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Vikram Kari, Product Head, INCA India and Kunal Sawant, Client Engagement Lead, INCA tell us how brands leveraged influencer marketing during the pandemic

Christina Moniz | 19 July 2021

There is no doubt that the pandemic gave influencer marketing a shot in the arm, though there was a distinct difference in the kind of branded content created last year and this year. Vikram Kari, Product Head, INCA India and Kunal Sawant, Client Engagement Lead, INCA tell us more about how brands leveraged influencer marketing during the pandemic. They also discuss the latest whitepaper, Navigating The Road Ahead from INCA, which outlines the best practices for marketers and influencers to follow during these testing times

Q] Tell us a bit about the kind of influencer-led campaigns INCA has rolled out during the pandemic during both waves.
Vikram Kari: There is a marked difference between how the pandemic was perceived in 2020 and in 2021. Last year saw more light-hearted content around relevant themes such as life during a lockdown, wearing a mask and social distancing. The incremental impact of the pandemic in 2021 has presented marketers with the conundrum of how to appropriately and effectively communicate, while keeping in mind the changing behaviours and unprecedented challenges.

Among the campaigns we executed at the onset of the pandemic last year was one was for a leading beverage brand – to emphasise the importance of taking care of the elderly, at a time when they were alone at home and most susceptible to infection. This was done using credible celebrities and content creators to spread awareness about the cause. We also executed one of Tiktok’s most successful campaigns in India, which included a hashtag challenge, anthem and hookstep – a lighter take on the hyper-contextual – social distancing. Then there was also the ‘LockdownWaali Maa campaign’ (conceptualized by 82.5 communications) for Motivator’s client Xotik Jeeru (a fizzy masala drink) – where creators celebrated ‘unexpected mothers,’ people who displayed inherent maternal instincts and caring towards them, during the lockdown.

This year, brands and creators have been confused about what to say and how. The INCA whitepaper was released to advise brands on what kind of content to put out at this time and what tone to use. We encourage brands to be sensitive and show empathy. Deploy credible content in a simple, relatable and action-oriented tone.

Q] How are marketers leveraging influencer collaborations today? What is the kind of content they are innovating with?
Kunal Sawant: I personally feel different brands are leveraging influencer marketing differently as per their product life cycle. If you look at GroupM clients, there are bunch of matured clients who have established benchmarks and are now looking to scale this up and then we have newer clients who are fence sitters and are in a beta testing mode. While building awareness and consideration has been the primary objective for most of our brands, clients are looking to jump the consumer funnel and move audience directly to purchase. Creators enjoy a certain degree of trust with their followers and brands are leveraging that to strike a chord with their consumers by creating more authentic and relatable content.

Gone are the days where brands used to partner with influencers because of vanity metrics like follower count; our clients today are more interested in understanding if there is fitment at the core. Does the influencer live up to the core of the brand value? Does he/she demonstrate that in their usual post? Do they even talk to the audience that matters to me? Are they brand safe? Not only that; clients are also wary of the fact that influencer marketing can also backfire, at times being too salesy or content being inappropriate or for associating with the wrong creator. This is where tools like INCA come into the picture helping brands identify the right creators who speak to the right audience and is fit for the current brief.

INCA recently released a whitepaper ‘Navigating the Road Ahead’ on how should brands communicate during these uncertain times. Unlike the first wave where cooking videos and vacation pictures dominated your feeds, the second wave was vastly different, hence the content also needs to change. Purpose or cause has taken the centre stage keeping in mind the user sentiments. Brands do not want to be seen as insensitive or too preachy but very much action oriented. I strongly feel brands who have struck a chord today will see a long-term impact on consumer preferences in the long run.

Q] What are the kind of budgets brands are devoting to influencer marketing? What is the kind of increase in influencer spends you’ve seen since the pandemic struck?
Kunal Sawant: Marketers today are looking at influencer marketing as a far more serious and engaging medium and not as just one more tool of reaching their audience. I clearly see influencer marketing at the core of the content strategy for most of our clients. At GroupM we have seen influencer marketing spends growing at >200%. The number of clients who have executed a campaign have jumped by 100%. CPG brands contribute the most in terms value yet spend a small fraction of their overall budgets, hence there is a lot of room to grow and at the other spectrum we have a lot of digital first brands who have influencer marketing at the core of their marketing spends.

COVID has pushed us indoors, average data consumption has hit the roof and consumers are spending close to 2.5 hours daily on the internet. A large part their time is spent on social media. Naturally brands want to engage with consumers where they are spending most of their time and what better than delivering your brand message through an individual whom we trust and engage with on a daily basis? While globally the industry is estimated to be more than $10billion, it’s at the point of inflection in India and will only grow from here.

Q] While influencers lend credibility to brand campaigns, consumers also view their content sometimes as blatant selling. What are the factors brands should keep in mind to prevent influencer collaborations from backfiring?
Vikram Kari: Two factors are critical in pulling off a successful advocacy campaign – the quality of content and choice of influencers. Creators need to be given the freedom to create content in their own style, which they know will resonate with their followers. Content should be honest and real, like any other video that the creator posts. The moment brands demand blatant plug-ins, the content is destined to look fake and hence fail. We strongly advise playing on the creators’ strengths and not taking a scripted approach to influencer-led content. Another decisive factor is creator selection. One must think beyond reach, views and creators’ audience segmentation and analyse creators qualitatively. The content theme must resonate with the creator, to be perceived as believable.

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