By Reya Mehrotra
Ever since the outbreak of the pandemic, the internet has been instrumental in keeping the world up and running. Social media especially has become the fuel that has helped businesses and brands thrive, with many investing heavily in digital marketing to widen their reach. Today, more and more businesses are harnessing the potential of the medium to market themselves. “We witnessed seven times growth last year,” says Mumbai-based Rohit Reddy, founder, EiPi Media, an influencer marketing agency, which has created campaigns for brands like Domino’s, Maggi, Nescafé, Pizza Hut, Lenskart, Mamaearth, among others.
It’s clear that in the post-pandemic world, digital marketing has become a must for every company, and social media sites like Instagram and Facebook have become the new platforms for promoting business through paid ads. We spoke with digital media marketing agencies and social media platforms to get the full picture of the trend.
Behind the boom
There’s no doubt that businesses and creators leveraged the medium to enhance their reach online more than ever during the pandemic, but digital marketing had started booming when Google and Facebook became popular, says Reddy. “As Facebook (and later Instagram) started evolving, so did digital marketing… and brands started moving their budgets here. Today, SMM (social media marketing) constitutes more than 50% of a brand’s digital spends… for direct-to-customer (D2C) brands, this could go up to 75%,” he adds.
Social media sites like Facebook and Instagram have become the go-to platforms, especially in the last two-three years, for promoting and advertising products. In 2020, though, Instagram turned out to be the most preferred platform for influencer marketing, with it being the choice of 82% marketers, as per Buzzoka, a Noida-based influencer marketing company. Released in March, the fourth edition of Buzzoka’s Influencer Marketing Outlook (an annual survey that offers a detailed look at the influencer marketing landscape) revealed that YouTube was the second-most preferred platform with 41% votes. The survey included over 300 senior marketers and leading brands across India. Around 72% of the marketers believed that influencer marketing is the fastest-growing online customer acquisition method.
Reddy agrees that Instagram is the gold standard for social media marketing, but reveals that brands with mass consumer base with target groups in tier III and IV cities prefer Facebook.
Citing the study, Sandeep Bhushan, director and head, global marketing solutions, Facebook India, says that ever since the pandemic, there’s been a fundamental shift in digital consumption. “More people have relied on Facebook and Instagram to stay in touch and to create economic opportunities, be it forming groups to deliver food to those quarantined, teachers sending assignments to students through WhatsApp or restaurants using Instagram to let people know they are delivering,” he explains.
In their earnings report published on Bloomberg on April 30, Amazon, Facebook and Google revealed that people had become more dependent on their offerings since the shutdowns and that this trend could drive long-term growth. The companies said their advertising and e-commerce revenue streams remained immune to the problem of business contraction during these times.
The three pivotal moments in history, however, that defined the digital shift remain the launch of Jio, demonetisation and the pandemic, with the latter being the major reason businesses shifted online, according to Bengaluru-based Abhinav Arora, co-founder and CMO, Avalon Meta, an alternative online education platform.
Another factor that contributed to the boom was the fact that offline projects and shoots were halted. As mobile consumption spiked significantly, brands increased their spending on digital and influencer-led marketing campaigns, shares Mumbai-based Viraj Sheth, co-founder and CEO, Monk Entertainment, a creative digital media organisation. According to Sheth, digital and social media marketing allow one to track the key performance indicators, something that has not been possible with the other mediums in the past. This, in turn, fetches extremely targeted data, which helps analyse the campaign RoI better and take effective steps for the next campaign.
Influencer marketing is an important component of digital and social media marketing today. It involves utilising the services of an influencer with a considerable number of followers to market a product in exchange of payment or the product/services. According to estimates by research company Insider Intelligence (based on data by California-headquartered influencer marketing agency Mediakix), the influencer marketing industry will be worth $15 billion by 2022 up from $8 billion in 2019.
Facebook India’s Bhushan shares that businesses have started communicating with their customers in creative ways, including immersive ad units through influencer marketing. “With digital influence up by 25% across categories, large and small brands are using branded content by creators to drive business impact,” he says, adding, “There’s a natural affinity to interact with public figures, creators and brands. Brands are essentially looking for one thing: business impact. This could be in the form of sales or salience. Leveraging branded content with influencers is a way to deliver on both objectives. They can essentially choose to work with a creator, who has an authentic voice and represents the brand well, to bring alive their content.”
Sharing a few such instances, Bhushan says, “Some examples would be Hyundai, which launched its sedan Aura with influencers and saw a five-point lift in awareness. Similarly, there was a 2.3-point increase in purchase intent for Cadbury when they used influencers. Even a small business like myBageecha, which is into gardening products, recently leveraged branded content in partnership with actor Kareena Kapoor Khan, resulting in a significant ad recall lift of 3.5 points.”
Reddy believes one major reason why influencer marketing has picked up is because brands have realised it’s very time-consuming to build a loyal base of followers on social media. It’s easier to leverage an influencer’s base and strategically insert their brand/product through compelling storytelling.
However, there are certain rules when it comes to influencer marketing. In February this year, the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) issued draft rules for influencers on digital media platforms to protect consumer interest. According to the new rules, an influencer has to specify if their content is through a paid partnership and this should be visible on all mediums like phones, tablet, etc, prominently.
Even though the digital media marketing industry is seeing great growth currently, in the future, content would have to undergo a massive shift, feels Reddy. Blatant advertising by influencers would not engage consumers as they can already see through the ‘paid/sponsored’ model. The cost of customer acquisition would also rise unless brands build a robust/strategic pipe from social media contributing to the top of the funnel to their digital commerce platforms or site, he says. Data analytics would become crucial and a lot of new tools would come in to measure the success of a campaign.
Sheth is, however, bullish on the future of digital marketing, saying that spending will only increase. “It has proven to be one of the most effective forms of marketing, with a boom in content that we’re witnessing at the moment along with a steep increase in time spent on social media by mobile users,” he says.
Arora, too, feels the future is bright, but only if one can adapt to the skill set. “Unlike a couple of years ago, where mere digital business presence was enough to have an upper hand over competitors, now the digital industry has coined roles like product marketing, wherein experiments across the customer journey are run… that is, across every touchpoint that a customer has with your brand—social media, website, app, etc. As a result of these experiments, one finds the most optimum way to make a sale. One has to work in collaboration with teams like engineering and route consumer insights to them, so that the engineers can build the right product. If you are able to adapt to this skill set, the future is very bright,” explains Arora, adding that the digital shift is non-reversible. “The entire digital ecosystem has evolved and this will only deepen confidence to further digital spending. There is now a widespread belief that no matter what is going on, you can find engagement on digital channels,” he shares.
Mumbai-based Raj Shamani, business digital content creator, entrepreneur, podcaster and founder of Shamani Industries, which manufactures and supplies fabric, kitchen-care products and detergents, feels that in the passion economy and edtech industry, digital marketing is going to play a huge role. Sharing his digital marketing strategy, he says, “I start with experimenting with as many platforms as I can. Once I experiment and learn about a specific platform, with the same learnings, I try to expand and grow on newer platforms. Most people focus on major platforms like YouTube, Instagram and Facebook, but one needs to realise that people are flocking to newer platforms as well. So with my learnings from Instagram, I am trying to harness the marketing potential of Twitter, Reddit, BitClout, etc. The more the influence, the better the leads one gets for a specific topic.”
The pandemic, he says, has given people more time to consume content. “Marketing strategies get effective with more data in hand… due to the pandemic, people have time to explore their interests and consume content, helping platforms get data. Based on that, decisions can be taken,” he says.
Tips & tricks
- A B2B brand should choose LinkedIn
- For a consumer brand, Instagram is best
- Once on the platform, one must regularly share authentic content to build audience trust
- One must ensure that purchase (or conversion) flow is smooth and user-friendly on app/site
- Brands should reproduce the user journey themselves and optimise it
- Identify and collaborate with digital influencers and content creators in one’s industry