Getting the most out of digital influencer marketing

Guest Column: Research as well as experience point to healthy ROIs for most businesses that use an influencer marketing strategy, said Archana Jain, Managing Director & CEO

e4m by Archana Jain
Updated: Mar 25, 2021 6:19 PM
Archana Jain

With 1 in 2 consumers believing anything an influencer says online (as per Nielsen’s Global Trust Report) and 2 out of 3 consumers trusting influencer messages about a brand more than the company’s advertising (Edelman Trust Barometer), it’s time to make influencer marketing work.

Research and our experience all point to healthy ROIs for most businesses using an influencer marketing strategy. Consumers are known to actually purchase products because of influencer recommendations. We have seen this first hand across beauty brands, fashion labels, hotels and smart phones too!

Selling products through celebrities and personalities is nothing new. Movie stars, pop stars, supermodels have helped many brands shape market appeal. The landscape is somewhat different today. People no longer listen to top celebrities to the same extent they did, back in the days, instead, they trust recommendations from peers.

This has led to the growth of influencer marketing, which has completely revolutionized social media marketing. Influencers are capable of wooing consumers with a unique freshness. Many young social media influencers such as Bhuvan Bam (20 million on YouTube; 11.3 million on Instagram), Prajakta Koli (3.3 million on Instagram) have already displaced many Bollywood actors/Cricketers on brand endorsements. 

The influencer marketing industry is estimated to be worth up to $15 billion by 2022, compared to $8 billion in 2019 according to Business Insider Intelligence. Globally, the top segments that spend on influencers include Tech & Gaming; Foods & Drinks; Fashion, and Beauty. Estimates in the public domain claim India's influencer market at $75-150 million a year.

While influencers like Miss Malini first emerged on the horizon in 2008; the scene began maturing only in 2015. But influencers are still considered a relatively new aspect of brand strategy. Most brands (if I may dare say) are still mastering their influencer strategy. 

What started out as one size fits all, when it was merely about the number of followers, has matured since to consider engagement from likes, comments, and clicks!

The black swan of 2020 has awakened businesses to the power of social platforms and content creators. It has been a catalyst for Influencer Marketing. Some may say that to weather-trimmed advertising budgets, brands turned to digital and influencers, but with digital disruption coming of age in 2020, influencers who have exhibited creativity and engagement have become strong centres of influence. Media is celebrating influencers in editorials – they are the new commentators as well as stars! Sunday Brunch dedicates prominent features on them each week. 

The pandemic has accelerated the rate of adoption of digital marketing in India. Many brands already have a digital-first and digital-only approach, while there are brands that want to start and stay only on digital. We are seeing a strong push to invest in digital! 

What does the framework for a successful influencer campaign look like?

Having a clear vision of the target customer and objectives is the starting point for any influencer strategy. Audience relationship is the most valuable factor when considering engaging or collaborating with a particular influencer. There is little value in working with somebody who doesn't have a real influence on his/her audience. As user-generated content is valuable, the quality of content production must also be carefully assessed. 

In order to score on your influencer strategy, set clear objectives. Are you seeking to increase brand awareness within a particular audience segment or drive sales of a new product launch or merely encourage downloads or is the aim to change/strengthen brand positioning through creative storytelling!  Before kickstarting your campaign and building assets, spend time thinking about the brand’s style and what would define success. It’s important to align objectives with accompanying key performance indicators (KPIs). KPIs should be specific and measurable, including timeframes, platforms, audiences, and metrics. These will lay the foundation to drive successful influencer activations. 

A point to note is that nano and micro-influencers enjoy better engagement rates than the superstars of social media across platforms. By focusing on nano and micro-influencers, brands will be able to stretch their influencer marketing budgets while still working with influencers that are deeply connected to their audiences. The primary medium being used for Influencer Marketing is Instagram and YouTube. While LinkedIn has great potential, it has not been employed as much as yet. 

Trends 2021

As you build your influencer marketing programme, be mindful of trends to improve Influencer Marketing. Some trends that we have observed and experienced include: 

Authenticity

Real influence truly is about leveraging authenticity, because in order to build influence, people need to be trusted, and if your message is being endorsed by less than authentic people, then the audience won’t trust your brand. Hence brands need to mine and work the right influencer(s). Blatantly sponsored posts themselves aren't the problem or you do not have to forgo production value to make your sponsored posts feel more authentic. What makes sponsored content authentic is a genuine sense of excitement about the brand and the product exhibition by the influencer. 

Niche influencing

Brands are becoming more strategic in their use of influencers, and we will see fewer people featured across industries. As more people take to social media: India has 400 million social media users - 120 million on Instagram; 300 million on Facebook; we are already seeing influencers carving out niches for themselves. This influencer marketing trend shows no signs of changing. Influencers will continue to develop expertise in their niche or industry, making them even more sought after by brands in those verticals. 

Brandships
The time is ripe to seek ongoing partnerships instead of one-off projects with influencers. It will be more valuable to focus on finding and partnering those influencers who have shared values with your brand and enter into long-term relationships with them, rather than onboarding them on a contractual basis. Long-term engagement with influencers will be able to foster not only greater brand loyalty but also have them standby the brand in times of CRISIS.

Performance-based deals and influencer commerce will increase 

Brands will expect influencers to deliver on their promises such as a specific number of sales or clicks. Globally 59% of brands deploying influencer marketing are using Affiliate Campaigns and we foresee the growth of this in India too. It is already being practiced by eCommerce Stores. 

Content creators become founders and brand owners

Just like celebrities who have founded brand labels to leverage their brand equity (Anushka Sharma with Nush), influencers are embarking on the same journey too. Make-up Artist and Influencer Namrata Soni has created a beauty line called Simply Nam and Bhuvan Bam has a fashion line with Youthiapa. This trend will grow stronger in 2021 and offers opportunities for brands to collaborate with socially active natives. 

Influencer marketing is not only a form of advocacy, but it also increases brand awareness. When you use traditional advertising, you get the reach, but you do not get the power and trust that comes with advocacy. This is reason enough to employ influencer marketing in your brand strategy.

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