Welcome to our latest HERstory interview where we dive deep into the world of influencer marketing with a woman who’s been at the helm, reshaping its future with every move. Today, we have the privilege of chatting with Pooja ParasuRaman, a marketer par excellence, recognized among Hello Partner’s Top 30 Trailblazing Women in Influencer Marketing.
From predicting the future of influencer marketing, understanding the colossal role AI is set to play, to decoding platform-specific strategies, and unwrapping the art of nurturing innovation within marketing teams – we touch on it all. Pooja also shares a slice of her personal journey, shedding light on the intricate dance of navigating different cultural terrains in marketing and opening up about battling imposter syndrome.
Let’s dive in!
Welcome, Pooja! Your background in marketing is so varied and rich – I’m really excited to get to chat with you and learn more about how you got to where you are today.
First things first, congratulations on being part of Hello Partner’s Top 30 Trailblazing Women in Influencer Marketing! How do you envision the future of influencer marketing, especially with the rise of micro-influencers?
Influencer marketing is evolving at a rapid phase. Today, we see a $21.1Bn industry and the rise of authentic influence! The authenticity and personal connections that nano and micro creators are able to build with their audience, which in turn are the brand’s audience. We rarely see celebrity endorsements generate the kind of engagement rates that micro-influencers drive (5% and above). These niche creators have a more loyal audience which translates to better engagement and conversion rates.
There is also a growing shift from one-off, pay-per-post models to more long-term partnerships. The collaboration objectives span across brand awareness to revenue generation and affiliate models.
People trust people. And as we move ahead, brands need to start taking this association more seriously if they want to reach their target and grow their market.
- With expertise in content and creativity, nano/micro-influencers are being recruited to join brands as in-house brand/content consultants.
- Brands need to diversify the model across channels and formats, online and offline. Test and build new ways of working with influencers. Include them in co-created product lines, co-marketing events and cause marketing campaigns, and more.
- Think long-term content usage and collaboration. Put money behind the influencer content instead of just the brand’s ads, use influencers to scale the brand’s user-generated content, and even long-term discussions around affiliate or creator licensing programs.
- Build a community of influencers. Outreaches apart, open up the option for creators to apply to a brand’s influencer community program. This helps you discover more talented creators, especially those who already love and connect with your product, thereby giving you more authentic content.
- Use AI to understand the channel better; the influencer’s audience and the outcome better, to gain detailed insights across and scale the results.
affable.ai focuses on using AI and data-driven insights for influencer marketing. How do you believe AI will shape the next generation of influencer marketing strategies?
- Make the AI work for you. Low-effort input and high-quality output, is going to be a massive shift. Though a lot of platforms position themselves as AI-led, they still require heavy input from the users to get the desired results. If you’re relying on AI, you want the right insights, automation, ease of use, and scalability to be more efficient. And affable.ai is already at the forefront of working on some massive user-centric updates.
- The addition of generative AI to manage influencer marketing is going to be big! With the growing need for micro/nano creators, comes finding up-and-coming talent. AI will need to work to find new talent and more niche influencers. The shift will be more towards finding the right influencers with simple text, look alike recommendations, image aesthetics, local language support to search, and more.
- Building AI-led workflows to make influencer management processes more efficient. Like scale outreach with personalized emails, influencer content approval, alerting on comment sentiment, and flagging brand-at-risk content.
- First-party data and compliance – where creators and Influencers authenticate their audience information to the AI platform provider, so brands can better understand real-time data and make the right collaborations. It creates a space for influencers and brands to build higher transparency, be equal partners, and understand collaboration insights for more long-term associations.
With your expertise in influencer marketing across different platforms (TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook), which platform do you find the most challenging to strategize for and why?
Channel strategies depend heavily on factors like audience, product/service, campaign objective, content format need, and more. So it’s hard to talk about a challenge with one platform at a high level. The ideal approach is to understand the characteristics of each channel and how to best use them for your objective. Overall, I’d say, the marketing strategy needs to define the channels and approach.
I’d like to pivot here and touch on marketing leadership. Over your tenure in leadership roles at affable.ai and Crayon Data, how have you nurtured a culture of innovation within your marketing teams?
Test, learn, grow – repeat. I’ve seen so many changes in what works in marketing – from print ads to spray and pray, to the evolution of digital marketing, personalized ABM at scale, to influencer marketing and community building. There is never a 100% right way to market a product – the market and consumer needs are constantly evolving. And the culture of innovation seeps in when the leadership shows that they’re not afraid to experiment, learn, and scale.
I work with people of varied marketing skill sets and my take is – master your niche skill, but never be afraid or find it unnecessary to venture into other aspects of marketing/business to understand how they work together to create magic. Start conversations and work with other marketing specializations and other functions to understand the consumer need, and drive more innovative practices.
We have experts in our teams because we want a highly skilled focus on those objectives. So give them the freedom and space to innovate. Retro the improvements, celebrate the wins, and grow together.
Speaking of people and culture, you’ve worked across multiple regions – India, the UK, UAE. How do you tailor marketing strategies to be culturally relevant and sensitive while maintaining brand consistency?
It starts with a unified global brand and company strategy, where each person in the company speaks the same mission/vision language. And then you combine it with being customer-obsessed. Understand your customers in a way where you personalize your communication for each market so they feel seen and heard. Care for what your consumers care for. Embrace the concept of inclusion and diversity, even in your global messaging.
Consumers will in turn feel more connected to your brand.
As you look back on your career, were there times you dealt with imposter syndrome and if so, how did you overcome it?
For sure! From what I’ve seen, all of us experience it on different levels across our lives.
I’ve personally experienced this while graduating, getting accepted into good schools, jobs at great companies, promotions, and more. There are times when imposter syndrome hits you and you feel it’s better to be humble than brag. But it’s about finding the perfect balance to showcase your confidence with humility.
A few things that help me are, first to accept it and acknowledge it. That’s honestly half the battle won. Now that you’ve acknowledged it, think of the next steps to move forward, and list it down. A very important part of personal and professional growth is to work on yourself.
Try to build your confidence by talking about your progress so far, to those who believe in you. I’ve been very fortunate to have some of the best mentors and guides throughout my career. Reach out when you need help, and don’t feel dejected by a couple of rejections – build your family of supporters. Eventually, I’ve grown to support others, and in doing this, we unknowingly build a community, that backs and lifts each other up.
Celebrate even the smallest of wins. And learn to take the praise. You deserve it!
And the best way I’ve dealt with it personally over the past 14 years is to ‘do one thing every day that scares you’. Step out of your comfort zone, it could be learning a new skill, setting a new goal, taking a risk, or initiating a conversation. It truly helps you, build your confidence, understand your potential, and move forward.
Before I let you go, I’d love to hear your thoughts on building a personal brand in order to be successful in marketing.
In order to begin building your personal brand, you need to think of positioning yourself externally and also internally within the company. And as a marketer, it helps if you start exploring ways to market yourself and your work. From my conversations with leaders in the space, it’s evident that how you position yourself beyond your resume, adds a lot of weight to future conversations and decisions.
It could be using your own profile to share your thoughts like most do, but ensure you’re being authentic and think of what your differentiation could be. Another way would be to reach out to marketers/podcasters/publications in your network and identify ways to collaborate. Such conversations spark a lot of ideas. Finally, be open to guiding/mentoring other like-minded folk and sharing best practices.