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From Zero to Unicorn in 3 Years: CRED’s Journey With Branding and Influencer Marketing

What you'll learn:

Discover how CRED became one of India's top fintech companies and carved out a unique niche with personal branding and influencer marketing.

Most of us know that panicky feeling that comes from receiving a threatening letter from a credit card company or utility provider, but few of us have ever been rewarded for paying our bills on time — unless you’re a CRED member.

CRED is a fintech platform that rewards everyday individuals for their timely credit card and bill payments. This approach turns the concept of credit scores on its head ​​by incentivizing positive financial behavior with tangible benefits. 

It’s a business model built on trust — rather than simply avoiding penalties or negative impacts on their credit score, CRED incentivizes members to maintain good financial habits through rewards and perks. 

Founded in 2018, CRED became a unicorn just three years later, raising $800 million in funding along the way and becoming one of India’s most valuable startups, with a valuation of $2.2 billion and over 16 million users.

Despite being hit by losses in 2023, Founder and CEO Kunal Shah stands by the strategy that has helped CRED attract a massive customer base. 

“The investment we have made in building our brand, community, and products has been a conscious choice, and we have not deviated from that plan,” he told the Economic Times

While some commentators believe the business model may not be sustainable, CRED is now positioning itself as a “lifestyle-first” brand — hinting at a pivot that will help to monetize its existing, loyal customers. 

CRED’s meteoric rise has other fintech startup leaders looking for ways to replicate its success — and if you’re one of them, you’re in the right place.

In this blog post, we’ll take you on a deep dive into the marketing strategies that have helped CRED grow — and what you can learn from them. 

CRED's Campaigns

Branding

Brand building and user acquisition have been central to CRED’s success and the main focus of its strategy, which, as Shah’s comments indicate, is to amass a large and faithful user base and then monetize it by offering new, lifestyle-related products and services. 

To achieve this goal, CRED established three brand pillars: trust, exclusivity, and innovation. All of the company’s marketing tactics link back to one or more of these pillars, helping to cement its place as one of India’s most talked-about fintech startups — and driving customer acquisition along the way.

Before we jump into the strategy in more detail, let’s take a look at the three pillars and how they contribute to CRED’s brand positioning.

CRED’s brand pillars: trust, exclusivity, and innovation

Trust

CRED’s emphasis on trust is evident not only in the company’s communications but also in its operational model. 

By requiring users to have a high credit score for membership, CRED ensures its community consists of financially responsible individuals and builds confidence in the platform itself. 

Additionally, CRED’s transparent policies and secure transactions further reinforce this trust.

Therefore, it’s not surprising that many of both CRED’s and Shah’s social media posts emphasize the importance of trust.

Exclusivity

Exclusivity is another of CRED’s core tenets. By describing itself as a “members-only” platform, it creates a sense of belonging and prestige among its users. 

As an aspirational brand, CRED’s exclusivity factor turns membership of the platform into a coveted status symbol. 

This approach enhances its perceived value while ensuring its user base is financially responsible — a win-win for both parties. 

The result? Users engage with the platform regularly and take advantage of the unique offerings, reinforcing the cycle of trust and exclusivity that is central to CRED’s brand identity and growth strategy.

Innovation

Innovation is the third pillar of CRED’s branding strategy, which positions itself as a disruptor in the fintech space. 

By constantly introducing innovative features and services, such as CRED Stash for short-term credit lines and CRED Mint for peer-to-peer lending, the company continually evolves its offerings to meet and anticipate the needs of its user base. 

CRED’s commitment to innovation adds value to its user experience while strengthening its position as a leader in the fintech industry, helping it attract users who seek modern, efficient, and rewarding ways to manage their finances.

CRED's Campaigns

Social media

CRED’s social media strategy focuses on two main platforms: Instagram and YouTube. On both platforms, CRED masterfully blends its brand pillars into content that surprises, delights, and often goes viral.

Instagram: curating a lifestyle brand

Visually, the CRED Instagram feed definitely looks like a lifestyle brand, featuring affirmations and hyper-stylized graphics and photographs that encapsulate its views on finance, luxury, trust, and security.

Not only does the CRED Instagram account put out regular content, it also works as an extension platform for specific campaigns. For instance, it hosts contests that boost engagement by rewarding followers with experiential, lifestyle-centric prizes. 

CRED keeps its content varied with the strategic use of Reels and GIFs that reflect the public mood and summarize monthly news from tech, finance, and pop culture with a unique twist.

By creating content that resonates with its audience’s lifestyle, interests, and aspirations, CRED fosters a deeper connection with its Instagram followers.

Key takeaways:

  • Make your feed visually appealing.
  • Use social media to promote your campaigns.
  • Boost engagement with contests and rewards.

YouTube: personal finance advice from celebrities

On YouTube, CRED’s strategy revolves around finance education content, like its ‘On The Money’ series, which features short, snappy videos that briefly discuss topics relating to money and culture. 

You’ll also find the ‘CRED Curious’ podcast on YouTube, where host Shah discusses various topics related to money, startups, and trends with industry leaders, lending a more personal touch to the brand’s messaging.

Key takeaways:

  • Leverage the power of video.
  • Make educational content fun and bite-size.
  • Share your podcast on YouTube for better reach.

Kunal Shah’s personal branding strategy

Understanding the importance of personal connection in building brand trust and engagement, Shah has been instrumental in CRED’s growth. 

Through his active presence on platforms like Instagram, X, and LinkedIn, he regularly posts and engages with followers and fellow startup leaders, while his responses to comments help cultivate personal connections and a sense of community.

His content centers on a few different pillars, including:

  • Educational content that establishes him — and, by extension, CRED — as a reliable resource for personal finance advice.
  • Personal storytelling — including stories of both success and failure, humanizing him and the brand.
  • Thought leadership that builds his authority on topics like entrepreneurship, fintech, and the Indian startup ecosystem.
  • Inspirational content that aligns with the aspirational aspect of the CRED brand. 

What sets Shah’s posts apart in the crowded digital space is their authenticity, transparency, and often bold or surprising nature. This approach particularly resonates with young audiences — which makes sense during a decade when “authentic” has been named word of the year.

By capturing attention and stimulating discussion, he engages a diverse audience while strengthening his overall brand appeal.

CRED's Campaigns

Influencer marketing

When digital advertising is everywhere, influencer marketing presents a powerful antidote to ad fatigue. Audiences perceive it as more authentic, which helps to cultivate trust and combat skepticism.

Understanding this, CRED has partnered with over 100 influencers — from cricket legends to Bollywood stars and stand-up comedians — to bolster its brand presence by creating content that resonates with its target demographic.

This strategy enables CRED to leverage the trust and credibility these individuals have with their followers, amplifying its audience, growing engagement, and cultivating loyalty.

Here are some of the tactics they’ve used:

1. Celebrity-led campaigns

Rahul Dravid goes viral

CRED went viral with its campaign featuring Rahul Dravid, which portrayed the cricket legend uncharacteristically losing his cool in a fit of road rage — a stark contrast to his known calm and composed personality.

This surprising depiction of Dravid, combined with his statement “Indiranagar ka Gunda” (the gangster of Indiranagar), captured the audience’s attention and sparked widespread amusement and discussion.

High-profile figures like former India cricket captain Virat Kohli fanned the flames by commenting on the campaign, adding to the ripple effect and garnering even more visibility. 

The spot was part of CRED’s broader strategy to create unique and attention-grabbing ads, many of which feature celebrities in roles and scenarios far removed from their usual public personas.

This added an element of humor and intrigue while communicating the brand’s message of rewarding good financial behavior in an engaging and memorable way.

Key takeaways:

  • Depict influencers in unusual ways.
  • Use the element of surprise.
  • Link humor to your brand messaging.

Anil Kapoor appeals to nostalgia

CRED’s marketing campaign featuring 90s Bollywood icons like Anil Kapoor, which aired during the 2020 Indian Premier League (IPL), blended nostalgia, humor, and celebrity influence to create a series of ads that resonated across generations.

The campaign used a tongue-in-cheek approach, combining humor and a sense of exclusivity — a key theme in CRED’s brand messaging. 

For instance, the ad series showed the celebrities auditioning to be in the ad, reinforcing the idea that not everyone gets into CRED’s exclusive club.

By enlisting 90s Bollywood household names, the company demonstrated its deep understanding of its target audience and the cultural references that would appeal to them.

The campaign created a buzz around the brand, not just through television but also on social media, where it was widely discussed and shared. This helped in increasing brand awareness and contributed to the app’s popularity, driving more downloads and user engagement. 

Key takeaways:

  • Leverage nostalgia.
  • Keep it simple.
  • Look for multi-generational appeal.

Sushant Divgikar brings in a diverse audience

CRED knows that a large chunk of its target audience is on YouTube, so it created the financial education series ‘My Two Cents,’ where celebrities reveal personal finance wisdom.

This is an innovative strategy because it targets a diverse audience by featuring a variety of personalities. Each brings a unique perspective and dispenses financial advice in line with the brand’s core message of promoting financial responsibility.

For instance, one episode features LGBTQIA+ icon and drag performer Sushant Divgikar sharing their advice on budgeting. This shows how CRED taps into diverse communities and interests, broadening the show’s appeal and reinforcing the brand’s progressive and socially aware image.

The casual, conversational setting and tone of the video series create a sense of intimacy and familiarity, and the content is both relatable to the audience and relevant to CRED’s brand pillars.

Key takeaways:

  • Create on the platforms where your audience hangs out.
  • Make educational content relatable.
  • Use personal storytelling by influencers.

2. Viral PR stunts

Ahead of its 2023 Black Friday sale, CRED made the unusual move of sending boxes containing hammers and wrenches to influencers — accompanied by a note encouraging them to destroy their watches and phones.

This outside-the-box marketing campaign created a buzz on social media while stirring curiosity and conversation around the brand’s Black Friday sale with the note’s cryptic invitation: “It’s time. For your current watch to rest in pieces. 23rd onwards, you can claim the Omega Seamaster as a replacement.”

Key takeaway:

  • Combine influencer marketing with PR stunts for extra oomph.

3. Sponsored Instagram posts

A classic from the influencer marketing playbook, sponsored Instagram posts are still effective — and CRED knows it. 

So when the company launched Cred Escapes, its new service bringing exclusive travel experiences to its members, it released six Instagram videos in collaboration with digital creators like José Covaco.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by José Covaco (@hoezaay)

The videos showcased the various travel experiences available, highlighting the luxurious and exclusive nature of these opportunities and CRED’s commitment to providing unique and high-value experiences to its members.

The influencers’ personal styles and narratives added authenticity to the campaign, making it more relatable to their followers and demonstrating CRED’s understanding of the evolving digital landscape.

Key takeaways:

  • Partner with digital creators who align with the product or service you want to promote.
  • The more diverse the creators, the broader your reach will be.

4. User-generated content (UGC)

Although not technically influencer marketing, user-generated content can be just as powerful — if not more so. 

In 2019, CRED led yet another surprisingly clever viral campaign — this time, sending cakes to users who had paid their bills on time. 

The cakes, which were sent to people’s places of work, were a cunning customer acquisition strategy that targeted the coworkers of existing users. 

But it had the added benefit of high shareability: I mean, who’s ever received cake from their bank at their office? So, of course, all the grateful recipients started snapping and posting away, making the campaign go viral.

Key takeaway:

  • Sometimes, it’s worth blowing your customer acquisition budget on a wildcard campaign. 
Wrap-Up

The art of viral fintech marketing: CRED’s winning formula

CRED’s strategy is a masterclass in viral marketing. It’s clear the brand has done deep research into its target market and the diverse platforms where different segments of its audience hang out, then tailored its content accordingly.

Hats off to the brand’s marketing team — they have found ways to convey its core messaging through humor, celebrity partnerships, and outside-the-box thinking, that push all the right buttons. 

For fintech companies, an active and creative social media presence is crucial — and CRED’s journey shows us what’s possible in the competitive fintech space with the right strategy. 

Looking for more guidance on how to market your fintech startup? 

Check out this post on how to create a fintech marketing strategy that works.