She has starred in ads, YouTube videos and is responsible for the brand’s visibility. A chat with the employee-turned-ambassador of Zomato.
She’s starred in Mukbang videos (a format of videos where people are seen consuming food on camera - it gained popularity in South Korea first), diet swap videos, and even ‘top ten’ themed videos for Zomato. Sahiba Bali, a senior marketing associate at Zomato, has been seen on the food delivery brand’s official YouTube channel, making a splash with different content themes.
It’s oddly satisfying to watch her eat. Bali is also an actress. So, her presence in front of the camera is a trained one. She is a thespian, who has years of experience dabbling in theatre – all the way from her school days to her Master’s degree.
She has a Bachelor’s degree in Economics from Delhi University and a Master’s in marketing from Durham University Business School. It was when she was studying in UK that she received a life-changing call.
It was a call from Bollywood film director Imtiaz Ali. He had a role in mind for Bali in his 2018 movie ‘Laila Majnu’. Taking on the role meant travelling back and forth from London to Kashmir, where the movie was being shot. She recalls that she had to take a part-time job to pay for the movie’s tickets. Her parents were worried that it would be hard for her to manage an acting career as well as her education.
“To me, it seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. My parents were initially against my decision, because I was in the UK and pursuing a Master’s degree. Their fear was that I would drop out. I had to assure them that come what may, I will get a distinction and top my class – which I eventually did,” Bali tells us, over a phone call.
It was also the time she had to write her dissertation. “I used to study on-site (filming location), when we were taking breaks from shooting and would do the research on my days off. Whenever I had a week or 10 days free, I would fly to London. That’s when I gained the confidence to do both – acting as well as marketing. People always told me I couldn’t do both, but I had multiple interests I wanted to pursue – and I did.”
Incidentally, this was the topic of her TED Talk too. She was invited to the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) to give a TED Talk and spoke about her interest in multi-tasking, and how she pursued both her passions at the same time.
When she finished her Master’s degree, she returned to India to pursue her dream of being an actor, while working in the corporate sector simultaneously. She moved to Mumbai and began working as a marketing consultant with a firm and on her days off and weekends, she would audition for movie roles.
In 2019, she played a role in the Netflix Original series, titled ‘Bard of Blood’, which also featured Bollywood actor Emraan Hashmi. She moved back to Delhi, where her family is based, and began working for Zomato later that year.
“I’ve worked as a brand manager at Zomato for around two-and-a-half years and I love my job. My job is to ensure that the brand is visible – whether it’s on the delivery guy’s T-shirt, in a digital ad film, social media platforms, etc.”
According to her LinkedIn profile, Bali is responsible for handling content strategy for ATL, BTL. She handles in-app communication, covering a user base of almost 30 million people. She also helps in building digital and on-ground marketing campaigns for the brands that Zomato partners with.
Bali’s work as a thespian means she has to travel frequently and, as a result, she is always prepared to work remotely. She has a laptop, an independent Internet connection and the will to login, even from picturesque hotel rooms and scenic filming locations.
“It’s so important to have a manager who understands you, otherwise, acting would have been very difficult for me to pursue,” she says. Being an actor gives her advantages when it comes to networking which, in turn, helps her become a better marketer.
When it came to creating content for Zomato’s YouTube channel, her manager suggested that she should try starring in a few videos, given that she already had experience in front of the camera. It was done on an experimental basis, but we’re told the response was good.
Bali has also starred in videos for Dice Media’s FilterCopy. She has a social media presence and collaborates with multiple brands to create content.
"I believe it is important to make sure that I believe in the brands I work with. I won’t endorse something I don’t personally use."
“I genuinely enjoy vlogging my life. All of a sudden, after I appeared in a few movies, I started gaining followers overnight and that’s when brands started collaborating with me. I believe it is important to make sure that I believe in the brands I work with. I won’t endorse something I don’t personally use.”
She opines that the world of influencers is becoming quite saturated right now. So, it becomes all the more important to be selective of the brands she works with and the content she puts out as recommendations.
"Influencer marketing is great for short term gratification but not long term brand recall."
“The way influencer marketing is happening right now, is not very sustainable. It’s great for instant gratification, as consumers have short attention spans, but it may not help brand recall. People can recall Doordarshan ads from the 1990s easier than they can recall, say, a product recommendation from an influencer on an Instagram story.”
Bali is a big foodie. She loves trying different foods. We’re told that free food is unfortunately not a perk of working at Zomato, but she still enjoys eating, nonetheless. She emphasises that she works out daily to stay healthy, despite being a foodie.
She talks about a challenging time in her life, when her family was diagnosed with COVID during the recent second wave. She had to cook, arrange for medicines, and ensure that her family recovered. Bali can take a sigh of relief now that her family is safe.