To exist in the digital space is one thing, but to sustain conversation with your consumers digitally is a whole other ball game. If your user base is scattered across the globe and using a unique and culturally-reflective range of your products, it becomes even harder. For Godrej, this multitude of consumer needs is the natural result of its huge multinational array of brands and products. So how is it reaching this huge base of consumers, and connecting in a way that is most relevant to them? We spoke to Thomas Dawes, Creative & Digital Director at Godrej, to find out how the company is leveraging the power of digital influencers to spread its brand message.
Godrej is the parent brand behind UK household names like Cuticura, Soft & Gentle and Bio-oil; as well as a diverse portfolio of brands in India, Africa, Europe and Latin America. Despite its huge market presence, Dawes admits that the digital transformation of the brand hasn’t been easy. “Like some other big FMCG brands which have been a bit slow to react to the digital revolution, we are rapidly trying to change that.” Cultural differences are one undeniable factor challenging Godrej’s digital strategy, a fact more or less summed up by the huge variances in internet penetration across Godrej’s international markets. Dawes, however, is driving the response to this through the introduction of consumer-inspired communication across global markets, and one method bringing the brand to the digital front line is the use of brand influencers. “We see massive value in influencer marketing across our brands, but our efforts have focussed quite heavily on the beauty products, whether that’s shampoo in India and South America, or hair extensions in Africa. The visual feast that can be offered by influencers on Instagram is very well suited to the beauty industry.”
Godrej’s brands, however, have a greater reach than the beauty industry, with sun care, medicated skin care and household brands all falling under Godrej’s remit. While these more specialised brands might not necessarily lend themselves to the same light-hearted content of the beauty influencers, Dawes believes that there is a place for them in the space, and a tone of voice that can offer the same credible word-of-mouth reassurance to consumers. “We think influencer marketing is crucial to us going forward. It has been easier to nail our strategy on beauty, and now we’re focussing on health professional outreach programmes, and influencer programmes that can grow and benefit that.” For several of Godrej’s brands, the more professional, medically-oriented and objective voice lends itself to their promotion, particularly for brands like Perspirex, Bio-oil or P20. But these brand ambassadors are not influencers as we know them on Instagram. “We have to take a different approach.” The key, Dawes explains, is balancing the authoritative standing of these influencers with the accessibility of online content. “For these products, it’s about working with these people who already have an offline reach, giving them an online platform, and making sure they’re able to speak about our products without compromising their authoritative standing.”
Digital is regularly hailed as the medium bringing consumers closer to the brands they know and love. But for Godrej, operating in markets with such wide discrepancies in online reach, the challenges of reaching consumers on the most suitable platform is not a straightforward process. “As internet penetration rises, so does the importance of using digital to speak to a large number of people. In previous years, internet reach wasn’t that great in India and across our African territories, so digital strategy didn’t take priority.” With successful growth being seen from television advertising, Godrej required a change in mentality to prompt the investment and resources necessary to transform its online presence. “We’ve got products that touch over one billion consumers across our company. When you’re dealing with numbers of that size, the digital prize needs to be pretty chunky to get people’s attention. As internet penetration increases year on year, we’re making sure that we’re prepared to deal with that shift, and fortunately we have a positive board and an excited management team who appreciate what digital can provide in those countries. It’s about getting ahead of the curve.”
A Universal Language
Despite the variances in internet reach, the world of the digital influencer is one that appears to transcend geographical boundaries. “Dealing with influencers at a local level can be very different depending on what they expect from us and what we expect from them,” continues Dawes. “But fundamentally human behaviour on these social media platforms isn’t as different as marketers might think, and that’s a positive for brands who are working multi-nationally.” The reason for this can be traced back to the simplest form of marketing, which pre-dates any social platform, and is applicable to any influencer on any platform: word of mouth. “We’ve all seen the ROI for word of mouth versus an advert; it’s always two to five times higher. And this isn’t anything new,” continues Dawes. “Social media platforms have created a more sophisticated way of influencing your friends, and it has given us the ability to see that. With digital influencers you have a way of tracking their influence, and proof in terms of ROI. It has always been considered as the most powerful reach method, but it was so difficult to track. Now it’s much more visible, and that’s why marketers are so excited about it.”
The Problems With Transparency
Dawes does, however, see some challenges appearing on the horizon of influencer marketing. As organic engagement continues to exist within a complex web of advocacy, creative planning and luck, the majority of influencer marketing requires a little more incentive. “There’s often money or products exchanged with the implicit requirement of influencers becoming advocates for you,” explains Dawes. “So it does undermine the system somewhat, in terms of why advocacy and influencers are so good.” A demand for increased transparency has left the motivations of some influencers exposed, and the magic has, to an extent, been lost. “Transparency has inherently undermined the excitement of the influencer. It just becomes an equivalent to the media. If you have rules and regulations that are saying ‘this is a sponsored post’, that content has effectively just become another advert.” It’s clear that influencer marketing is currently undergoing a transformation which will redefine the way brands and brand advocates are able to produce promotional content.
The future of influencer marketing is far from decided, and the practices being employed by brands now will go through many iterations as the role of influencers in the customer journey becomes more defined. “It has been a bit like the wild west, and there are some who have benefitted from that,” says Dawes. “As the big companies get involved, they will demand more transparency, but it’s important to remember that transparency will come at a cost.” As marketers continue to move forward in this space, it will be effective collaboration and communication between brands and their advocates, paid and otherwise, which will decide the success of this channel. “In the coming years we will define what influencer marketing really is, and whether it’s as effective as normal advocacy.”