Rohan Mehta and Kejal Teckchandani from Kinnect talk to Laura Swinton about why micro-influencers are the key to unlocking the opportunities of rural India the importance of creativity and authenticity in the space, and how their new KinnectFluence dashboard is helping clients keep on top of fast-evolving campaigns
India’s influencer market is booming and is soon to be worth billions. According to one recent report, spend on influencers is predicted to reach between $2 billion to $3.5billion by 2028. The opportunities for digital marketing, and influencer marketing specifically, are huge. 700 million people in India have access to the internet now, which is massive in itself - but when you consider that that’s only about half of the population, then the scope for growth is pretty exciting. A traditionally TV-first marketplace is transforming - which is being demonstrated in India’s favourite sport, cricket. The IPL (Indian Premier League) will only be available on a paid channel on TV, but on online platform Geo Cinema, it’s free to view, with free data (check). The industry predicts an extravaganza of internet adoption in coming months, which in turn will lead to even bigger and more diverse audiences for influencers.
Among this exuberant ecosystem, agency Kinnect has been embracing the opportunities via its specialist influencer marketing division Kinnect Outreach. In the six months up to February 2023, they hired 40 influencer specialists and onboarded a whopping 30 new clients, and they’ve just launched a new live dashboard KinnectFluence to help brands stay on top of it all.
It’s an exciting time for the agency which has been on a dizzying trajectory since joining the FCB family in India in August 2021, when the IPG-owned network acquired an equity stake in Kinnect. Their impact has been huge and immediate - last year at Cannes FCB India and Kinnect took home a veritable pride of Lions thanks to the campaign Chatpat, a hit project that showed the entrepreneurial spirit of India’s street children by championing a new kind of influencer. But as glorious as that victory has been, the teams haven’t lost sight of the work of building that relationship day by day and the mission of boosting FCB India’s digital and social capabilities.
Says Rohan Mehta, CEO of Kinnect, the two parties have a clear vision of mutual growth. “What we’ve had very specifically charted out as a journey on both ends is to make FCB more digital, more forward-looking, more future-ready in India. And while we as Kinect learn more about building brands of 10 to 20 or 30 year period, understand the core tenets of how consumers behave, how brands build themselves. I think we are bringing our tenacity and they are bringing their expertise to the table and together it’s a winning combination,” says Rohan. “Outside of what you see at Cannes there are about 20 to 25 clients that we work on jointly together, there are pitches we have done together or separately but eventually have combined mandates.”
On the influencer front, Kinnect Outreach has a unique proposition - to think like a creative agency and execute like a media agency. As Kejal Teckchandani, senior VP of influencer outreach says, creativity is key to their offering.
“When you look at traditional influencer marketing agencies, they’re largely focused on buying and selling influencer inventory,” she says. “The way Kinnect Outreach differentiates itself out here is that we have a very strong pool of creative talent, which supports us. They are able to come up with influencer strategies and campaigns, which are creatively, extremely differentiated,” she says, explaining that carefully ensuring the authenticity of the influencers is also a core tenet.
Another important element of Kinect Outreach’s approach is that it embraces the diversity of India - which is incredibly rich and complex - and celebrates the microinfluencers, with their tight but loyal audiences within that diversity.
Rohan says, “India is also a country which is not one country. It’s many countries, many languages, many cultures. So, all the more, one size never fits all. And when you want to communicate with audiences which are increasingly local, increasingly outside of the metro cities, they like communication from people who talk in their language, with their cultures. Both as a client and as an agency, it is almost impossible to understand all of these disparate cultures - influencers therefore become an even better medium to carry the message.”
Because of that deeper understanding of local cultural nuance, microinfluencers with 5,000-20,000 followers can be extremely effective.
That diversity also sees a divide between the well-connected, buzzy world of urban India and the harder to reach but rapidly developing rural India. And, perhaps counterintuitively, it’s in rural India where influencer marketing is proving more potent.
“Here we say there is an ‘India’ and there a ‘Bharat’,” explains Rohan, referring to the Hindi name for the country. “India is what we refer to as the India that has been exposed to different kinds of marketing, different kinds of culture. Bharat is where all the growth is happening. A larger part of our clients are trying to track Bharat, which is the rural part of India, the up-and-coming part of India. It’s also the younger part of India. Therefore influencers have become, almost in certain cases, the primary channel of communication.”
Kinnect Outreach has made a concerted effort to recruit people with an understanding of the different cultures, geographies and languages who can work with regional influencers.
And all that impact has proven to be popular with an ever-widening array of brand categories, far beyond the fashion, beauty and retail worlds which have long leveraged influencers.
“When we started off in 2016, it was largely the brands in the fashion space and retail that were engaging with influencers” says Kejal. “Today, we see all types of brands that are interested in doing influencer marketing as they can see the effectiveness of influencer marketing. What happens out here is that we’re typically bagging the audiences of the influencers with a young audience that the brands typically want to reach.”
Kejal points to one example for a new commuter motorbike model, the TVS Raider. They matched the brand up with gaming influencers to reach younger audiences. “It’s really about getting creative, understanding the data extremely well,” says Kejal of finding those unique matches between product and audience.
It’s certainly exciting for clients, but all that complexity, particularly when a campaign leverages an array of talent and influencers across cultures and languages, can be difficult for clients to get their head around. That’s why earlier this year Kinect Outreach launched KinectFluence, a realtime dashboard that allows marketers to monitor their campaigns.
It’s a useful tool to help educate clients - and it’s also true that as budgets in the space grow, so too does the need for transparency and accountability.
“We wanted to make sure that influencer marketing is not viewed by clients as something that’s frivolous or something that’s a flash in the pan,” says Rohan. “I think a large portion of the clients on our roster have made influencer marketing a mainstay and significant part of their budgets.Budgets are growing towards influencer marketing in India close to 55% year on year and it’s expected to cross over a billion dollars in the next couple of years. So the money that people are putting on these channels has grown exponentially. And as soon as the money grows exponentially, so do the questions and research behind it. KinnectFluence is what enables that to happen at all stages of the campaign.”
KinnectFluence allows clients to see how influencers are performing, not just in terms of reach and impressions, but cost per impression, cost per engagement - metrics that marketers are used to seeing in media campaigns on other channels. It also helps with post-campaign analysis, to assess how nano-, micro-, medium- and large-scale influencers perform and the audience reaction, which in turn helps both agency and client refine their strategies.
But Kinect Outreach isn’t just about the metrics - the creative teams are careful to work with influencers in a way that respects and protects their authenticity. And that in turn, Kejal explains, has parlayed into longer term partnerships between brands and influencers, which brings even more advantages.
“Earlier we would work with influencers and brands in a sporadic fashion. So it was for a specific campaign or maybe a short period of time. One of the things that we’ve done now is that we can work with influencers on a long-term basis. We’re literally signing these influencers up as brand advocates,” she says. What really happens out here is two things: One is that it makes the entire engagement very organic in nature. They’re associating with just one brand from that particular category, they’re integrating it into their daily life. It just makes the audience believe in the brands much more. And when we’re working with them often, we’re able to get extreme efficiencies into the system.”
The influencer ecosystem in India is unique in other ways too, most notably when it comes to platforms. For one thing, the global darling of influencer marketing, TikTok, has been banned in India since 2020 - and at the time India was the platform’s largest market. That means that platforms like Instagram and YouTube have an advantage, and the recent rise of YouTube shorts has gained a lot of traction over the past six months (Kinnect Outreach is a partner with YouTube). And the locally-grown TikTok ‘lookalike’ video platforms like MOJ have also become an important part of the ecosystem. Some platforms, like ShareChat, have even emerged that are targeted towards regional users and languages only.
All of which means that the team at KinectOutreach has a vibrant and exciting marketplace to get creative within. And not only do they have booming opportunities to come as hundreds of millions more Indians come online, they also have a headstart on the rest of the world when it comes to navigating influencer marketing in a post-Tiktok world.