GrowthX Influence Selection Framework

Achieving ROI through Influencer Marketing is hard, top Indian brands spent $200 million (₹1,600 Cr) on influencer marketing in 2022 with just 10% returns.

Abhishek Patil · Follow
Founder, GrowthX ®
In 2022, Indian brands spent $200 million (₹1,600 Cr) on influencer marketing. An average series A plus company is spending as much as 10% of their marketing spend on this influencer marketing.

So, if so much money is being spent on a channel, it must be working for brands? Not really - very few brands have been able to get a return on investment. And, that’s exactly what we are going to solve for.

Fundamentally, an acquisition channel works or doesn’t work for your brand isn’t the channel problem. It’s a product <> channel fit problem.

I’m going to split this playbook into 3 brackets ⬇️

# 1→ The jobs to be done (JTBD) of influence/ influencers
# 2→ How you should not think of building influence?
# 3→ How to design a influence framework around your brand?

JTBD of an influencer for a brand

In the history of advertising, it is said that the Queen and the Pope used to advocate the use of medicine by common people. We can consider them the first known influencers. We have come a long way from there into the 21st century.

Religious influencers today aren’t alone. We have graded influencers who are “influencing” opinions, perception & decision making about things that matter for most humans. Here’s a snippet view of kind of influencers we all are surrounded by.

The Hierarchy of influence for most human beings.

But, we can’t have such superficial understanding.

Let’s go one layer deeper into few of the above segments. Politicians focus on changing flow of money/ resources & human progress over few decades. While religious leaders influence interpretation of the holy books & guide people practicing a specific religion.

Religious influencers can do things that even politicians can’t touch with. For example, no one asks for money in return of work that they do for a religious organisation (say a temple trust) but stretch that to a political rally - I guarantee you that no one works for free who are part of these rallies. It’s legit circular money flow ecosystem.

I’m going to take a lot of inspiration from historically proficient influencers and translate those learnings into this playbook - disclaimer - I don’t represent/ support any political ideology / religion whatsoever. Look at this playbook purely from a science POV.

Influencers are mis-understood : They aren’t gods, but merely catalyst who can nudge an individual or a set of individuals to do a certain contextual action. Try using them as gods for your brand growth & you are going to struggle like anything.

How you should not think of influence?

"Don’t think of influence as something magical. It won’t happen over night, but it’ll compound first slowly and then all at once."
Click to Tweet this

But, it’s logical. Let’s understand this process really well before we get into specifics of the influence framework for your brand.

1. The genesis of influence is a great hook.

Remember, the first time you consumed some content of your favorite influencer, it had an interesting hook that made you stop the scroll (say on Instagram/ Twitter). For finance influencers like “Finance with Sharan” it was the “humor filled skits”. For Johnny Harris, it was “Borders episode of Vox”, you get the point.

2. Build familiarity with frequency.

None of your “influencers” produce less than 1 content piece every freaking day, take Prime minister modi’s YT channel for example which builds so much frequency. His channel doesn’t want you to buy something but indeed his approach towards “Public policy” keeping in mind influence on next elections.

3. Gain basic level of trust

You won’t listen to someone you trust except if you want to contradict them. Read the last line again, please - it’s important. Building trust has few core components. Some apply more than others and you need to push all cylinders to create a solid basic trust level.

4. Change world view of your audience

Your brand should change the way your audience thinks about something. It could be a different angle, could be something trivial or something that most of your users have a myth about. Until you do this, you won’t be able to hook them for a longer duration.

❤️ summarising what we covered so far.

How to design a influence framework around your brand?

First things first, you can’t just magically create an influence network in a day, it’s slow, non-sexy but it compounds - it’s hardly linear, and that’s what I like about the influence framework.

Before we begin the framework, it’s important to know who you are, I mean what do you stand for. For example, RedBull stands for adventure sports. But, it’s really upto you on what your brand should/could stand for.

Once you understand “what your brand stands for” - the next decision is to understand what you want to influence. For example, a fintech company that stands for “helping Indians create compounding wealth” would want to influence “money decision” especially on how they “save / invest their money”. Take a moment and really ask yourself - “What do I want to influence about my target audience?”

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First, undertand levers to influence

And it is a three layered concept, Influence is driven by what your brand say, customers say & third party influencers say. We are going to go deeper into these three.

Second, control the levers

Brand narrative is easier to control and most startups figure this one out early on. Sure, how they implement the narrative in their marketing, product strategy is different conversation, that’s for another playbook to be honest.

Customers creating influence is the most important part of controlling influence in the target market. Especially if you are selling either a social (network effect product) or selling a high ticket first purchase product (that demands a word of mouth push).

When you think about customers influencing your category or perception of your brand, the vocabulary that they use is everything. Let me take an example of Tesla cars.

”Drive a luxury vehicle while reducing my environmental impact”. See how specific words are those Tesla imbibes onto its customer's vocabulary. Especially the ones related to “luxury, environment friendly, clean energy” & more. It’s no accident when you speak to Tesla car owners, they will use these specific words. I want you to note down the kind of choice of words you want your customers to use while elaborating your brand.

Interestingly, GrowthX members use the following vocabulary "Structure, experiential learning, community, empathy, unlearn & relearn, safe space” & more.

External influencers that your target audience spend time with / consume content from / look up to in life (personally/professionally). This is where the “Hierarchy of Influence” that we looked at it at the start of this playbook.

The homework to make 3rd party influencers work

Before we get into this, I want to introduce the concept of brand <> influence fit. Now, in simple terms - not every external influencer will be a fit to a brand building or destruction.

The core of external influence only works when the brand is smaller than the influencer itself. For example, when we started building CRED, the brand was smaller than the influencers we worked with. We borrowed their influence.
But, this has an even further nuance. Your external influencer only works provided two conditions are met. First, your external influencer should be aspirational to your potential customers. Second, the influencer should be in the top band of their category. Let’s understand this better with the influence circle framework from image below.
The stronger the brand narrative & right vocabulary given to existing customers, the better you will be able to borrow influence from external 3rd party influencers.

Now you know why poor brand narratives (like a random cement brand) trying to use a Olympic Gold medalist as a brand ambassador hardly works. It’s not because that influencer is in-effective, but the pre-work on brand narrative is shabby.

How to choose influencers (3rd party)?

Referring back to the “Hierarchy of Influence”, life goals / purchase decisions are influenced by Bollywood super stars / sports personalities / Youtubers/ Instagrammers / LinkedIn influencers. We are going to talk and drill down frameworks for only these two types of influencers - because these are the two that are relevant to capitalistic tech products - if you know what I mean ;)

Step 1 → The purpose of building external influence

Most brands measure 3rd party influencers to drive distribution. This is such a narrow mindset - distribution is important but what is more important is the “right kind of distribution” that will help you with a specific business goal.

❤️ As a rule of thumb, your 3rd party influencing person / organisation / community should be an aspirational figure for your target audience. They are typically older to then or at a exceptionally higher life stage - personally / professionally or socially.

Personal →
These are life goals related influencers. All your relationship goals, wealth goals, bucket list goals are influenced from these folks. Think of why you have that couple goal.

Professional →
These are pure quantitative career goals. That interesting person on LinkedIn who has your “dream job” that you want to grab.

Social →
These are influencers everyone want to associate with. Think of why people click pictures with Bollywood celebrities.
📝 First Job to be done is ask yourself - does our product need to build a personal/ professional or social influence over the target audience?

Dream 11 → Builds personal & social affluence first using their existing customers who are making profits on their platform and then using top Indian cricketers by associating with them for social signalling.

Slack → Builds social affluence by making it cooler to use Slack over Teams for startup pop-culture. No wonder “Slack” vs Microsoft Teams” banter is popular. Hot startups use Slack so your small 10 people startup should use it too, just for associating with “being a cool place to work at”.

Step 2 → Create a list of influencers

If the answer to step 1 is “yes” then only think of this next step. When you are a brand that's just starting up, you don’t need influence over a really large market, correct? Imagine when Ola started in India and they would have taken Shah Rukh Khan in year of building the business, it would be too early to build that kind of influence.

The stages of influences are dependent on target market & stage of your product. For example, when your product has a product market fit & wants to scale in the early stages of the business building → focus on only a narrow market and early adopter crowd.

Let’s take an example of a brand like BlissClub, it’s a community-first brand crafting technical apparel for working professionals. It’s an interesting wedge to get into a super crowded market like women apparel.

Now if we had to choose influencers for BlissClub, it’s in early scale of it’s growth story. Most early stage brands miss this point of what’s your “right to win” about 3rd party influence circle.

BlissClub is targeting early adopter audience. Its right to win is to use this third party influence over a really small set of audience & monopolise that market first.

It doesn’t need to get the trendy Bollywood actress to begin with. I’m not saying they wont have a Bollywood actress ever in their influence circle strategy but this is not the stage of BlissClub’s product to make use of it.
So in product market fit stage. BlissClub’s niche market will be influenced by their top customers who are also socially ahead of most of their target audience. For example, picking top women customers who have good enough social distribution (1000+ followers each) is key to make early adopters give your product a try.

But things change as you enter the “early scaling stage”.
The key here is to understand user motivation. Would you take advice/recommendation from some random dude on Instagram who has not achieved in life on how to “live a wealthy life”? ****- “Absolutely not.”

We only take advice/recommendation from people who are ahead of us in life.
Plus, the further nuance is about what’s out goal with that product. For Harvard, it’s doing well post life at Harvard. Someone who has already been to Harvard & now makes $1 million dollar a year can influence you more about your applying to Harvard decision than anyone else. We have applied this to more products below.
So coming back to BlissClub, the product value prop is.“functional → what I wear” + “social → how do I look?”

Selection of 3rd party influence will be based on the who has higher social capital (instagram influencers / Bollywood actress) and who also have a personality for what they wear & if they were “comfort clothes” in their social life. If I were to list down influencers with these two criteria, I’ll get a list of 100+ influencers at the least. The next step is filtering.

Step 3 : Filter 3rd party influencers

We are the final stages of our design with this segment. For brands trying to get 3rd part influencers we will look at few parameters to assess. Up until this point, we are assuming that you have created the list based on what we discussed above. 4 things that make a good vs great 3rd party influencer.

  1. Content theme matches your product goal. Focuses on not just awareness of your product offering but drives action.
  2. Personality has social capital over your target audience. They perceive the creator someone who is ahead of them in the social hierarchy.
  3. Cooling off periods between promotions. Do they launch promoted content pieces every freaking day? That’s bad. You are essentially going to get nothing out of them - leave the thought of even picking them.
  4. Is consistent a creator vs spike focused. Someone who is not creating consistently will lose all the major events. Plus, if they are consistent - they will always be able to drive predictable distribution.

Important influencer structures to think through

When you've chosen a 3rd party influencer, the ones that follow the above 3 step framework are great but take care of one more aspect. Lot of harsh truths.

Never choose an influencer who is at the lower end of their social band. That means if you are choosing a Bollywood actress, you can’t pick someone who isn’t at the top of their career. It’s not relative to their comparison with other Bollywood actresses. It’s their life stage or prime year stage. This is simply because 3rd party influence can only be built if your influencers are ahead in their lives than your target audience.
Never choose an influencer who is too political. The risk vs reward is just not there. Early on, your brand does not have emotional bond built with your target audience. Imagine your core influencer getting involved in a controversy, not great right? You can’t afford it to be honest.
Don’t copy your competitors, mostly. It hardly works & you have options until you operate in a Dream11 Vs MPL category where top influencers (say, cricketers) are limited.

How influence compounds or doesn’t?

This is something that has hounded me as a concept for quite a while now. Why does brand influence compound for a really long time only for a select few brands?

Influence is similar to human relationships.

Early on, it requires a great hook to be interested in each other. Then it requires high frequency of deep conversations and then it requires nourishment over a really long period of time.

The same applies to influence.

The framework we covered so far talks about how to create influence, we will take a look at how to really solve it as a long term compounding game. For this, we have few key components.

First, sustained customer “Aha!” moment experience.

Ensuring new customers coming into your product keep experiencing happy moments. This is critical to ensure your base “brand vocabulary” is being spread to your audience through existing customers.

Second, evolving product innovation.

The more you do this → communicate this innovation with existing customers  → get them to adopt that product innovation → make them hit new type of "Aha!" moment, this will increase capture area of your influence orbit.

Third, use 3rd party influencers for orbit shifts.

And couple this with real use cases of the new products/features that you build. We created a beautiful image out of this framework below.

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