There is no doubt that influencer marketing has become a credible, established tool today for marketers to reach consumers in a digital-first world. However, post the pandemic, the digital landscape of the country has seen a significant shift. The latest report unveiled by INCA, GroupM’s influencer and content marketing platform, and the exchange4media Group shows just how influencer marketing has really shot to prominence at a time when the pandemic upended the digital landscape of the country. The report, recently unveiled at the first-ever IMPACT Digital Influencer Conference, currently pegs the influencer marketing spends at Rs 900 crore with a CAGR of 25%. The report estimates that the industry will reach an impressive Rs 2,200 crore by 2025, putting in perspective the immense potential influencer marketing offers for brands and the advertising industry. This industry report is the first ever to quantify the current and predict the future path of influencer marketing in India. It looks at all aspects of the industry including trends and the impact of regulation.
The evolving landscape of influencer marketing
The influencer marketing industry is undergoing a transformation triggered by the pandemic as well as the rise of brands wanting to connect with consumers directly. The inherent nature of the industry makes it difficult to track and quantify, but GroupM with its INCA platform has done the same across campaigns executed by brand and influencer categories. INCA is the only data-driven; outcome (ROI) based influencer solution in India.
In India, out of 1.3 billion people, a third (more than 400 million) already had access to social media before the pandemic. This number has surely skyrocketed in the last 18 months and there is a significant shift in consumer behaviour that is the real fuel for the growth of the segment. Sharing his views on the report, Prasanth Kumar, CEO – GroupM South Asia states, “Over the last few years, brands have shown significant interest in influencer marketing. The pandemic has accelerated the adoption of influencer marketing by brands making it an integral part of the brand marketing strategy and is now an important part of our media mix recommendation to brands. The key factor that has got brands interested is the bond of trust and authenticity that influencers share with their audiences, thus helping brands associate with an influencer to leverage the same. This report is our effort to help marketers understand various aspects of influencer marketing in the country. Consumer behaviour is changing at a fast pace and we want to empower marketers with the knowledge that can help them.”
Nearly two-thirds of the Indian population today follow an influencer. Brands can probably interpret that influencers and creative storytelling correlate with brand differentiation, a key advantage as attention spans get shorter.
Noting that influencer marketing is finally getting its due in the marketing mix, Nawal Ahuja, Co-founder of the exchange4media Group, adds, “The sway of ‘everyday’ influencers has finally got the attention of the CMO. Spurred by the pandemic, today’s influencer arena has become a crowded marketplace, the result of which is a wave of content creators from the most niche genres and smallest towns in the country. Brands have plenty to choose from and while everyone is happy to ride on the bandwagon, the golden rules of marketing become even more relevant. Understanding of the category and fit with the influencer audience, and quality over quantity will become key areas of focus. We are happy to partner with GroupM – INCA to bring out this first edition of the report.”
The report also features a survey that covers the country’s top marketing leaders, which saw a unanimous 100% of those surveyed rank influencer campaigns as a top priority for 2021 and beyond. Every other leader indicated a budget growth of more than 25% this year for influencer marketing, underlining its growing importance in today’s rapidly changing marketing ecosystem. Explaining how the report is an endeavour towards harnessing the power of influencers, Ashwin Padmanabhan, President – Partnerships and Trading of GroupM India remarks, “Influencer marketing industry is at a point of inflexion and can take off, subject to the industry initiating to measure, quantify and make investments in influencer marketing accountable. The ‘India Influencer Marketing Report’ is GroupM and INCA’s attempt to do the same. Not only have we tried to quantify the industry, but we have also attempted to define and standardise the various formats and industry terms. We hope this report will catalyse the industry and ensure the power of influencers is harnessed effectively!”
INFLUENCER MARKETING: KEY PART OF THE MEDIA MIX
Despite all the uncertainties caused by the pandemic, influencer marketing is still a prevalent and effective form of marketing that has become an integral part of the marketing mix. The report notes that we have become more connected than ever during the past year or so. Due to the pandemic, technology at the heart of the disruption has become an essential part of Indians lives. With more time-consuming content, there is now an opportunity to gather more data. The need to directly reach out to consumers across the length and breadth of the country, including those in rural markets, will help ensure that influencer marketing will be a vital part of the marketing mix.
The report also notes that social media has allowed ordinary, everyday people to create their own brand and communities via content. Therefore, standard influencers bring a greater authenticity and are more relatable than high profile or traditional celebrities. Further, according to the report, the top four categories i.e. personal care, F&B, fashion and jewellery, and mobile and electronics; contribute 70% of the influencer marketing volume. On the influencer radar, celebrities contribute 27% while influencers contribute 73%. Specialist and niche influencers also bring more credibility and expertise on their topics, thus commanding greater influence and authority than a mass celebrity would.
The report further observes that in a country of about 1.3 billion people, a third (more than 400 million) already had access to social media before the pandemic, a number that has now definitely skyrocketed over the past 18 months. More than the numbers however, there is a significant shift in consumer behaviour that is the real fuel for the growth of the segment. Like the seemingly unlimited bespoke content that creators are churning out for brands, the growth potential for influencer marketing looks limitless.
Navigating the road ahead
India has seen extensive use of influencers and KOLs (Key Opinion Leaders) in decision-making and influencer marketing. However, the last 18 months have sparked a significant transformation in India’s influencer marketing culture, notes the report. Brands currently need to look for new, enhanced methods of communication through influencers and KOLs that portray more mindful and sympathetic tones in such trying times. This was noticeably more evident during the peak of the second wave of the pandemic in India, where there was an increased need for empathetic and effective brand communication. The report goes on to detail specifics about how marketers should leverage influencers and opinion leaders to communicate with audiences with due sensitivity and mindfulness.
The report spells out five trends that could define the influencer marketing industry during this decade, keeping the current context in mind:
• The rise of Direct-to-Consumer brands
• Measurement and accountability will make influencer marketing mainstream
• Influencer commerce will become integral to a brand’s sales channel mix
• The influencer universe will expand both in depth and width
• Influencers vs their audiences – audience modelling will make its way into influencer marketing as well
The report discusses trends that are here to stay, with the rise of nano and micro-influencers a notable development as brands try to capture niche online communities. A key takeaway would be that brands do not have to deal with a one size fits all approach and can bring a lot of segmentation and choice into their influencer campaigns.
It also looks at new content formats resulting from the deeper collaboration with brands and the drive to differentiate campaigns. Additionally, the report examines the new ASCI guidelines for influencer marketing in India and their impact on brands.
As complexity layers in planning and executing influencer campaigns increase, technology, data analytics and intelligence are emerging as the go-to tools for marketers to derive better RoI. Influencer measurement metrics are a raging debate, and brands are increasingly aligning them with sales objectives. It is no surprise then that influencer marketing is fast climbing the priority charts in the marketers’ strategy books.
The INCA – E4M report also defines the kind of content creators and influencers that exist, while stressing the importance of getting the right influencer to collaborate keeping brand values and objectives in mind. The pandemic-induced changes in lifestyle and growth of the creator economy has given rise to exciting creator openings and a hugely talented pool to leverage them. In the wake of the COVID-19 scenario, industry segments that have shown growth spurts are food, health and wellness and personal finance. The two waves of the pandemic in India and their aftermath also displayed the power of social media – with thousands of influencers, using their platforms to spread awareness, arrange for emergency medical supplies, and promote vaccination drives. It was probably the most prominent example of technology bringing communities together for a good cause.