By Arif Kazi
Technological innovation has been increasingly seeing its application across industries. The latest AI-driven tech has been seeing its way of driving business in the current times. An extension of the same, Virtual Influencers are transforming the current influencer marketing approach for a brand to promote their products and services. Let’s understand why brands are eyeing them and what is the future for the same.
Technology has come a long way in adding innovation to the world. The recent tech innovation that has been taking over almost every industry with their application is Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality. The world is moving towards a virtual-first environment for almost everything. Metaverse is slowly becoming a reality for several companies and we can already see how brands and companies have already started moving from the dot-com culture to the recent ‘.ai’.
There have been several examples of how AI is set to take over the world in easing complex manual tasks with real-time computing-based solutions. ChatGPT has been thriving by empowering people with everything under the sun with the use of AI. Grammarly likewise has let people thrive with grammatically error-free content with its AI-powered real-time predictive sentence correction and grammar edits. Seventh Sense is yet another AI tool to understand customer behaviour and help brands optimize their email marketing prospects.
Beyond movies and games, AI extends its use case to marketing and branding initiatives by several companies too. In line with the same, off lately, Virtual Influencers have been a trending marketing vehicle for brands to engage with the audience of the modern day.
What are virtual influencers you may ask? Fictional, computer-generated personas or humanoids that present human-like perceptions, features and personalities are known as virtual influencers. Just like how human influencers entice their followers on social media platforms like Instagram to watch their branded content and make a decision which will ultimately benefit all the stakeholders, virtual influencers are being picked up as a prospective channel by several brands to market their services, products, etc. They have been widely present on Instagram and only new ones are mushrooming by the day that focuses on niche subject matter expertise to engage with the prospective audience. More and more brands overseas are actively looking at ways to collaborate with virtual influencers now.
Advantages of Brands considering Virtual Influencers
Still a nascent concept, brands want to know how are they different from regular, human influencers and why must one consider echoing their brand awareness through a virtual-only asset like Virtual Influencers. Let’s understand the advantages of considering Virtual Influencers:
• Cost-effectiveness: Human influencers and celebrities’ hosted content can cost brands dearly. There’s a complex cost cycle which can dent the brand’s bottom line if the promotional activities are not diligently planned. Virtual influencers are economical and can bring down marketing expenditure by the brands subsequently. Being well-received by the user base, more and more people are relying on brands being hosted by virtual influencers for their purchase decisions.
• Non-biased, error-free possibilities: In the case of human celebrity-based influencer marketing, their content comes with a probability of success or failure which may attract criticism from the viewers in case anything is miscommunicated. The damage is real and has a massive impact which can affect the brand gravely. Virtual Influencers learn customer behaviour to their content over time to adapt to the same moving forward. The content is hence error-free and keeps the criticism from viewers at bay.
• Flexibility and Customization: Virtual influencers provide the promoters with the bandwidth to experiment and showcase their branded content in the way they perceive will maximize their reach. The virtual influencer’s actions can be mindfully fabricated while aligning with the brand’s goals, which may not always be achievable with human influencers. To promote their brand, the company has to carefully consider how a celebrity or a person with good fan-following on Instagram can be the suited one to promote their brand. That further adds to working by the influencer’s comfort, concerns, availability, etc. But a virtual influencer can be customized according to the need of the brand and how they are willing the followers of the virtual influencers to perceive their content.
A popular marketing vehicle abroad, global giants have already tested their social media marketing campaigns to promote products with virtual influencers. Notably, Samsung, Ikea and Mercedes Benz among several others have had their share of marketing with virtual influencers. Shudu has been the most sought-after VI by luxury lifestyle brands like Cosmopolitan, Vogue, etc. Automobile companies like Mercedes Benz, Mini Cooper, and Porsche have been hosting their new cars and tech launches while featuring new-age VIs like Dagny, Miquela, Ayayi, etc. India, though nascent in the adoption of VI, it has its own homegrown VI in place already – Kyra. Developed by Himanshu Goel of TopSocial India, Kyra has been already witnessed promoting boAt Lifestyle and on the digital cover of Travel + Leisure magazine.
What’s in store for Virtual Influencers in future?
While the innovation is already here, whether we accept it or not, there will be fine-tuning and retrofitting measures that will help virtual influencers to get as close to human influencers in a bid to transform the influencer marketing landscape in the forthcoming times. We can say that they are here to stay.
Virtual Influencers (VIs), as aforementioned, are still in a nascent stage of adoption. We are social beings who still tend to be driven by the reviews of products endorsed by select human celebrities and content creators. We vouch for what they promote and recommend. Viewers tend to feel disconnected from the digital-only virtual influencers because their creators often lack to disclose the nature of these personas to the viewers. In turn, people barely know how the virtual influencer has unique traits and why must one view their hosted content.
Moreover, while we argue that they are intangible and we never see them in person, the case is the same for human influencers too. We have never met them in person, chatted with them face to face or known them better than from behind the screen. The divide remains as of now too, so we shall not shy away from giving the novel innovation the chance that it deserves.
Irrespective of how much we argue on the application of Virtual Influencers, they are purpose-built and do their job, just for what they are meant to be, i.e. to influence viewers and gain followers. With time, they are bound to normalize and miss out on their new wow factor.
The author is Founder and Managing director of Dust Value
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