Pandemic has changed the way brands work with influencers: Joji George, GoNuts

In a conversation with e4m, George, Co-Founder, GoNuts, talks about how the pandemic has impacted influencer marketing and their plans to overcome the challenges

e4m by Ruhail Amin
Updated: Dec 21, 2020 8:45 PM
Joji George, Gonuts

The space of influencer marketing is getting redefined in this pandemic where digital consumption has taken lead over other mediums. To make it more impactful and relevant, GoNuts co-founder Joji George spoke to e4m about bringing together a new experience, and more.

1. GoNuts is redefining the fan experience with new offerings. How has the response been so far for this new product?

Fandom and our obsession with stars are intrinsic to our culture. As someone who has worked closely with talent across music, television, and film, I saw a huge gap that exists at the intersection of fan experiences and personalisation.

Fast forward to Gonuts, our aim is to bridge the gap between celebrities and their millions of fans. Through Gonuts, fans across the world are taken a notch higher in terms of engagement, through two pillars: personalisation and co-created content. This is done through personalised video messages that help build emotional connections. We were the first to introduce animation (Chotta Bheem and Kamala), music stars, impersonators (Donald Trump), comedy (Suresh Menon, Sudesh Bhosle, Monica Murthy, etc.), first to list South East Asian talent, superstar comedian Zizan Rizak, and the first to also launch the legends category with names like Milkha Singhji, and lastly, this Christmas, e-home visits by America’s topmost celeb Santa Claus.

Gonuts is a classic case of a company that seized the opportunity in times of adversity. Since we started the business right in the middle of the COVID crisis, we have grown almost 15x-20x in the last nine months (Mar-Aug 2020), which will only increase exponentially as we see higher traffic and engagement.

In nine months, we have established category dominance through our exclusive artists, transaction value, and standout content, that has resonated both with consumers, investors, and brands. Though growth metrics are important, we have focused on strong fundamentals to create both shareholder and consumer value. We are profitable, strong M-O-M growth, highest ARPU in the sector, over 600 artists of which over 70% are exclusive, over 700+ videos sold thus far and our GMV will be over $2 million in the current FY. We are capital efficient and plan to grow aggressively in the coming quarter. Our plan is to do over $10 million annual GMV in the upcoming financial year. We aspire to be Asia’s largest and most influential platform for human connection, communication, and celebrity commerce, bringing joy to our customers and making their lives richer.

2. Why was the start-up founded? What does it do?

We founded GoNuts in the month of January but commenced operations in March, right into the pandemic, which helped us to refine our product and become capital efficient in the deployment of resources.

As founders, we have all grown on Fandom, albeit we all have our own cultural icons. Having been with media and entertainment for over 20+ years, across music, television, film, live events, and talent management, I personally saw a huge gap in the ability of smaller organisations and consumers at large, to reach celebrities through a reliable and trusted source.

We all know that the “search” process for talent in our country is ambiguous and opaque. Hence, the start-up was founded with the aim of creating a reliable and trusted pipeline to connect fans to their favourite celebrities and create authentic memorable experiences.

GoNuts offers a unique aggregator platform that allows consumers from across the world to book personalised video messages from celebrities, through the website and app. The market has shown us numerous case studies outside of greetings. GoNuts has now also become a reliable source for small and medium enterprises to source talent for their myriad needs.

These personally curated videos make each occasion celebratory and memorable to the recipient and their circle of influence since this is less than 60 secs and can be easily transferred via Whatsapp.

The network effects are incredible since the video is posted on the social media handle of the recipient, which brings our marketing cost down over a period. From a content perspective, videos from GoNuts are made in a style unique to the platform that is bound to create a memory that lasts forever.

3. Tell us about GoNuts, the mission, and the vision of the company?

The vision of GoNuts, though simple, is very poignant and deep. Our aim is to deliver joy to our customers and make their lives richer.

The mission of GoNuts is to become Asia’s largest and most influential platform for connection, communication, and commerce using celebrities. It is a one-of-a-kind service that empowers consumers with the ability to use their favourite celebrity to send a message to someone that matters to them, creating everlasting memories for the special occasions in their lives.

Our brand purpose is to deliver joy. Joy is not only the prerogative of able-bodied people, and we believe, we have a larger purpose to make the lives of the marginalised richer. Hence as founders, we aim to support children with special needs and their families, and you will hear more about that in the coming months.

4. Which are the artists/celebrities listed on the platform? And how does it work with a fan and a celebrity?

GoNuts has a portfolio of over 600 celebrities across categories like films, television, sports, comedy, animation, and music, amongst others, available on its platform. This gives users a diverse range of celebrities to choose from to convey personalized messages to their loved ones. The platform has leading celebrities including music sensation Shaan, Shankar Mahadevan, Hariharan, Lesley Lewis, Kailash Kher, Talat Aziz, Shibani Kashyap, Ranveer Brar, Nawaz Modi Singhania, Sivamani, Cyrus Broacha, Shivin Narang, Jonty Rhodes, Lance Klusener, Vicky Ratnani and many more superstars across genres, geographies and price points, including the world’s topmost President Trump impersonator on the GoNuts platform.

The process to get a shoutout has been finessed to give users a fabulous user experience. Fans across the world can visit our website, browse their favourite celebrity, and book a request by providing some basic details of the person for whom the video is to be created. We provide script improvements that get their message in the way they intended to convey and also brief our talent to deliver beyond expectations of the person buying the video for gifting. The videos are delivered in an average time of 1-2 days. However, now we are used to delivering in record time and fulfilling last minute requests. In jest, we have helped save many marriages, thanks to our superstars on GoNuts.

5. How does GoNuts plan to enhance/improve talent management in times of Covid-19, where a major part of the entertainment industry is practically out of work?

As someone said, “What seemed like disruption is now the norm”. Our aim was to create an alternative revenue model for talent. Initially, we met with resistance and a lack of acceptance of the idea. However, now we have celebrities across genres speaking with us excitedly about being a part of GoNuts. We truly have created a respectable alternate line of income, and we believe this will only grow significantly over time.

From a talent perspective, we believe in collaboration and respect. I am a firm believer that artists respect people who look out for their best interests and do not treat them as a commodity.

6. What are the challenges in the current entertainment scenario and how does GoNuts plan to overcome them?

The biggest challenge in the current entertainment scenario is the scramble for revenue growth and the resulting celeb commoditization. While we have maintained our premium positioning and our stars have a strong understanding of being in the right premium brand environment, the rise of many competitor sites, and their lack of understanding of this industry, coupled with some artists who are not really conscious of their own personal brand value, has suddenly created pricing war and deep discounting, all of which has commoditized artists.

This will have an adverse effect not only on the brand value of celebrities that have discounted themselves by being on multiple platforms, unaware of discounts and offers made on them but that will also, over time, dampen the allure of Fandom, which is going to be detrimental.

We have not succumbed to that, which is why consumers know that when they want quality and the best talent in India, they must go to GoNuts.

We are extremely focused on creating an ecosystem of trust, where the artist is sure their interest will be taken care of. From a revenue perspective, our aim is to build a solid top-line and bottom-line for the company and as far as results achieved in the last quarter, we are confident that our strategy will pay off for our stakeholders.

7. How can brands leverage the GoNuts platform?

There are over 60-80 million SME’s in our country and most of these businesses do not have access to celebrities. In terms of TAM, 43% of 60 million SME’s use online advertising and marketing. Assuming a yearly spend of only 1 lakh, we are talking about a $30B market, that is currently underserved.

All these companies and start-ups aspire to market and promote their offerings outside of their existing geographies but, thus far, have been restrained due to budget and access to talent. We are democratising this and providing both trusted access and affordable pricing to these businesses and disrupting both the 30-sec commercial, which thus far, was only available to large companies with budgets and access and also access to them, which was thus far controlled by many layers of middlemen.

8. How has this pandemic impacted influencer marketing?

The pandemic has changed how brands work with influencers. Not only is it redefining existing industry trends, but it also presents new challenges and opportunities for influencer partnerships. During the lockdown, there was a significant slowdown of investments in partnerships across the board, with some sectors hit harder than others. In May and June, we saw partnerships begin to go back online, though, again at a different pace depending on the industry and geography. We also noticed that the partnerships looked different than they did pre-pandemic. Influencers and brands started to shift their communication more toward branded content and away from mere product advertising.

9. In your view what have been some of the key developments in 2020, as far as influencer marketing is concerned?

A trend, I hope, that will change in the coming years is pegging the value of influencers on their number of followers. It’s a bit like how television ratings and advertising rates were based on TAM ratings, even if the sample size never made sense.

I believe that what OTT has done to television, we will do to influencer marketing, which makes it authentic and economical. It’s absurd when you pay lakhs for a tweet or a post, based on followers.

Like television paid huge upfronts for serials that were strapped midway. OTT has taken a different route of stories that connect and characters that are identifiable. The era of make-believe is over and people want to connect with the story cause they relate to it. One can argue that it’s a metro-centric phenomenon, but the exponential growth of OTT adoption proves my case. The pandemic has made people re-evaluate their spends. Brands will be more discerning and willing to bet on new talent, authenticity, and new forms of using talent to get their message to their customers.

10. What trends would define the space of fandom and influencer marketing in 2021?

Influencer marketing is on track to become a $15 billion dollar industry by 2022 and it shows no sign of slowing down. In fact, 63% of marketers intend to increase their influencer marketing budget in the next year.

Some trends for Fandom and influencer marketing would centre around authenticity, identifiable talent, the rise of non-film/music /television talent, hyper localisation, only “for social media advertising”, new creator tools, newer metrics to identify and rate influencers, edgier personalised experiences,  and lastly, rationalisation of cost of influencers.

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