Harsh Pamnani is a storyteller by passion and a brand expert by profession. He helps business leaders communicate inspiring stories that highlight brand strengths, improve employee commitment and customer engagement, and drive business growth. He has authored several best-selling books on brand building, including Booming Brands and Booming Digital Stars. He earned his MBA from XLRI and has worked with think tanks like the World Bank, corporates like Deloitte, and unicorn start-ups like FirstCry and Icertis. He has spoken at fora such as TEDx, Josh Talks, Google Business Group, IITs, and IIMs.
For ages, brands have won market share by telling us that their product is better than their rivals. To sound more authentic, instead of promoting their product themselves, brands often ask a famous, trustworthy, and likeable person to tell us why we should pay attention to their products. These are often celebrities—from Bollywood or sports in India—and influencers. This borrowed influence from famous people gives brands an aura, makes them attractive, and convinces customers to pay a premium price. As an example, in the pre-independence era, Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore endorsed around 100 brands, including Godrej soap and Cadbury Bournvita.
It was hard to get people's attention in the past. Today, it is much harder to reach audiences and grab their attention, as the number of brands has significantly increased and the audience's attention span has drastically decreased. Therefore, it has become challenging for brands to break through this clutter and communicate their message to their audience. That is why more and more brands are borrowing some star power to create awareness about and interest in their products.
The important thing to note is that earlier only large-sized brands were able to afford film, TV, and sports stars. But with the rise of social media, even mid and small-sized brands have access to some star power through new-age influencers, as the cost of collaboration with a social media influencer is generally less than the cost of association with a film or cricket star. As leading social media influencers are achieving large financial windfalls and the creator economy is booming, many youngsters are becoming digital content creators and accumulating followers with an aspiration to become influencers and get brand deals. As a result, the market is getting crowded with a few mega and many micro-influencers.
When the market gets crowded with influencers, brands will have numerous choices, which are sometimes confusing. A wrong choice can spoil brands’ experience and burn money without giving the expected results. Simultaneously, the right choice can provide brands with phenomenal results. If you are an entrepreneur or a marketer thinking about achieving growth via influencer marketing, then the below pointers can help you make better choices.
1) Don’t engage influencers before conceptualising your thoughts When so many startups in India are raising so much venture capital, many growth targets are taking birth in the same market. The most straightforward advice for a brand in such a scenario is to spend some money on influencer marketing with the hope that this approach will break the clutter and build brand awareness and consideration, leading to conversion. But remember, creating content that can communicate a compelling idea powerfully and spark desire is always tricky. So, it is essential to build a concept note that can educate an influencer about consumer insight, the core consumer tension your product will solve, its differentiation, relevant benefits, and credentials. Then choose influencers who can communicate this information in the best way.
2) Avoid getting impressed by vanity metrics Popularity and influence are not the same. Don’t get lost in the number of views and likes on the content creators’ posts and videos. To make intelligent decisions, look at their audience breakdown—who is watching their content, why the audience is watching their content, quality, and consistency of their content. Also, an influencer may build up fake audiences with bots or bought followers. So instead of getting contentment with views, likes, and comments, analyse business metrics such as whether an influencer's video could bring in some difference in leads, conversions, referral traffic, revenue, social sharing, brand usage, and so on.
3) Avoid an influencer endorsing too many brands If an influencer is saying good things about too many brands in the same category, then its audience might be skeptical about the message’s authenticity. Even if that influencer is giving your brand exclusivity in a category, by talking about brands in too many categories, they might be creating clutter in the audience's mind. Additionally, an influencer talking about many brands might get into a creative block to authentically integrate your brand.
4) Look for genuine experts instead of hype creators People will take influencers’ advice seriously if they are experts in something. Can a person be an expert in multiple areas? Highly unlikely, as it takes years to become an expert, even in one thing. But an influencer can be a hype creator in various areas. For instance, before the crypto market's recent downturn, some social media influencers created a lot of online hype by manufacturing thoughts on cryptocurrency as an unmissable money-making opportunity. These influencers would have made their quick endorsement money, but innocent people, who followed these influencers and trusted them, might have ended up losing their money. Perhaps, such influencers will not be considered genuine by their followers in the future. Even if you have the best product in the market, it might get ignored because a hype creator with a lower trust level is talking about it. So, along with reach, also evaluate an influencer's track record, relevance, and reputation.
5) Negotiate intelligent contracts A brand has to constantly acquire new customers and retain the existing ones, so marketers need media assets for a long duration. If today a high potential creator is available at a lower engagement cost, then instead of engaging them for one video or post, evaluate the option for a long-term contract for multiple campaigns spread across a few years. A brand can hedge its risk by paying the signed amount on a pro-rata basis over multiple years instead of spending it upfront. In the future, when the influencer's engagement cost rises, the brand could save much money due to the contract. This deal could also benefit an influencer because media coverage around high-value long-term contracts will increase the influencer's brand value.
6) Listen to an influencer with an open mind The audience base of influencers is a good asset for brands. Influencers with genuine followers understand trends, put in a lot of effort to create great content, and constantly engage with their audience. That's a lot of hard work. So rather than considering these influencers as another media outlet, listen to their thoughts while planning your campaign. You might hear some helpful insight that you don't know.
7) Don’t depend on one influencer to break the clutter The way one newspaper ad, one TV ad, and one billboard ad cannot break the chaos; one influencer engagement cannot make a brand stand out, especially when there is so much marketing noise on social media. Create a mix, even if you focus only on digital media assets. Involve different creators, from podcasters to reviewers to musicians to writers, based on your budget, business objectives, and the number of marketing messages you want to communicate.
8) Look beyond English-speaking urban creators With the advent of affordable internet connectivity and broader network coverage, the next billion population will come from Tier II, III and IV towns and villages. They have different language preferences, user behaviour, festivals, cultures, food preferences, and dresses. So, they have different content requirements. Hence, creators serving content in various regional languages will build a substantial audience base. To gain market share in small towns and villages, think of working with emerging creators with the necessary geographic niches.
There is a growing myth that influencer marketing is a magic wand for brand growth, and as so many influencers are visible online, influencer marketing seems easy. However, it is easier said than done. When not done correctly, influencer marketing can cause a lot of loss in terms of time and money for a brand. Choosing an influencer is the toughest part of an influencer marketing campaign. As influencer marketing is getting commoditised, the customer acquisition cost through this channel will rise. Therefore, please don’t burn your money in a hurry; spend it cautiously.
The writer is an author of 'Booming Brands' and co-author of ‘Booming Digital Stars’. Views expressed are personal and don't necessarily represent any company's opinions.
The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.
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