Yash Chavan is the Founder of SARAL, the simplest and fastest way for brands to get started with influencer marketing. With SARAL, brands can find, manage, and monetize their "direct-to-creator" influencer relationships. In the last two years, Yash has been able to reduce acquisition costs by 500% and SARAL has retained higher quality customers who kept buying again. They have scaled influencer programs to over 300 influencers and generated hundreds of thousands of dollars in net new revenue for clients.
On this episode, Yash and I discuss influencer marketing vs. social media ads, what makes a bankable influencer, some of the obstacles to influencer marketing, and much more.
What is SARAL
Yash Chavan: So Saral exists to make influencer marketing as simple as possible for e commerce brands. I started because I was running an influencer agency and I looked into the market and pretty much all the tools in the market were clunky and expensive. We want to make something that's simple and affordable. So that's how Saral was born.
So we basically DTC brand, they can come on, they can find influencers, reach out to them, track their commission, spending posts, things like that. So it's like an all in one platform for all things influencers.
Alex Bond: Yeah. And that all in one piece is the real selling point. I mean, obviously, basically there are these smaller tools in terms of like emailing and sheets and access to these influencers are all pieces of it. But I feel like the real main selling point is that you don't have to go back and forth between all these other productivity tools. Is that accurate?
Yash Chavan: That is accurate. That is one of our main selling points because the whole influencer process before Saral was just distributed across like five different tools. How it is all consolidated in one place. Imagine you're recording a podcast and then the audio is being recorded on one device. The video is being recorded on another. It's just doing it on zoom makes sense. So yeah.
Exploring the Profitability of Influencer Marketing: A Deeper Dive into its Potential Compared to Social Media Ads
Alex Bond: I'm interested about influencer marketing as a whole. It's something that we've talked in bits and pieces about on the show, but you seem like an expert in the field. I'm curious if influencer marketing really is more profitable than running social media ads, because that's something that you talked about before.
Yash Chavan: Yeah. So I think I look at them as complimentary more than competitive. So I won't even measure influencer marketing in terms of how much profit it gives me. I think influencer marketing is slightly reserved for brands that have at least one working channel, which is not influencer. Now there's, we've actually personally worked with brands that are just working with influencers and crushing it.
But then usually brands, those are brands that are started by people who worked in the influencer domain before. Most D2C founders have not worked in the influencer domain before. If you're going to do influencer marketing, either take it seriously, treat it like a discipline and just go after it.
But I completely understand if a brand thinks that running a Facebook ad is definitely just much, much easier than speaking and negotiating with influencers and managing all of the process. And obviously tools like that, I'll make it easy, but then yeah, like running ads is completely different.
But the good thing about influencers is once you start running it, once people are posting about you, you can take the content that they're making. And run it as a Facebook ad. And that kind of completes the cycle of that makes your, so your Facebook ads more profitable because usually the more authentic kind of UGC content works much better than just like a static ad that you might make or a carousel that you might make, which is branded, right?
It also acts as social proof. So you can maybe reuse it on, we have one of our brands who's reusing it as a retargeting vehicle for their abandoned cart campaigns. So it's like, okay, if you abandon a cart, they'll send you a video saying, looking at like all these five influencers, what do they have to say about the product that is just left in your cart?
And by the way, here's a 10 percent off it's acting as a social proof engine. So I see it more holistically, and it's obviously going to increase your profit in different ways. I see it more of like a doing it just makes life much easier across all the other things that you're doing.
Alex Bond: No, I think that's really smart to run the influencer content as an ad. And so that way you're kind of getting as much bang for your buck as possible. That's smart.
I'm interested in, I feel like it's not something that people talk about often and that's why does influencer marketing work full stop? I mean, why does that work better than Maybe just user generated content or, you know, an ad that a brand may have made like a commercial for the product that they just run as content. Why is influencer marketing kind of at the top of the key there?
Yash Chavan: All right. I love the question. So that's your do away with influencers and Facebook ads and everything else for a moment. Think about marketing and sales in general. It's like people talking to other people, telling them about some awesome thing that they heard, right?
So before the world of social media or technology, if we rewind back 500 years, pretty much the only way you could sell anything was if one person told another person about your thing existing and how it helped them. And so only way where you could communicate and like get the word out there with influencers or with like with people and create a name in the market.
So now I think I look at influencers as just that kind of kernel on steroids, where instead of one person talking to five of their friends, It is one person talking to 50, 000 of their friends on social media. I mean, increasingly people are living by, I mean, you, me, everyone else, we are spending more time than we'd like on scrolling, looking at creators.
And these are the creators that we trust and we follow. So it just makes sense that we have a certain sort of relationship with them, even though we've maybe never even met in person. I mean, a recommendation from them comes across as something that is comes with trust.
So that's why I think influencer marketing works because it's taking something very fundamental to human nature, which is, you can call it word of mouth and putting it on steroids and adding just scale to it by the, because of, by the nature of the audience.
Unveiling the Bankable Traits: Key Characteristics to Look for in Influencers for Effective Product Promotion
Alex Bond: No, that's great. And I think that the relationship that customers have to an influencer is, is very interesting. Like I think terminology nowadays is like parasocial where they have a trusted brand that is curated so that brands that they support are already trusted because they're in coordination with someone who has garnered trust from a larger audience.
So I think that makes a lot of sense. And that leads into my next question. What are some of the most bankable traits? that influencers or good influencers should have right now. So when you or a brand are looking for a good influencer to promote a product, what are some of those character traits that you're looking for?
Yash Chavan: Amazing. I love that you call it character traits and not necessarily asking me, should you focus on nano influencers or big or small influencers and who should you target? I think because most brands get stuck up in like the nitty gritty of the metrics. Like, should we go with the celebrity or should we work with nano influencers?
Cause I read a blog on, on LinkedIn or something like that. But that's a very good question. So what we see obviously beyond all the metrics, right. If their engagement rate is. Zero or like no one's liking their posts or if they have too many bot followers or if they're just like not creating good content.
Once the basics are there, I think there are many good creators, but brands need to find who is the creator that will authentically vouch for just their brand. And this is obviously this is a hypothetical ideal of a creator, but that's the point. Just like in marketing, you would create a ideal customer persona.
I like to call it, you create your ideal creator persona. Who's your creator that is only, only going to promote your brand and nobody else, at least in your kind of industry. So you create that. And the way we usually go about is this first, we get down to the metrics. So like, yeah, okay. Like we should probably target this follower range and this much engagement rate and so on.
But once that is set aside, those are the basics. What we really look at is philosophical alignment over anything else. Because I illustrate this with an example, we were once working with a skincare brand and they were using some, this is slightly before Saral existed. So they were using another tool, like a marketplace to hire influencers.
And then what happened was they worked with an influencer. This is for context. This is an organic skincare brand. That is cruelty free and so on. And we are very conscious about the kind of products that they make. So they worked with this creator. They post the creator posted about them. That was all good.
And then one week later, the creator posted again about like a makeup company. Now, is it bad to promote makeup? Nope. Is it bad to promote an organic skincare company? Nope. But when it's the same person promoting two kind of anti theoretically polar opposite things. Like one is organic and natural. One is like makeup, which obviously has chemicals in it.
And so on that did not feel well with the brand. And that's when we learned this lesson of, okay, there has to be some sort of philosophical alignment. And since then we've been targeting creators who are very much like fit that ideal creator persona. So the main thing that we look is just alignment when it comes to your mission, your vision, your values.
So if you're, let's say a vegan protein brand, don't work with an influencer who's promoting meat in their diet plans. For example, there's plenty of fitness creators that are also promoting vegan stuff that you can work with. So just don't work with because, oh, that guy or that gal. She has a million followers, so I need her to promote me and then my brand is going to be successful.
I think having that philosophical alignment takes care of most of the other things and the specific in terms of like what type of deal you offer them or what type of a like you do a gift to them or what their follower count is all that is secondary. I think the primary thing brands should focus on is are they aligned with our core values.
Alex Bond: Because then once you have that taken care of, what I'm hearing you say a little bit, Yash, is once that brand philosophy is aligned, then you can kind of sort by budget. I mean that everyone wants an influencer with 10 million followers. Most brands can't afford that for, you know, 20, 30 days or something like that.
So you're better off hedging your bets and getting someone who you know is going to be able to sell the product efficiently or promote the product efficiently while also being able to afford that. Is that accurate?
Yash Chavan: Yeah. And to add to that point, I think you might actually be at more, you might actually have more downside if you work with someone with 10 million followers, than if you work with someone with say 50, 000 followers. I'll give you an example.
So I think Kim Kardashian, just the most extreme example, right? Let's take the most popular person, Kim Kardashian. I think she promoted beyond meat, which is a vegan meat company, I guess. And she was in an ad and she was like their official ambassador or something like that, which is a version of influencer marketing that they're doing.
And she was in the ad, she was shown taking a bite of a burger. Now, the problem is she didn't actually take a bite of the burger. It was very clear that she does not probably has not ever tried their product and they posted a YouTube video and the comments were all roasting the brand. Now, yes, you work with a creator. You probably got a lot of people to watch the video than we're going to watch if you did not have her in the video, but then did anyone buy because of that? Very likely not. Plus you got roasted for it.
On the contrary, if they had worked with scientists or just vegan influencers in general, who had maybe a hundred thousand followers instead of 10 million followers, they might have gotten less people to watch, but then pretty much most of the people who would have watched it at least would have resonated with the type of promotion that was being done.
And again, a large percentage of them might have bought if not immediately, then sometime in the future from the brand. So it just makes sense to work with again. So that's, again, the philosophical alignment. Maybe Kim Kardashian is not vegan. So why do you want to work with her as a vegan brand, right? Work with like maybe your doctor who's also a vegan and who promotes that kind of a lifestyle.
Discover the Influence Factor: Exploring the Impact of Perception and Controversy on Influencer Marketing Success
Alex Bond: I think that's a great observation because there is a certain human element to influencer marketing versus ads or email or SMS. It feels so content or subject the text, you know what I'm saying?
And so when you have an influencer, there's already a bit of maybe like a stigma attached to them. There are just as many people who don't like this influencer, then there are people who do or people who've never heard of them. And so I think that's kind of a large factor there is what's attached to that person. Yeah, I think that's very interesting.
So do you think that there is such thing as bad press when it comes to, I know that's kind of an old adage and that might be old hat and digital marketing is there's no such thing as bad press, but if the goal is to create a profit. And our brand is just getting a bunch of eyeballs without actually converting anything. Did it work? I guess is my question.
Yash Chavan: Like why do you want to get all the wrong eyeballs? It does not make sense. I guess back in the olden days when getting press was so difficult. Like you probably had to jump through a lot of barriers to get some press or get on the radio or get in the newspaper right now.
Everybody has, everyone's a reporter basically of news, right? So if you are seen doing something or if your brand is represented in the wrong way. I don't think all press is good press at all. So I think there is such a thing as bad press.
And then especially not even from a brand perspective, but even from a customer perspective, you yourself wouldn't want to buy from a brand that you're not aligned with and that's fine. That is human nature. So if they're like brands have to be conscious of that and who they work with.
Overcoming Obstacles: Navigating Stigma and Conversion Challenges in Influencer Marketing
Alex Bond: And so I'm curious, what are some of the other obstacles to using influencer marketing, we've talked about a few of them right now with stigma, not converting. What are some of the other ones, especially ones that Saral has been able to navigate a little bit?
Yash Chavan: Yeah, for sure. So I think one of the things that I would also share is just in general, I think a lot of new brands who don't, who haven't done this before tend to bias for the word influencer. And they think that they have to work with someone with even let's say 500k followers or even 100k followers.
But we've actually seen instances where a person with 10k followers has driven more sales than someone with 90k followers, for instance. So there's always that. And with that anecdote, I would like to say that. You need to focus on influence, not on influencers. So you need to align yourself with who has the most influence in my market.
Is it the person with 20, like, is it the person with 20,000 followers who always talks about how a particular type of workout is better than the other? Or is it that Yeah, good looking girl with 5 million followers who doesn't really know much about what we are doing, but it's high reach. So which one is it?
And then you can find a lot of people who are smaller and get the same reach, but increase the level of influence. So give you an example, again, given an option between working with one person at a 100k or working with 10 people at 10k each, I would go with the ladder because working with 10k first of all, I'm diversifying.
So my downside is limited. If the 100k person does not work out, I lose all my money. If two of the 10 influencers don't work out, I'm still likely to make profit. So that's just from a mathematical perspective, but even from a philosophical higher level perspective is just that you would get.
By definition, if you remember, if there's any marketers and founders in the audience, they know the adoption curve. It's always like the early stage. They're all the early adopters. They're all the people trying the new things. Like all the, let's say like the AI people from five years ago, maybe like marketers didn't care as much about AI five years ago, but then a lot of the AI people did, they were all the early adopters, right?
So usually at the stages of an influencer where they are like quote unquote, nano influencers, they have all the early adopters of their audience, which are who believe in them, who trust them the most a hundred K the early adopters are lesser at that point, they have reached a certain scale where they have just casual followers.
So working with smaller people just makes more sense. And that is something that we've also done at. So all is that our search engine. So we built a search engine and not a database. So pretty much all the platforms right now are databases, which means they have a set of data that is plugged into the platform and that's it.
And they probably also updated sometimes, but then what we built is a search engine. So you're able to search across social media on Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube. For whatever you want. And for example, you're able to combine keywords such as skincare and vegan, for example. And then it will show you influencers who speak about both those things. I will show you an intersection. The stuff like that we're able to do to facilitate this influence, not influencer thing for our brand. That's something that I would mention.
Ensuring Quality and Cost-Effectiveness: The Vetting Process and Pricing Transparency in Saral's Influencer Network
Alex Bond: No, that's extremely valuable. And so are these influencers already vetted? Or when I find a coalition of, we'll say 30 different people who hit that Venn diagram of skincare and vegan. And they're at the numbers that I want. They look and act the way I want. How do I know that they're vetted properly?
And is there like a price range that's in Saral? So I know that no one's wasting their time when I email them and say, Hey, I'd like to work with you. And they give me a number that's so beyond even, even a willingness to negotiate, you know? So I'm curious if they're vetted by you guys or your system, or if that's something that the user has to do?
Yash Chavan: Yep. So it is a search engine that has pretty much all the creators on social media, but we do not. So we just remove everyone with a very high number of bot followers. So anyone with more than, so like we do all those basic checks, although apart from that it's quite literally every nice person on social media whom you would want to work with a public account.
So all the public info is there. We actually came up with a metric called fair price. And we analyze all their metrics, such as their follower crown, their growth rate, their engagement rate, their, even the quality of their audience in terms of how authentic it is. We also look at how many influencers are following that influencer.
So a bunch of like other factors like this, and we have an algorithm that comes up with a fair price for that creator. And then it'll show you, Hey, if you want to work with this person, this is a fair price. And if they, you can send them an email through the platform.
And if they come back with something that's more than way more than that, then you can get back to them and you have, you can confidently know that you have room for negotiations, but if they maybe come back with something around that, or maybe even lesser than that, then you know that you're getting a fair deal.
Alex Bond: No, that's great. I really appreciate that answer. And I think what y'all do, it's raw in the app is very interesting in terms of explaining or attaining influencers via these like credits. Can you explain that to me and our audience a little bit is how these credits work?
Yash Chavan: I'll explain the feature and, but first I'm going to go a little bit higher level and explain why we built it. One of the mistakes that I see brands make is they underestimate the volume that is needed to succeed.
So for example, you cannot expect to go to the gym one day in a week and build a great body, right? You cannot look like an athlete by going to the gym one day a week, for example, right? In a similar hand, brands would like reach out to 10 influencers a week, and they would expect their program to work.
And that is like one of the main roadblocks that usually with smaller brands that I need to clear, like, Hey, you need to be reaching out to at least 30 to 50 influencers on a weekly basis. At least for your first month for you to build a community that is big enough to get to the sales volume, that'd be meaningful.
So we used to explain this and then again, humans are humans. They stick to their previous habits. So what we did was we gamified this with in app credits. So that's why we built that credit feature is when you get on the platform, you can search the search is unlimited, but you can save only 50 people in your first go.
So once you say you're for 50, you got to send them outreach through the platform. And once you do that, we keep adding bonuses so that you never pretty much never run out of the credits to reach out to, but it's like a gamified thing where it's a system of predictably building your influencer program. And so it's built so that to ensure brands are taking all the necessary actions to succeed. And then there are some brands that are already doing things and for whom we disable that feature.
Alex Bond: So do most people not have to buy more credits? It's kind of designed to push people in the direction of using these credits and then getting bonus credits. So you're kind of pushing them in the right direction of this is how often you should be contacting influencers.
Yash Chavan: Correct. Yes. And just to be maybe a little bit more, add a little bit more nuance to that. There are brands that want to reach out to 5,000 influencers a month. In that case, they want to pay any, their bigger brands, like nine figure companies and so on. And they're working at that volume. In that case, they have custom plans where they get more credits, but then for most purposes they don't pretty much never run out of credits, but if you do, there's an option to buy more.
Alex Bond: No, I think that makes a lot of sense. I appreciate the way that you explained it.
Yash Chavan: Another reason why we made that is because influencers by their very nature is a flexible channel. So usually like, for example, coming from Facebook ads, very likely you're going to increase spend if it keeps working.
So maybe you have a budget of 10k for the next, this quarter, the next quarter, it's going to be maybe 25k if it's working and then you're going to keep increasing or at least you're going to make it stable. Influencers by their nature are very, it's almost like a cyclical channel or it ebbs and flows because you're starting off, go all in with your outreach.
And once you have a certain level of community, you've got to stabilize a little bit. You've got to keep doing more posts with the same creators. So brands don't necessarily need the same amount of credits to save and reach out to influencers every single month, which is why we made that flexible.
What our competitors do is they charge brands for the influencers that are in their program, which doesn't make sense because it's penalizing the brand for their growth. So what we do is we don't charge anything extra unless you want to save a large number of creators, like I mentioned, and then you can buy more if your needs suddenly increase.
So like, for example, BFCM is coming up and you want to reach out to a thousand influencers this month instead of 100. In that case, you have the option to buy more. So it's just flexible. So it makes sense for the pricing to be flexible in that regard.
Creators vs. Influencers: Understanding the Distinctions and Roles in Digital Content Marketing
Alex Bond: I'm curious about the proliferation of influencers. I mean, even during your explanation, I'm thinking what What's the difference between a creator and influencer?
Essentially a creator, an influencer is just a creator who gets paid. You know, a creator is more of like a a hobby than an influencer can be a job. And, you know, just talking to my nephews or my little cousins or something like that and saying, what do you want to be when you grow up? They say some of them will say an influencer, you know, I want to be a YouTuber because that is a job now. It's not just like a hobby that people like myself had when it came out.
My question to you, Yash, is that with the proliferation of influencers, do you actually see that diminishing other advertising opportunities or jobs in the space that that has kind of taken the place of other things? I mean, for every kid out there who's saying, I want to be an influencer. is one less astronaut is kind of the way my brain works.
So I'm curious if there is kind of like a bit of a one for one in your experience where you've seen less email strategists or less Facebook advertisers or what have you?
Yash Chavan: I think I've heard that before. And I think we're just exaggerating what kids want to do. I guess as kids, maybe you and I wanted to be so many different things. And it's just like influencers are the hot new trend right now. So everyone wants to be influenced and who doesn't at a certain degree, everybody likes fame. So it's that element also that's attractive.
Obviously, everybody likes money. There's money if you're a popular creator. So yeah, I mostly use those words interchangeably. Mostly because I've been doing influencer marketing since it was mostly called influencers. And now I actually prefer the word creator over influencer because that again, that distinguishes work with people who are true to their craft.
Work with people who know why they're doing what they're doing. And they have a passion for the type of content that they're producing. So Alex, your questions would be very different if you were not passionate about the eCommerce space in general. You would maybe ask me some cookie cutter questions that you Googled up or that you chat GPT, but your questions come from a base of genuine knowing, which means you are a creator.
Versus if you were just another podcaster, for example, which is the influencer congruent of the audio world, you would just ask me some completed questions. I would have rehearsed answers and then we would end the show. . So I think that's the distinction that I make is that creators tend to just create things because of create content in this instance, because they want to create content. It's not necessarily always been driven by a place of, oh, I want to make that a career.
And pretty much all the best creators tend to be people who do things out of a passion for the doing of the thing. So like, for example, I pretty much, if I want to buy a car, I'm going to watch a car review by a car guy like who like just likes car and send he's been playing with cars since he was six years old.
And now he like reviews cars for a living versus looking at some magazine top gear type of review for example so that is where I draw the distinction I think creator is more from the heart and creator is more all encompassing I guess A painter is a creator, right? Or like podcasters are creators versus influencers tend to be more siloed into like the social media, Instagram, TikTok kind of a world.
Hidden Gems and Personal Recommendations: Yash's Top Picks for Influencer Collaboration in the Digital Marketing Landscape
Alex Bond: Are there certain ones that you have a certain affinity for? Before we wrap up, I'm curious if you Yash have any creators that I don't know, certain brands should look out for that. I don't want to play like favorites or anything like that, but I know with your history and background that you probably have some people that you've loved working with and would recommend to other brands.
Yash Chavan: I'm not going to name drop recommendations because again, it's going to be like, everyone's going to reach out to that person, even if it's not a fit, but then all the creators, I'll give you a team. So all the creators that I've loved working with over time, first have the philosophical alignment with the brand that we are representing.
So my recommendation for a creator to skincare brand be different to let's say a fitness brand, for example. And then all the creators that did really good for us in terms of performance or in terms of profit were everyone whom we had good relationships with. So there were creators who did well.
We had like email conversations back and forth. We paid them on time. They made the video. They loved the product, but then we didn't necessarily have like a Like a true relationship with them is more transactional, which is fine. And that's what 80 percent of your ambassador base is going to be like that.
But then the best performing creators, pretty much always, we had good relationships with, we were on a texting basis with them. We were one text away. We had potentially done a zoom call or like a WhatsApp call before.
So those are the creators that really end up performing well cause they know you, they feel like they're part of your brands, especially if you're a newer early stage or even like beginning to grow stage brand that are against like a big competitor or some sort of archaic way of doing things in your industry.
People tend to gravitate towards that naturally. And if that person tends to happens to be an influencer, they're going to authentically promote you. And we've gotten free shout outs. We've gotten good favors from people who we've built good relationships with.
So I think I would leave with like prioritized relationships over transactions as much as possible in the influencer world, which is why if you've seen Saral, we've also built like the CRM board where you see all your conversations in history with the person every time they've Posted, you can track it and so on. So it's like it gives you that again, it's built in a way to that biases you for success which is why we have that kind of relationship management component to it.
Alex Bond: No, that's great. I think building relationships is extremely important in this industry. And I think some people take that for granted in terms of I pay you to do a job, you do it for me, and then we move on, you know, and then we can all, if we do a good job.
We will work together again in the future. And I don't think it's that simple or black and white always. I think sometimes it's a lot more beneficial to create a relationship then you pay them to do the job, not the other way around.
Yash Chavan: That's why the whole seeding strategy with influencers has become so popular because in that case, you're biasing for the relationship force. So you would ideally send them a free product if they like it, then you can decide to do a collab with them, which also tends to work fine if you have a product with low cost, but yeah.
Alex Bond: And when you do that, do influencers only promote a product if they like it or just they think, oh, this is a decent idea. I don't even know if I love this product, but I could definitely sell it. Or do they usually have to have some sort of actual relationship with the product?
Yash Chavan: Yeah, I think it depends on the influencer would promote things because they think it's kind of cool. I mean, the opposite is also true. Like if you go to, I like to think in extremes because extremes have more clarity, if influencers dislike a product, they're more likely to promote it than if they like a product and by promote, I mean, bad press.
Because if it's like, if it's badly packaged or if it's the brand made a huge mistake that they think that is worth sharing on socials, they might do it and be, and I think it's called de influencing. It's this trend of influencers saying don't buy this. So that's something that to be wary of. So that happens.
And then definitely there's the middleware influencers things. Yeah, this is nice. This is sweet. Some people in my audience might like it. And even though I don't personally like it, in which case it's also fair to promote because they're all, they all also like maybe also doing it as a side hustle or it's a full time thing. And it's good if they get paid.
But then the best creators that you will work with, like I said, are always going to be the ones who are fully philosophically aligned, bought into the, why your product exists, and then they just keep promoting you doing those repeat promotions with as many of those ideal creators as possible is what will make your influencer program print.