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LTK's Co-Founder Amber Venz BoxLTK
LTK (formerly rewardStyle and LIKEtoKNOW.it) is the largest global digital marketing platform powered by creators. It was founded in 2011 by Amber Venz Box to empower the world's premium lifestyle creators to be as economically successful as possible. For the past decade, LTK has become a trusted and effective business-enablement platform where creators launch, run and grow their universal Shop. Today, more than 6,000 brands partner with LTK to gain access to its nearly 200,000 creators in more than one hundred countries.
I sat down with Venz Box to talk about her passion for empowering creators to become financially successful and the recent decision to open up the platform to small businesses.
While I would not consider LTK part of my core tech coverage, I was drawn to it by how much it shares with large tech vendors serving the B2B space. In particular, LTK addresses three areas that overlap with what is top of mind with tech vendors right now: digital transformation, IP and trust.
My fascination with LTK and the company's journey comes from the astute and forward-thinking strategy that Venz Box has been implementing over the years. At the core of LTK, there is something all brands learned through the pandemic: digital can help you scale and reach customers you could never reach in real life, but in doing that, you might have to evolve your revenue model.
"I was a personal shopper. I would dress you for an event, and whatever you kept from the outfits I provided, I would get paid a commission. So I launched my blog to really market what I was doing offline. I didn't realize that my blog made things much easier for my customer and then cut myself out of my actual business. Coming from retail, I knew the commission on sales model. And I knew that it was already happening. So the natural step was to monetize the value that existed within the system. It's always started with the creator," explains Venz Box.
The platform differentiates itself from other influencers' platforms in one critical way: transaction revenue rather than ad revenue. This allows LTK to perfectly align the interests of the three audiences they serve, creators, brands and consumers. As a result, creators get paid when they provide value to the ecosystem, brands monetize from that value created by creators and consumers get the help they are looking for. While it all seems simple, Venz Box refers to LTK as "the most complicated simple business you have ever met." This is because the platform's value comes from connecting these three constituencies, or better, combining the data generated by these three constituencies to drive insights and drive more revenue. This is why LTK announced the appointment of Ty Amell as its Chief Technology Officer earlier in the month. Amell brings years of experience building and scaling consumer and enterprise-level solutions. Most recently, at Cisco AppDynamics, Amell led the engineering teams in developing and scaling performance solutions for enterprise applications. Prior to Cisco AppDynamics, Amell held various leadership roles at PayPal.
LTK is making its platform available to brands of all sizes through LTK Connect as part of this focus on scaling its business. Once again, Venz Box has first-hand experience with the challenges that small businesses have. "As a small business selling jewelry, I loved the margins of direct to consumer, but every decision I made when it came to marketing had to be very thoughtful. So after the investment Softbank made into our business at the end of 2021 and the years of profitability, we are in a position to take the best of what we created for large brands and make it available as self-service for smaller businesses." Over the past five years, influencer marketing has become an industry that some estimate generates $5-10 billion. Despite this, many small businesses remain uncertain about embracing influencer marketing, but having a turnkey solution like LTK Connect might at least get them to explore the opportunity.
While monetization is critical for creators, I believe the real value Venz Box has delivered to the creators on her platform is the ability to future-proof their business in light of social platform disruption. It goes without saying that creators can only be successful if they have an audience. The problem is that audiences have been moving from one platform to another on social media, making the addressable market very fragmented for creators. This impacts creators in two key ways. First, it means that if a creator moves from one platform to another, they need to start from scratch building an audience which can be a long process and result in a considerable loss of revenue. Second, it means that if their audience is spread across platforms that don't talk to each other, their ability to get valuable data is severely limited. "It's really important that our creators have their own place so that every time there is a new platform, they're scooping the shoppers up and build a set of marketing tools that can support their business long term. We always have to look around the corners for what will put them out of business so that we can create the next thing that will help them totally transform their business," says Venz Box.
Technology aside, the other big common denominator that LTK has with many technology brands I talk to is that their relationships with customers and partners alike are more and more dependent on trust. The fact that the whole business model is based on transactions and not ads builds on trust. Consumers have to trust creators to continue going back to them for advice. The best creators build a very personal rapport with the consumers they engage with and the community they belong to. For a brand, personal recommendations are much more valuable than an ad placement, but if you break that trust by saying something about a product that is not true, you will lose your customers for good. Venz Box talks about this aspect of the business as "humanizing influencer marketing" It is the idea that technology will help the platform drive efficiencies for brands and creators alike. Still, ultimately it is not an algorithmic recommendation that I trust but rather a human that potential buyers have followed because they share some interests, likes or dislikes. We see the same thing in technology, where consumers over the past years have shifted their pre-purchase research from technology magazines and blogs to influencers they trust. Fashion and lifestyle are no different.
Many creators also give back to their community, especially when it comes to small businesses but supporting local companies and businesses owned by underrepresented groups.
So what does Venz Box want to achieve with LTK? "Well, there are three places that I want to be. The first is to be the largest and most trusted creator monetization platform globally. Second, to be the largest digital marketing platform powered by creators because influencers will power everything about digital marketing. Lastly, I want us to be the largest e-commerce platform in the world, also powered by creators." A hefty roadmap to achieve, no doubt, but the foresight Venz Box and her team have demonstrated in the past ten years should give enough confidence to creators and brands alike.
Disclosure: The Heart of Tech is a research and consultancy firm that engages or has engaged in research, analysis, and advisory services with many technology companies, including those mentioned in this column. The author does not hold any equity positions with any company mentioned in this column.