LV Insights

mCaffeine | Building a Cracking Content & Influencer Marketing Strategy

Influencer and content marketing through social media has been the key to expanding many D2C (or Direct to Consumer) businesses and raising their brand awareness not just with their “consumers” but more widely with a large global user base. And mCaffeine has been no exception to this trend.

Tarun Sharma and Vikas Lachhwani met in Mumbai through a common friend in 2012 and quickly developed a strong friendship. Despite the age gap between the two, they loved to talk about data and its benefits for operations in new age organisations.

Vikas had previously worked in Bentonville, USA, where he was employed with one of the world’s largest retailers, studying promotion and product stocking strategies for several years. He later went on to become the Senior Vice President of Operations & Growth at Zoom Car.

Tarun Sharma, on the other hand, was a software engineer who moved on to become the operations head at the food delivery startup BOX8, but it was only in 2015 that they decided to build their own business.

They founded mCaffeine, a socially-conscious consumer products company, where caffeine is the star of their products. What is also a star? Research and data driven marketing! But we will come to that in a bit. Tarun and Vikas recognised that caffeine was one of the strongest lifestyle trends, especially among millennials. Additionally, they also also realised that embodying the millennial ethos on the following three pillars was very important!
– “Clean Labels” – natural as a choice
– “Why Hurt” 
– no animal testing and
– “Confidence over Colour” 

As a result, mCaffeine has emerged as a brand for the “Bold, Young & Confident.”

mCaffeine has raised about $2.8 million till date backed by RP-SG Ventures, Apurva Salarpuria, LV Angel Fund, KRS Jamwal, Telama Investments. Harminder Sahni, Kaushal Aggarwal and others.

As part of our #LVOfficeHours series with founders Tarun Sharma spoke about what it has taken for mCaffeine to get “content creation” and influencer marketing right. Back in 2019, mCaffeine onboarded a wide range of content creators and influencers (with a 2-20 lakh follower base) to promote their new green tea and coffee-based products. In just 2 weeks, the brand’s Instagram page jumped from 5M views to 8M views! 

In this session with us, Tarun gets into the technicalities of social media marketing and how it can help generate ROI while efficiently expanding & building your brand. Here’s Tarun in his own words! 


Content Creation – The Basics First!

MCaffeine Content Marketing

mCaffeine’s line of vegan, all-natural, cruelty-free Coffee products for the Skin and Body

Consumers do try to learn more about new products before they make a purchase. They may even have the luxury to read a 400-character blog or watch a 2-minute video. It’s the consumer’s choice but we need to be ready with all shades of content.

There are essentially two streams:

1. Textual Content 

  • Short form includes push ads, i.e., Facebook Ads, Amazon ads, etc. Long form on the other hand goes on our Amazon Page, product pages on our website, blogs. Instagram Captions can be long or short depending on the type of campaign you are running. 
  • Long form content has to serve a certain purpose. For example, Amazon Product Pages – Amazon crawls the product page to understand just how relevant your product page is for certain search phrases; so you need to give that flavour to your product page by having those long form content assets stitched well with the kind of objective they are meant for. It’s the same for short form.
  • Irrespective of the form what is really important is to define your objectives really well

2. Visual Content 

mCaffeine does static, short form videos and long form videos

  • Static work goes into Instagram, Facebook and all such channels. A static post should have only “one poke” – be it the product texture, model image, some deal or even some campaign because people generally stare at an image for less than 6 seconds.
  • Short form videos for mCaffeine is less than 60 seconds and these work well on Instagram (and previously TikTok as well). A 60-second video will never talk about more than 3 things about the product/service.
  • Long form works on IGTV and YouTube. A long form video can stand at about 6 minutes and will generally talk about the benefits of the product, the brand narrative and the user experience in detail.

Q. How do you price content creation? Suppose you had to create a video for brand awareness without an influencer, how much would you consider investing in it? Also, would you outsource it or produce it in-house? How would you go about making that decision?

Tarun: A lot of mCaffeine content is produced in-house – we have a team of designers who are great at video editing and building stuff and it actually boils down to that. For us, the brand narrative quotient of content is really high so it would be difficult to outsource the entire thing and get the right output.  

From day one, we continuously built our team. In mCaffeine, Vaishali, one of my co-founders, is the one who handles the entire brand marketing. She manages a group of these amazing 23-24 year old kids who pull off these things day in and day out. For us the team is the key – we may hire the camera and equipment from vendors but the entire strategy, script creation, video outlines and such is designed in-house. But I would also say, that categories like apparel work very differently from cosmetics, personal care or even shoes. 

So just to give a broad benchmark, you need to have somebody on your team who understands this side of the business. If the budget is a constraint, which has always been the case in our situation, we tend to have two options:

#1 | The team pulls off everything right from creating the mood boards, scanning things, talking to people and then figuring out the best way to execute the content creation piece

#2 | UGC (user generated content). Figure out 100 influencers (across levels), ask them to make content for you and then buy their content. 

Q. How do you create engaging and interactive content for Instagram? How do you measure it and track performance?

Tarun: First, let me jump to the outcome part of it. If your post is being saved on Instagram, that’s the biggest indicator that your content is doing well. The more your content is being saved or the more people share your content, that’s when you know you’re doing a good job of creating engaging and relevant content.

If you want to look at “non-saved content engagement” you should target getting 5% more likes on your posts, videos over a defined period. How do you do that? There are two ways – one, you push it through sale events and such and two, influencer marketing – collaborate with influencers who have much higher following than us and get them to provide certain information that we want our consumers to know. We’ll cross tag each other and they’ll bring followers to us and we’ll bring followers to them and it becomes a great way to increase engagement. 

Our team at mCaffeine builds interesting contests and challenges for our consumers to engage with us; for example, we built a puzzle/game where they have to choose one of our products and bring the product out of this maze. We have noticed that that kind of content brings in 10x better engagement than multiple other activities.


Influencer Marketing 

MCaffeine Influencer Marketing

mCaffeine’s Influencer Marketing campaign to promote the Coffee mood gift kit

Q. How do you measure ROI for an influencer campaign on Instagram (posts or hashtags) versus a Facebook Ad, where almost all your funnels are trackable?

Tarun: There is no way to calculate ROI for sales if you’re doing influencer marketing. For us, influencer marketing is purely for brand awareness. You could use UTMs (UTM Codes are bits of text you can add to a link that tell Google Analytics as well as other analytics tools a little bit more information about each link), we do too but let me explain where in our experience things break! 

For example, when we ask our performance marketer to build a campaign for user preferences he will plug in a coupon code which can be tracked. Now, this is great intellectually and analytically but it defeats the purpose of influencer marketing. For us influencer marketing is purely done for brand awareness and true enough eventually, consumers in this brand awareness orbit will jump to the performance marketing funnel, but there is no way to connect it in entirety.

Instead we set up anecdotal metrics to make sure that we’re not blindly spending money. For example, if it is a brand awareness campaign what is the percentage jump on brand searches? What is the percentage jump in the searches of the category which the influencer went live with. You may have UTMs to record swipe ups and YouTube clicks but honestly for a brand like us which sells only from our website and Amazon or Nykaa, people have a tendency to go to their preferred channel of commerce and figure out the best way to buy our product – which could be based on price, logistics or even the credit card they have saved on the app.

I’ll just say that if your objective is to build a lot of sales funnels from influencer marketing then you should actually explore traditional multi-level marketing and adjacencies to that. 

Q.  The measuring stick for us is always, “Can the influencer generate a million views?” Each time we’ve done that, the thumb rule has been that 1% of the views are equivalent to a download. When doing influencer marketing, have you seen such a correlation between the “likes” that the influencer gets in a day and the number of orders you get in that day?

Tarun: Definitely. When actress Kalki Koechlin did a LIVE session for us there was a spike in mCaffeine searches for sure; people were searching for us on the Play Store, Amazon, Nykaa and then making the purchases. So we try to map the “middle layer” as well – for instance, if somebody went live with only mCaffeine as a brand narrative we check if we have spike in searches. 

Let me give you another example – there was an influencer who put up a coffee-face-mask post. Subsequently, coffee-face-masks had 8-10% better searches on Amazon that day (as compared to what the original searches that day should have been). Another thing we check for: If there’s a Great Wednesday or Deals Thursday on Amazon, we just define a parameter and try to see how much higher the jump is on that.

Q. Can you talk us through your influencer marketing strategy between using 100-200 influencers or just one big influencer? Which would be better when the goal is just to create awareness? Does taking a very large celebrity actually increase the cost of promoting that particular content?

Tarun: I think one of the biggest attributes in answering this question is the time. So Epigamia did this great thing with Deepika Padukone, right? But after that there hasn’t really been any big campaign although in that one shot they became known as a national brand. So it’s very dependent on the stage of your company and where you are in your brand journey. For instance, if there was a problem statement in front of mCaffeine addressing how you go from $1.5 B to $15 B, my very next question would be, “How much time do I have?” If I have only 3 months, let’s hire 10 celebrities and get there right away. But if there is ample time to make sure that we are present in the mind space and digital space of our target audience then the “hustle philosophy” works really well. We took about two and half years to just make sure that we were present in the right places, that we achieved a critical mass; and then a surge of growth occurred eventually in March 2019 where we grew by about 18x. We decided to hustle it out but only because we had a lot of time. 

On the question of spending money on distributing your big influencer piece – if you’re spending x on a celebrity endorsement campaign, you’ll probably have to spend a similar amount to bombard junta and let them know you’re running this campaign with a celebrity. So, if I’m spending INR 5 crore on the celebrity campaign then I will have to spend INR 5 crore on the media (this does not include content production spends). 

Q. How do go about the process of approaching micro influencers? Do you hit them up on Instagram? Is there an agency? How do you do it?

Tarun: You can probably hire one agency to start off in helping you get about 100-200 influencers. What it does is create that engine of content which goes out on Instagram and YouTube, and these influencers follow each other – it’s a close network. The moment we hit those 200 influencers we started getting inbound interest from a lot of influencers and then we created an in-house funnel for ourselves wherein we sent out a form which influencers had to fill and created our own database. For celebrities, we go via their talent managers, we don’t approach them on Instagram directly. A lot of celebrities and their teams also approach brands based on their personal interest. So 3 or 4 of our campaigns happened organically where the celebrities reached out to us but a large part of our efforts for celebrities is done through their managers.


Branding & Personas 

MCaffeine Website content

mCaffeine’s website content featuring their “Naked” collection

Q. On static form content, you mentioned having only one hook. Do you have a hero product which you keep on marketing and which has actually helped you build the entire marketing funnel or brand profile?

Tarun: The coffee body scrub is one of mCaffeine’s hero products. But we actually have 4 to 5 products which are performing really well for us. But when I say hook, it needn’t be only a product hook. It could be a narrative hook as well. So, if you see Kalki Koechlin’s video, for a very long time it doesn’t talk about the product, they just have fun. Since we’re largely a lifestyle brand, we’re always trying to find a way to convince you that we are a part of your lifestyle. So the hook here can be the narrative and it can be as simple as talking about the texture, fragrance or association of the product (largely psychological, not physiological).

When we talk about hooks there are multiple things which we have drafted for ourselves on the brand side wherein we will talk about these things and we will not talk about these things. For example, we don’t talk about fairness and fairness creams and shaadis and what not, we actually go out of our way to tell people to burn that shade card which is given to you. Hooks are never just about the product. We try to promote the entire portfolio, it’s very contextual and a very evolved process wherein we try to connect the product with a specific narrative which resonates with a particular customer. So this triangle is largely a fitment. It covers the product, the narrative, the psychological effects of the product, product protection and a lot of other things.

Q. How do you differentiate from a consumer platform’s persona and a consumer brand’s persona? What are the key things a new consumer platform should keep in mind while building out their social media strategy in terms of positioning?

Tarun: The platform’s persona and the consumer’s persona are very different. We try to look for people who are a fit for the brand and for that we need to define the brand for sure. Let me create a small picture for you.

We are mCaffeine right? But if you just closely look at the logo, there is an apostrophe above the “m” which translates to “I am Caffeine” which essentially means “You may be Superman, but ‘I Am Caffeine’ and I am happy with my own individuality. It might not work for societal norms but this is me and I want to be me.” So generally, brands which make you feel good about yourself and make you believe in yourself are the brands you are more likely to choose. That’s how our consumer persona is built.

Now we try to build this persona. We try to build “Caffeine”. We try to find people who are caffeine and these people can be in Colaba, Begusarai, Dhanwad. Just to give you a data point – 50% of our sales come from Tier II and III cities which essentially means that the Internet democratizes personas. 

This is very different from the platform persona. I believe that the platform has to be analytical in nature – it has to be an engine for product, distribution and marketing. That’s my limited understanding on the platform part because I’m still learning from other people about building great platforms.


Performance Marketing

Q. What is the kind of ROI one can expect from performance marketing in the early days? When you’re looking at it, are you looking at all channels together or independently?

Tarun: We work on an average order value of INR 1000. So at this level, in the #COVID19 world, anything less than 5x is not a good number (in the normal world it is 3.5x-4x). But again, it is clearly a function of Average Selling Price or ASP. For us initially our average order value was about INR 450 and now it’s finally hit INR 1000 but it took us about 20 months to get here. And now the ROI makes sense. What we did was build a lot of volume from the Amazons, Flipkarts and Nykaas of the world which have a better creative management platform (CMP) and we used to contract money on Facebook to kind of figure out whether to focus on ASP or CPT. We worked on both funnels and there was a point of time where we started getting the results which we were looking for and both these funnels started to converge.

On a monthly level we look at the ROI from our channels as a whole. I feel looking at it individually is kind of unfair for our performance marketing team who would need to spend INR 100 on a certain channel but have only INR 450 come in (initial average order value). So for whatever amount we’ve spent on Facebook, Google Instagram, etc., there has to be a margin profile which we are expecting out of it and whatever network effect it can create on Amazon and Nykaa should result in a lower cost per transaction on Amazon and Nykaa. And we’ve actually experimented with this theory and we’ve gotten very immediate results wherein, my brand marketing team initiated an ad at 7 pm and from 8 pm the rate of the same became 3x. And that’s how we were like okay there’s a network effect and now the cost of marketing should be really low as compared to before.

Q. What are the social media platforms which have brought you the most customers? Would you recommend YouTube?

Tarun: YouTube definitely works but for a brand like us, Instagram has worked the best because the kind of audience we have there and the kind of projections we can make for the brand and build the narrative via visual and textual content has been unparalleled. Now, if there’s a mass brand, like one targeted towards at least 50 crore people of India then TikTok used to be the most preferred platform. But using YouTube is completely different and it becomes even more so when you start approaching it from an affiliate angle wherein you can bombard thousand influencers by multiple links and you can just generate affiliate links from them and start getting traction.

MCaffeine Instagram page

mCaffeine’s official Instagram page 

I’m still focusing on the organic content building part and I’m not touching the performance marketing part because performance marketing is really really tricky on YouTube. There are bumper ads which are brand building ads which don’t generate enough ROI and if the search ad happens you only see the videos or banner ads which are again really pricey. So we don’t do much on YouTube in terms of performance marketing but we’re still doing a lot on the influencer marketing side there.


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