The Age of Influencers- How Influencer Marketing Will Change Brand Building Forever - Jasravee K Chandra

 Word of mouth recommendations and criticisms spread through social media faster than fire in a dry field. No wonder influencers (people active on social media and blogs) are gaining significance. Since they can effectively help build a brand’s image in their followers’ mind as brand advocates.

We have been susceptible to another kind of influence for a long while called celebrity endorsement. But currently the Bollywood thaali is looking a bit bland.The perception of Bollywood celebrities has been dented by accusations of nepotism, SSR death, anti-legal activities and drugs.

The land of dreams and fantasies (with spontaneous association for glamour, fantasy and fame) that inspired millions, is now seeming a bit dysfunctional. As per telephonic research conducted by Indian Institute of Human Brands (IIHB) about usage of celebrities for brand endorsement, there is near zero tolerance for the drug tainted.

Marketers are therefore having second thoughts about the need for a celebrity endorsement in these times. If a celebrity endorsement cannot generate positive associations for their brand then why pay a bomb? Marketers are exercising caution. Wherever they are going ahead with the celebrity contracts, they feel the pressing need to make these engagements ‘social-controversy proof’.

In this environment obviously the social media influencers stand to gain significantly. There are key four factors that are tilting the scales in the favour of social media influencers.

1. Social Media Influencers are REAL

People perceive the social media influencers as real. They can relate easily to their casual content and their personas (no make-up, sans fancy background). The deep individual interactions of influencers and their followers creates affinity. Followers get invested in the influencer’s story of a humble background and an inspiring journey. This creates compelling loyalty.

For example in the beauty space an influencer comes across as real as she can often be seen with-out make-up, with eye bags and other skin imperfections. Followers witness the transformation (with make-up) in front of their own eyes. This is in stark contrast to Bollywood stars who always appear wearing a perfect, carefully crafted persona.

2. Social Media Influencers are SPECIALISTS 

Influencers have built communities around themselves focusing on a niche space. Their focus on a niche subject and their deep knowledge gives them an aura of an 'expert' .Their knowledge and opinion is valued by their followers.

When a brand sends mommy bloggers their newest breast pump to review as part of an influencer campaign, the goal isn’t to generate buzz but to generate authentic recommendations valued by new mommies. On the other hands when the brands tap into celebrity endorsers, it does not matter that the brand lies outside the celebrity’s area of expertise. For example the brand Hanes merely rides on Micheal Jordan’s fame.

3. Social Media Influencers TRULY ENGAGE their follower community

A social media influencer spends a lot of time and effort in growing and building his/her community of followers. She accumulates followers one by one and truly understands their 'hot buttons'. The interactions of social media influencer with her followers are personal. She understands the follower’s pain points. She often engages them by answering questions and sharing her views about topics of interest. The brand message or recommendation therefore becomes just another exchange between the influencer and his community. 

The credibility of social media influencer hence is usually much higher than a celebrity who merely relays a brand message. The celebrity endorsement is one-sided with no scope for interaction or discussion.

4. Social Media Influencers OWN THE MESSAGE

The social media influencer is usually perceived to be creator of the entire message. If they are a blogger, they are the ones writing the post. If they are a YouTuber, they are the ones scripting and editing the video imparting their own signature style to the content posted. This lends the brand message a great degree of credibility and authenticity. 

A celebrity, on the other hand, is just the face of a brand. He is perceived as a messenger, helping relay the brand script.

To sum up the social media influencers fulfill two pressing needs in these fast changing times (accentuated by Covid). They are :

Stay with the familiar

In the metaphorical dark night when a distant galactic celebrity star has started seeming dim, we are turning to the comfort of neighbourhood streetlight. In these turbulent times (laced with disruptions) we feel overwhelmed and powerless. And turning to the the familiar and the comforting relationships helps us re-claim a sense of control.

Discern the authentic

The sense of distance (physically and psychologically) from celebrities (our erstwhile anchors) is increasing. With waning credibility of many celebrities we are relying ever more on the influencers who have been a regular feature on our timelines. Their voice is authentic and the relationship with them is considered genuine.