Anirban Das Blah, managing director at Kwan Entertainment and Marketing Solutions, is happy to talk about his company’s tryst with influencer marketing. In April 2017, the celebrity management firm launched a small division—more like an experiment—dealing in influencer marketing and branded content. Today, the division handles business worth Rs35 crore, Blah says with pride.

Influencer marketing, which essentially means offering brands demographic dividend and affinity, could entail just a tweet by a digital influencer/celebrity, a video blog or a piece of original content where the brand is integrated. Currently, Kwan has 14 people as its digital brand ambassadors, including musicians, chefs and lifestyle experts. It now plans to scale up. “We will have 60 people soon," says Blah.

Darshana Bhalla, chief executive of Mates, the entertainment vertical of advertising agency Madison, says that currently 8-10% of its business comes from digital influencers, “but it is bound to grow."

Little surprise, then, that a recent survey by influencer marketing platform Zefmo, titled India Influence Report 2018, says that this year nearly 92% marketers will turn to influencer marketing campaigns. “The popularity of influencer marketing to drive brand awareness and reputation can be gauged by the insight that 89% of marketers have found the medium to be effective and 62% are planning to increase their budgetary allocation towards engaging social influencers," the survey says.

According to the survey findings, top marketers are of the opinion that consumers are more likely to make a purchase decision based on influencers because of authenticity and affinity. They also feel that increasingly consumers are influenced by their peers when it comes to making a purchase decision.

The India Influence Report 2018 has termed people with more than 50,000 followers as macro influencers and those with between 10,000 and 50,000 followers as micro influencers. These influencer, the report maintains, are the most impactful. Currently, Instagram and Facebook are the preferred social channels for influencer marketing. The survey also shows that marketers use influencer marketing for product launches, content promotion and event promotion.

Fluence, one of the leading digital influencer network in India also has a roster of more than 30 leading celebrities across Bollywood, sports and music. “Fluence monetizes the large celebrity influence/clout through social media brand marketing, brand driven content creation and content creation for OTT (over-the-top) video streaming platforms. The firm is at the cusp of large celebrity influence and growing digital internet and digital video space," says Vivek Raicha, executive vice-president and head investments, at CA Media which owns Fluence.

Raicha sees a bright future for influencer marketing given India’s growing digital infrastructure. He says that India has 420 million internet users which is expected to reach 640 million by 2019. Besides, it has 300 million smartphone users, expected to rise to 650 million by 2019. That is not all. India’s 240 million social media users are expected to touch 320 million by 2019. “Digital is increasingly having a larger influence on the purchase decision making in India. Forty-50% of urban internet users now report that online influences their purchase patterns. On account of the above factors, spend on digital advertising is rapidly growing. The digital advertising market, currently estimated at $1.5 billion, is growing at 20%. Out of the above, 30% is estimated to be the spend on social media. Out of the social media spend, 40% is estimated to come from sponsored posts/tweets," says Raicha.

He adds that out of the top 100 pages on Facebook/Twitter, 50-55% are dominated by celebrities and on account of this, the influencer power on digital platform is quite high. “India is also considered to be a large celebrity fan market where 1 out of every 3 TV ads features a celebrity," he adds.

However, Vineet Sodhani chief executive of media audit firm Spatial Access has a word of caution for influencer marketing. “Influencers will start losing their authenticity as users realise they are doing this for money. Brands as well as influencers will have to be clever about how to use them else this form of subtle endorsement may die soon," says Sodhani. Influencer marketing focuses on a highly engaged audience which follows the person because of the kind of content the influencer posts. “Asking these influencers to post sponsored content makes the influencer a “sell off" and hence the audience is less likely to respond. Content has to be original and resonate naturally to make a bigger impact," he says, adding that the option is to declare that the content is sponsored which adds to the authenticity of the influencer and also of the brand. “The audience is more likely to acknowledge the full disclaimer and buy into the brand with continuous association."

However, for now, Blah only sees growth in his influencer marketing business. “We get at least 20 queries a day for comedian Mallika Dua and how brands can be integrated in her content. Our influencer marketing and branded content business will touch Rs100 crore in 2019."

Shuchi Bansal is Mint’s media, marketing and advertising editor. Ordinary Post will look at pressing issues related to all three. Or just fun stuff. Respond to this column at shuchi.b@livemint.com

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