By Nitin Sabharwal
That Covid has brought upon unprecedented levels of disruption for brands, businesses and individuals can never be overstated. While this disruption has spurred an all-out pivot to a ‘digital lifestyle’ for individuals, it has the brands also scrambling to keep pace and align their operations as well as marketing and sales with the emerging all-round digital ecosystem. In fact, the increasingly digitalised landscape has proved to be a more convenient and timely meeting point for both companies and end-consumers. It is no wonder that the Covid-driven increased usage of online delivery and payment services, and higher consumption of OTT, gaming and video entertainment when coupled with surging social media presence of end-consumers have galvanised the advent of influencer marketing as a substantial component in a company’s digital marketing strategy. Although influencer marketing has been in vogue for some years now, the recent times have particularly seen sizeable traction casting a shadow on Indian brands and their digital marketing strategies.
Digital transformation inevitable for Indian companies and brands
It is no more a matter of whether brands would undertake digitisation but when they would do it. Several surveys and studies have testified to the intent of brands and companies taking the digital route in some ways. According to Dell Technologies Digital Transformation Index, as much as 94.7% of Indian companies had accelerated digital makeover to some extent with 92.3% of them reporting to have recast their business models last year. Echoing similar sentiments, in another study, more than 50% of companies surveyed had said to have plans to advance their digital transformation exercise by one to three years.
Most sectors taking to Influencer marketing: An easy choice for Indian brands
In the last one and half years, Indian brands across industries and sectors were seen to have taken recourse to influencer marketing in a major way as a part of their digital marketing toolkit. From FMCG to food and nutrition, to beauty and wellness, to fashion and lifestyle, to entertainment to even BFSI companies, to those operating in B2B space, nearly most sectors and businesses have employed influencer marketing in some measure. Pushed by the Covid-driven financial constraints and mobility restrictions as also the ever-diminishing end-consumer trust in the traditional celebrity endorsement route, it had emerged as a fairly easy choice for Indian brands too. According to a study, 78% of marketing leaders took to influencer marketing in 2020 with about 13% of them engaging in influencer activity for the first-time last year. In a similar vein, according to eMarketer, 84% of marketers had contemplated launching at least one campaign featuring an influencer. From a consumer standpoint, a significant 71% of consumers had reported to have made purchases derived from a social media recommendation.
Social media democratises space: phenomenal rise in number of new influencers
In the recent past during Covid, again due to most Indians having been confined indoors, there has been a phenomenal and near-spontaneous proliferation of new social media influencers in the country offering brands and companies plenty of options while executing their influencer marketing strategy. Virtually overnight, thousands of ordinary people but with experience and expertise on a niche subject became social media influencers and digital opinion leaders on subjects as widely ranging from food, health and fitness to beauty, fashion and lifestyle and several others. Their opinion and advice through their posts on a product or a service quality began to be valued and respected adding to their profile as well as their followers count. While for brands, the roping in of influencers was not only timely, it also was easy on their budget as compared to when working with traditional celebrities while improving ROI and revenues. There is no doubt that the open and democratic nature of social media allowing everyone to vent or share their opinion has allowed the rise and blossoming of these influencers. In addition, the format allowing 24/7 connect, posting of videos, live video sessions and two-way interactive conversations have catalysed the rise of new influencers. In fact, with brands employing influencer marketing, social media has no more remained merely social; it has by all means turned commercial too.
Influencer marketing: the not-so-old-kid in the performance marketing ecosystem
Not so long-ago advertisers were spending millions to get the right brand endorsement from celebs and in return used to talk to audiences of these celebs. With social media creating new homegrown celebs who have huge to very little fan following, endorsement is moving in unchartered territory in the history of brand endorsements. While there have been instances of overnight successes for some brands, many are reeling under peer pressure with no platform out there that helps coordinate, research, deliver and assess measurability as a one-window solution. With performance marketing taking over viewability and commission-based models now lining the pockets of influencers, it is becoming an encouraging future platform for brands to leverage the reach and get more active audience with faster result-oriented marketing spends.
Influencers making a quick pivot while lapping up the opportunities
For their part, influencers have been quick to adapt to the Covid-induced physical as well as professional environment. Jettisoning outdoor video shoots with heavy equipment and paraphernalia, they decided to make do with simple phone cameras from their homes. Several of them also made a relative shift in terms of their content for which they were hitherto known for. For instance, an expert chef popular for his customary Indian cuisines switched to a western cuisine, an entertainer started working on a different genre against his earlier performances. At the same time, those who had been in the business relatively longer, chastened by cancellation of sponsored travel and outdoor event-based programmes, they were more realistic in their negotiations with brands and companies given the slowdown in the larger economy and the resultant paucity of opportunities. As such, this had been a win-win situation for everyone in the business. In fact, during the second wave, a section of influencers had also emerged as a sort of Covid-related information lifeline for ordinary folks desperately seeking information and medical help. While sharing people’s requests with their followers, they also monetised in the process where in companies which collected data on people sponsored their posts.
Therefore, even as influencer marketing has become really big for the Indian brands, a more ROI-driven concrete performance-based relationship would evolve in the coming future. Brands would no longer be content with mere impressions and likes but would also expect actual conversion and sales while negotiating their terms and conditions with the influencers. So, mere number of followers would not mean much. Activity and engagement rates would matter more.
The author is chief operating officer, India Operations, Optimise Media