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Influencer Marketing: The new word-of mouth


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Marketers are increasingly jumping on to the influencer marketing bandwagon in the hope that it will create more engagement. But influencers do not guarantee viral content and although they may show a large following, they can’t ensure action either — the very thing brands are really after. No matter how gigantic an audience the influencer has, if the message they promote doesn’t resonate with the audience, the influence doesn’t matter. So why then are marketers eager to go this route and what are the benefits and ROI they generate with influencer marketing?



Marketing via ‘influencers’ used to mean professional sportspersons pitching expensive shoes or actors selling slick sedans. Today, thanks to social media to a very large extent, some of the most successful influencers are practically businesses themselves, with large followings and engaged users. These influencers help companies market their products in innovative ways, and the relationship usually benefits both sides. “Brands want to engage these social influencers, who come in the form of bloggers or Twitterati or YouTubers, as part of their integrated marketing mix to reach out to the social and mobile first consumers,” says Irfan Khan, CEO, Blogmint, an influencer marketing agency.


A recent study by McKinsey stated that marketing inspired word-of-mouth generates twice the number of sales as opposed to a simple paid advertisement. The study also stated that the retention rate for that brand in the consumer’s mind was 37% higher. Influencer marketing, without a doubt, brings in better returns. Cutting edge marketers are using the advantages of influencer marketing like its measurability, scalability and cost effectiveness in different ways. “Today, it’s far simpler. We just get the top 200 or 300 influencers on board. While they are testing out the new technology or product, it is being webcast so that a larger set of people are actually seeing the interaction live. So whether it’s a new mobile phone or television set that is launching soon, the verdict on it is out in almost 48 hours or under. This happens across categories, even in the auto industry where prior to launch of a new car or variant, auto enthusiasts and experts get to test drive them and give their opinion. Every marketer knows that this community means something and are keen to leverage the believers of the brand by engaging with them so that they will tweet more, converse more,” says Nandini Dias, CEO, Lodestar UM.



About 60% of brands across the country are increasing their influencer marketing spends this year, reveal media experts. What varies is the scale at which they use this form of marketing. The FMCG category may use it in hundreds or thousands versus someone in the B2B segment using them in tens or using an analyst as opposed to an ‘everyday’ influencer. ‘Experts’ are generally people like analysts who come in when brands want a subject matter expert or someone with technical expertise. This is especially so in fields such as IT. These influencers bring in the most credibility. ‘Everyday’ influencers have comparatively fewer followers, but the affinity that these influencers have with their followers is the maximum. These influencers are used most by consumer-facing brands in their campaigns.


The third kind of influencer is the celebrity influencer. They bring in the maximum reach among the three and are most effective when a brand wants to give an instant push or instant visibility for a product or service. Most often, brands use celebrity influencers first and then elongate the campaign or the message with everyday influencers. So marketers generally use a mix-and-match approach amongst these three main kinds of influencers.


But, there’s a caveat too. “Influencer marketing can be a doubleedged sword if not handled well. While on one hand the right kind of influencer can help reach out to a wider audience, on the other hand, with many brands engaging with the same set of influencers, you also tend to face a scenario where influencers might market several brands under the same category, which might result in unassured brand loyalty,” warns Delna Avari, Head - Marketing Communication and Services, Passenger Vehicle Business Unit, Tata Motors.


Jetesh Menon, Co-founder, Freejinn, a social world-of-mouth marketing platform, says, “Currently brands, agencies and media houses approach influencers ad hoc and this doesn’t always guarantee the desired result. Influencers may not necessarily understand the brand essence, the tone of voice and may even end up hurting the brand image by writing irreverently.”



Brands can use influencers to reach target demographics in subtle ways. Unlike traditional ads, commercials or aggressive product pitches, relevant and meaningful partnerships with influencers can convince consumers that they are getting honest product recommendations from people they trust.


There is no hardcore number that’s there, however, influencer marketing studies done in the US market reveal that last year, the earned media brands received for every dollar spent on influencer marketing was close to $7 and this is going to increase to $9.5 this year. Compared to other media, even organic search,  this is the maximum earned media a brand is able to garner. This earned media can be measure by way of sales or by way of brand recognition and so on.


One of the most underplayed advantages of an influencer marketing campaign is the benefit a brand derives from the influencers’ creativity and content creation skills. A well-executed influencer marketing campaign will produce great quality content that a marketer can leverage for other marketing channels. Lavin Mirchandani, Founder, GetEvangelized, an influencer marketing agency, explains, “Social media has enabled every netizen to become a quasi-publisher with his or her own virtual mouthpiece. With Internet penetration, the number of ‘mouthpieces’ has increased, they are interconnected and measurable and now easily accessible. Hence, digital word-of mouth has started gaining prominence - some call it ‘native ads’, others call it influencer marketing, it’s simply the age-old PR method spruced up by tech.”


He further cites the example of a few campaigns done by brands that effectively illustrate the point. Truly Madly’s Twitter debate #It’sADateIf v/s #It’sNotADateIf was seeded by 20 influencers. However, it received over 50,000 inputs from singles across the globe about what made or broke a date - that’s a  goldmine of consumer insight even if it does not lead to a single app download. Cadbury launched its first aerated chocolate Silk Bubbly and engaged 50 ‘bubbly’ Twitter users, asking them to get Twitter #BubbledUp for a day by (a) sharing what brings joy to them and (b) encouraging friends to not crib and rant for a day.


Nobody endorsed the chocolate in this engagement, however, the collectively engaged audience connected the emotion of happiness (being ‘Bubbly’ and cheerful) with Cadbury’s new product. “For large brands, establishing and maintaining such emotional connections matters more than transactional gain in the short term,” he states.


Tata Motors is another brand that extensively uses influencer marketing to build awareness for its launch campaigns. “Recently, we used influencer marketing during the launch of the Zest, our new compact sedan, GenX Nano, our new compact hatch and Bolt, our new sporty, premium hatch. We have worked extensively with influencers across categories and have seen tremendous response in terms of online chatter about the brand,” says Avari of Tata Motors.



“Influencers bring a lot of credibility to the marketing content that we create. It gives our content a fighting chance to go viral, reach fans. The advantage of using influencer marketing is that it is truly social in nature. If you look at a branded page on Facebook, the reach currently is around 0%. However, if an influencer shares it with his or her fan base, it gets multiplied. And this can be done by all social media platforms,” says Archan Banerjee, Head-Digital Marketing, Dabur India Ltd. “Word-of-mouth is like the holy grail of marketing for every brand. If a consumer endorses it and if that consumer is actually an influencer, the credibility of that endorsement is way higher.”


Partnerships between brands and influencers are often mutually beneficial, and they’re particularly helpful for smaller brands looking to latch on to powerful influencers to turn their thousands, even millions, of followers into customers. Bloggers and influencers can also use such pacts to grow their audiences and offer perks to followers.



Although at a basic level, influencer marketing involves reaching out to people who are extremely well connected to a brand’s target market and then getting them to promote the product for you, the actual implementation of an influencer marketing campaign is a complex, expensive, and extremely time  consuming endeavour. The big potential pay-offs come with heavy investment of time, efforts, and executive involvement. Marketing experts warn that before jumping on to the influencer bandwagon, a brand should carefully consider the pros and cons and evaluate if the investment influencer marketing demands can be justified by the potential returns on particular marketing goals.


These are some of the factors marketers need to keep in mind when signing up for influencer marketing: Firstly, domain influence. Is the influencer that they are going to use and the topic that they are going to talk about, a good fit? A good example here is Miss Malini, who is a top influencer in India when it comes to entertainment. But she may not be a good fit if a brand is trying to promote IT services. A good brand-influencer fit is paramount to its success.


The second aspect to look at is demographics. Brands generally get fixated to demographics like age or income group of the influencer itself. What is actually critical is the demographics of the followers of these influencers. Brands generally overlook this aspect and it undermines the goal of the whole campaign.


Thirdly, social channels are important. So if a brand’s target audience is present to a large extent on Instagram, it makes business sense to look for Instagram influencers as opposed to using bloggers or YouTubers. Influencers on different channels generally vary, though there will be a small percentage that overlaps. So depending on where a brand’s TG is, it needs to look for influencers who are the best fit on that channel.


“Brands should look for influencers who have the right tone of voice and which mirrors the overall brand communication and objective. Also, the ability of the influencer to elicit some call to action from its audience is a parameter brands often overlook,” says Suveer Bajaj, Founding Partner, FoxyMoron.



“Unfortunately, so far the measurements of influence are based mostly on the following/readership count. If a Twitter user has 10,000 following, the reach of the tweet is counted as 10,000. If the same user tweets thrice, the impressions are counted as 30,000. However there is no way of knowing whether out of these 10,000 people how many actually read the tweet(s) and even further, how many acted upon it. Some of the advanced measurements that are used are link tracking, how many people clicked the link mentioned in the tweet/ blog post/ Facebook update and performed some kind of action - watched the YouTube video, clicked on the product link or purchased the product online,” says Manveer Singh Malhi, Chief Digital Officer, Triature.


For ROI, brands need to look for Reach or Impressions, i.e., the number of times the post or tweet has been viewed by someone, say experts. It’s an especially good metric to have when you are engaging influencers on a large scale. The second thing to look for is engagement. It can be measured by the number or times a post or tweet has been commented upon, shared, re-tweeted and so on. The engagement tells a marketer two things – one is the quality of content, because the greater the quality of content, the more it’s going to be shared and discussed and talked about; and the second thing it tells you is effectiveness of the campaign.


The third element a brand should be looking at is customer acquisition. This can be measured through different ways: The traffic that’s coming on their website, the number of sales that they are generating or even a reduction in the churn rate that they are seeing. Here, it’s necessary to point out that influencer marketing is the fastest growing channel for digital customer acquisition. So, if a brand is not looking at customer acquisition as a metric for influencer marketing, then it should think again.


The fourth thing is earned media. This would include the increase in the number of brand mentions across social channels and online since a brand started doing influencer marketing. Where are the mentions happening? What are the conversations that are taking place? What are the sentiments around those conversations? These are all part of earned media. “A lot of money is spent on getting hashtags to trend and a lot of the influencers engaged for such activities are contest mongers and have fake followers. The measurement metrics are extremely basic and miss measuring the actual impact. There is no way of knowing or judging if the quote/fee the influencer has shared is worth his clout, as there are no set industry standards. The market is very fragmented as the influencers are spread across platforms and each platform has a different measurement mechanism,” cautions Malhi.



“For the visionary marketer, the rise of the social media influencer creates a world of possibilities. It opens up a new channel for brands to connect with consumers more directly, organically, and at scale. By creating branded content with social media influencers, brands are able to amplify their message   while capturing their target audience, (for example, with the help of influencer marketing you can reach out to people on the basis of category, genre, demographic segregation, locations and much more) which was not possible earlier,” says Prince Khanna of Eleve Media.


In a highly fragmented and opinionated digital world like today, building relations with influencers goes a long way. Looking at influencer marketing as a long term objective to build advocacy for the brand is  definitely worth the investment,” asserts Avari of Tata Motors.


Brands are using influencer marketing by making it more of an integral part of their marketing mix and not actually replacing any other media. A lot of ad spends that were dedicated towards social and video marketing are today being channelled to influencer marketing. “One of the most important trends that I see evolving is analytics, which give brands real-time, welldefined insights into how their campaign is doing. The second trend is that a lot of brands are eager to experiment with influencer marketing these days by engaging with a few influencers. But once they see the kind of ROI they get vis-a-vis the kinds of spends that are required, they are increasingly upping their spends into influencer marketing. So the whole market will mature in the next 18 months or so,” says Khan of Blogmint.


Another interesting trend in this context is live video. Brands are latching on to live streaming platforms like Periscope and #Fame for influencer marketing. So with new platforms, new kinds of influencers and brands that are more open to experiment and try out-of-the-box ideas, a whole new world of influence has opened up.


The flip-side is that with the market maturing, the cost of influencer marketing is also bound to go up. Right now, the cost is low because both marketers and influencers are trying to find the right equation. However, we are at the inflection point where brands are seeing good returns and influencers are coming of age and realizing the true potential of the marketing strategy and their own worth. They will command a higher price and brands will also be willing to meet that price as they see a matching ROI.


“Each brand has a specific set of goals it wishes to achieve with its marketing campaign. If it tends to meet those expectations then the campaign is a success. There are always metrics and analytics that provide empirical data. For example, with Flipkart’s recent Big Billion day sale , the company dedicated one day just for mobiles and achieved a sales target of more than Rs 300 crore in 10 hours. They relied on influencer marketing and though that was not the primary cause, it went a long way in ensuring the stupendous success of the event,” says Aditya Magal, writer, stocks trader and blogger who runs the popular Secret Journal of Rakesh Jhunjhunwala blog.


“It’s an unregulated market, small in scale and the investments are still not too high. Effectively, the ROI that it gives in terms of its reach, interactions and call to action is definitely relative to what it compares with paid advertising. If you look at it from a vis-a-vis comparison, influencer marketing definitely has a very healthy ROI and will stand the test of time,” concludes Bajaj of FoxyMoron.


Everyone has a friend with great taste in music or movies, or a knack for finding deals on a great meal or the latest fashion. To unlock the real value of influencer marketing, it is imperative that brands understand these connections, identify their loyal advocates and engage with them in a scalable way to drive conversations, both online and offline.


Feedback: aliefya@exchange4media.com

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