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Why brands must delink influences from influencers

Shivaji Dasgupta, Managing Director, Inexgro Brand Advisory, writes that brands must build the ability to connect with consumers through stories and experiences. As opposed to hiring influencers, who can work with any brand paying well, with no regard for ethical restraint

Influences are patterns in human behaviour or thought, that are driven by events or actions, whether truthful or fictional. Influencers are professionals who make money from such milestones, losing credibility quite rapidly. Brands, unfortunately, are besotted with the latter without giving due credence to the former.

Let's make the difference starkly clear. In these lovingly woke times the movie Barbie is an influence, as is the case with the morally provocative Oppenheimer. Societies globally are sufficiently secure and affluent to spend energies on such narratives, whether global North or South. Even the Ukraine War is an influence, quite like Global Warming - while the former is mostly conversational the latter is taking no prisoners, whether floods in the Himalayas or a heat wave in the Swiss Alps.

Closer to mundanity, COVID has been a major influence, prompting many to change their lifestyles, worldviews and perspectives on brand loyalties. Folks have lost friends and family prematurely, leading to a rewriting of their preferred scripts and indeed route maps.

Gadar 2 is a potential influence on the definition of timeless heroism and a renewal of jingoism that is strangely an adhesive. Plant-based foods are becoming influential and leading to significant business opportunities, for those who wish to play the course. Out of nowhere, Japanese cuisine is becoming mainstream as is Lebanese and Champaran Mutton Curry emerging as the most sizzling citizen of Bihar.

But all of the above are influences, and experiences that have the power to grow exponentially in the minds of citizens. Taking advantage of this evolution is the paid influencer, a regrettable offspring of thoughtless thinking, seemingly bridging the gap between the influence and the customer. Brands are falling for this trap on a daily basis, perhaps as a conducive shortcut, while the ploy has been busted by customers themselves. Who is seeing through this petty form of advertising, and rejecting this strain quite rapidly.

It is necessary to note, at this stage, that people can be both influences and influencers, the difference being wilful creation or adoption versus monetary manipulation. Even more importantly, they can really operate at a deeply micro level, within a family or community for instance. The dashing dilettante who forsakes the family business to become a wildlife photographer can be as potent as Roger Federrer or the chess sensation Prag, albeit to far fewer people. Festivals act as influences, to try traditional cuisines and wear ethnic attire, and we can all see how this is penetrating even corporate offices, during Diwali or so. Brands take advantage by building promotions and offers, so that everybody is either happy or rich, as the case may be.

This is exactly where opportunities lie for brands - the ability to connect with spontaneous social influence, through stories and experiences.  As opposed to hiring low-integrity influencers, who will happily bed every candidate with moneybags, with no regard for ethical restraint. This negative pattern is already happening in the F&B business and adjunct arenas, especially lifestyle and fashion. It is also penetrating the shores of technology and automobiles, albeit with fewer candidates and a seemingly secure knowledge foundation.

So if global warming is a problem that is affecting our wellbeing that very brand in the 'undo' space must build compelling connections on this basis. Electric vehicles, energy-efficient cooling and heating devices, and eco-friendly housing solutions must draw insightful consumer bridges to amplify the solutions. Thus making folks like you and me active co-creators for a sustainable future. If pulmonary health and poor diets can be correlated to COVID-19 vulnerability, then the whole genre of low-preservative foods and beverages must solicit necessary patronage.

When patriotism is evoked spontaneously by Chandrayaan and Chopra then it is absolutely kosher for brands to make hay of such influences. Some may choose to build Athletics boot camps in schools while others may build an OTT or digitally interactive version of Popular Science techniques. If OMG 2 is breaking due barriers in busting prejudices, then courageous brands with a societal eye must create similar forums for meaningful conversations. This can be a vocational programme in colleges while the moon mission can inspire brand launches with a credible theme.

Quite incredibly, some of the best cases of influences driving brands reside in the well-entrenched past. Royal Salute 21-year-old scotch whisky was launched by Chivas Brothers to commemorate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, the years matching the gun salute. The iconic Hermes Birkin bag was born out of the chat between the Chairman and actress Jane Birkin, who sought a luxury bag with pockets. The Rajdoot GTS 175 bike quickly became known as the Rajdoot Bobby, inspired by the superhighway movie of the same name, starring Rishi Kapoor and Dimple Kapadia. KS, the condom brand was clearly borrowing from the sterling credentials of the text Kamasutra and thus built a connection of empathy.

Today, brands have the opportunity to take sincere advantage of so many such influences, popping up with incredible frequency. At a local, regional or global level. D2C or the Direct to Consumer evolution is one such influence at an accessibility level, a consumer momentum shaping business models, just as ONDC will certainly do. But so much can still be done with a sublime bridge to the influences of the day. Drawing heavily from culture, pop culture and the occurrences that keep us engrossed.

The wake-up call for brands is to have an influence strategy and inspirational experience connectivity between society and consumption. The red flag for brands is the paid professional influencer, damaging credibility and reputation for all. In this age of relentless speed, wisdom is of the utmost essence.


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