March 2020 was a dreaded month, pan-India. For the first time, the novel Corona Virus affected India and the cases were ever rising. While grappling with the pandemic, we were forced to change the way we lead our lives, in the pre-pandemic era. There was a nationwide lockdown, implementation of social distancing, panic buying of supplies by households and a general sense of fear of this unknown virus. Not only did the pandemic affect our personal lives, but it also affected the way corporates and the overall, economy function.
India Inc.’s response
India Inc. soon realised that in order to stay relevant, they must have a virtual presence and evolve constantly. Marketing, being one of the most dynamic functions, was the first to recognise and devise solutions for being visible during the pandemic. At a time of social distancing, customers could not experience the shopping as they used to in the past. Thus, brands had to take efforts to bring themselves closer to their existing and potential customers.
Growth of social media
One of the best platforms that brands chose to stay connected with their audience was through social media. The pandemic saw a never before surge in online traffic for websites as well as social media platforms since people were confined within their homes.
Businesses, therefore, started communicating with their stakeholders much more actively on social media platforms. There was, however, a flip side to this. The strategy of being virtually present was adopted by brands, unanimously, thereby creating clutter in the mind of its consumers.
The art of storytelling
In a bid to create a niche for its messaging, brand managers turned to the art of storytelling like never before – only, this time, data was at the centre of it all. Customers of today are evolved, and they do plenty of research before investing in a product or service of their choice. At the time of the pandemic, customers were heavily dependent on the information available on digital and media. Brand managers, therefore, had to ensure a powerful, engaging and compelling narrative in order to enhance customer preference towards their brand. Thus, came the role of data-led storytelling.
Data has always been more powerful in conveying a message, as opposed to relying on qualitative judgement. Data enables the audience to form a deeper connection with the brand since it is verifiable and the insights shared to create a longer shelf-life in the mind of its audience. Data-led storytelling is even more powerful when shared on social media. This is because it gives the audience a chance to express themselves and share their views, which in turn helps brands customise their products and solutions, even further. The trends shared by brand managers are often very relatable to their audience and it helps in faster conversion of potential customers as well.
The role of micro-influencers
Once brands have established the concept of data-led storytelling, the next step is to identify the storyteller. This has to be an individual entity or a group that creates maximum relatability with the audience. This led to the evolution of micro influencers on social media. While influencers enjoy humongous popularity on social media, audiences often, do not connect with them, because of the sheer difference in approach. More often than not, these influencers are celebrities leading a very different lifestyle from the audience and having very different needs.
Thus, to make the storytelling more relevant, brand managers started leveraging micro-influencers. This is a set of people who experience similar needs and wants as the audience and enjoy more credibility because of the relatability factor. There is always a common thread of interest between them and the audience and brand managers are tapping into this, in order to stay relevant and unique in the minds of the audience.
The success of any marketing campaign, at the end of the day, lies in the return on investment metrics. For instance, engaging a micro-influencer would be considered effective only if they enable conversions of the audience as well as relay the brand message to the optimum capacity. Similarly, the storytelling must always have a measurable call to action to gauge its effectiveness and efficiency. Most importantly, a brand manager needs to have dynamic solutions up their sleeves in times of a situation as dynamic as the pandemic.
Social media is an asset to brand managers, especially during the pandemic. Having said that, they need to have a deep understanding of the engagement strategies since this is a two-way street, where the audience also enjoys the power of making or breaking a brand. Brand managers must ensure utmost care in establishing the desired positioning in the minds of the audience, organically, credibly and most importantly, without overloading them with a barrage of information. And this is why the union of data-led storytelling and the role of micro-influencers is here to stay!
(The author is founder and director, Value 360 Communications)