What's Trending in the Influencer Marketing Ecosystem

Cross-industry integration, pay-per-outcome, brands approaching regional content creators and many such new trends have come up in the influencer marketing space in the recent past

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Influencer marketing is expected to be around a billion-dollar industry in just a few years. The Indian influencer marketing industry is estimated to reach a value of INR 900 crore by the end of 2021, says a report by GroupM INCA. The report further states that the market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 25 per cent till 2025 to reach a size of INR 2,200 crore. This has led to the rise of many influencer marketing platforms such as ClanConnect, Monk Entertainment, PickMyAd, Adicube, Kofluence and many others that help brands boost their reach by leveraging data.

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"The next phase of growth in influencer marketing will be championed by brands as they begin to assign a quantum percentage of their digital marketing budgets to long-tail influencer campaigns. As investment in influencer activation continues to increase, we are bound to see further evolution in the near future," said Kunal Kishore Sinha, co-founder and COO, ClanConnect, an influencer marketing startup.

Post lockdown, influencer marketing (IM) has become the most preferred way of raising brand awareness and increasing sales. "Though targeted marketing helps you reach your desired audience, influencer marketing is a more organic approach to achieve the feat. With more and more brands realizing the leverage, annual marketing budgets see a split favoring IM~TTL (Through the Line marketing) more than any other ATL (Above the Line) and BTL (Below the Line) form," said Aayush Tiwari, VP, talent management and music business, Monk Entertainment.

As the quality of content and the number of influencers multiply every day, influencer marketing has become the go-to approach for brands.

What's New?

As the demand for IM skyrockets, many new trends can be observed today such as the dominance of short video content. "We have noticed a wave of crisp crunchable 15-30 seconder bites taking the internet by storm in 2021 already, bound to multiply in the coming years. Factors that act as a catalyst are low entry barriers, ease to make, and large-scale consumption. What drives the short video ecosystem is the ability of it to get recreated under the banner of "trends.' Every week, there are hypothetically ten new trends which garner lakhs of videos lifting the consumption and UGC levels to higher levels," said Tiwari. Riding the short video wave today many key social media platforms like Instagram, YouTube and new players like MOJ, TakaTak and Chingari.

Raj Shamani, digital content creator, entrepreneur, investor and podcaster shared an interesting trend that he has observed in recent times. "The new trend is brand advocacy and equity in startups in exchange for influencer marketing and content marketing inputs. Influencers have now started backing startups for the long term in specific categories. Few influencers are currently not doing multiple brands in one category but backing only one. They are doing year-long deals, half money, half equity in start-up deals and for some early age startups, all equity deals to back them up as their own start-up rather than treating it as a brand deal, and I think this trend will be a huge one slowly," he said.

Pay-per-outcome setup is also in vogue today. When influencer marketing was still new, most players followed a pay-per-campaign model, wherein influencers were paid for particular deliverables as part of the campaign. This model is now giving way to pay-per-outcome setup. "This will contribute to influencers gaining better monetary benefits out of each campaign. Influencer marketing is driven by digital marketers who understand outcome-based planning better than anyone else, which is why this is the industry's future," said Sinha.

Moreover, instead of limiting their budget to just a few top influencers, brands are today starting to partner with a bouquet of regional, nano, and micro-influencers. "Brands spend less than 5 per cent of their digital marketing budget on influencers. Of this, 90 per cent of the influencer budget is assigned to the top 1 per cent of influencers. However, this trend is changing and fast. Brands require methods and infrastructure to work with smaller creators and create a long tail for all their campaigns. Once this becomes a reality, we will see influencer marketing budgets going up to 30-35 per cent," said Sinha.

Sinha also shares another fascinating trend emerging in the influencer marketing ecosystem. "Brands are buying the rights for influencer-led content and pushing it across numerous channels through digital advertising. For a specific period of time, the creator's rich and relevant content is circulated for greater cross-platform traction, giving each campaign a much wider reach than ever before," he said.

Further, experts say that up until now, brands have been trying to control the narrative regarding creator campaigns, but now creators are taking the reins in terms of storytelling, and the brand's role is only to give an outline and brand framework. Another interesting trend, as shared by Sinha, is cross-industry integration.

"Till recently, we saw fashion influencers creating style-related content, tech influencers tying up with tech companies, and so on. Now, we're seeing a cross-industry integration. For instance, a fintech brand will tie up with a fashion influencer to diversify its audience base and reach the masses. This non-conventional take on influencer marketing makes for fresh ideas and more engaging content," he said.

Scope for Improvement

The growth in the space has surely led to a win-win situation for the influencer marketing platforms, creators and brands. However, creators have few complaints. For instance, Aastha Shah, a digital content creator, shared with us how some of the platforms focus only on algorithms rather than the original creativity of creators. "They should open up their space and give credibility to all kinds of talents. I feel every platform has to up their game by evolving with the new technology coming in. They have to keep updating their features for the audience to stay loyal to them," she said.

For Shamani, what's disappointing is how some of these platforms treat influencers as business functions, not humans. "They make endless solutions and products to help influencers function smoothly, but they forget that in the end, one human needs another human to partner with, not a product to deal with. Influencers are very cautious about their brands. That's why Lil is hesitant in using new products, and that's why these platforms should come in as partners to help influencers, not just build products for them and hope that influencers will use them. If platforms crack the human to a human element, then there's not going to be a problem in scaling at all," he said.

Further, most of these platforms are keenly focused on just two social media channels, that is, YouTube and Instagram. It is time brands expanded their ambit to include more creators on Indian platforms such as Rooter, MX Takatak, Moj, and Kuku FM, among others.