There are two types of influencers: those who have actual influence and can inspire or guide the actions of others and those who are perceived to have influence. Then you have advertisers who can’t decide between both. That pretty much sums up the story of influencer marketing in India.
When a large electronics brand asked me to attend a blogger meet-up in 2015, the room was filled with food, travel, fashion, and technology influencers. I began to question why they couldn’t focus their efforts and invite those people related to their niche. However, this is precisely how the community that organized the event worked.
Years later, nothing has changed; advertisers continue to be clueless about executing influencer marketing effectively. Every time someone says anything astoundingly positive about influence marketing, I feel like pulling out a wet sock filled with marbles and swinging at them.
The ASCI rules, which were just published, are unlikely to significantly impact how the industry works.
Who is an influencer?
Personally, this is a question that keeps me up at night. Today the way the industry goes about identifying influencers is purely based on vanity metrics.
Whales and elephants, at the apex of the food chain, are essentially mega (1 million followers) and macro-influencers (500K to 1M followers). Then there are hippos, individuals with between 50,000 and 500,000 followers (mid-tier influencers). Finally, there are pandas and bears, both of which are micro (10k to 50K) and nano influencers (1K to 10K).
The advertisers don’t have any reliable metrics to identify who has influence and who doesn’t. The influencer marketing bubble keeps getting bigger every year. Nearly 50% of marketers have spotting fake followers as a chief challenge of influencer marketing. Twitter might have dealt with fake followers in parts, but the issue continues to persist.
Around 63% of marketers and brands admitted to having personal experience with influencer fraud in past campaigns. Last year, Ingrid De La Mare-Kenny, a health influencer with 55,000 followers, promoted her nutritional product Simply Inulin, claiming that it protects the immune system against coronavirus. These claims were contrary to products’ earlier online descriptions, which tout it only for its effects as a “flat tummy powder.”
Besides fake followers and influencer frauds, you have influencers who have absolutely no influence over their followers. The only way to compare growth and engagement numbers is to compare them to influencers of similar size. However, the engagement rate varies greatly as the follower count increases, and there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to ‘good numbers.’
What are some of challenges in influencer marketing in India?
1. No guarantee of ROI
Nearly 76% of marketers consider determining the ROI of influencer marketing programs as their biggest challenge. To begin with, influencer marketing doesn’t guarantee sales. When most brands talk about ROI they are talking of Earned Media Value as opposed to sales. For every dollar spent, influencer marketing generates about $5.78 in earned media value.
But very few brands and influencer associations result in any tangible increase in business revenue. That’s why when most businesses are asked how successful their influencing marketing program was, they mostly share vanity metrics.
2. Even Pro’s don’t have a clue
A vast majority of influencers in India have no influence over their influencers. To put it bluntly, your brand, for all you know, might be speaking to a bunch of Binod’s. The other part of the problem is that advertisers and influencers have no clue how to approach brand mentions and product placements.
If the recent tweet on Lovely Professional University by Virat Kholi is anything to go by, it only shows how deep the rabbit hole really is. While content creators understand their art, advertisers are more concerned with raising awareness or pushing their product in the market.
Some of the most successful product or brand integrations have happened when businesses collaborate closely with influencers on projects. When you deal with tens of thousands of influencers, you’re essentially utilizing them as a broadcast mechanism rather than for the value they bring to the table. When it comes to influencer marketing in India, this issue only becomes worse when a brand’ has surplus marketing money to be utilized.
3. Influencer’s opinion has an impact on your brand
Often times when you work with a digital influencer, your narrative becomes intertwined with theirs. If an influencer you work with makes sexist, racist, or derogatory remarks, your brand will be the first one to be hit.
Another aspect of this issue is the dissemination of misinformation, fake news, and propaganda-driven content by influencers. The biggest challenge in India is how advertisers consider vanity metrics as the only parameter when they work with influencers. The fact that many advertisers still continue to work with Republic TV only shows you advertisers obsessions with vanity metrics (in this case, TRP).
4. Influencer marketing is getting expensive
Many advertisers originally found value in influencer marketing since it was easier to work with influencers because they were more flexible and receptive to partnerships than celebrities. If you had a million dollars to invest, would you receive greater value from a celebrity or 1,000 micro-influencers? That’s what got advertisers on board.
But times have changed today many influencers charge as high as some of the celebrities. Typically, the cost of brand partnership is proportionate to the YouTube influencer’s subscriber base and may vary from 12,000 to 1 lakh for each video, without including the additional cost for social media postings. Maybe the only positive is the costs are lower than mainstream advertising.
Influencer Marketing: There’s still hope
Although the tone of this post may seem negative, I am not suggesting that you should not explore influencer marketing. I have nothing against individuals earning a living as content creators. In fact, I’ve been a blogger for the last ten years and completely understand the challenges of growing an audience.
But I believe the relentless pursuit of profits has ruined the business. On one end, some businesses have no idea how to really use the value that an influencer brings to the table, and on the other, some influencers will say yes to every partnership that comes their way.
I do believe there is hope when you see brands that occasionally get it right. Subtle integrations like the ones from Bajaj Allianz with Rahul Subramanian, Xiaomi with Biswa Kalyan Rath, Sleepy Owl with Ronnie & Barty, and Rinosh George with Beardo. Okay, it wasn’t that subtle, but it was a zero-sum game since, in the end, the content was relevant to both the brand and the influencers’ audiences.
It reminds me of the brand partnerships that AIB had back in the day, where even if it was sponsored or promotional content, you would still watch it to the end because the integration blended in so beautifully that you didn’t feel like you were watching a sales pitch or anything unctuous. It all comes down to your ethos and the point at which you stop seeing influencers as a broadcast tool. That’s when influencer marketing in India will be seen as more viable medium by both advertisers and content creators.