How often do you see the words #ad, #paid, #sponsored, and #client while scrolling through your Instagram feed? In a world where influencer marketing is an increasingly-popular pillar of many brands’ marketing strategy, social media influencers are touting products that promise to make you happier, better-looking, healthier — you name it.
Eric Sheinkop, co-founder and CEO of Atlanta media startup DesireList, wasn’t feeling it. As the former founder of the largest global community of independent musicians for commercial services, he knew what brand authenticity really looked like. His platform, Music Dealers, had worked with over 600 brand clients before Coca-Cola acquired a minority stake in the business.
“How do you show ROI to deal with decreasing mistrust in the integrity of recommendations from social influencers?” asks Sheinkop. He found that many influencers were promoting products they had never used themselves, and yet, a recent survey found that 60 percent of consumers still look at online reviews each week.
“We wanted to create a platform that was less about reach and more about expertise.”
Sheinkop teamed up with Judith Levey, formerly a global brand and PR director at Coca-Cola, to develop a web platform that aggregates product reviews and recommendations from experts such as professional athletes, high-level trainers, celebrity beauty experts and more. On the day Sheinkop and Levey spoke with Hypepotamus, they were preparing to tape seven members of singer Pink’s team, including her trainer, makeup artists, and nutritionist.
And as of this week, the Atlanta-based startup has secured a $3 million seed funding round, with participation from some pretty notable investors in the brand and media space.
Contributors to the round include Don Thompson, former CEO of McDonald’s, Sonny Vu, former president and CTO Connected Devices at Fossil Group, and John Brenkus, creator and host of the television show “Sport Science.”
“As e-commerce continues to dominate sales, brands desperately need a solution that enhances the user experience, while providing credible direct-to-purchase product content,” says Vu in a statement. “DesireList’s high-quality videos, reputable professionals, inspirational stories and authentic reviews are exactly what consumers want, and brands need.”
In less than a year from when the platform launched, DesireList has collected video reviews from over 100 experts in fitness, health and wellness, beauty, and travel. Rather than look at an expert’s social media audience, Sheinkop says they look at their credentials — does a trainer have fitness certifications? Does a nutrition expert have a degree in her field and measurable client results?
“I care about how much time of their life they’ve dedicated to a specific profession, to be the best they could possibly be,” says Sheinkop.
DesireList users watch the expert videos to find specific product recommendations for what they’re looking for. If they purchase through the site, DesireList gets a commission from the over 400 retailers they’ve partnered with, including Amazon and Walmart.
DesireList shares that commission with the expert.
“When a pro comes into a shoot, they’re literally bringing their travel bag or their beauty bag and they’re opening it up and showing us what they have,” says Sheinkop.
With this recent funding, the DesireList team will focus on building out their content, re-designing and refining their website, and bringing the platform to market for users.