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In recent years, the usage of influencers in brand marketing has skyrocketed, as companies seek to tap into the social media audiences that these individuals have amassed over time and leverage them to meet campaign-based objectives like generating brand awareness, top-of-mind recall, etc.

However, what has happened today is that brands are no longer limiting these associations to short-term partnerships with influencers on an ad-hoc basis but are beginning to explore a relatively long-term association with social media personalities.

Therefore, this time around decided to delve deep into the nitty gritty of what’s in store for brands and marketers in long-term collaborations with the influencers and the creator economy at large. Various players from the influencer marketing space shared the belief that long-term brand-influencer partnerships will be the way forward for influencer marketing.

R Balaji

R Balaji, Associate Director- Talent Partnerships, Pollen (Zoo Media), pointed out that when it comes to brand and influencer collaborations, the first and foremost objective for them is to strike a long-term association as it is highly advantageous for brands in terms of cost, face value and bonding/rapport between the brand and creator which one can't see in a one-off association usually.

Balaji further stated that such associations are very much viable as they help in strengthening the relationship and trust between both.

Kanka Das

Sharing the creator's POV on the matter, Kanka Das, a beauty, fashion and lifestyle content creator, pointed out that she prefers to have a long-term collaboration with brands that she is already a consumer of because in that case, it becomes natural for her to review or promote the brand. But when it’s a brand which she is new to, her preference is to do a short-term collaboration.

“Working with brands in the long term is a plus point, but it is also important to work with other brands in the short term because it helps you to explore your creativity and put out some fresh and different content for your audience so that they don’t get bored,” she stated.

Hitharth Dadia

 Stepping the discussion up by a notch, Hitharth Dadia, CMO and Partner, Nofiltr.Group, asserted that if a creator is on a long-term deal with a brand, they know that they're indirectly or directly repping this brand and thus they majorly want to ensure that it doesn't slides off.

“The brand also gets to know, in a much more quantifiable way, how much value they have received through the entire collaboration unlike if one-and-done collaborations where it's extremely difficult to measure the metric of value provided or assumed,” he added.

Furthermore, he also went on to state that even though creators promote a lot of brands, there are certain players that they really would like to work with and when they land into an association with those entities, they are more than happy to accommodate and adjust at a rate that is comfortable for both.

Tusharr Kumar

Striking a similar tone, Tusharr Kumar, COO, Only Much Louder Entertainment also went on to add that some of the most successful brands have driven great outcomes via long-term collaborations.

“Before collaborating with influencers, what is of strategic importance is to research the category of followers and make sure that they are the correct audience for your product/service. Merely choosing to work with influencers/creators based on their number of followers can negatively impact investment and pose an archaic risk to the brand,” he added.

Moreover, he also went on to add that because influencer marketing is not like typical ads, and tends to catch the attention of audiences that look for quirky and appealing content, like every other long-term partnership, influencer marketing comes with its own set of opportunities and challenges.

“A lot of brands aren't careful to match the personality of their brand with the right influencer, and often struggle to run lucrative campaigns.  Many influencer platforms have become competitive marketplaces, making brands compete with each other which ultimately increases the cost of campaigns. To overcome this, brands can shift focus from influencer marketing to alternative channels of influencer acquisition like brand ambassador agencies, that help brands in the negotiation process, without having to bid with other brands,” opined Kumar.

He also emphasised that in order to strike long-lasting influencer-brand partnerships, brands should conduct their due research and hold influencers accountable for variables like engagement ratio, growth rate, irrelevant engagements and mediocre content.

“By setting boundaries and focusing on quality, we may create a viable environment for long-term partnerships,” he said.

Mahek Porbunderwala

Similarly, Mahek Porbunderwala, Associate Influencer Team Lead, Django Digital, echoed that long-term partnerships are a testimony of the trust and faith of the influencers (who’re also experts in their fields) in various brands.

“Long-term partnerships sometimes might restrict the creators from collaborating with competitor brands, but I don’t see that as a challenge. If a creator has been promoting x skincare brand for a long time now, they’re already on the path of becoming brand ambassadors, just without the tag. This challenge is now treated as an opportunity to gain more trust,” she added.

Kunal Khandelwal

However, Kunal Khandelwal, Group Head- Outreach, SoCheers, had a different take on the matter as in his opinion the social stars’ personal brand image might change over time, potentially harming the brand's image if not aligned with the brand's values.

“This can further impact the right target audience and the impact of the partnership. Secondly, influencers are today no longer restricted to one genre and are seen expanding their avenues to various genres hence a long-term relationship would affect a brand’s reach to its target audience,” he added.

Furthermore, he also went on to add that with short-term partnerships brands can reach a larger set of audiences by collaborating with multiple influencers whereas long-term partnerships with influencers would somewhere restrict the brand’s overall reach.

Sachin Bhatia

As per Sachin Bhatia, CEO, Good Creator Co, influencer marketing is still at a nascent stage in India and is evolving very fast but long term collaborations make little or no sense for both creators and brands as they are still figuring the best way to work with each other.

“There are just too many options and opportunities out there for creators with the influx of newer brands in each category to tie themselves up with one brand because when a new creator suddenly breaks out and captures the public’s imagination, a brand would definitely want to leverage that popularity with them,” he stated.

Moreover, he also went on to add that this is precisely the reason why the creator ecosystem is attempting to bring some predictability for brands by now offering a programmatic way to run influencer campaigns and providing consistency of work and deliverables for influencers who participate in these campaigns.

“Influencer marketing while being creator centric needs to be more performance driven for it to scale and reach its true potential,” he opined.

What has made brands look for a relatively longer duration of influencer collaborations?

According to OML’s Kumar, brands should choose the duration of partnerships based on the business or marketing objectives which further depends on the campaign in terms of its tactical nature, building desire, a one-off promotion or creating a platform for the brand from scratch.

“Whether you are currently working with influencers, or planning to look for a long-term or short-term, strategic partnership, it is highly important to consider the budget as partnering with an influencer for an extended period means repeat exposure and can be great for higher sales. Therefore, the longer the brand-influencer relation, the better the creative flow from influencers and the higher the ROI for your brand,” he asserted.

As per Nofiltr.Group’s Dadia, if brands get influencers on board at a very early stage, and if it's a reasonable deal, the creators are more than happy to abide by it and there is a commitment factor that the brands get.

“Such associations also help the creator navigate with that particular brand properly and actually help them on a deeper level and not just in one association. It is when such long-term deals happen, a lot of value propositions also open up in later stages,” he added.

Additionally, he also went on to point out that the influencer marketing industry is slowly getting to the stage where creators are becoming ambassadors, but this will only get a boost if brands start warming up to long-term partnerships which essentially doesn't have to be extremely long and can be for a period of six months as well.

Moving forth, Django Digital’s Porbunderwala also stated that owing to the rapid growth of the influencer marketing industry, the brands are witnessing results in real-time which is why they are wanting to indulge in long-term relationships with the creators for both effectiveness and efficiency.

“Once a creator has been on board for a while, they vouch for the brand even outside of their set deliverables in addition to becoming an avid consumer of the brand and its products or services. This clearly helps the brands attain more than what they’re paying for,” she opined.

Similarly, Pollen’s Balaji also denoted that any brand would want to strike a long-term association rather than doing a one-off association because long-term partnerships lead to brand recognition where the audience accelerates towards brand awareness accompanied by cost-effectiveness.

According to SoCheers’ Khandelwal, even though such long-term partnerships have a significant impact on authentic and sustainable brand awareness, build strong relationships and cost-effectiveness in the form of negotiated rates and bulk deals for campaigns, it is important to keep in mind that a long-term partnership with a creator is not always the right match for every brand.

“It is also important to consider the potential for audience saturation over time which will lead to a decrease in engagement in such partnerships over time. Creating multiple varieties of content with the brand's messaging and not focusing on one particular IP will certainly help engage the target audience and procure them to become oversaturated,” he added.

Advantages of long-term brand associations with the creators or influencers

In the views of Porbunderwala, some of the advantages that come along with such associations include relatability to the creator and that the trust which these creators have built with their audience over the years is often transferred to the brand which further helps brands to come one step closer to their target audience owing to the creators’ direct reach and engagement.

Striking a similar tone, Pollen’s Balaji also stated that longer partnerships add to the trustworthiness as brands can build a genuine and transparent relationship with their preferred creators and carry out more well-planned campaigns with proper timelines.

Additionally, OML’s Kumar also mentioned that with the trust and credibility amongst followers, consumers trust influencers more than advertisements and other content which is why niche-specific influencers are lauded for their authenticity and expertise. Therefore longer collaborations are a win-win, for they increase brand visibility and awareness, strengthen the brand’s content strategy, reduce marketing costs significantly, generate more leads and sales and deliver a higher ROI.

Echoing the same standpoint, Dadia also said, “Consider working with an XYZ creator, and they are promoting your brand across three or four months. Now the audience knows after a couple of posts that this creator is working with a particular brand because influencers are extremely transparent when it comes to paid collaborations. Thus, positioning the brand as something that the creator actually uses at different times is what leads to a deeper connection.”

How do such long-term partnerships impact the audience engagement of the creators?

“Today’s evolved audience is much more likely to refrain or unfollow creators who’re promoting new brands in the same segment every other day and are more likely to stick to the ones who are loyal to their associations. Hence, audience engagement is also dependent on the type and quality of content; novel, engaging and informative content will always keep the viewers hooked,” Porbunderwala stated.

Carrying a similar line of thought, Dadia also went on to add that long-term deals definitely give the creators a consistent inflow of money and help them navigate their creativity in a way where they can accommodate the brand very organically with their personality.

“These long-term deals then help the creator make a much more organic association, while not being stressed about the audience liking towards them, because if they promote something consistently, it can also be promoted in a subtle way which doesn’t require one to rub it in anyone's face. These things also give a lot of creative freedom to the creators and that also gives proper organic reach and good commitment to the brands,” he added.

In the views of OML’s Kumar, with a long-term association with the same brand, influencers and brands have a deeper bond of understanding each other’s work values better, that help in authentic content creation.

“From a brand perspective, one of the potential risks of long-term partnerships with social stars is indeed the controversy or negative scenario in the future, the brand would also have to face the repercussions of the same. Hence, to minimize this risk, it's important for brands to thoroughly vet these trendsetters before selecting and taking into consideration their values, online presence, and past behaviour,” stated Khandelwal.