Caraway's ambassador program has been a driving force behind its impressive growth, accounting for 13% of the brand's revenue. And the best part—Bren Daniel the associate director of partnerships at Caraway Home has shared a ton of advice on how they did it!

Read on to discover how they structure their program, track success, and continue to thrive in the world of influencer marketing.

The Pandemic Pivot: Caraway's Start With The Cooking Craze

“Remember when everyone was baking bread in lockdown?” 🍞

Bren Daniel's journey with Caraway began in March 2020—during crazy pandemic times. Despite the challenges, Bren was excited to join the team and embark on a new adventure with Caraway. 

“We got a pretty interesting start with the pandemic exploding. Suddenly influencers are just like the rest of us and are stuck in their homes, and they have to create content within their four walls.” 

Cooking became a popular activity and Caraway's cookware, launched six months prior in November 2019, was a hit among influencers and popular on social media.

One of Caraway’s best selling colors, Marigold. Source: Caraway

The cookware's bright colors and stylish design made it a perfect fit for kitchens and an excellent subject for content creation. Bren saw this as an opportunity to build an ambassador program that would leverage the popularity of Caraway's cookware among influencers. This program would not only promote Caraway's products but also encourage content creation around food and other related topics. 

Unknown at the time—just how much this program would propel the brand to new heights.

Building a Solid Foundation: Caraway’s Early Ambassador Efforts

In the early stages of its ambassador program, Caraway set out to establish a strong foundation for long-term influencer relationships and expand its roster of influencers. The brand began by collaborating with around 35 ambassadors in an affiliate capacity.

"We offered them a promo link with a discount for them to do their first posting. And then once they're done with their first posting, they're in the bag for reactivations over and over. This is something we continue to do.”

Bren's job was to grow this base and bring in more ambassadors to work with the brand.

“Because of the pandemic situation, we got very lucky to have many influencers interested in working with us.”

To accommodate the influx of interest, the team developed an onboarding process optimized to minimize the time required to bring on new ambassadors

Bren and the team worked hard to build a solid infrastructure for onboarding, with an eye towards scaling the program in the long term.

The program's success allowed Caraway to raise $40 million and hire new talent. Bren was one of the early hires (employee #7), and the team has since grown to nearly 50 people. 🚀

The social partnerships team now consists of four people, including three associate managers who joined in December and March 2022. Before that, the team had another talented coworker who excelled at scaling. Bren explained the team's success has been built on the ability to handle large-scale campaigns simultaneously, enabling them to grow and expand the ambassador program internally.

And to put costs (and growth) into perspective, Caraway paid ~$350,000 in affiliate commissions during 2022.

Building Long-lasting Relationships: Caraway’s Success Formula

Bren emphasized they weren’t interested in one-off influencer collaborations. 

"We have grown, side by side with many of these influencers. I have people that we invested in when they were at 5K and now they are 150k and really exploded. Those people remember that you bet on them and invested in them when they were smaller.”

Caraway's approach to working with influencers not only prioritizes building long-term relationships but also brings a sense of humanity to a field that can often feel solely focused on numbers and data. 

"I always see the influencers as little businesses that we work with much more than simply people who share their lives." 

This mindset allows Caraway to invest in influencers when they are smaller, and grow alongside them as they become more successful. By treating influencers as valuable partners, Caraway is able to maintain the success of its affiliate program while also fostering meaningful relationships. 🙏

Caraway's contract with its affiliates has evolved over time. Initially, the company had a signed agreement with ambassadors that included a clause for content release, which gave Caraway whitelisting rights and full content usage rights with paid. However, some ambassadors refused to sign this clause, so Caraway had to change it and make a note internally for content that the company did not have permission to reuse.

Now, Caraway has shifted to a terms and conditions set-up, which is included in the proposal offered by the Grin platform. This has helped to avoid situations where an ambassador questions the use of their content on paid. 

If an ambassador questions the use of their content, Bren sits down with them and discusses how they can work together. This is part of maintaining the relationship.

Once an ambassador is established as a long-term partner, there is more opportunity to discuss fees and collaborate on projects that might not be possible with a one-time influencer.”

Measuring Impact: How Caraway Tracks the Success of its Ambassador Program

Caraway has been able to onboard 3,500 ambassadors in just three years, and the company measures influencer marketing success primarily in two ways: 

  1. Attributed revenue tracked via an affiliate manager to help them track performance metrics and pay influencers for their work.
  2. Post-purchase survey (PPS) to determine where customers have heard about Caraway. According to the PPS, about 13% of the company's revenue can be attributed to its ambassador program. This is a significant achievement, especially considering that paid media only accounts for around 20% of the company's revenue. 

While Caraway's ambassador program has been successful in onboarding thousands of ambassadors, the company does not require a minimum cadence or obligation from their ambassadors, with only legal provisions being a part of their contract. However, only about 5% of the ambassadors never post about the company after receiving their gift. 

So with that said, that means that an ambassador can receive their set and then never post about Caraway. Despite this, the team has found that only 5% of ambassadors fail to post after receiving their gift, a testament to the quality of Caraway's product and the unboxing experience. 

“It's a balancing game. Onboarding ambassadors continues to be our number one priority. They continue to bring a lot of revenue, and it's a low-risk situation because (let's be honest) we’re providing a pretty hefty gift of a cooker set that costs $400.”

Besides, Caraway's great product and well-designed unboxing experience would make it difficult for ambassadors to resist sharing their experience.

One of many positive Caraway reviews from a Youtuber with 371k subscribers. Source: YouTube

Caraway’s Tactics for Managing Leaked Links

While leaks have been a challenge, Caraway has found ways to manage and minimize their impact on the success of its affiliate program.

Caraway's solution is to encourage ambassadors to not share the promo code openly on their content but rather embed the code in the link, which automatically applies the discount to the cart.

However, this becomes more complicated when dealing with paid campaigns where sharing the code openly can lead to better conversions. 

"Our goal is to make a positive ROAS out of our paid campaigns, and we try to give creators as many tools as they need to bring in revenue." 

Bren said they’ve found that when they share their promo code openly with brand ambassadors, they see better conversion rates. However, when there are no promo codes available to attribute to a sale, they are not able to track the true source of the revenue. 

“For those who we do allow to share the code openly, we have two tools to deal with that. One is Google Analytics as a source of where those conversions are coming from. We also have a wonderful CX team that I am amazed by, and they are the fastest to find a leaked code. They're like hounds.”

Caraway’s Channel Split Effort: Youtube & Instagram

Caraway is mindful of their time allocation when it comes to working with influencers. They focus mostly on inbounds on Instagram, while collaborations on YouTube are mainly outbounds.

The channel split of Caraway's 3,500 ambassadors is 80% on Instagram and 20% on YouTube, with no presence on TikTok, except for a few ambassadors who work with the brand team for building brand awareness. 

The absence of linking on TikTok limits the kind of integrations that Caraway can do, and the lack of tools makes it difficult to make the feed shoppable. Hence, the brand team is taking care of Caraway's presence on TikTok for now, and the affiliate team will explore it when it's mature enough.

Caraway has been growing its YouTube presence for about a year. YouTube's evergreen content is a big pro, and the brand has been able to reactivate its ambassadors repeatedly by offering them good excuses and opportunities to continue to post through gifting new products. 

How Caraway encourages ambassadors to keep posting: 

  • Continued gifting: As a brand that has only been around for three years, they have a big pipeline of products coming out, including different versions of their cookware sets, bakeware sets, food storage, and tea kettles. And they use this to their advantage.
  • Increased commission for a launch: Caraway offers an increased commission to its full roster during a launch period. If ambassadors generally receive 10% commission, this increased commission is also applied during the launch, motivating them to post and promoting the success of the launch.

A big priority has been getting the influencer content into paid ad efforts. The company has seen great results compared to traditional paid media for DTC, and the average order value (AOV) for conversions is solid. Take the holiday season as an example— it was a really good time for Caraway to test the effectiveness of influencer marketing. 

“During the holiday season, we scaled our revenue by 45% from 2021 to 2022, with about 200 paid or gifted campaigns managed on a one-on-one basis with creators. Our ROAS was around 4.5."

Caraway's Tech Stack for Managing Affiliates & Identifying Influencers

Before Grin, Caraway used Tune, which was a basic affiliate manager that allowed them to create good codes and track reporting. However, it was confusing for their ambassadors who weren't sure if their link still worked. Grin has been a great solution to this problem, providing a more robust affiliate program.

However, Bren explained that most influencer marketing platforms focus on the paid end and not so much on the affiliate aspect, and Caraway has faced some challenges with Grin, particularly with reporting. 

“This is due to our regular influencer marketing team being in the brand team, and we are having trouble integrating Grin into our dashboard and pulling the data. Although they recently opened their API and they were going to integrate with Daasity, which is what we use for our dashboard. But I was informed that they put that project into the backlog.”

This has made it difficult to get a holistic look at the brand's overall performance and ROAS.

“We started our paid influencer test in Q3, and it was very useful for the discovery of influencers and their metrics. However, unfortunately, Grin has deprecated all the data from Instagram, and Twitter is out now. We don't use Twitter, but YouTube is probably next.”

As a result, Bren and the team are looking for a new platform that is specific for creator discovery rather than tracking. They want to be able to track the whole revenue of the promo codes, and ideally, everything should be on one platform. Bren said this is proving to be difficult, and a work in progress.

Trust Your Gut and Trust the Data: Bren's Top Advice

🫡 Trust your gut:

Start with your hunch on who the ideal ambassador would be for your brand. Listen to your intuition and initial instincts about who would be a good fit.

“I remember sitting down with Jordan Nathan, the CEO of the company, on my first week and him telling me that his ideal, partner would be Marie Kondo, the “Sparks Joy” lady, because she was all about the organization and Caraway promotes storage units to keep your kitchen organized and stylish. So for him, this was very important. Yet when we tested out organizational Instagram accounts, they didn't work.”

🔬Test it out:

Once you have identified potential ambassadors, test their performance on social media. See how their audience responds to your brand and whether the partnership is beneficial for both parties.

“I was basically onboarding everybody that I thought was a brand match and that was all.”

📊 Let the data tell you:

After testing, analyze the data that comes up. Use metrics such as post-performance and engagement to understand which ambassadors are most effective for your brand.

📈 Maintain a good report:

Keep track of which category the ambassador falls into and their size to get an idea of what works best for your brand. Use this data to set minimum requirements for identifying your ideal partner.

🤓 Set priorities:

Deprioritize ambassadors that are not performing well and prioritize those that are bringing in the most revenue. For example, if interior designers are the most successful for your brand, make it a priority to onboard them. This will help you build a well-performing program.

Three Key Takeaways to Keep in Mind For Your Own Ambassador Program

☝️ Prioritize creating a high-quality product that addresses real problems and needs.

✌️Adopt a long-term mindset when working with influencers, and focus on building authentic relationships that will pay off in the future. Don't just chase short-term gains based on immediate ROI.

☝️✌️ Avoid falling into the trap of blindly paying for big-name celebrity sponsorships without first assessing their effectiveness and fit with your brand.

If you want to listen to the full interview with Bren Daniel from Caraway, check out the podcast here.