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Indepth: Influencer marketing in an era of fake followers, bots, lack of faith – Pt 2

Globally, the importance of influencer marketing for brands is on the rise. As revealed by a research carried out by the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA), 65 percent of the multinational brands surveyed said that they intend to increase their spending on influencer marketing in the next 12 months. The investments would primarily be to boost brand awareness (86 percent), along with using influencers to reach targeted/ new audiences (74 percent) and improving brand advocacy (69 percent). 

Transparency continues to be of prime importance to marketers, according to the WFA research, with the top criteria being the credibility, reputation, and quality of followers of the influencers. 

In fact, the WFA plans to work with members such as Unilever, which had demanded a clean-up in the influencer ecosystem, to use this research as the starting point to create industry guidelines for effective use of influencer marketing. 

N Chandramouli, CEO, TRA Research
N Chandramouli, CEO, TRA Research

When asked whether brands would hesitate to work with influencers after Unilever’s tough stance, N Chandramouli, CEO, TRA Research, replied, “Many brands are already very careful about the influencers they associate with. Influencers’ actions in real life also impact their fans – and many times fans turn inimical to the brand if the endorser has blatantly violated their trust. A brand violating the trust of its followers also attracts ire towards the endorsers. Brands and their influencers are joined at the hip, in more ways than one.” 

Vandana Sachdev, Founder & COO, Buzzone, too, said that Unilever’s stance would not impact brands’ decision as transparency measures were now being taken. Additionally, the brands can leverage influencers in many creative ways in terms of creating content which resonates with its messaging and builds a connect with the core target group. “As long as word of mouth and social platforms remain an important tool in the marketing mix, the relevance of influencers would stay,” she maintained. 

Part 1 of Adgully’s Indepth report on Influencer Marketing highlighted the factors driving influencer marketing growth in India, besides the challenges in its successful adoption and how brands can find the right fit with the influencers that they intend to bring on board. 

Ensuring Transparency 

N Chandramouli, CEO, TRA Research, suggests that for ensuring the all important transparency in influencer is that first of all, all influencers must declare the brands that they are endorsing. He further said that endorsements must be also be open so that fans know which are the paid promotions – especially since the fans may get influenced based on what the influencer says or does. “Brands too must be open about the influencers they are accepting and must state openly that they only want influencer reactions to real experiences of the product/ service,” he added. 

Chirag Gander, Co-Founder, The Minimalist
Chirag Gander, Co-Founder, The Minimalist

Elaborating on how his agency stresses on transparency, Chirag Gander, Co-founder, The Minimalist, said, “At The Minimalist, the two core values that we follow are openness and empathy. According to me, these are also the two most important ways in which the transparency in the influencer ecosystem could increase. We empathise with the crazy schedules of influencers and in return, the influencers also understand it is our job to market the brand through them. If this understanding is established, making small compromises and reaching a fair deal is not a herculean task. Secondly, openness is an ideal that encourages a healthy work ethic and helps us deal with problems better and in advance. Being open and upfront about expectations and tasks gives a strong base for a robust and transparent relationship with the influencer.” 

Vandana Sachdev, Founder & COO, Buzzone
Vandana Sachdev, Founder & COO, Buzzone

Meanwhile, Vandana Sachdev, Founder & COO, Buzzone, believes that the influencer system is getting transparent by the day, and much of the credit for this goes to the platforms themselves, which have started to purge fake accounts and followers. She remarked, “This maintains clarity in terms of the money spent with the influencers and brings in richer engagements. For example, Twitter has been on a cleaning drive by purging Bot followers. We at BuzzOne have been doing the same to ensure that we do not use influencers who have Bots as followers and with the involvement of such platforms; it is much easier and transparent now.” 

Working With Influencers 

The Minimalist chooses influencers who can innovate and lead, informed Chirag Gander. He added, “We expect that they promote products in a manner that is new, creative and gripping. While doing so, we also expect the influencers to stay true to the guidelines that the brand has given and to keep resonating the values that the brand holds important.” 

He further said that as in every aspect, research took a front seat even when it came to working with influencers. “Thorough understanding of the background of the researcher helps us find out who will be the perfect person to represent our brand in a manner that both, the brand and influencer is satisfied with. Furthermore, research becomes even more important while probing through the authenticity of the follower base. If the influencer’s followers to likes ratio seems to be skewed, the followers could be bought and the brand would ultimately suffer. Having these insights before working with the influencer are crucial for the brand’s marketing decisions,” Gander added. 

Vijay Subramaniam, Founding Partner & Co-CEO, Kwan
Vijay Subramaniam, Founding Partner & Co-CEO, Kwan

Both Chandramouli and Vijay Subramaniam, Founding Partner & Co-CEO, Kwan, replied in the affirmative when asked whether an effective marketing campaign could be run without adding influencers to the equation. 

It would involve following the old school organic route, said Chandramouli, who pointed out that while this route was more time consuming, the organic follower/ fans were far more stable and ‘real’. “A patient and mature brand will have this courage of conviction to know that taking short term pain is necessary for long term gain. Most other brands are merely looking at no pain, only gain,” he opined. 

Citing some examples where brands have gone without using influencers, Subramaniam mentioned Vodafone, which has been doing it for years with the ZooZoos. The same goes for Amul and its topical print ads. “But then again, these campaigns are very unique by themselves, which help them in breaking through the clutter in a really noisy marketing environment. In case the creative proposition is not that strong, influencers can provide the added differentiation needed to supplement it,” he added. 

Buzzone’s Vandana Sachdev added here that both influencers and social media platforms needed to ensure a transparent brand campaign, which is required for them to stay relevant for brands. 

Ambi Parmeshwaran, Veteran adman
Ambi Parmeshwaran, Veteran adman

Veteran adman and Former ED & CEO of FCB Ulka, Ambi Parmeshwaran, summed it up well when he said, “Once the follower base is calibrated well, the influencer is clear about the amount of commercialisation they are going to adopt. I still believe influencer marketing can be a powerful brand building tool.”

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