Opinion: Influencer marketing booms despite flak

An influencer’s worth is not defined just by the sheer number of followers, but by the quality of engagement. Photo: Reuters
An influencer’s worth is not defined just by the sheer number of followers, but by the quality of engagement. Photo: Reuters

  • Currently up to 15% of digital media investments are going into influencers
  • The survey said that 94% of the brands preferred Instagram for their campaigns, followed by Facebook and YouTube

Regardless of the flak it has received from critics, influencer marketing in India is exploding. A report by Greenroom, an agency specializing in digital marketing and artiste management, clearly states that influencer marketing is set to grow in 2019. A survey conducted by the agency asked more than 100 professional marketers if they had worked with digital influencers in 2018 and 62% said they had. Of the marketers spoken to, 42% said they will increase their budget for influencer marketing this year. Some of the brands spoken to admitted to running two to five campaigns this year. The survey said that 94% of the brands preferred Instagram for their campaigns, followed by Facebook and YouTube.

Lakshmi Balasubramanian, director, Greenroom, says that the growth in influencer marketing can be gauged from the fact that when Greenroom was launched in 2015, there were about five to six agencies. “Now there are at least 50," she says. There has been super rapid growth in this industry in the last two years, she points out. Rahul Vengalil, CEO and founder, What Clicks, a digital marketing audit and advisory firm, agrees. He estimates the industry to be close to 1,250 crore. “Currently up to 15% of digital media investments are going into influencers and it’s growing very fast," he says. One of the biggest criticisms against influencer marketing is the fake followers that digital influencers may have. However, influencer marketing experts say that now there are tools available to figure it out. Sanjay Vasudeva, founder of BuzzOne, says that platforms are aware of bots. “The system is being cleaned up and there is more transparency now." BuzzOne works with brands such as Amazon, Paytm, Vivo and Britannia, among others.

Shudeep Majumdar, co-founder, Zefmo Media Pvt. Ltd, an influencer marketing company, firmly believes that while influencer marketing has received its share of flak, it has proven itself to be an incredibly effective way for brands to market their products to a vast audience of potential consumers. “The rise in spend on influencer marketing can be partly attributed to brands and agencies increasingly turning to influencers for high-engagement and authentic reach that’s unavailable through traditional channels." However, experts in the field say that to follow best practices, influencer marketing agencies and brands need to keep a few things in mind. For starters, brands need to be careful about the kind of influencer they are deploying to talk on their behalf. “Brands need to identify influencers with domain experience in the brand’s line of products or services," says Majumdar.

Even when brands select the right influencers, they should study the demographics of the followers and look beyond age and income groups. An influencer’s worth is not defined just by the sheer number of followers, but by the quality of engagement he\she has on the social handles. According to What Click’s Vengalil, influencing is an interactive medium. “Work with influencers who can respond to queries and not just put up a picture or video."

Experts feel that lack of creative freedom to influencers often leads to ineffective influencer marketing campaigns. “Not allowing influencers to integrate brands seamlessly in their own authentic way and presenting a scripted content makes it look like blatant advertising," says Majumdar, who expects both influencers and brands to have long-term collaborations. There is indeed merit in long-term value creation leading to authentic and consistent storytelling, he adds. Going forward, influencers will continue to experiment with video-marketing, which is considered far more effective in driving sales than text-based content. In fact, in the past year, newer platforms, such as TikTok, have created a new breed of influencers whose videos have also gone viral on other social media platforms such as WhatsApp and YouTube, driving more Indians to try out the app. “We are getting a lot of interest from brands to collaborate with TikTok influencers," says Majumdar.

Last, influencer marketing may need to go more regional and rural. With more consumers entering the digital space from rural India, it is imperative brands start using influencers to reach that segment as well. “The strategy and approach needs to change while doing that. It will no longer be one master creative being dubbed into different languages," says Vengalil. Though influencer marketing has been heralded as the next big thing in marketing, Vengalil says that brands will start asking for more accountability from influencers. This could be in the form of key performance indicators, changed content formats or via third party monitoring.

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.

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