Do celebrity endorsements work in the HR tech space?

It is rather uncommon to see brands associating with a celebrity in a software solutions B2B market

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In the recent past, a few global HR services companies have aligned their brand with different celebrities as part of their marketing strategy. BetterUp, a mobile-based coaching platform startup, has hired Prince Harry, The Duke of Sussex as its chief impact officer. Another company, The Mom Project, which supports mothers in their journey back to the active workforce, has added Serena Williams, the famous tennis player, as part of its board of directors. Workday, an HR services firm, has signed Naomi Osaka, the Japanese tennis player, as its brand ambassador. Now, if we talk about the consumer products market which majorly caters to a B2C audience, celebrity endorsements are very much welcomed and preferred. Brands which operate in the FMCG, smartphones and fashion apparel market, are seen aligning themselves with famous actors or sportspersons, but in a SaaS- based B2B solutions market, does this help?

“In case of companies, such as Oracle, apart from Larry Ellison, the co-founder, the executive chairman and chief technology officer of Oracle Corporation, who is the face of the company? Having celebrities humanises everything. But most of the time, companies in this sector prefer to associate with tech gurus or subject-matter experts who know the product and the domain. A celeb sportsperson as the brand ambassador will get more eyeballs, but it is difficult to say whether it will influence people to buy the product,”

Abhijit Bhaduri, HR leader & author, Dreamers and Unicorn

Generally, if we talk about a B2B market, especially in the HR domain, most brands prefer to associate with subject-matter experts or people who possess thorough knowledge about the domain and carry some credibility. This is more often known as influence marketing, where these influencers are used to add credibility to the brand.

Brands often choose brand ambassadors on the basis of the kind of personality the person carries amongst the masses and what they are known for in the market. When the idealogy of the brand matches with the person, it makes a perfect match.

BetterUp took on Harry because he had worked extensively in the area of spreading awareness about mental health by founding Invictus Games, a platform for servicemen to use sports as part of their psychological and physical rehabilitation. Also, Harry founded Sentebale, which works to ensure the mental health of people fighting HIV. Since BetterUp is into professional coaching and counselling, it makes sense for it to associate with Prince Harry, so that it can further expand its client base.

Serena Williams, after becoming a mother, has been very vocal about the empowerment of women, especially mothers. So, given the mission of The Mom Project, which is to empower women, making Serena Williams the face of the brand surely adds value.

Workday chose Osaka to endorse it because of her open and enthusiastic support to the ‘Black Lives Matter’ campaign. The firm also sees her as a leading voice of the social justice movement and admires her tough attitude, which reflects the core values of Workday.

“Celebrity associations are also used to open opportunities in a different market or to expand in a specific target baseBrands can associate with political public figures to expand their reach inside government establishments or ministries.”

A senior marketing professional of a leading IT company

“I was always against having celebrity endorsements at all, because many a time the celebrity vampire effect comes into play where the celebrity’s popularity overshadows the brand itself. If we talk about SaaS-based companies providing HR services, there is no connection between associating the brand with a tennis sports icon. I would never advise something like that because, not only does the celebrity vampire effect come into play but it involves too much of expenditure. I would rather invest that money in media spending where I can talk about my brand and services.”

Suman Srivastava, marketing consultant & founder, Marketing Unplugged

So, does associating one’s brand with a celebrity name make an impact, especially when the primary audience is a niche market?

Abhijit Bhaduri, HR leader & author, Dreamers and Unicorn, who has worked with advertising agencies, and FMCG brands in the past, shares that such celebrity associations do add credibility and humanise the brand, giving it a face. However, whether it will influence people to buy the products is difficult to say.

“In case of companies, such as Oracle, apart from Larry Ellison, the co-founder, the executive chairman and chief technology officer of Oracle Corporation, who is the face of the company? Having celebrities humanises everything. But most of the time, companies in this sector prefer to associate with tech gurus or subject-matter experts who know the product and the domain. A celeb sportsperson as the brand ambassador will get more eyeballs, but it is difficult to say whether it will influence people to buy the product,” shares Bhaduri.

A senior marketing professional of on the leading IT companies reveals that such celebrity associations are also used to open opportunities in a different market or to expand in a specific target base.

“All businesses are about people. A B2B HR tech play is also about people. The HR establishment and the HR managers are people for sure! Therefore, using a celeb to catch the eyeballs of those who drive B2B tech is totally fine. Yes, the cost per eyeball with a celebrity is going to be humongous, but so be it. Do also remember that these businesses are on a value-build mode. A celeb adds to that as well.” 

Harish Bijoor, brand-strategy expert & founder, Harish Bijoor Consults

“Brands can associate with political public figures to expand their reach inside government establishments or ministries,” he says.

Other senior marketing professionals such as Suman Srivastava, marketing consultant & founder, Marketing Unplugged, is not in favour of celebrity associations at all irrespective of whether it is a consumer brand or a B2B brand.

“I was always against having celebrity endorsements at all, because many a time the celebrity vampire effect comes into play where the celebrity’s popularity overshadows the brand itself. If we talk about SaaS-based companies providing HR services, there is no connection between associating the brand with a tennis sports icon. I would never advise something like that because, not only does the celebrity vampire effect come into play but it involves too much of expenditure. I would rather invest that money in media spending where I can talk about my brand and services,” asserts Srivastava.

However, not everyone thinks the same. It may cost a lot but it is worth it believes Harish Bijoor, brand-strategy expert & founder, Harish Bijoor Consults. “All businesses are about people. A B2B HR tech play is also about people. The HR establishment and the HR managers are people for sure! Therefore, using a celeb to catch the eyeballs of those who drive B2B tech is totally fine. Yes, the cost per eyeball with a celebrity is going to be humongous, but so be it. Do also remember that these businesses are on a value-build mode. A celeb adds to that as well,” points out Bijoor.

For a SaaS-based tech company catering specifically to a niche market, associating with influencers and subject-matter experts can add more value to its marketing efforts. In fact, it can be a better option than associating with a public figure or a sportsperson, which will definitely bring publicity but at a very hefty price.

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