Influencer Marketing Excellence

Conquering Chaos: My Journey to Influencer Marketing Excellence

By Sarah Stahl

Imagine navigating a ship through a storm, with waves crashing all around and no clear end in sight. That’s what being a marketer in today’s world feels like. Disruption is the new normal, and the marketing profession is riding the waves of this turbulent sea. But amidst the chaos, there’s a way to not just survive but thrive—by surrounding yourself with a community facing the same challenges and rising above them together to achieve major wins – including influencer marketing excellence.

Embracing the Community

Part of such a community, in the Rise group, I recently had the honor of being featured in an article on Businesses Grow, titled: “The ROI of creators: An inspiring influence marketing case study” which highlighted my journey and achievements at ReTreet Resort. Mark Schaefer, a marketing luminary, stated, “I love Sarah’s story because it’s so improbable. A resort in the middle of nowhere propelled by influencers? And yet the success is undeniable.” To fully appreciate this success, we need to go back ten years when I first discovered one of Mark’s books, “Return on Influence” while struggling to answer a marketer’s toughest challenges.

The Early Days: Discovering ROI

The title caught my eye while knee-deep in such a challenge, on a mission to answer my clients’ burning question: “What’s the ROI of all this social media stuff?” This question, still a puzzle for many marketers, became my guiding star. My intuition told me that understanding this was crucial for my career advancement, and my gut never lies.

Back then, I was a thirty-something mother of three and a military spouse, struggling to find my identity beyond these roles. As my children grew older, I knew I had to establish myself in a career that I had started a few years earlier by way of entrepreneurship. Determined to crack the social media ROI code, I devoured every book, article, and podcast I could find, but many answers remained elusive until I started putting it all together and involving myself in a community growth mindset.

Practical Applications: From Books to Practice

In those early days, Google was the go-to analytics tool. I learned to tie social media efforts to my clients’ Google tracking data, running reports to see which organic keyword phrases brought visitors to their websites. At the time, I worked with InCareK12 a technology company selling internet infrastructure and hardware to schools. Armed with insights on the target audience, I began by writing blog posts targeting these keywords and engaging with Alabama-based teachers on Twitter and started seeing results.

I even ran a giveaway around one of the most frequently asked questions, awarding a teacher the tools to integrate technology into their classroom. The creative commercials from students were a highlight, and I managed to generate twelve new leads, two of which ended in sales. While twelve leads and two sales would be considered a failure in my current role in the vacation rental space, for a contractor with no prior knowledge of the company or target audience, and sales that averaged a quarter to half-million dollars – I considered this a success.

Achieving Marketing ROI

Armed with Mark’s book, my own testing, and a recent certification in Marketing Data Analysis from the University of Florida, I felt confident about understanding marketing ROI. However, I quickly realized that each client and situation required a unique approach. The key was to anticipate the ROI question from day one and develop a clear plan to answer it.

In a world where marketers often “sleepwalk” through their tasks, as Mark has pointed out in his most recent version of Social Media Explained 3.0 and podcast interview with Social Media Examiner titled “Forget Everything You Know About Social Media: Embracing Chaos” – I strive to thrive. More importantly, I want to be fully awake when I’m marketing. To do so, my strategies remain calculated but risky, and my current approach at ReTreet is no different. Cutting our marketing budget in half and investing heavily in influencer marketing was a bold move. But as Mark noted, it has paid off significantly.

Influencer Marketing Success at ReTreet

In my first year at ReTreet, revenue and occupancy doubled. The traditional advertising budget was slashed, yet the ROI of our marketing spend more than doubled, from $13 to $28 per dollar spent. With a set goal of $30, I still have a little ways to go. But, our Instagram following grew by 650%, making it the top source of leads. We had Instagram Reels reaching a million views, and each influencer visit resulted in an average of two more requests for accommodations.

We expanded the resort to include a glass dome event space and are now orchestrating Alabama’s first influencer marketing conference – Influence Forward. Sponsors, recognizing the untapped potential of this marketplace, have eagerly joined us. Our initial sponsors include Huntsville Magazine, Alabama Living Magazine, and Explore Lake Guntersville. Now, a major event venue in Huntsville is looking to partner with us, for the purpose of recruiting nano and micro influencers for their projects as well.

The Future of Influencer Marketing

I mean, great for me – right?! But what’s on the horizon for everyone?

The advertising landscape is undergoing a dramatic transformation, with a substantial portion of budgets now being allocated to digital and influencer marketing. According to Deloitte, media companies are increasingly leveraging influencers to drive engagement and sales, reflecting a broader trend in the industry​ (Deloitte United States)​​​. In fact, a report by Linqia highlights that 52% of ad dollars were spent on influencer marketing in 2023​ (Linqia)​.

Aligning with this trend, my budget for 2025 is heavily focused on influencer marketing. We’ve secured an annual deal with a major magazine to feature influencers each month, and we are running giveaways to attract new influencers to be part of our resort’s campaign. This strategic investment has already shown significant returns, boosting our visibility and engagement across social platforms.

Conclusion: Thriving Through the Return on Influence

In today’s chaotic marketing landscape, one key thread has been the understanding and leveraging of the return on influence. This principle has guided me since the start of my career, helping me navigate the constant market shifts we all face. As I continue to steer through this ever-changing environment, my determination to thrive has only grown stronger—not just for myself, but for everyone who believes in the transformative power of influence. Its profound impact on our industry is undeniable, and together, we can harness it to shape the future of marketing.