content, creative, industry

Creativity In Content Marketing

I was recently invited by DMAi to speak at Global Marketing & Advertising Week (#GMAW15), on creativity in content marketing. Below is an adapted version of that speech.


A few years ago, when I was working at one of India’s most well-known content marketing agencies, life was very different.

Back then we really struggled to sell the idea of content marketing to clients. The idea of engaging audiences all-year-round with words, pictures and videos, with metrics that were tough to define, was always a struggle to sell.

We failed more often than we succeeded. But we succeeded just often enough to help bring content marketing into mainstream conversation.

We’ve come a long way since then, I think. We’re all working hard to come up with content to engage audiences in a connected world. To ensure that we look at all our communication through a content lens. To make it part and parcel of our marketing communication DNA.

We now have a few years’ experience behind us; we’re learning through trial-and-error and experiments that often fail; we’re learning from markets that are ahead of us; we’re getting better at this game.

So what do today and tomorrow hold for us?

A couple of years ago, I’d begin every brief by sitting down with my pen and scribble pad and saying, “Right. Let’s lead with with a blog post. That means I’ll need some social media posts to get people to it. Ooh, a hashtag would be nice, let’s do one of those too! #IsThisHashtagTooLong”

On my worst days, I’d even write down “run a contest” on that sheet of paper.

I could then walk away feeling pretty satisfied, pretty nice about myself. Time for a coffee break.

But today, when I’d look at that sheet of ideas the night before a presentation, I’d start sweating.

Because all of these have become hygiene. Because having a blog, or creating a hashtag, or running a contest, isn’t a content marketing idea. It’s become a format, another box you just tick.

Today, brands like yours are churning out this kind of content day in and day out. The Internet is flooded with it. As are my social media feeds. We’re already churning out content calendars and figuring out how to spark brand conversations during the Cricket World Cup.

It’s come to a point where each brand sounds absolutely no different from the next…and I can’t tell which is which just by looking at the content. Which, as you’d all know, is really not a good thing.

And so I ask myself, “In this sea of infinite content, where on any normal day of the week, 8 of the top 10 trending hashtags are brand conversations, where each headline is more click-baity than the next, what the hell is going to make my brand and my content really stand out?”

I’ve always believed that content is the ‘pull’ of marketing communications, rather than the ‘push’.

I believe that good content gets people coming back because it entertains, it inspires, it touches an emotional chord, it makes them rant and rage. Or it simply provides a utility or gives them information or education that they weren’t getting before.

Good content is also immensely shareable – because of the reasons I mentioned just now.

One huge, and often ignored, role of content is to generate positive earned media for the brand. There are huge synergies emerging between content marketing and PR, not just in terms of story dissemination but also in terms of story packaging.

I also believe that one can’t restrict content to words, pictures and videos that just wash over people sitting in front of a screen. Interactivity is key. And technology is the answer to immersing audiences deeper into a brand. Apps, games, platforms, devices – they all have a role to play in creating great content.

So, with all those filters in my head, I go back to “How do I stand out?”

The answer I’ve got to over the years is this:

Actions speak louder than words.

It’s a simple human truth, right?

We judge people – our friends, our leaders, our doctors, our wedding photographers – by that yardstick. By what they do, not what they say.

It’s the same for brands.

In a parity environment, what a brand does matters more than what it claims to do.

So, at this point in my life and career, I look at it this way:

Advertising is what you say.
Content is what you do.

Now, what do you mean by ‘do’?

I could, as a content marketer, ‘do’ a video. I could ‘do’ a blog post. I could ‘do’ an influencer engagement or ‘do’ a tweetup.

But that’s not what I mean. That’s just playing with words, right?

To me, ‘doing’ means refocusing on your core brand promise, and then living up to it in front of your audience. In whatever manner works best.

It means proving, every day, that you’re true to your words and promise. That you mean what you say.

It means focusing less on changing perceptions by making a claim; and more on changing perceptions by fulfilling or exceeding expectations.

It means being less of an interruption in people’s lives; it means positively impacting people’s lives through your products, services and brand.

One way brands can stand out in a cluttered, parity environment is to create content that proves – honestly, credibly and creatively – what they stand for. And thus start owning that space.

Across any screen you can think of.

Let me show you a piece of work from one of my favourite content marketing campaigns. Chrome Experiments were begun to push the limits of Web technology, to push the limits of Google’s Chrome Browser. And, to noticeably demonstrate how good the Chrome browser is.

The Chrome team didn’t just talk about being faster, or having more features, or being more developer-friendly. They just kept creating pieces of content that proved it. Over and over and over again. And today, many Chrome Experiments are being created every day by developers all over the world, who are not Googlers. Just people pushing the limits of what the technology can do.

One of my favourite content marketing brands in the world is Red Bull. Everyone knows that they stand for giving wings to athletes. But they don’t just support these athletes morally, or emotionally or financially. They create platforms for them to shine. They identify athletes, work with them and then co-create content that makes those athletes world-famous.

It’s easy for a food industry brand to stick to the conventional food industry metaphors. Blendtec has always been different. They have a core brand promise; they stick to it; and then they deliver on it in the most amazing, culturally-contextual ways possible.

India’s favourite beer is known for their baseline – The King of Good Times. Kingfisher have embraced technology to create content and experiences that offer a memorable good time to their fans.

It isn’t just B2C marketing that can benefit from this kind of an approach. Every year, around Christmas, the Publicis Groupe create a Christmas card that they put up online. Last year’s card was an interactive experiment designed to entertain – and also to subtly prove Publicis’ strengths in creative digital marketing.

I’ll end with a story that’s very close to my heart. Everybody’s talking about the great Indian e-commerce boom. Billion-dollar valuations, transactions-per-day, the payment ecosystem and an ever-increasing user base. Nobody – I repeat, nobody – was talking about the wheels that make this economy turn. Last year, during GOSF, we decided that we should do something special for people nobody cared about. To get them into the conversation and recognise their efforts. Because we believe that the web exists to improve the lives of all people.

So, the next time you brief your agency on a content marketing campaign, don’t ask them what you can say.

Ask them what you can do.

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campaigns, digital, how to, technology, trend

Remarketing: From Stalking To Smart

If you haven’t been through the experience of searching for a product or service and then being served ads all over the web for the same product or service, then this is probably your first day online. Welcome to the Internet. There’s a lot more than porn here.

Jokes apart. The way marketers currently use cookie- or sign-in-based ad remarketing makes most users feel like they’re being shadowed. Like their every move is being tracked. Like Big Brother is watching.

For those who came in late, remarketing is the act of targeting users who have already visited your website, or clicked on an ad, or searched for a particular product or category, or interacted with you on social media, or downloaded your app.

It initially began as a really smart idea. Someone who’s interacted with you or your business’ category is more likely to be persuaded if you are able to identify them and serve them an ad based on their earlier interaction with you. It sounded like a beautiful blend of digital marketing and CRM.

And then all hell broke loose.

Here’s the greatest prank I ever heard of.

Remarketing Prank

This is exactly how remarketers work. If the user’s shown interest in spoons, let’s give him spoons. Big spoons, little spoons, silver spoons, gold spoons, plastic spoons, dessert spoons, soup spoons…

Here are some reasons why this kind of remarketing doesn’t work.

  1. It’s as close to online stalking as you can legally get.
  2. The user might have actually already bought the spoons, in which case the ad impression was wasted.
  3. The user may have had only a fleeting interest in the product or category.

So how do you make remarketing more effective?

By making it useful to your users.

Here’s one way to do that.

Suppose you let your user pick what they’re interested in. You store that information – either through a signed-in profile or a cookie or both – on that user’s browser. And then target them with ads focused on those interest categories.

At any point of time, the user can update their interest categories, making sure they’re always being served fresh, relevant ads. They can also – in the interest of privacy – choose to opt-out of this programme.

In a sense, you’re getting your users to optimise your advertising for you. And increasing your relevance to them; and, hopefully, brand equity.

Thoughts?

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digital, industry, opportunities, trend

Predicting 2014, aka What I Want To Do In 2014

The tough part about leading an agency creative team is that you have to set the direction and the vision for the work that you will do.

The great part about leading an agency creative team is that you get to set the direction and the vision for the work that you will do.

Digital marketing in India has come a long way since I defected from traditional advertising in 2009. Fewer marketers are talking about digital being the future; they’re beginning to see it as a de facto way of life. I, for one, believe we’ve entered a post-digital age, and that all marketing efforts going forward need to accept and leverage that reality.

I think we need to go beyond looking at digital as Internet and mobile. I think we have to look at digital marketing as an intersection of three worlds; and that intersection doesn’t always need to reside in the virtual world.

What Is Digital Marketing

Digital marketing is an intersection of three previously distinct worlds.

Forgive me, but I’m going to repeat three buzz-phrases you’ve been hearing for a while. They’re the absolute truth.

  • Content is the new communication. You can’t be a marketer and believe that you’ll achieve brand engagement with a 30-second TVC.
  • Data is the new oil. Because digital allows us to capture what people are actually doing, versus the focus groups that capture what people claim they’re doing.
  • Mobile is the new TV. It’s belittling to call the first screen you look at every morning, the only screen you carry wherever you go, and the last screen you look at every night a “second screen”.

The other thing we need to practice is data-driven marketing. If you’ve managed to get past information overload and get someone to actually click through to your content, you aren’t doing yourself justice if you aren’t setting up to reach that person again. Every piece of engagement that you run needs to help you understand something more about your audience.

The Marketing Circle Of Life

Marketing today isn’t scientific unless it’s driven by data.

If one understands these shifts, it’s not difficult to see where digital creativity is going in 2014. Here’s my bucket list for the year to come.

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campaigns, communication, content, creative, digital, how to

Seven Steps To Construct A Digital Campaign

Digital isn’t old enough to have theories. Or gurus.

The understanding of the medium, and how to use it to build brands, varies wildly. As a result, the planning and structure of digital campaigns is often a matter of guesswork.

The thing is, there is no single method to cracking a digital campaign. You can start with an idea, an objective, technology, data, a platform or the audience. Each method looks at the medium differently. Each method is equally correct.

Each truly great digital campaign has, however, some things in common. Let’s break those down into seven steps.

Seven steps to construct a digital campaign

The extremely complicated, ever-evolving, one-stop infographic of digital marketing.

 

Part 1: The Brief

In a medium that’s targetable, measurable and fast-evolving, writing a good brief needs to go beyond the basics.

Step 1: What do we want to say?

Nothing different from a traditional advertising brief. Have a single, clear message. If it can be differentiated from competition, excellent.

Step 2: Who is our audience and what do we know about them?

Digital allows one to segment and target by location, gender, age, browsing behaviour, interests, networks, content preferences, frequency of visits, online shopping habits, search history and much more.

Yahoo serves up over 6 billion unique versions of its home page based on this kind of segmentation and targeting.

Basically, digital allows you to put aside the bazooka and pick up a flyswatter when you have to kill a fly.

Forget the safety of numbers. Go for the effectiveness of tightly-segmented messaging.

Step 3: What do we know about their digital media habits that might help us crack this brief?

It’s time to drill down and slice-and-dice the data available to you. And it isn’t as difficult as it sounds.

Figure out where your audience is spending most of their time online. Which devices they’re using. Which browsers. What they are talking about. When. What time of day. It doesn’t sound like much, but it one well-inferred nugget can lead to a brilliant campaign.

Knowing that mums are the biggest online shoppers in India helped us plan an entire campaign for a baby brand. Knowing that most of our aspirational audience surfs the Internet on tablets helped us build a website designed for touch. Knowing the frequency of visits helped us optimise messaging on a website.

The more you know about them, the better your solutions.

Step 4: What do we want them to say, feel or do as a result of this campaign?

Traditional advertising teaches that perception influences behaviour. In digital, behaviour can influence perception.

Case in point: Many people I know perceived Twitter as a waste of time. They thought it was confusing, and wouldn’t touch it. But when pushed by friends to use it, they got hooked. They now think Twitter’s the coolest thing since sliced bread.

Behaviour influences perception.

So think smaller. Break down a large objective into more everyday tasks. For example, replace build expertise for our skincare brand with get people to visit our website every time they have a skin-related query. You’ll find a smarter, more effective solution.

Part 2: The Creative

It isn’t as simple as writing a TVC and crafting the print, poster and outdoor. Our campaigns need to be viral, and that needs a different approach.

Step 1: The Story

Digital is a multi-screen platform. Each screen is different in terms of size, content and usage. It isn’t enough anymore to adapt the same message for each screen. Instead, it helps to think of your idea as a story. And use each screen differently, to tell different chapters of it.

There are three kinds of media we can use to tell our brand’s story; unabridged, unaltered, under our control.

Owned media — the website, the mobile app, any other platforms the brand may have created.

Paid media — banner ads, search ads, emailers, SMS.

And social media — which is, in my opinion, more leased media than owned.

Take the example of a fashion brand. One can use the website to showcase products; the blog to drive imagery; the mobile app to combine a loyalty programme, a virtual dressing room and personalised, location-aware content; targeted, contextual, paid media to tell people what the brand has to offer and drive them back to the website; and social media to help begin conversations around the product range and image.

One story, different screens.

Step 2: The Virality

There’s no point in having a great story if nobody’s hearing it.

Remember: the average user visits 89 websites a month. And has Liked 80 brand Pages on Facebook. And has 229 other friends filling his or her News Feed.

The only way your story will be heard above all this clutter is if you can find enough of the right people to help you broadcast it.

Social Influence Marketing refers to leveraging people’s influence on social media to broadcast and amplify your message.

However, they’re not going to tweet out your body copy. You have to give them something malleable that they can reshape to create their own unique content, while still staying true to your story. Their mashup of your story then goes out to their own followers, which exponentially increases your reach.

Earned media, of course, generally refers to news coverage. While a smart PR agency will naturally tap news media online and offline, there is merit in seeding your story among bloggers and smaller, perhaps category-specific, online channels. It’s a quick way to ensure more and more people know about your story.

Make sure your story has something in it that’ll help you get talked about. Then find the people who’ll amplify it for you.

Step 3: The Reward

Here’s the thing.

People are overloaded with information. It’s easy to miss something. It’s even easier to close a browser tab in irritation or absent-mindedness.

So, when someone clicks through to your campaign, be grateful. Very grateful.

I always like to give my audience a reward to show how grateful I am. The obvious way is through a contest, or gifts to loyal fans. However, I believe we can do more.

People come online to socialise, search for information, find a utility or just for entertainment. Make sure your campaign ticks one or more of those boxes, and you’ll have a reward worth coming back for.

The brand must have its reward as well. It could be crowdsourced content, new fans, time spent, leads generated, shares received, hashtags trended, what have you. Identify the rewards the brand will earn. And match them up against your objectives. If they don’t match, maybe you need to rework your campaign. For example, 100,000 new fans may not be a sensible reward if your objective is to get people to spend more with you than they already do, right?

These seven steps aren’t the alpha and omega of digital marketing. But, properly executed, they could help you develop better, brighter campaigns going forward.

This post originally appeared on afaqs! Campus.

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creative, digital, industry, trend

What’s Dead, And What’s Not

It’s become fairly fashionable in digital circles to pick on trends and describe them as ‘dead’.

And if you were to listen to every doomsayer out there, you’d probably believe that the digital marketing world was populated by brain-eating zombies.

Fortunately, to misquote Mark Twain, the rumours of certain deaths have been greatly exaggerated. So here is my take on what’s dead and what’s not.

The Digital Dead

The Digital Agency Is Dead

Doomsayers here, here and here.

Well, there’s no question digital agencies are the need of the hour. Unfortunately, not every digital shop has the ability to really think from a brand and business point-of-view. Most are still in the ‘engagement’ business, and spend their time coming up with different ways to give away iPads on Twitter.

The challenge is that the independent digital agencies in India have become acquisition targets for mainline agencies. Given time, mainline agencies will probably begin to truly integrate digital thinking into their mainline processes. Which means that digital shops may end up becoming nothing more than digital production houses.

The big “Unless…” here is that integration may happen the other way around. Where the digital shop may integrate video production, PR and event capabilities. They may start thinking from a brand and business perspective. And suddenly, they’ll be eating into the mainline pie.

Verdict: The digital agency isn’t dead…but unless they change their medication quick, they will pass on peacefully in their sleep.

The Full-Service Agency Is Dead

Obituaries here and here.

Sure, they’re coming under pressure from digital shops right now. But see above. Eventually, integration – whether driven by traditional agencies or digital agencies – will win out – from a creative, brand, business and economy point-of-view.

Verdict: The full-service agency is visiting the doctor regularly, and the pills are bitter, but the long-term prognosis is still good.

Email Marketing Is Dead

Eulogies here, here and here.

Yeah, look. As much as I choose to send most emails I receive straight to the bin, I have to admit that email marketing is far from dead. Gmail tabs notwithstanding.

Yes, open rates have dropped. But here’s another way to look at it. I was recently tracking Open Rates and Click Rates across a bunch of brands, and sure enough, they’d all declined to some level after Gmail tabs. However, Clicks Per Unique Open were up. Which showed me that I was engaging with my most meaningful customers.

Across all our brands, email marketing continues to drive conversions, cross-sell and up-sell. Based on smart analysis, segmenting and targeting. And it’s working for our clients.

Verdict: Alive and kicking. And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Real-Time Marketing Is Dead

Evidence here, here, here and here.

Oreo screwed us all. What started as a single, beautiful (if opportunistic) tweet has snowballed into a flood of desperate attempts to capitalise on news. What Amul did in India on hoardings decades ago, brands are doing now on Twitter and Facebook.

And, let’s face it, 99.95% of all real-time marketing tweets are crap.

They’re a force-fit. A desperate attempt by a brand to sound cool and ‘with it’ by jumping on to an event that the brand might have absolutely no connect with. An event that may not even gel with the brand’s personality. And with creative that will most likely suck.

Verdict: It’s alive, but I wish it were dead so that brands could focus on what’s relevant to them and their audience.

Social Media Marketing Is Dead

Opinions here, here and here.

My take here is really simple. The last great innovation I saw on social media was Skyrec (Google it). Right now, I see brands busy spamming News Feeds and Timelines with “engagement posts” and, worse, contests. (More about that here.) It’s still driving clicks to e-commerce, but…

It’s become a numbers game instead of a quality game. Instead of following a funnel from broadcasting to narrowcasting, brands and agencies are sticking to broadcasting. 5 million fans? I have 10 million. And 30,000 Twitter followers to boot. Fuck you too.

Most importantly, Mark Zuckerberg has proved thrice in the last two years what I’ve been saying for a while longer – that social media cannot be owned media. Because you, as a brand, don’t set the rules. First, Zuck reduced the reach of Posts and made advertisers spend money to reach an audience they’d already spent money to acquire. Second, he introduced Timeline, and put paid to all those Facebook apps brands had spent crores creating. Thirdly, he gave image posts the maximum reach last year – and, this April, chopped that down, sending social media managers into a tizzy.

Over time, Facebook will become a brand’s RSS feed. And Twitter will become a brand’s influence marketing platform, once (if) agencies realise that contests are doing sweet fuck-all for a brand’s image and bottomline.

Also, from an agency standpoint, social media management is pretty much a loss-making proposition. Lots of man-hours, piss-poor retainers, ultra-easy to screw up. So yeah, it’s not exactly a bed of roses.

Verdict: Yeah, social media is dead, and I’m kicking the corpse on the way out.

Content Marketing Is Dead

Tears shed here and here.

Again. It’s a question of creativity. Most of the content going up on brand blogs and websites is repetitive, redundant and boring. There’s no newness, no novelty, no differentiator. Often, there’s no focus on a brand’s tone of voice. Most content is just clutter.

But, that said, we’ve just begun to explore content marketing. And, every now and then, brands like Red Bull will come along and do a space jump and content marketing will once again be the new darling of the crowds.

Verdict: Content marketing is alive, but just a toddler, and needs some hand-holding to grow up.

Banner Ads Are Dead

The shortest take yet. Yes they are. When was the last time you clicked on one, eh? Or failed to get annoyed by a pop-up, a pop-under or (that new darling of publishers) auto-play video?

Verdict: Save yer money, cut the life support, let banners die. And look for more organic ways to engage.

This kind of a topic sort of demands a poll, so I’d love to know what you think.

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creative, digital, insight, mobile

From Big Ideas To Little Ones

We’ve grown extremely used to clients – and indeed, Creative Directors – asking for the Big Idea.

The Big Idea is the sacred cow of advertising. The rock around which campaigns – and agencies – are built. Businesses are won and lost, brands are built and torn down, careers are made or unmade, by that elusive Big Idea.

These are the kind of words we bandy about to describe the Big Idea:

What is a Big Idea?

How we describe a big idea.

Jaago Re, What An Idea Sirji, Daag Achhe Hain, Open Happiness, Real Beauty…these are the kind of ideas that we identify with as Big Ideas. The kind of ideas we’re benchmarked against, the kind of ideas we’d kill to come up with.

They’re gargantuan. They go viral. They’re loved, they’re hated, but they’re universally spoken about. The media picks them up. Celebs tweet about them. Inevitably, they become part of popular culture and lingo. (And the agency’s showreel.)

But when it comes to digital, the world of software-driven marketing, there may be a different approach.

When it comes to agencies trying to develop a great app for their brands, they might want to start by identifying a small niche. A small problem, left unresolved.  A small opportunity to do something better than someone else has. A small gap in a market that nobody may have noticed.

Little ideas which may not sound earth-shattering, but which turn into brilliant, useful, engaging, entertaining apps.

We’re seeing app developers take this approach, and churn out apps that fill small gaps and suddenly become the de facto solution. And brands need to follow.

Some already have.

Pampers’ Hello Baby Pregnancy Calendar took away the need to visit a baby website to track your unborn child’s progress.

Walgreens, the local pharmacy, removed the need to manually set prescription reminders by automating them and allowing users to order through the app.

ColorSmart, by paint company BEHR, allowed you to choose paint colours to compliment an existing colour in your room, and held interior design angst at bay.

A really brilliant one was Chase Bank’s Quick Deposit feature on their mobile app. Which eliminated the need for a user to go to a bank to deposit a cheque. All the user had to do was scan the cheque number and details, verify the amount, and VOILA! (A great example of digital transformation as well.)

All of these are based on real human truths, and sound like little ideas, almost not worth doing.

Yet, they stand head and shoulders above the ruins of failed branded apps.

So the next time you’re trying to crack a branded app, put away the pressure of the Big Idea, and focus on the little one. Try and solve for the real problems, the ones we moan about in the privacy of our minds.

You might find truth in the old adage, “Less is more.”

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