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Influencer marketing ready to explode in India: ClanConnect's Kunal Kishore Sinha

ClanConnect claims to be India's first and only AI-driven influencer marketing agency.

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MUMBAI: Even as the economy and businesses were reeling under the global upheaval in 2020, there were some that saw an opportunity in the disruption and took off during this tumultuous period. One such business was ClanConnect, a start-up born during the lockdown. Inspired by the growing investor interest in the digital and influencer marketing sector and the sustained visibility of brands on it during the lockdown, the ClanConnect team decided to take the plunge six months earlier than they had initially planned. In an in-depth conversation with Indiantelevision.com’s Anupama Sajeet, ClanConnect COO and co-founder Kunal Kishore Sinha talked about the booming influencer marketing industry, the impact of the recent ASCII guidelines, and how the fledgling firm plans to transform the digital marketing landscape with artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Edited excerpts:

On ClanConnect’s business model and what it means to be ‘India’s only AI-driven influencer marketing agency’.

Influencer Marketing (IM) is in its infancy in India right now. It has opened up lots of opportunities for brands to connect with their consumers. But, it remains largely unorganised, which also led to fraudulent activities as creators began exploring unethical means to increase their followers. There was no scientific method to decide which influencer would be most suitable for a brand or campaign.

We started ClanConnect to make this entire process more scientific with the help of machine learning. We came up with a marketplace where a brand has all possible tools to discover the right influencer for its campaign, engage with them online and also help them to manage its entire end-to-end campaign in an automated form.

The technology engine is an amalgamation of some of the leading influencers across scale, categories, and geographies. Our AI recommendation tool can pull out any data point of any influencer with a following of more than 1000, across any geography in less than 24 hours. It also distinguishes between genuine and fake followers. We are trying to build an ecosystem where technology becomes the big differentiator.

On the size of the influencer-driven market in India and globally.

A global survey done by Business Insider on 5,000 marketers showed that 80 per cent of the marketers budgeted 10 per cent of their total advertising spend in influencer marketing. Globally, the influencer marketing spend was $9.7 billion for 2020 and it is expected to go up to $13.8 billion in 2021. It can be more in the case of some categories like online gaming. In 2019, the ad spend on gaming influencers in the US was $849 million. In India, companies engaging in mobile phones, automobiles, fashion, lifestyle, entertainment use a huge chunk of their ad spend on this segment.

Two platforms have emerged in a big way – Twitch, an online game streaming company, and TikTok, though the latter has been banned in India. There are Indian companies like Rooter which provide a platform for online gamers to stream their game. With the increasing number of user-generated content platforms, there will be more and more content creators and this will translate into more advertising budgets. So this market is only going to explode.

On the Tiktok ban effect.

We were going live with our Instagram and YouTube and our next platform was TikTok. But, by the time we were ready with the TikTok platform engagement, it was banned and our six months of technology development work went down the drain. By far, TikTok is leading in the global IM space in terms of ad marketing spend. We are hopeful that other equivalent players will emerge. In short video format, we already have Instagram Reels, Mitron, Chingari, Moj, and some other local players. Each of them has some share of the market. The scale of the market is huge and I am sure brands are not going to wait to invest in it.

On the new ASCII guidelines and challenges it entails for the industry.

ASCII came out with these policies because they realised that influencer marketing was becoming a mainstream advertising space. We welcome this move because it highlights the potential of this market. We do not expect the guidelines to affect the influencer business per se, because most influencers anyways tag the brand while sharing a post. Instagram had, in fact, started this concept of tagging the brand when it’s a paid content much before ASCII came out with the policy.

Also, I do not think any brand wishes to short-change their users by pushing something as organic when it’s a paid content. The influencers too want to ensure authenticity in their content. Now, if the influencer can provide visibility and awareness to a product that helps translate into sales, it generates RoI. It does not change if they mark it as a sponsored content. I believe this is going to help the market to become better. The problem, however, lies in implementation as there is still a grey area as to what is organic and what is paid content. How will you define the transaction between two parties when it’s a self-regulatory guideline? That will be a challenge for ASCII.

On the way ahead for digital IM trend for consumers and brands.

We are starting to see brands – be it hotels or cruise companies – who want to get their customers back after a year of bad business and less revenue. But they want to do it at a cost that has a larger RoI. They are following a cautious, focused approach. We have also had brands that had not experimented with influencer marketing until the lockdown happened. They saw the impact of the campaign on digital and increased their budget for influencer marketing.

There are many young start-up d2c (direct to customer) brands, whose influencer spend is as much as 50 per cent of their total marketing spend. This is only going to grow. The pandemic opened up opportunities, which were previously not considered by the brand managers. Even in a back to pre-Covid scenario, the immersive valuation that an influencer could bring about a product or service would be difficult to achieve through say, an outdoor campaign, internet banner, or a newspaper ad. So there will always be space for all categories of advertising, including influencer marketing, in times to come. And just like digital marketing fought for its place in the past, this is a digital disruption that will eventually become the mainstay.

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