Our combined capabilities offer bigger opportunities for brands, influencers: Pranay Swarup on QYou's acquisition of Chtrbox

In an exclusive conversation with BuzzInContent, Swarup, CEO, Founder, Chtrbox and Julie Kriegshaber, COO, Chtrbox, say that the acquisition offers 360-degree influencer-driven ad campaigns across TV, OTT, digital and app-based platforms that fully leverage the deep experience and knowledge of both teams. It offers an opportunity to drive more rapid development of social commerce business opportunities

Akanksha Nagar
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Pranay Swarup and Julie Kriegshaber

Influencer marketing though growing exponentially over the past few years is still in its nascent stages. Many in the industry, including Pranay Swarup, CEO and Founder Chtrbox, believe that we are all just scratching the surface of unlocking what influencers can truly do for businesses, consumers and themselves. 

However, with the recent acquisition of Chtrbox by QYou Media, he is optimistic the agency’s combined capabilities will enable the influencer marketing space to grow better and faster and, more importantly, open up bigger opportunities for brands and influencers. 

“I am very proud of Chtrbox and my team’s contributions, and lead role in laying the foundation in India over the past five years. We view our joining forces with QYou as an important step and win not just for us but for all Indian influencers and the industry as a whole. It further validates the great work creators have been doing and the potential they have to offer,” he said.

Chtrbox will continue to operate under its current entity. Julie Kriegshaber, COO, Chtrbox and Swarup will continue to lead Chtrbox as an independently positioned brand. Both will work closely with Krishna Menon (The Q India, COO), Simran Hoon (The Q India, CEO) and Curt Marvis (QYou Media, CEO and Co-founder) among other lead team members. This combined team, along with support from Chtrbox’s investors and backers, Rohit Raj (CCO and Co-founder, the Glitch), Roshan Abbas (Serial Entrepreneur and Media Personality), and Gaurav Kapur (Founder, Oaktree Sports and Media Personality), makes one really strong team, he said.

He said The Q will now have deeper access to hundreds of thousands of influencers for programming and content, including over 30 top and emerging influencers exclusively represented by Chtrbox. Integrating Chtrbox and QYou's USA influencer marketing business’s best practices across technology, data analytics, creative brand strategy, and content production will advance capabilities for both the markets, he said.

“The agency now has the ability to offer 360-degree influencer-driven ad campaigns across TV, OTT, digital and app-based platforms that fully leverage the deep experience and knowledge of both teams. It offers the opportunity to drive the more rapid development of social commerce business opportunities, which are influencer-driven at their core,” he added.

Asked how this acquisition was carried out, he said QYou’s India team had connected with Chtrbox first in 2019 when they both did an influencer campaign together and both teams had a great experience.

“QYou has had a strong focus in India. We read about their growth plans in India and knew we could accelerate this growth. When I approached QYou’s leadership team for partnership, our conversations moved forward really well and we connected on many aspects, including culture, values and outlook on how to grow the space in India. QYou’s CEO Curt Marvis and Chairman Scott Paterson felt strongly that this could potentially be more than just a partnership, and so did we, pretty much from our first conversation. Many good discussions later, we had a solid plan on making this marriage happen, and here we are. What we really appreciated while we were arriving at this acquisition was the confidence and comfort on how a new-age media company must operate and grow. We aligned well on culture, values and our outlook on the space,” he said.

While immediate opportunities get unlocked and both the teams are already exploring a few together, all entities have a whole lot of exciting work going on and the goal is to stay focused on its core areas of expertise and continue driving the best for its clients and influencers, he said. 

“After three months is when we will establish stronger synergies in teams,” he said.

QYou deeply understands the popularity of influencer content programming, paired with the compounding impact of wide distribution across traditional channels and OTT.  In India, their creator powered channel The Q has smashed recent ratings, and is reaching over 100 million households across TV, OTT, social media and apps. Together with QYou, Chtrbox can now begin to power more influencer-centric programming with its data-driven methodology for knowing what works with younger audiences.

He said, “I understand that it’s incredibly tough to scale on your own as a creator. To go from a micro influencer to a mega star is years of hard work done right. We want to add value here, and more. We’re all about powering brands and creators to reach new audiences, committed to taking differentiated and diverse content to new audiences and to the next level.”

Chtrbox’s core value proposition to businesses comes from easing content production and distribution by partnering with the best creators from its pool of hundreds of thousands of influencers. This unique approach, Swarup believes, is what’s changing the game— bringing in speed, authenticity, cost-effectiveness and diversity to storytelling.

“Influencers are amazing at just shooting content through smart phones. These phones and tools today have more equipment packed in them than what many studios had a few years ago. And of course influencers offer brands distribution that the consumer actually wants; it’s pull, not push. We’re not messing with this magic, we’re just going to scale our efforts and enhance quality big time. Having said that, creators are always looking to pump up their content, and reach new audiences. With QYou’s strong production and distribution capabilities across TV, digital and OTT, we will definitely look to leverage these added capabilities for our creators and brands,” he said.

In terms of more opportunities and capabilities, Kriegshaber believes that the era of content driven marketing has enabled the rise of ‘influencer’ as an occupation.

Explaining it, she said it’s actually content creators who led to content-driven marketing in a way. It started in the format of bloggers who helped create a culture of digital content consumption by consumers. Smart brands were there early on to realise that the SEO game mattered, and that content drives consideration in a massive way. This has further been established in the years with the internet giving the user the choice to choose its content rather than being forced to watch an ad. All of this, coupled with smartphones, innovative features and data-access, has made creating content go from a hobby to a full-blown career and business opportunity. 

“And this is here to stay. If you’re a creator who has something unique to offer and is good at their craft, there are no limits,” she said. 

Why do brands shy away from investing in influencer marketing?

Swarup believes influencer marketing is digital word of mouth on natural steroids. Natural because influencer marketing isn’t a hack, it's just the natural evolution of how people consume and share information. Many people looked at influencers as distributors / amplifiers whereas the value they bring is more as content creators that help you personalise branded storytelling.

“At Chtrbox, our goal has always been to unleash this crowd-sourced potential through the right blend of art and science, aka creativity and data. We are just scratching the surface of the potential. There’s so much more to do here,” he said.

While the influencer space is still a nascent industry, and while everyone likes to get into it, it takes a while to get it right.

In fact, many of Chtrbox’s early campaigns didn’t succeed as well at scale as they do now.

Brands too have figured out how to ensure influencer marketing is well integrated into their planning and is not an afterthought. As he has seen forward-thinking brands being able to move from experimental budgets to genuine budgets that are planned in advance towards doing it right, he said there is still the need to get into meaningful long-term retainer relations with preferred influencer marketing experts.

“While everything can be figured out at the last minute, nothing in advertising is done well overnight. I think this last year too has helped a lot where businesses had to think of digital and creative ways to reach and engage with their target audiences and build long-term digital IPs,” he said.

According to Swarup, businesses that have not done well on digital are resistant to invest in the influencer marketing space. Earlier, BFSI brands moved slowly towards influencer marketing, but now they’re all making their moves and with the advent of fintech and digital storytelling, creators are becoming integral to their marketing.

He feels that the automobile is another sector that can definitely do more once the market opens up.

“It’s not specific categories that are not adopting influencer marketing but many companies across sectors that are not doing it right, or experimented with it in the past and didn’t get the desired results and so are still hesitant to try again,” he said.

Apart from that, many brands still think of celebrities or a few select influencers when making choices.

However, Kriegshaber agreed that the beauty of influencer marketing is in identifying the right creators for one’s audience and storytelling. There are today thousands of macro, micro and nano influencers that matter more or enough to audiences to be part of the influencer mix. Ultimately it’s about what cohort or combination drives the best results for the brand.

She said while mega and macro-influencers are great for awareness and reach, micro and nano influencers are great for building engagement, authenticity and reaching niche and personalised communities.

Asked how the agency convinces the brands on this aspect, she said, “We don’t have to convince or direct a brand in a specific direction. Influencer marketing is an art and science, and our role is to help brands access the right data and ideas to make good decisions. Our strengths come from the fact that we help brands access the complete influencer pyramid and best optimise their spends. Micro and nano influencers add value by being natural in their normal content style. Having said that, all creators need the right direction and guidance to help them understand and bring out the brand’s story the right way without losing their style that audiences love them for.

Julie Kriegshaber QYou's acquisition of Chtrbox Pranay Swarup