Brandbass Creates a Gig Economy to Boost SMB Sales

28 Oct, 2021 - by Joe Zappa

Check out any of the publications touting the future of retail, and you will find a slew of buzzwords such as social commerce, live selling, influencers, and user-generated content. All these trends are powerful sources of online sales and will drive the future of commerce. But for the small businesses that generate more than half of US sales, taking advantage of these emerging ways of connecting with consumers is overly expensive and technically complicated, if not outright inaccessible.

Enter Brandbass. The company endeavors to make social commerce accessible to small businesses and gig work in sales available to creators who want to make a living selling on brands’ behalf. Brandbass offers a marketplace that algorithmically connects businesses that need digital sales associates, or everyday customers to market their products online, with aspiring brand ambassadors.

"Millennial women have this burning desire to click on photos and videos and instantly purchase products,” said Mya Papolu, Brandbass CEO and co-founder. “That’s social commerce; it’s not just e-commerce anymore.”

Papolu founded Brandbass to help small businesses not just ride the wave of social commerce but drive its future by tapping into a new gig economy for brand ambassadors. Up to this point, the go-to entry point to social commerce has been influencer marketing: relying on often detached celebrities with thousands or millions of followers to hawk products.

In influencer marketing, Papolu saw the promise of harnessing social commerce for retail — connecting directly with shoppers who have the “burning desire” to purchase the products right in front of them on Instagram or TikTok — but also the “many downfalls” of relying on celebrities to access social media audiences.

“I’ve seen brand managers gift products to influencers who will just not do anything,” Papolu said. “When small businesses get the bad end of it, it infuriates me. I would love the tables to turn — for small businesses to be empowered. Let’s have something that’s equal.”

That “something equal” is Brandbass’ ambition: a new gig economy for digital sales, where businesses get affordable, quality-guaranteed videos touting their products and ambassadors make a fair wage, and potentially commissions, selling for brands online without first needing to accrue viral celebrity.

The Brand Ambassador Marketplace

At their best, ride hailing apps such as Lyft and Uber ushered in a new era of convenience for services: You need a taxi, you order it with one click, you know exactly what the price will be, and you hop in. The app not only drives convenience but also ensures a quality experience and vets the service providers with whom it connects users. Why isn’t there a similar gig economy for businesses that need to sell online?

Brandbass aims to provide that marketplace. The company, which, like Uber, offers separate apps for brands and ambassadors, offers a workflow Papolu calls match, create, approve, publish.

This is how Brandbass works: Brands enter specifications for the kind of ambassador they would like to create content for their products. Brandbass’ algorithm surfaces a selection of vetted creators who would be appropriate for the business. The business selects a would-be ambassador, and if the ambassador accepts the gig, they match. The brand can then choose an optimal content format, the ambassador uses Brandbass’ tools to create the content, and the business approves the video or asks for revisions. Once the video has been approved, Brandbass publishes it to the brand’s website, social channels, and a proprietary platform.

“Smaller businesses need online sales associates,” Papolu said. “Influencers are running after the Nikes of the world. But it’s hard for smaller businesses to trust visuals, know it’s a good match, and feel a connection to the person. Small businesses are looking for something in return. If it’s not a sale, then a great piece of content — that’s what is valuable to them.”

In other words, a gig economy for sales: harnessing the match-making power of technology to solve a problem for both businesses and creators while avoiding the pitfalls — namely, cost and a lack of quality assurance — that make influencer marketing the wrong channel for small businesses looking to capitalize on the next generation of digital commerce.

The Origins of Brandbass

Papolu, who before founding Brandbass managed product at the business planning and data analysis company Anaplan, worked as an in-house analyst at Chanel, and consulted with Deloitte, traces Brandbass’ origins back to a moment about five years ago when she was sitting in a meeting with a footwear brand.

“They were saying that on their product pages, user-generated content, content people snapped pictures of and uploaded onto their website, was what helped the most,” Papolu said. “That’s what got me thinking.”

What Papolu realized was the extent to which the shoe brand’s assessment of its marketing corresponded to her own experience as a consumer. It wasn’t expert-crafted product detail pages, professional photography, or text reviews that most inspired her to buy online. It was video of the product created by real-life customers.

“When I’m shopping online, obviously there’s always a professionally staged photograph and reviews, but it’s not until I see an actual video that I say, ‘Oh my gosh, I understand,’” Papolu said. “You feel like you get the full picture. There’s something so dynamic about a video on a product detail page. And if on that page, there’s not just a product but an actual sales associate right there, it makes the product so much more appealing.”

That “actual sales associate,” for the businesses using Brandbass, will be a sales ambassador: someone hungry for high-paying gig work, someone who wants to earn commissions, and someone vetted, both by Brandbass itself and other clients, as highly qualified to create engrossing videos to drive sales. Brandbass has experienced so much demand from potential ambassadors that it currently has a waitlist of people eager to join the platform.

“There are a lot of people who want to do this,” Papolu said. “There's always this popularity contest, and people don't know how to break in.”

Now, ambassadors have a place to break in: a new gig economy powering the future of online sales for small businesses.