Influencer marketing done right: Brands need a scalpel, not a sledgehammer

Brands often rope in popular people aka influencers on social media to endorse their products to their legions of followers. It works best when the influencer is a subject matter expert.

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Hastily done influencer engagement can turn awkward for brands.
By Sreeraman Thiagarajan

An influencer by definition is someone who has ability to shape opinions. In classic consumer behavior model, they could be anyone including your spouse, friend, or boss whose advice you take actively or subconsciously when making a purchase decision.

Brands often rope in popular people aka influencers on social media to endorse their products to their legions of followers. It works best when the influencer is a subject matter expert.


Influencers are starkly different from celebrity endorsement, say Nike paying millions to a stellar athlete Serena Williams or Tata Mutual Fund creating comics with Suppandi to simplify investor education. Celebrity endorsement is to gain popularity rub-off from the said celebrity in the long run, while influencers are used to increase velocity in building positive perceptions about a brand.

Kim Kardashian as an influencer for beauty products, Rocky and Mayur influencing your choices of eat-outs fits naturally well, and the brand’s message is delivered to their followers natively and seamlessly.

But what happens when you get an influencer only because they are popular on social media to endorse your brand? The TikTok influencers are all the rage. They have millions of followers and their ‘viral’ videos have north of half million views each. Seems like a good idea if we consider the reach potential. But truth be told, the most popular videos on TikTok are cringe worthy, obscene, notorious, morbid, or a combination thereof.
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The inherent magic potion that makes those videos viral are sheer outcomes of the entertainment or shock value and not because the actors in them are subject experts. As a custodian of a brand, one must really think the trade-off that’s made in diluting credibility to gain eyeballs.

If eyeballs is all that matters to a brand, the dollars spent to pay an influencer can be used to purchase advertisement impressions, with right targeting and better communication strategy, the ads can be less intrusive, more relevant and yield better ROI without risking the credibility of the brand.

Influencer marketing is not bad. Done right, it has a great power to drive consideration in purchase cycle. A study on how people decide to buy a car revealed an insight that children influence their parents’ car buying behavior. Armed with this jewel of an insight, auto makers in US gave away colorful calendars with their car brands to suit children’s rooms; and sales went up that year.

Hastily done influencer engagement can turn awkward for brands. Something Samsung had to deal with when a well known Bollywood actor 'copy-pasted' the instructions sent by agency along with a praiseworthy message about the ultra-wide lens in upcoming Samsung phones to her 17 million Instagram followers.
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One of my all-time favourite campaign that used influencer right was Duroflex leveraging Milind Soman to create curiosity about a daily 7 hours marathon. Soman is known for his consistent participations in long distance running and when he tweeted about others wanting to join him on this daily challenge, it left people in splits, and conversations galore that if he was serious about a daily marathon. Only to reveal later that he was talking about getting daily dose of blissful sleep for at least 7 hours.

It had all the right mix in an influencer campaign - a person with right expertise that suits the brand and a sizable legion of followers. The influencer’s ability to shape opinions of his audience on behalf of the brand, create conversations that drive word-of-mouth, and most importantly, he’s not popular due to posting vulgar, notorious or morbid content.
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Whether a twenty rupees salt packet or a million dollar software purchase, there’s someone influencing buyers’ behaviour. Brands have to find the right scalpel to subtly create impact and not chose a sledgehammer.

(Sreeraman Thiagarajan runs aawaz.com, a podcast platform in Indian languages. He tweets @sreeraman)
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this column are that of the writer. The facts and opinions expressed here do not reflect the views of www.economictimes.com.)
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