Kapil Ohri
Guest Article

Are influencer-led brands making a dent in the market?

This trend is not restricted to the top influencers.

Recently, a famous food content creator/influencer – Kabita Singh (13 million YouTube subscribers) – entered the D2C market and launched her own brand of spices named Kabita’s Kitchen Masala Mix. The brand is available in three variants – Sabzi Masala, Pav Bhaji Masala and Chicken Masala, priced at Rs 330 and available on Amazon.

Kabita’s Kitchen Masala Mix is a joint venture between Kabita’s Kitchen and Ping Digital Broadcast. In an article published on IndiaFoodNetwork.in, Singh mentioned, “I’d receive a lot of comments or feedback on my videos, especially during the (COVID) pandemic that certain spices were unavailable or what could be used alternatively. I’d help them out by suggesting the closest substitute. This got me thinking about an all-in-one masala, and how it could simplify shopping and cooking.”

Now assume that if Singh gets at least one order (annually) from 5% of her followers, she’ll be able to make around Rs 21 crore. This gross revenue number looks small, when we consider it from branded masala market size, which is pegged at around Rs 30,000 crore. Singh’s masala brand won’t even have 1% market share, but it still looks like an excellent top-up to her annual income/revenue.

Is it #trending?

Interestingly, influencers extending their personal brand to merchandise and products, isn’t a new trend in India. At least 20-25 significant influencers have launched their own brands over the last few years. This trend isn’t restricted to top influencers.

This trend of influencers launching their own brand, is spread across genres – food, lifestyle, automobile, health, etc. Let’s look at few examples.

Entertainment influencer Bhuvan Bam, who’s one of the biggest YouTube influencers with 26 million followers, launched Youthiapa with his friend Arvin Bhandari in 2016. The brand sells sweatshirts, hoodies, T-shirts, masks, mobile covers, caps, mugs etc.

Nikhil Sharma, who’s also known as Mumbiker Nikhil and a popular YouTuber, owns LabelMn. His brand is also into selling T-shirts, caps, hoodies, sweatshirt, and accessories like bags, key chains, thermal flasks, etc. Sharma shot to fame a few years back for his vlog on travelling from Kashmir to Kanyakumari on his motorbike.

Is apparel the most preferred choice for launching one’s own brand? Some influencers have explored this space, which resonates or has a higher contextual linkage to their social media content.

For instance, Anupriya Kapur, who has over two lakh Instagram followers, and creates content around health & wellness, extended her online presence through Imbue Natural, which she co-founded with three other entrepreneurs. The brand – launched in December 2018 – is into premium intimate, sexual and menstrual wellness products.

Faisal Ali Khan launched a special line of motorcycle riding gear FK-R in 2020. FK-R sells biking gear, as limited edition items. Khan claims, “I’m the first automobile blogger in India and the biggest automobile influencer in the country, with a combined subscriber base in excess of three million.”

Another interesting example is Alicia Souza, a Bengaluru-based illustrator with over four lakh Instagram followers. She launched a children’s brand Auntie Alie in 2021. Auntie Alie deals in baby and kids goodies, featuring Souza’s illustrations, like swaddles, bibs, blankets, sleeping bags, decals and posters.

Are influencer-led brands making a dent in the market?

The unexpected script

One may assume that influencers sell their own brand via their own/personal social media handles, like they promote other brands via paid partnerships. But that’s not the case. Most influencers have broadly taken two key routes to distribute and sell their own brand.

Selling via one’s own website (D2C) is the trend in this category. Bam has his own site named Youthiapa.com, Sharma has Labelmn.com, and Kapur’s Imbue X Laiqa is available at Mylaiqa.com.

Juhi Godambe, a leading fashion and lifestyle influencer who has her own brand Arabellaa since 2015, sells her clothing line via Arabellaa.com.  

The other route is selling via small or big marketplaces. For instance, the Auntie Alie range is available through sites like Happywagon.com, Thenestery.in, Superbottoms.com, Kuddle.in, etc. Happywagon.com works with artists and use their design to curate products.

Then there are dedicated marketplaces to sell influencers’ merchandise. One such example is MerchGarage.com, which calls itself India’s First Creator-driven Merchandise Marketplace.

MerchGarage.com was started in 2020, and is focussed on apparel & fashion category. Prajakta Koli, who is famous as MostlySane on YouTube and Instagram, launched her official merchandise in collaboration with MerchGarage.com.

Another famous fashion influencer Sejal Kumar, who has over a million YouTube subscribers and eight lakh-plus Instagram followers, also took the partnership route with MerchGarage.com to launch her own label/merchandise. Available at Mostlysane.merchgarage.com and Sejal.merchgarage.com, the site offers similar category of products – phone covers mugs, T-shirts, sweatshirts, masks, hoodies, sippers, etc. – for both these influencers.

Interestingly, both Koli and Kumar have leveraged their respective YouTube channels’ store feature to extend the availability of their Merch Garage merchandise on Youtube.com/@MostlySane/store and Youtube.com/@sejalkumarofficial/store. Even Bam’s Youthiapa products are live on his YouTube channel’s Store (youtube.com/@BBKiVines/store).

Influencers have also explored big e-commerce marketplaces like Amazon, Flipkart and Myntra to sell their brands.

A famous food influencer, Madhura Bachal, who creates cooking videos on her YouTube channel called MadhurasRecipe Marathi (over six million subscribers), launched her own spice brand MadhurasRecipe Masala in 2018. She has made it available on Amazon and Flipkart. Not just that, she has also explored BigBazaar and Reliance Fresh as distribution route, as per media reports.

Recently, Masic Beauty, a brand co-owned by beauty influencer Malvika Sitlani (700k YouTube subscribers) listed her products via a dedicated online brand store on Myntra.com.

Influencers have also established separate social media handles on Instagram and Facebook for their own brands.

Is it going viral?

Now, some critical questions. Are influencers able to replicate their social clout to their own brands? Are they able to attract loads of customers/followers for their brands, like they get for their content on social media? If we try to decode these questions by various surrogate methods, we may get a few hints.

Let’s take few examples. The traffic on influencers’ D2C platforms/websites, isn’t substantial, in comparison to their social media followership.

For instance, Bam gets around 35k-plus visitors per month, as per SimilarWeb data, available publicly. LabelMn.com gets around 8k visits/month, which is minuscule, in contrast to Sharma’s social clout (close to four million YouTube subscribers).

Vishnu Kaushal (@thevishnukaushal; 2.4 million Instagram followers), who launched his own clothing and merchandise brand Peach By Vishnu, gets 43k-plus visits on Peachbyvishnu.com. Godambe’s (@juhigodambe; 5.3 lakh Instagram followers) Arabellaa.com gets about 8k-plus visits per month.

Even the followership of influencer-owned brands’ social handles isn’t sizeable, compared to the influencers’ following on social media. This yardstick indicates that influencers’ own brands are still not established yet.

For instance, Vishnu Kaushal’s (@peachbyvishnu) has 26k followers, versus over two million followers on his personal handle (@thevishnukaushal) on Instagram.

Faisal’s (@ fkrtribe) has over 10k followers, compared to @fasbeam followership of over six lakh on Instagram and close to two million on YouTube.

Godambe’s @arabellaaofficial has 56k followers, versus her own handle (@juhigodambe) that has over five lakh Instagram followers.

Interestingly, Bam’s @youthiapamachaao has sizeable (over a lakh) Instagram followers, if we compare it with other influencers’ owned brand handles. But it’s also small, the moment we equate it with Bam’s own social clout (@bhuvan.bam22, over 15 million Instagram followers).

Are influencer-led brands making a dent in the market?

It appears that few influencers like Madhura's Recipe, aren’t leveraging the D2C model, but relying mainly on e-commerce marketplaces to bring in the customers. Even in that case, the story seems similar. Madhura's Recipe Masala, which is categorised under the Spices & Masala category on Amazon, isn’t a ‘best seller’ in its category, despite being active for few years.

For the uninitiated, The Amazon Best Seller badge is an orange icon, showcased beside a product, which a product gets if it’s the most popular product (based on sales) in its category.

The best seller ranking is updated frequently. The combined rating of seven variants – available as different combos – of Madhura's Recipe Masala on Amazon is close to 4k, which is way less than one of the many bestsellers of the category.

For instance, Vedika, a brand in Spices & Masala category has got ratings ranging from 6k to 28k-plus for its different variants. Ratings is also an indication of the popularity.

It's not trending yet.

Going by the volume of followership or visitors, it looks like a case where macro-influencers have nano followership, when it comes to their own-brand social and D2C assets. Isn’t this an indication that this space of influencers extending their personal brand to label/merchandise, is still in its early stage in India, despite being active over the last few years?

The author is head of performance marketing and customer success, Tata Business Hub.

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