In 2016, footballer Cristiano Ronaldo’s 59 posts on his social media account helped Nike generate $36 million in value, as per Hookit. The good old word of mouth is back, but in an improved version known as influencers, in the digital world. Influencer marketing refers to a brand leveraging specific key individuals with significant following on social/other media to endorse it in a more personal manner than a scripted campaign. In times of social media where two-way conversations are a norm, many brands are turning to influencers for their creativity, time, ability to create content and access their loyal followers.
There are numerous reasons why brands approach influencers, but the most common ones include: announcement of a new product or brand, educating consumers about a new service or its usage and creating targeted campaigns with a clear call to action.
Ford India’s two campaigns, Fiesta Movement and Urban Discoveries, for its EcoSport launch were influencer led. “In the age of real time feedback via social channels, our influencer strategy has not only helped us communicate directly with our customers but also draw real and right time feedback,” says Rahul Gautam, VP, marketing, Ford India.
Experiential categories such as fashion and lifestyle invest heavily on influencer marketing. Even technology and automobile brands rely on it since product reviews are critical for consumers to differentiate and consider options. “Brands have realised that the younger consumer loves brands that are able to make the campaign about “me”, “now”, “short” and “super entertaining”. Brands now have to be relatable to these triggers to gain loyalty and recall,” notes Ashish Aggarwal, head of brand solutions, Roposo. “Using Instagram or Snapchat automatically makes a brand more hip.” With decreasing attention span, influencer marketing helps tap the on-the-go content consumption behaviour.
An amplification strategy
Influence, in advertising parlance, is the ability to affect consumer behaviour. It has less to do with the number of followers than with one’s reputation or personal branding, which is often built by consistently creating engaging content around one’s areas of interest. If this exists, then comes the next stage — the ability to distribute content and the corresponding reach. Needless to say, without relevance and shared interests, influencer marketing is a lost cause.
Most brands while zeroing in on the right influencers use market insights, consumer affinity, digital tools and dashboards to analyse their reach, engagement, relatability and effectiveness of content. “For example, we see people connecting to sport in newer ways than before. The conversations they are having with friends, athletes and idols are on very different platforms compared to a few years ago,” says Sean Van Wyk, senior marketing director, Adidas India.
Talking to consumers on platforms that they are using in a language they are conversing in, necessitates being immersed in their interests and being in a position to inspire and enable. This increasingly is happening when they are able to relate to the person creating the content/message. Hence, brands are increasingly opting for influencers. They act as a bridge between a brand’s message and a consumer’s need for information, inspiration and being enabled.
KFC has been partnering with influencers like comedienne Mallika Dua and rapper Baba Sehgal to connect with its consumers. “We are currently the talk of the town for our latest product offering — Chilli Chizza — and the catchy rap SorryPizza that Baba Sehgal created after he tried the product,” claims Lluis Ruiz Ribot, CMO, KFC India.
Brands believe that with a consumer’s constant exposure to content, branded or otherwise, it is not just enough to push out a marketing campaign. For every new tool or medium that enables marketers to reach its consumers, an equal number of content blockers exist. Influencer marketing thus opens up a whole new channel that amplifies branded content, and makes it more relatable and engaging.
Still a long way to go
However, it is easier said than done. Compared to the West, India probably spends 3-5% towards influencer marketing. For example, Rewardstyle, an influencer marketing agency in the West, grossed $100 million in 2016. Digital agencies estimate the size of the Indian market at $5 million. Influencers in the West command followers in millions whereas most Indian influencers cap out at five lakh. According to Aggarwal, the main hurdles include: an unstructured industry with low understanding on how to use influencers; no software solutions around targeting and organising influencers easily; myopic objectives for brands — no real strategy around influencer marketing; and zero tracking methodology leading to poor RoI calculation. Besides, most Indian brands still think ‘campaigns’.
“We’re underplaying the potential of influencers by engaging them for short burst campaigns and not making use of long-term associations which is now very common in the West,” says GetEvangelized founder Lavin Mirchandani. An important learning is to not treat the influencer content the way you approach a traditional paid media outlet. “You want to make content that consumers want to view and share — and a large part of that is to not have blatant, in-your-face branding,” says Ribot. “Yet at the same time, you need to build cues that lead to your brand and that’s the balancing act that marketers must do.” Today, brands are known to invest 5-15% of their spends on engaging influencers. Vikas Chawla, co-founder, SocialBeat says, “The awareness about influencer marketing is slowly picking up in India and many brands have started to invest a smaller part of their budget to test the waters.”
However, many companies especially in the e-commerce domain, are known for hiring an army of social media accounts in the name of influencer marketing. Since RoI is usually measured with a brand lift tool and impact on the brand’s social media, if done smartly, such campaigns can lead to over three-five times more RoI; since costs are comparatively lower with some influencers agreeing on barter payments. In the short-term, brands should not expect a large spike in transactions but can expect authentic word of mouth. Apart from creating amazing content, influencer marketing helps in driving traffic to the brand’s website/app, social media engagement — shares, likes, higher ranking through quality backlinks (SEO), growth in organic traffic and eventually results in sales/leads.