customer for you.

    Collaboration marketing or cross-promoting on Instagram (or any social media platform, really) serves brands with several benefits that can return high rewards.

    Firstly, brands can reach new audiences at a fractional cost. By collaborating with another brand, you gain cross-promotional exposure, ideally with another engaged segment of users relevant to your company. “It’s up to 30 times cheaper than digital advertising because brands can use their audiences, not their budgets, as cross-promotional currency, across multiple channels”. 

    Cross-promoting can be a smart move for upcoming brands that don’t have as much capital to invest in programmatic advertising like Google Ads or Facebook Ads. Instead of potentially burning ad budget due to bad creative or a high cost-per-click (CPC) on an ads platform, you invest your time into swapping exposure with a partner brand that fits your values.

    Finding Solidarity in Complimentary Cultures

    Collabs also allow brands to engage audiences with new content and compelling campaigns that they usually would not receive from the standalone brand. While ad fatigue is cited as a reason why brand advertisements underperform over time, a collaboration can excite consumers and get them fired up again. This is particularly relevant when discussing hypebeasts.

    In popular culture, a hypebeast is one devoted to acquiring fashionable items, especially clothing and shoes.
    Hypebeasts are fascinating creatures. Hunters by nature, this species is forever on the prowl for the next big product launch that appeals to their materialistic persona. Collaboration marketing in this sector not only makes sense; it’s expected. By feeding these beasts a steady diet of innovative and novel merchandise, you can gratify their needs while keeping them loyal to your brand.

    The tie-in can work wonders when executed correctly. Take hip-hop music and fashion, for instance. Hip-hop has historically been connected to sneaker culture since the late 1980s when rap groups like Run-D.M.C. were dropping bars about their love of German multinational corporations (read: adidas). 
    In the decades since rap went mainstream and became the most popular music genre in the United States, savvy companies have learned to capitalize on this association.

    How Nike and Travis Scott Perfected a Partnership

    A relevant example of this was when Grammy-nominated Houston rapper Travis Scott teamed up with Nike on a collaborative Air Jordan 1. While Nike has numerous brand collaborations under its belt, these collabs are generally reserved for signature athletes, which has always been Nike’s mainstay.

    On the one hand, Travis Scott is a protege of Kanye West (ironically, Kanye is the musician that achieved the most success with his brand collaboration with Nike, spawning the game-changing Yeezy), and has a cultish following. His fans are a vehement bunch, regularly selling out his concerts at massive stadiums like Madison Square Garden or tattooing concepts from his otherwordly Astroworld album on their bodies.

    Nike, the $120 billion behemoth in the sportswear space, is the 800-lb gorilla in the room. Their brand positioning is strong amongst younger generations, although adidas has chipped tiny percentages away. Unfortunately, being a titan in any market can raise detractors and make brands seem too out of touch with the average person. By working with Travis Scott, Nike can continue to appeal to his fans’ generation in a seemingly authentic way. By working with Nike, Travis Scott raises his brand’s awareness beyond his core fans. On paper, the collaboration made sense, and the results were captivating.

    Nike released the Travis Scott x Air Jordan 1 Retro High OG ‘Mocha’ on May 11, 2019. The shoe’s retail price was $175, in line with its standard pricing for this model of Air Jordan. Nike limited the availability of this highly anticipated launch to a restricted number of outlets. Nike controlled the launch by prioritizing the release on SNKRS, its official direct-to-consumer app. Fans also had opportunities to score a rare pair at a select handful of premier retailers globally, such as Sole Fly (Miami), Trophy Room (Orlando), Extra Butter (New York), KICKZ (Berlin), and Pigalle (Paris). On Instagram and other channels, the conversation buzzed around who would be able to grab a pair and what they would do if they weren’t able to.

    When trying to measure product launches’ marketing success during collaborations, companies should use specific KPIs, depending on their primary and secondary objectives. In this case, Travis Scott and Nike were both significant players in their respective fields. Selling out of shoes would not be an accurate indicator of how well the collaboration did, especially with a limited production run. While we are not privy to the deep analytics that Nike has used to evaluate this mashup of brands, as outside participants, there is one metric that we can use to gauge what happened.

    As stated, the MSRP of the shoe was $175. After selling out worldwide in minutes on the release date, pairs immediately popped up in consignment stores and resale marketplaces like GOAT and StockX. The resale value of this shoe peaked at over $3,000 on specific sizes. That’s a whopping 1,614% increase from the original price of the shoe.

    While both Travis Scott and Nike are successful independently, that astronomically high resale value could have only been achieved when these brands pooled resources together to create a must-have item on every hypebeast’s wishlist.

    Another fashion related brand collaboration was the highly-anticipated Supreme x Louis Vuitton collection.

    A Word On Influencer Marketing

    Innovative collaborations can also help leverage multiple channels and consolidate analytics in a way that influencer marketing cannot. While similar, influencer marketing implies one entity having more leverage in one audience than another. Brand-to-brand campaigns are more equitable, where both parties may stand to gain a similar level of value. Influencer campaigns are more transactional and mercenary style, where a brand will usually provide monetary compensation to the consumer-facing influencer who promotes its products or services. This partnership is roughly analogous to B2C, where the brand plays ‘B’, and the influencer plays the role of a high-powered ‘C.’ Contrariwise, brand-to-brand collaborations are more comparable to B2B, in which both brands play the role of a ‘B’ and bring something of equal value to the table. The benefits of this model include being able to use multiple channels to promote products.

    Image coming soon :)
    Image coming soon 🙂

    6 Rules to a Successful Brand Collaboration

    With this understanding in hand, one must determine, what makes a great brand collaboration? There are 6 considerations I used when choosing whether a brand collaboration was a right fit for KickBackz.

    1. Evaluate fit

      When a brand collaboration is done right, like Travis Scott and Nike, it should make sense. You probably don’t want to partner with a direct competitor since that doesn’t necessarily give value for either company, not to mention the antagonistic relationship will likely make it challenging to create an operating agreement in the first place.

    2. Establish expectations early

      Knowing what you want to accomplish when teaming up with another company is essential. While one brand may have its sights on increasing market penetration, the other may want to invigorate lackluster sales after a slow quarter. While neither reasoning is wrong, to make better use of the situation, each company should share the partnership’s desired end goal.

    3. Think differently

      A smart brand alliance goes beyond just slapping both logos on a product. Consumers want storytelling that justifies the collaboration and excites them to take action. A partnership is an opportunity to think outside of the box. Execution matters, but so does the end product.

    4. Remain authentic

      In a partnership, two halves become a whole. In the process of fusing resources and ideas, staying “true to you” keeps your brand integrity intact after the arrangement is over. Imagine doing a collaboration and losing your core audience after it dissolved. Not ideal at all.

    5. Measure results

      Any good marketer worth their salt knows that if it can’t be measured, it can’t be evaluated. Analytics allow companies the ability to leverage data to impact their bottom lines. By tying in data to action, brands can learn how these collaborations affect consumer behavior and gain new insights into the market. In the Travis Scott and Nike example, both entities will use the results and data they collected to dictate how they pursue future brand collaborations.

    6. Know when to say no

    All great working relationships require honesty and clarity. While the need to be innovative and creative can steer partnerships to victory, it can also compromise one brand’s values if not carefully executed. If your brand stands for a specific amount, and the other company in the collaboration insists.

    You also want to pursue a collaboration where both companies’ values aligned, or better yet, shared. After all, there’s a reason why we’ll probably never see a PETA and Outback Steakhouse collaboration.

    In a notorious example, LEGO and Shell had a 50-year partnership, where LEGO sold Shell-branded toy sets around the world. Over time though, public attitudes shifted, and consumers did not feel it was appropriate that the world’s biggest toymaker should be in bed with a fossil fuel company. Greenpeace, an environmental group, released a video campaign that negatively depicted LEGO due to its marketing partnership with a company associated with drilling into the Arctic for oil and damaging the environment. Due to extensive pressure, LEGO opted not to renew its collaboration with Shell anymore.

     

    How KickBackz Used Strategic Brand Partnerships

    I used Instagram to find and execute smart brand collaborations to notable effect with KickBackz to bolster the account’s following. This was incredibly valuable early when the company was still trying to build an audience of supporters. I did this by partnering with non-competing apparel brands.

    Apparel brands are common-sense partners of footwear companies that don’t produce clothing in-house. From a practical perspective, our core audience usually needed a top, bottom, and shoes to complete their looks in casual settings. This was pronounced for men, who were our primary customers. Unlike the conventional American woman that can wear unified pieces like dresses, men don’t have a singular fashion piece comparable to the dress. Furthermore, dresses see little light in the sneaker community. Tees, jeans, joggers, hoodies, and shorts dominate the look of this community.

    Image coming soon :)
    Image coming soon 🙂

    While I partnered with several different brands during KickBackz’s run, my first collaboration with a company called @imuskop became the model for subsequent partnerships that help our channels find growth early on:

    @imuskop

    Fashion has always been a component that defined American urban culture. Depending on your point of reference, scholars trace urban fashion to the late 1970s or early 1980s. Originating in New York, its roots stem from hip-hop music and the streets. Driven by the youth, urban fashion clothing helped define the era, as it quickly spread to major cities with large populations of African Americans. As it jumped from city to city, what made this branch of fashion notable was how agile it moved. What was hot today could quickly become the outdated styles of tomorrow. This was perhaps most prominent in New York, which has historically been considered one of the global “Big Four” fashion capitals of the world, along with Paris, Milan, and London.

    Notwithstanding, New York hip-hop fashion has consisted of pieces with catchy phrases inspired by rap lyrics, creative references to street or gangster life, and mashup twists of popular culture, like the NBA. 

    The booming popularity of Michael Jordan, the Chicago Bulls, and New York’s own Knicks further fueled these trends.

    To capitalize on the sneaker culture’s pervasiveness, many clothing brands began producing designs that were directly inspired by highly demanded sneaker releases. As a sneakerhead, a collectible shoe you planned to wear was great to have, but what were you going to wear with it? By the 2010s, streetwear brands wisely rode the sneaker’s rising popularity wave and sought to fill that gap. Thanks to print-on-demand and fulfillment services like Printful and Red Bubble, aspiring entrepreneurs began launching online brands relentlessly. This action flooded the market. How was a startup clothing line supposed to get noticed in a matrix of competitors?

    Enter iMuskop.

    At its time, iMuskop, pronounced “I must cop,” was a unique, online marketplace that peddled small and upcoming NYC-based streetwear brands. Startup clothing lines looking to reach new audiences and widen their distribution channel could list their collections on the iMuskop website. In return for the chance for more exposure, iMuskop took a percentage of sales for each item sold on the website. Think a smaller scale Amazon, but for clothing brands designed by borough-based inner-city millennials in the mid-2010s.

    This iMuskop collaboration made great sense at the time when KickBackz exclusively sold footwear and had yet to launch its subsidiary clothing line, which it eventually did. I promoted iMuskop offerings directly on the KickBackz official social media channels. While scrolling past news of the year’s Christmas Retro Air Jordan XI, our followers now could see sweatshirts that matched the shoe’s color scheme. iMusktop added our handle to their captions as a resource for collecting desired shoes. While an elementary step, this marked shift aided KickBackz in evolving beyond just sneakers.

    Image coming soon :)
    Image coming soon 🙂

    As a result of the alliance, iMuskop’s customers, men between 18 and 34, gained a new avenue to acquire sneakers. KickBackz gained an established audience that loved sneakers as much as they did streetwear fashion. By sharing iMuskop’s clothing on the KickBackz account, our followers now had a go-to outlet that produced trendy t-shirts and hoodies that color-coordinated with their sneakers.

     

     
     
     
     
     
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    Visit facebook.com/kickbackzny and Like our page for awesome videos! @angelakubica

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    Giving Giveaways a Try

    “I want to play a game.”

    As long as you’re not trapped in a 2000s horror film featuring a killer gamemaster and mechanical traps, then you’ll probably want to play a game too.

    After all, games mean prizes, and who doesn’t love winning free stuff?

    Whether you’re a kid spinning a prize wheel at a carnival or an adult pulling levers at the slot machine at the MGM Grand casino, as consumers, we love the idea of winning something (ideally for nothing). It makes us feel good, even when we don’t know why.

    Based on peer-reviewed research by Oxford’s professor of neuroscience, Morton L. Kringlebach, states that “In a sense, pleasure can be thought of as evolution’s boldest trick, serving to motivate an individual to pursue rewards necessary for fitness, yet in modern environments of abundance also inducing maladaptive pursuits such as addictions.” 

     

    Trying to get a pair of Air Jordan's has led to robberies, shootings, and even ripped off arms.

    Companies can use digital marketing to take advantage of these neurological impulses to broaden reach and gain new leads. When implemented effectively, these warm, marketing qualified leads can be converted into customers, thereby increasing profitability.

    Due to Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCDP), and similar privacy initiatives, today’s consumers are more aware than ever of their personal data’s value and are far more reluctant to give it up.

     

    The Key to Gamification Marketing

    As such, brands should consider gamification marketing to capture earned data. Earned data is built on a value exchange in which the consumer self-consents provide their data, creating a long-term foundational relationship built on trust with a brand. This data can then be used to better understand the consumer’s desires and preferences over time. These insights allow brands to target consumers more effectively.

    For gamification to work, 3 elements need to be present:

    1. A good contest needs to have an interactive journey. That meant engagement should be a two-way street.
    2. It should be a rewarding experience. Consumers won’t want to play if they don’t feel there is a fair value exchange.
    3. Lastly, there has to an urgency component. Consumers should be ready to play at the moment because they don’t know when it could be over.

    The Futility of Getting Your Next Pair

    Depending on your inclusion of styles and colorways, the most popular sneaker models’ average retail price ranges between $180 and $210. For the hottest items, like early adidas Yeezy 350’s resale price commonly cracked the $1,000 mark. This meant pairs were marked up at over 334%
    For the typical high school student or college student, $1,000 is an insurmountable price to pay for anything. Nonetheless, these status symbols have become cultural objects of obsession, that people who do nearly anything to get.

    To make matters worse, securing a pair of hyped sneakers can be extremely challenging. In-store, consumers faced long, first-come, first-served lines that wrapped around city blocks. Even after stores switched to a raffle system, consumers soon realized that store managers were rigging the raffles, eliminating the lottery system’s supposed fairness.

    Even if one could successfully win a raffle or make it as one of the earlier participants in line, you still had to get home with your product in hand. Sometimes armed, people would position themselves like hyenas after a lion’s kill, waiting to run off with the unsuspecting victims’ goods. Unfortunately, these tales were not uncommon occurrences around major releases. Trying to get a pair of Air Jordans has led to robberies, shootings, and even ripped off arms

    Securing a pair online was hardly any better. The convenience of online shopping meant that anyone with Internet access could visit a website. For sneakerheads living outside of major urban areas or who didn’t have availability or the accessibility to frequent physical stores, online drops were supposed to level the playing field. Unfortunately, that was not the case. Despite planning for these releases months in advance, company servers would crash under the sheer volume of the hundreds of thousands of users attempting to load webpages simultaneously. Before you even had an opportunity to get the page to load fully, the website would greet you with a notification that the items you were trying to purchase were now out of stock. This alert would happen within minutes before you even had a chance to see the sneaker on the screen. Resellers have forever been a staple in the niches, where product demand outweighed supply. The sneaker community was no different. However, resellers upped their game in the mid-2010s by implementing the use of bot technology. These advanced bots could perform thousands of actions a minute, which translated to auto-purchasing products as soon as companies released them online.

    And again, even if you made it to the digital checkout and secured the shoes, that was still no guarantee they would get to you. More than once in Sneaker Twitter, the de facto name of the tribe of sneakerheads on the platform, has a customer unwittingly posted their Nike order confirmation screenshot to the timeline in a moment of exhilaration. What followed was both ingenious and cruel. Jealous users who weren’t fortunate enough to get a pair of the shoes would then call Nike, posing as the customer who took the screenshot, to have the order canceled or rerouted to a different address. The sneaker game was, and still is, a battle royale.

     

     
     
     
     
     
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    Clips from the live stream if you don’t have the Periscope app.

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    How Giveaways Drove Additional Revenue for KickBackz

    As a brand that started out delivering sneakers to customers door-to-door and placing the shoes in their hands, I understood how important it was that consumers could get these products. With so many risks and challenges involved with simply getting a pair, I used the gamification concept of giveaways to drive social actions and boost brand loyalty on Instagram.

    Like most of my marketing strategies, this one, too, was deliciously clever. 

    Giving away a pair of release date sneakers was the conventional prize, as it gave our audience a chance to skip the hassle and headache of attempting to do it themselves. I held two variations of giveaways. In the first variation, the contest was held independently, with no other partners. The goal of these contests were to have our Instagram followers connect with us on our other @kickbackz social media channels.

    To run these giveaways, I used competition based software, most notably an Australian-based SaaS app called Gleam. Gleam allowed me to set up and run giveaways that drove real user engagement. Apps like were useful because they had built-in viral sharing. This feature enabled them to refer their friends to join the giveaway with custom viral referral links. Gleam’s software made it possible to embed the giveaway as a competition widget directly onto our website and Facebook tab. Our competition widgets exceeded a 36% conversion rate. In addition to the widget, Gleam could host landing pages, making it easy for giveaway entrants to share the competition.

    Because KickBackz fully funded the prizes, these contests lasted about three to four weeks and usually coincided with major sneaker release dates or holidays.

    Combining Giveaways with Brand Collaborations

    The second variation of the giveaways involved the use of brand collaborations. The goal of these contests were to boost visibility and our following. We partnered with several other influencers and brands in these giveaways, usually 5 – 9 accounts, in the sneaker and streetwear space. The other pages were familiar names who had developed their own decent-sized audiences, ranging from 20K to 130K followers. KickBackz often used these accounts in our content curation strategy, so teaming up for a joint contest with them made sense. To keep things simple, the prize’s cost, usually a highly coveted shoe in the winner’s size, was divided evenly amongst the giveaway partners. We held these contests for a shorter timeframe, no more than one to two weeks.

    While sneakers started as the main prize in the giveaways for the reasons mentioned above, like all things with KickBackz, audience research gave me insight into alternative prize options held in equal esteem by my audience.

    Based on experiments I ran on social media posts, I determined that the audience admired hip-hop related content enough to offer a different giveaway prize.

    The Summer Sixteen Tour Giveaway

    In one example, I created a giveaway after researching popular acts that intended to tour in the Greater New York region that summer. As a Long Island-based company, this made sense since about 20% of our sales came from New York customers.

    In late spring, Grammy-winning artists Drake and Future announced they would be co-headlining a concert tour, the Summer Sixteen Tour, fresh off the heels of their collaboration album, What a Time To Be Alive. These musicians were experiencing scorching popularity due to their project and peaking status in the music industry. They both happened to be widely popular in the sneaker community, partially due to their radio single, “Jumpman,” which referenced Michael Jordan’s Air Jordan model.

    The timing was perfect. Using the concert title as inspiration, I launched the KickBackz Summer Sixteen Tour Ticket Giveaway. The prize winner would receive a ticket for themselves and a friend to attend the New York concert at Madison Square Garden in the heart of Manhattan. I shared the contest on our social media channels. To raise the number of entries, I temporarily swapped the link in our Instagram bio to the contest landing page from our store website. Our followers were prompted to share the contest with friends to receive more entries.

    The results went beyond a jump in social follows. We provided an unforgettable moment for our contest winner, who ironically happened to be celebrating a birthday that weekend.

    The success of these sweepstakes-style promotions played a part in KickBackz’s growth from a small sneaker operation to one of the biggest names in the community. On the way to our success, we created positive experiences for our fans.

    Because everyone loves to win, all you have to do is make them play.

    Growth Timeline

    April 15, 2013

    Company launches with zero dollars, followers and no website

    KickBackz officially launches as a brand with nothing more than an Instagram page, @kickbackz. Zero followers, press, or ad budget.

    April 15, 2013

    May 2013

    First sneaker delivered

    After a busy Air Jordan launch, I delivered what becomes the first of many sneaker releases. The customer receives a Nike Air Jordan V Retro ‘White Grape” in a size 8.5 to a deli in North Babylon, NY. 

    May 2013

    September 1, 2013

    Website launches BigCartel

    After months of handling orders via email and Instagram comments (Instagram Direct Message features doesn’t launch until later December of this year), I set up a basic website on BigCartel, a popular e-commerce site geared for indie touring bands and creatives. 

     

    September 1, 2013

    January 2014

    Ranked #1 on BigCartel Directory

    Within a few months, KickBackz quickly lands onto the first page, and eventually the first spot on the BigCartel Directory. 

    January 2014

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