While fashion and beauty labels are among its earliest adopters, the hashtag has fans across sectors. For instance, open online course websites such as Udemy and Skillshare, non-governmental organisations, large telecom brands such as Vodafone, publishing giant Penguin Random House among many others have all adopted the platform.
However fashion and beauty dominate the brand parade. “Fashion is the third most followed category by young people globally on Instagram, after music and entertainment. That’s because when your store front, marketing, advertising, and customer service are done in one app, on one device, everything changes," says Sandeep Bhushan, director Facebook India and South Asia.
Instagram is where Facebook was seven years ago in terms of being a melting pot of ideas say advertisers. It attracts the young because it is skewed towards visual storytelling and also because it is a place without parental oversight (by and large). Reghunath says that younger users are increasingly moving to Instagram as their parents crowd Facebook. This attracts brands that want to make a direct pitch to this demographic.
At the same time the platform has added features that help users and brands discover each other more easily. For example ‘stories’ that are visible for only 24 hours (similar to rival Snapchat's feature) and the recently introduced InstagramTV or IGTV that allows content creators to share long form videos are popular with brands and influencers.
Masters of the tale
Bhushan says that fashion brands have been a hit on Instagram largely because of the compelling stories they tell. By using the features that the platform offers, fashion designers have managed to give audiences a ringside view of how stylists and designers work, engage them in conversations and gradually turn them into brand followers.
On the platform, size does not help discovery of the product, but the story it tells does. So every brand looks to craft a story across its feed through a striking combination of colours, composition and socially relevant themes, irrespective of the product or service on offer. This also means understanding the posting frequency that works on the platform and the vibe that works best for the brand—for instance a brand for ethnic wear may choose to align itself with the cause of the weaver community and post images that draw attention to both. This gives its messages greater currency and the brand gets access to key influencers within the target community.
Also popular is the Masterclass route that lets brands to get close to the customer without encroaching on her space. At the recently concluded Lakme Fashion Week for instance, several new labels found a way to talk to bloggers, buyers and enthusiasts using this format. According to an Instagram spokesperson, "In India and around the world Instagram has become the fashion community’s home for discovery, inspiration and visual storytelling, and a way for all of us to get an inside look into upcoming trends."
Equal opportunity, high reach
Brands are drawn to the platform because product discovery is a more democratic process here, than it is in the world of traditional advertising or even Facebook. Reghunath says that customer acquisition costs on Facebook are still very high. On Instagram, start-ups have an equal chance at finding the right audience as the established labels do.
“It empowers small businesses and democratises opportunity, giving individuals, creators and emerging brands the ability to reach a global audience,” says Bhushan. All a brand needs is a good story and an engaging influencer.
Dhimaan Shah, founder of StyleCracker, an online community of personal stylists that is popular among young women says, "In terms of organic reach it (Instagram) is far higher than other platforms which results in higher engagement. In fact, we’ve seen Instagram stories have even higher metrics than the Instagram feed." Advertising ROI on Instagram is also higher.
Influencers play a big role in helping brands expand their reach. The trick is finding the right person. Brands look for someone who fits the product/service and is aligned to the ethos of the brand.
“Audiences have learnt to distinguish between genuine and over-promoted content but there isn’t a more relevant, native-to-medium brand building technique than influencer marketing at the moment. That said, there’s no blanket influencer strategy. Every brand needs a unique one to break out in the marketplace full of influencers,” says Reghunath. It is all about finding the perfect match.