What if I told you that you didn’t need to use influencers to grow your brand? At least not the way we often think of influencers. Imagine you could get people to endorse and post about your brand online without spending a dime and without giving away product?

Sam Malone has figured out how to do that. He is the founder and CEO of Guru Club. It started out as an exclusive, invite only influencer marketing network. A marketplace of sorts. But Sam and his team quickly figured out that traditional celebrity and celebrity wanna be influencers were both riddled with fraudulent followers, but also over-saturated with brand deals.

What Guru Club’s customers really wanted were actual customers posting about them to spark word of mouth about the brand.

So Sam and Guru Club pivoted. 

Now the app tells people who are already buying your product that if they post an Instagram story and tag your brand, they’ll get a rebate of sorts — an instant refund of a portion of their purchase price. 

Let that sink in. You already have their money. You offer a 10 or 20 percent refund or rebate if they tag you in an Instagram story. Their friends and followers see they’ve purchased your product in a snackable medium that is highly engaging and relevant. You get exposure and third party validation without having to pay for it. Guru Club make sure the person is real, their engagement is real, the story stays live for 24 hours and then a rebate is triggered and returned to the person’s credit card. 

You’ve made money, earned third party endorsement of your product to the customer’s friends, sparking word of mouth for your brand, the customer is happy they feel valued and given an extra financial break for simply sharing about their purchase. Oh … and you get the customer’s social connection to see if you might have a real influencer with a large audience on your hands. 

Guru Club is currently only available as a Shopify add-on, but is coming soon to non-Shopify customers with a new feature Sam actually announces during the interview for the first time. We sat down last week — literally … he came by my office — to chat about Guru Club and what being an influence marketer without the need for influencers in the traditional sense, looks like. 

By way of disclosure, after our conversation, I was asked to serve on an advisory board for Guru Club. I gladly accepted. So I have some modest formal involvement with the company. But I didn’t know that when we talked, so I think the conversation is still very relevant. And I think  you’ll agree, this is a clever approach to spreading the word about your brand in an efficient way.

This episode of Winfluence, the podcast, is sponsored by Julius.

If you’ve read my book, you know I’ve depended on Julius for influencer discovery and campaign management for some time now. When I’m looking for the right influencer for my clients, Julius allows me to search across Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, TikTok, Twitch, Twitter, Pinterest, Blogs and more. When I click into an influencer’s profile, I can see their audience demographics, what other networks they have reach through and quickly scan their recent posts to decide if they’re a right influencer for my brand. All the pieces of campaign management are there, too. Julius allows you to reach out, document contracts, share and approve influencer content and, of course, measure the ROI of each campaign, influencer or post. You owe it to your brand or agency to do a demo of Julius today. Go to jason.online/julius and request one. That’s jason.online/julius.

Winfluence Transcript – Sam Malone – Guru App

Jason Falls
Hello again, friends thanks for listening to Winfluence – The influence Marketing Podcast. What if I told you that you didn’t need to use influencers to grow your brand, at least not the way we often think of influencers? Now some of you are hip to my broad philosophy that everyone can be an influencer. So you may be on to my little ploy here. But consider this. What if I told you that you could get people to endorse and post about your brand online without spending a dime and without giving away product?

Jason Falls
Sam Malone has figured out how to do that Sam is the founder and CEO of Guru club. It started out as an exclusive invite only influencer marketing network, a marketplace of sorts. But Sam and his team quickly figured out that traditional celebrity and celebrity wannabe influencers were both riddled with fraudulent followers, but also oversaturated with brand deals. What guru clubs customers really wanted were actual customers posting about them to spark word of mouth about the brand. So Sam and guru club pivoted. Now the app tells people who are already buying your product that if they post an Instagram story and tag your brand, they’ll get a rebate of sorts and instant refund or a portion of their purchase price in return. Let that sink in. You already have their money, you offer a 10 or 20% refund or rebate if they tagged you in an Instagram story. Their friends and followers see they’ve purchased your product in a snackable medium that is highly engaging and relevant. You get exposure and third party validation without having to pay for it. Guru club makes sure the person is real, their engagement is real. The story stays live for 24 hours, and then a rebate is triggered in return to the person’s credit card. You’ve made money earned third party endorsement of your product to the customers friends sparking word of mouth for your brand. The customer is happy they feel valued and given an extra financial break for simply sharing about the purchase. Oh, and you get the customer social connection data to see if you might have a real influencer with a large audience on your hands. Win Win Win everybody wins.

Jason Falls
Guru club is currently only available as a Shopify add on, but it’s coming soon to non Shopify customers with a new feature. Sam actually announces during the interview for the first time we sat down last week literally he came by my office to chat about guru club and what being an influence marketer without the need for influencers in the traditional sense looks like.

Jason Falls
By way of disclosure, after our conversation, I was asked to serve on an advisory board for guru club I gladly accepted. So I have some modest formal involvement with the company but I didn’t know that when we talked so I think the conversation is still very relevant. And I think you’ll agree this is a clever approach to spreading the word about your brand in an efficient way.

Jason Falls
This episode of Winfluence, the podcast, is sponsored by Julius. If you’ve read my book, you know I’ve depended on Julius for influencer discovery and campaign management for some time now. When I’m looking for the right influencer for my clients, Julius allows me to search across Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, TikTok, Twitch, Twitter, Pinterest, Blogs and more. When I click into an influencer’s profile, I can see their audience demographics, what other networks they have reach through and quickly scan their recent posts to decide if they’re a right influencer for my brand. All the pieces of campaign management are there, too. Julius allows you to reach out, document contracts, share and approve influencer content and, of course, measure the ROI of each campaign, influencer or post. You owe it to your brand or agency to do a demo of Julius today. Go to jason.online/julius and request one. That’s jason.online/julius.

Jason Falls
So Sam, we talk about influencer marketing from a lot of different angles here and one that has surfaced a few times is using a big audience. influencer isn’t as effective as one might think, at least that’s what some people say. If I’m not mistaken, that notion actually changed what guru club was to what it is. Now take me through that. That evolution and how you guys pivoted?

Sam Malone
Yeah, we originally launched an influencer platform in 2016-2017. The space was extremely hot at the time, and we gained 1000 influencers with reach over 15 million people on our video platform is a really cool platform. But what we realized early was that businesses were looking for real consumers, real customers to post about them and not influencers. And there were several things that we found that were kind of off with the influencer industry. One was fraud. One was oversaturation, where influencers were doing more than one post for different businesses a day and watering down their influence. And next was a lack of diversity and authenticity. And if you look at everyday consumers, Jason, I’m sure you trust your best friend more than you trust, somebody who just hasn’t been following Yep. And there are some influencers that still do have some value to them, but the majority of us have them, I’ve oversaturated the market and watered it down. And so we shifted to the everyday consumer. And what we do is we offer refunds, and coupons for customers for sharing Instagram stories. So it’s super easy to use. And it’s very easy to get started and low maintenance from the business side.

Jason Falls
So you started with a bunch of, you know, celebrity type influencers and or people with a lot of followers and then the influencer fraud thing kind of came into play. You know, where did you I wonder if you have an perspective on where the fraud was most rampant because I know you’ve got celeb literal celebrity friends, right? You played basketball at the University of Kentucky. So you were on the national championship team with Anthony Davis and a veritable you know, entire roster of NBA players are your friends, I know you. You know Gronkowski Rob gronkowski, his brother is on your team. And so he’s obviously you know, somehow at least connected tangentially to you guys. So you’ve got legit celebrities, but then I know you also had influencers? Who were what, who maybe gained their following or their celebrity through digital content creation? Was there a difference between those two celebrities versus digital content creators in the amount of fraud that you saw? And how do you combat that? Or how do you fight that fraud and what you’re doing now?

Sam Malone
Yeah, so um … there with the celebrities, there’s less fraud, but there is the same amount of oversaturation.

Jason Falls
Yeah.

Sam Malone
And, you know, celebrities were the key person to get your get your voice out. But now, it’s like consumers are becoming aware. And they’re seeing these celebrities. And they’re like, well, he obviously got paid for that she obviously got paid for that. So it really the credibility of those people is really going down. That’s not to say that some campaigns and some people, some people, they do a terrific job. But to build a sustainable brand, you need to activate a community, a club of people who actually love your product, right. And what we do is we get the average consumer to post about businesses, and we let them tell the story. And so we automatically can verify someone’s Instagram account to make sure they’re a real person. And that we have them automatically comment all of our posts so that we can verify their accounts, when they post a story, we can automatically tell them, they tagged a brand that they left it up for 24 hours, and then we reward them with either a refund or a coupon.

Sam Malone
That’s, that’s outstanding. So you’ve given us a nice little overview of how the brand works for the customer. So tell me how it works for the brand. When a brand comes in, I mean, obviously this is going to be the coupons. And the discounts don’t apply to everyone they apply to the brands who are signed up for your platform. So if I’m a brand and I’m onboarding with guru club, what do I go through? And what do I need to set up to make this happen?

Sam Malone
It’s really simple. So if you have a Shopify brand, you can get set up right away. And you sign on you link your Shopify account, and you select the amount of refund percentage that you want to get back on each product. Then you can put our widget up on your product page, your cart page or your confirmation page. And today, I want to announce our new feature which is coupons, and that with the coupons, you can put out an Instagram post, put out a tweet, announced your audience via email and say, Hey, if you tag us an Instagram story, you can get a $15 coupon after the story expires, go to guru club to redeem your reward. And so they go right to our website, they create a quick account and people are you know, are instantly posting for them. And so for a business, you can see results within a matter of minutes. With a new feature. If you have a decent amount of audience already built in you can get hundreds if not 1000s of people posting about you within an hour.

Jason Falls
Wow. That’s crazy. Now a wonder though, you know, obviously these people are posting, if I’m a brand, I don’t just want the one post I want to know that customer do I get information about them their, you know, their accounts, their email address, that kind of stuff? How can I build a relationship with that person who I know is already tagging me?

Sam Malone
Absolutely. So we have this GC360 analytics platform, and we call it GC360 because you’re getting a 360 degree view of your customer. So you’re getting their faces, what they’re posting on their Instagram, what they’re saying about your business, you can download that user generated content, you can see how many potential people you reached, you can email them right from there. So what we’re building is a database of all these different personas, so you can really match your target audience and who you’re looking for.

Jason Falls
That’s great. All right. So let’s say I’m a brand manager, and I, you can convince me that this word of mouth play is really valid. But why is it so focused on Instagram stories, they go away after 24 hours? Why wouldn’t I want something more evergreen in return for that discount.

Sam Malone
So it’s a great point. With Instagram stories, the reason we chose that is because the average everyday person doesn’t want to do a full post about our brand, it’s kind of awkward in Instagram Stories happen in real time. And we’re still able to collect that content for the business. So we wanted to make it as quick and as easy to sign up as possible. And in stories is really taking over the Instagram platform as well. So you might be replaced the main feed. And so we look at that form of content is extremely valuable, we’re also going to be going on to tick tock Facebook, whatever platform comes along Next, we’ll be able to work with them as well.

Jason Falls
I think everybody’s doing stories these days, it’s gonna, that’s good. That’s a good path for you guys to expand now that that content goes away after 24 hours on that person’s platform, but you guys pull it into your platform, right? So the brand can see it forever.

Sam Malone
Yeah, it’s on the GC360 cloud, so you have this kind of focus group of what people have posted, what they’re saying what they’re wearing, what they’re putting next to your product, and you can download it and you can you have the rights to that content, so you can repurpose it in a commercial, you can repurpose it on website, that content is gold, because you’re getting so much insight, so much feedback. And to get your customer to post a video about you and tell all their friends is so valuable. And word of mouth is you can look at all the stats about word of mouth, they’re endless, it’s infinitely infinitely more effective than an influencer. Or not to say that those can’t work sometimes, but for a sustainable brand to grow, you need word of mouth.

Jason Falls
That’s true. Now, you know, you you started out, obviously trying to work with the bigger influencers, and then realized that, you know, brands wanted something different, they wanted the everyday customer. So you made that pivot. But you were just showing me the dashboard of some of your customers and what they can see from the people who are tagging them. And I noticed like somebody flew by on the on the chart that had 30, some odd 1000 followers. So it this is kind of, I think, a full circle thing for you guys. Because now as a brand, I can go in here and see actual influencers who have large audiences who are already opting in to post on my behalf. Now all of a sudden, I’ve got someone I can target and say, okay, you already liked me, let’s do something, right.

Sam Malone
Yeah. And that’s the next evolution of the platform. And what we’re building out is this relationship building where you can tip people who do great post for you, or have a big following. And it really allows you to tell who are the people with big followings that are buying my product, and I want to key in on them. And then I can jumpstart different campaigns that I do with through club through that person. So it’s really cool that, you know, you’re getting so much insight, so much data and so much feedback from these customers along with the content and the exposure.

Jason Falls
So this app is I mean, it’s literally, you know, sort of an execution of this philosophy that anyone can be an influencer? Because obviously, if you plug in and you have, you know, I think I think you said, there’s a couple of minimums that you have to have a few posts, and you have to have a few followers engagements and that kind of stuff. So there’s some safeguards in there. But it really allows a brand to empower their customers to post on their behalf and reward them for that. My guess is, is that you see the customer as influencer as a growing segment of the overall industry.

Sam Malone
Yeah. And we shy away from the word influencer, we don’t use the word influencer, because we feel like there’s a negative connotation with it a lot of times in my world, and and we definitely see customer collaboration, as we call it, growing as a space. And, you know, if you look 5-10 years from now, there’s going to be businesses collaborating with customers, and we really are one of the pioneers, if not the pioneer in this space. And so it, we’re really excited aboutabout where we’re headed.

Jason Falls
So you integrate with Shopify, that’s where people can get up and running right away. And I mean, I think to be honest with you, you know, the fact that Shopify, I look today, and they’re promoting, you know, your app as something that that their customers should use. So you’re obviously flipping some switches there for them, which is a good thing because they obviously reach a lot of businesses. I know this coupon thing that you’ve just announced is something new and something that you don’t have to be a Shopify user to us tell us how any business can get plugged into guru club.

Sam Malone
Definitely. Shopify was is a great platform to prove our concept and show it’s working and the Shopify team and hiring people at Shopify have noticed it. And they’re now putting us into roundtable groups and in promoting us to different businesses. But with the new coupon feature, when it’s released for non Shopify businesses, any business, whether it’s a salon on Main Street, or an airline, or a hotel, or golf course, anything you can think of, if you look around the room right now, any product in your room, they can, they can essentially get going within minutes. And what they do is they upload a discount sheet of discounts. And then we automatically distribute that discount. So it’s a very light integration. So to get started, it only takes minutes. And you can get up and going and put out an Instagram post or a tweet that says mention us your story or repost our content and your story for to earn this coupon.

Jason Falls
All right. So I mean, like a lot of influencer marketing programs and apps and features and whatnot, this guru club seems to be highly relevant for fashion and beauty brands, consumer product goods, there’s actually a local influencer here in Lexington, I don’t know if you’re aware of a Rynetta Davis whose stream seems to be kind of a never ending flow of like the outfits that she’s picking up at various retailers that she’s partnered with, I can see the stores and the brands that she’s working with picking up a handful of customers every day from her posts, if she’s tagging those brands in them, and they’re incenting her to do that. But I wonder if how relevant is this app for brands beyond the look at this, I want to buy it type products because for retail, and for you know, beauty and fashion makes perfect sense to me. But I wonder if there’s benefit for it for larger purchases, you know, technology brands, automotive, etc. Have you have you thought through or seeing that get any traction as you’re growing?

Sam Malone
From the conversation we’ve had with non Shopify businesses? Generally, it’s like where else are we going to advertise if we’re not using our customers, or we’re gonna pay for Facebook or Google ads, which they own the market, or we’re going to pay an influencer or celebrity. And so no matter what the business is, as long as as a b2c business, you could do it for sporting events, you could do it for arenas, you could do it for anything, you can think of any service, you could think of carwash, you can, you can run this platform, and you can get set up really, really quickly.

Jason Falls
So I want to maybe turn a little bit of a pivot in the conversation here now and talk to you a little bit about building influence. And the fact that I mean, obviously I mentioned earlier, you played college basketball, you have some nice connections. And you know, I would imagine that you’ve built a nice, you know, sort of business path for yourself. Because you have those connections, you’ve got, you know, the ability to talk to people who can invest in your businesses and things like that. But I’m curious if were in your path as a student athlete and having connections to you know, these NBA players and other people, where did it did the switch flip for you to say, Hey, wait a minute, I can use my relationships with these folks to build influence with them, and then have a better pathway to being an entrepreneur and building a business for myself was that baked in all along, you kind of knew you were going to do that or did something flip that switch for you.

Sam Malone
It really wasn’t baked in all along. But when you spent four years with people constantly reaching their dreams and making it to the NBA and played with over over 20 guys have made it to the NBA, you kind of feel like anything is possible, especially with with winning a national championship. And so building those relationships with my teammates was was definitely important to me. And when I got out, I wanted to do something ambitious. And I actually got one of my former teammates to be one of the first investors in this company. And, and so bringing value in that way is you know, and having that type of business relationships with one of my teammates is absolutely awesome. And it’s been great. It’s been a great path. But again, we’ve, we’ve pivoted, and we’ve changed the course many times and now we’re we’re at we feel like we have, as you say in Chapter 14 of your book, struck the holy grail of marketing, which is word of mouth!

Jason Falls
He’s quoting from my book, guys, he’s my favorite guest ever. I love it. Oh, that’s, that’s fantastic. Well, I mean, and obviously it goes beyond just your teammates, you know, you’ve got I think, you know, Rob Gronkowski, his brother, I forget his name.

Sam Malone
Gordy

Jason Falls
Gordy is on your team, right? So you’ve got connections beyond just UK basketball or NBA teams.

Sam Malone
Yeah, and Gordy and Rob have been great, Rob’s made a ton of introductions to to a lot of different businesses and brands that he’s worked with in and gory is open some some huge doors as well. So it’s been amazing to have this this really cool team with me in being around those guys. You To see a different angle of entertainment, you get to see a different angle of how the brain relationships work. And so it really gives you an insider’s view of what’s going on. And, and so it really opened up my perspective to what’s possible in the brand customer collaboration space.

Jason Falls
I can’t let you get out of here without asking this question. You’re a little young for this to have been a burden on you growing up. But how can somebody from Boston named Sam Malone, not get a hell of a lot of razzing over the years? How many people call you Mayday in a given week?

Sam Malone
I hear it at least once a week. My parents were fans of the show. Yeah. And so that’s how the name came about. But it’s a memorable name. And I’m getting ready to have a son and the next couple months and I’m not sure if I want to give him to put that

Jason Falls
he’s another generation away from cheers being relevant. So I don’t think he’ll probably have to deal with it quite the way you have. But if you ever ever had the opportunity to meet Ted Danson yet?

Sam Malone
I have there’s actually a picture of me in the Cheers book. with Ted Danson holding me. That’s great. So I have forever and it’s been it’s been cool to see people like it’s like, how does that person know about Cheers?

Jason Falls
Yeah.

Sam Malone
All walks of life know about Sam.

Jason Falls
That’s funny. Well, Sam, thanks so much for spending some time with us. Good luck with Guru Club. I mean, it obviously looks like you’ve got nowhere to go but up. It’s a fantastic idea and empowering customers as influencers for brands is obviously a smart play. I appreciate you sharing it with us.

Sam Malone
Yeah, check us out at www.guru.club and go and buy Jason’s book as well. It’s a phenomenal book. I read it from front to back and it’s great.

Jason Falls
Well … my favorite guest ever. Thanks, Sam.

Transcribed by otter.ai

The Winfluence theme music is “One More Look” featuring Jacquire King and Stephan Sharp by The K Club found on Facebook Sound Collection.


Winfluence - Reframing Influencer Marketing to Ignite Your Brand

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