In traditional mass communication, publishers created media brands that targeted a certain reader or viewer segment - be it by interest or geography - and marketers advertised in those vehicles if it suited their marketing needs. With the growth of online, marketers are realising that they can sometimes cut out traditional media and begin pedaling content themselves.
Old media continues to bombard consumers with brand-related advertising. When consumers want information beyond what they already have, they are likely to check online especially as they move towards an 'always-on' environment thanks to mobile internet.
Here's where things diverge from traditional advertising. When people search online, they are searching for specific information they can use rather than brand-centric hype. A marketer who can offer content relevant to the consumer is more likely to create a connect that can lead to the brand. For example, a brand could discuss the dangers of a stray-dog bite instead of trying to push an anti-rabies vaccine directly.
Dozens of brands have already begun to take the content route in India. Some examples:
• Worldwide, Johnson & Johnson with its hugely popular parenting website, www.babycenter.com, is one of the earliest successes of this kind. It now has more than a dozen international editions including www.babycenter.in
• BeBeautiful (http://www.bebeautiful.in/) was similarly created by Unilever India to connect with female consumers in a more subtle way than does traditional advertising. The site contains relevant content while making Unilever's beauty products available for consumers to consider.
• Then again, Oreo, the 101-year-old brand which came to India just three years ago, has been taking content seriously. For it, Facebook has become the medium to converse with consumers with its Daily Dunks campaign. (https://www.facebook.com/oreo)
• 'Nano Drive with MTV' (http://mtv.in.com/drive/) is an online series on road trips in the country. The MTV audience decides via social media on the contestants as well as the route and destination.
• The Indian Premiere League engages with its audiences online with The IPL Fantasy League (https://fantasy.iplt20.com/).
• Louis Philippe on social media gave birth to The Label - an online lifestyle magazine that talks about the gentleman's lifestyle. (http://thelabel.in/)
• Even 'classified ad' sites are using content to draw users. The four-month-old matchmaking website, TrulyMadly, has launched an amusing social media campaign, #BreakingStereotypes, with just this in mind. (http://blog.trulymadly.com/breaking-stereotypes/)
Where to start
How exactly is content marketing defined? According to the online Content Marketing Institute, 'Content marketing is a marketing technique of creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience - with the objective of driving profitable customer action.' That pretty much sums it up.
Typically, a brand spends 10-15 per cent of its digital budget on developing the creative and the rest goes into creating buzz about the campaign on paid media. Advocates of content marketing argue that if the same percentage went instead into creating content, the brand would spend less on paid media because of the content's viral nature.
"As a practitioner of content marketing, I would urge brands to increase the investment in content as much as possible," says RP Singh, CEO, Sirez Group, which operates the firm KontentCafe.
Louis Philippe is a case in point. Jacob John, brand director, Louis Philippe, recalls that when the brand's digital journey began about three years ago, it focused on social media just like other brands. It hoped that if it could drive the numbers, it could start having 'conversations' with consumers.
However, a year later, "we realised that while we had indeed built a decent fan base, the inherent nature of social media meant that we were being sucked into a vicious cycle of spends in order to achieve reach. We debated and articulated our objective in this medium - which was simply to be the single point and the largest lifestyle destination for the evolved Indian man," John explains.
In the course of researching the issue, the team found that the consumer online was interested in a host of subjects related to fashion: be it fitness, travel, gadgets, arts or theatre. "To create truly world class content that would attract this consumer meant that we had to create a destination that we could control and own - and more importantly, create content that would interest him constantly. Social, we realised, was not the platform for this," says John. That's how he and his team came up with TheLabel.in. Louis Philippe has invested in a complete content team at its digital agency, Jack In The Box, for TheLabel. The agency generally creates about one new story every day.
For Sachin Bhatia, co-founder, TrulyMadly.com, "Content marketing helps the brand position itself in the right way - as a matchmaking website for the modern individual. The #BreakingStereotypes campaign reflects the brand philosophy: Relationships are based on compatibility, not statistics. We wish to encourage people to think differently about relationships."
Building a social story
The tricky part, say some, is deciding what form of content a brand should choose.
Not so, thinks RP Singh: "The process of story picking is fairly simple. The first step should always be about picking up of content that matches the brand promise or consumer passion points."
Intel's 'Look Inside' video series is an example of storytelling that revolves around how technology is used in everyday lives. "We don't have a defined process for this. We select good stories that encourage visitors to look into how technology and devices have brought about a positive change in people's lives. Our content is always focused on connecting with the consumer at an emotional level and eventually leading to his endorsing our brand," states Sandeep Aurora, director, marketing and market development, Intel South Asia.
MTV, on the other hand, has an LSC quotient which it follows on everything it does. Here, L = Like, S = Share, C = Comment. Once a viewer sees a video, he/she should want to either like, share or comment on it. Based on this, MTV selects stories for its online video series which people would genuinely like to see and share.
Ramesh Srivats, MD and CEO, TenTenTen, the company that handles The IPL Fantasy League, says that the game format benefits IPL at many levels. "To the players of the Fantasy League, the scores and statistics of each match have added importance. Likewise, there's greater interest in the match analysis and expert opinions." The Fantasy League compels visitors to go to the IPL website and spend time there as they make changes in their chosen team and the like. According to Srivats, the Fantasy League sub site saw over 125 million page views last year with the visitor typically staying for 13 minutes to view eight pages.
Visual or textual?
The nature of the content helps decide the platform to use. For example, if the content is visual, YouTube and Facebook are the way to go but if the matter is in text, Twitter is best. Intel's Aurora says that they opted for video as it is a great way to tell an emotional story, increasing the likelihood of it getting shared.
The Facebook format on the other hand, has helped a new brand such as TrulyMadly to access extended reach. "This format helps in giving better reach to our content by leveraging the networks of the featured individuals," says Bhatia.
Meanwhile, for Nano Drive With MTV, other platforms act as an accelerator for its web content activation. "Each season we generate more than 5,000 stunning pictures, a lot of textual content in the form of blogs, status updates etc," says Ekalavya Bhattacharya, head, digital, MTV India.
"Social media has changed everything in content marketing. We have gone from a phase where we were creating campaign calendars for our clients to today, where we are in always-on sustained communication model," says Lochan. What she says becomes especially true when one views the crazy number of Indians going online via mobile.
How to Measure
As with any new form of communication, there is no standard method to measure the return on the money invested in content marketing. As things stand, each brand measures success - or failure - using different yardsticks.
For Madura, all the standard measures such as time spent on TheLabel.in and click throughs thereon to the LouisPhilippe.com are being tracked. At this point, though, these measures are probably subservient to the higher purpose of creating a destination that will, over time, help the brand stand out in a highly cluttered category.
An obsession with measuring returns too closely early in the game can smother experimentation. "The first season of Nano Drive with MTV required Tata to take a leap of faith. At the start of Season 1 not many saw the Nano as a car in which you could actually travel to places. Now as we gear up for Season 3, we no longer get awkward stares when we say we are going to send you to Rohtang Pass in a Nano," smiles Bhattacharya.
In contrast, for Intel, the only ROI that the brand targets through their Look Inside series is reach. "We look at reach from two points - organic and inorganic. But the primary objective for us is achieving extended reach," emphasises Aurora.
Ideally, believes Praveen Gupta, head - digital business, Tata Docomo, "Content creation is not an overnight job. Brands need to invest in content periodically and it is a long-term game. Ideally one should not attach a short-term goal of attaining ROI with content."
Moreover, as RP Singh points out, "The other benefit of content marketing is that it increases a brand's online presence. Content travels beyond a brand's owned properties and the overall reach increases. It also helps in SEO to a great extent."
Content is a route that could work in many categories but brands will have to be thoughtful about the exact path they should tread.
A Note From the Editor
'It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...' That memorable opening line from Charles Dickens' novel, A Tale of Two Cities, could equally sum up the state of digital content.
Even as traditional media companies continue to struggle with financial viability online, consumption of content is going through the roof. According to Mary Meeker's Internet Trends Report 2014, released last week, there has been a 50 per cent year on year growth in digital content consumption. Unfortunately for media companies, much of the additional content consumed is being generated by consumers themselves.
In this flood of content, brands can feel lost. In the first rush to plant the flag on the digital landscape, marketers were content to appear on Facebook, and, in the next phase, rushed to buy fans under the illusion that this was a shortcut to creating a community. But a graveyard is hardly a community of like-minded people, is it? If the 'fans' remain uninvolved, the group might as well be disbanded. The problem on Facebook is that a culture of instant gratification has taken root: no discounts or gifts = no participation.
As the trend of sharing content on social media platforms has grown, it has set brands thinking. Rather than peddle merely brand-specific puff, could they create content of genuine interest to their consumers so that they might return to it again and again? Could this be a better way to incline them towards the brand?
This fortnight's cover story takes a look at the many experiments brands are trying with content: From an Intel which tries to put together what technology means in everyday lives to a Louis Philippe which has created a lifestyle portal to a Nano which is trying to involve the social media crowd via MTV, the variety is tremendous.
The excitement of trying something new must come with a warning. If brands want to create long-term consumer interest, they will have to play the content marketing long-term themselves. And once marketers accept that, they should give the experiment the space that it deserves. For, what is the point of backing a marathoner and then judging his performance every 100 metres?