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Kumar Deb Sinha

Content marketing is not just limited to creating brand awareness or affinity but it can also convince the customer to visit the physical store, believes Kumar Deb Sinha, India head of The Story Lab, the specialist content agency of the Dentsu Aegis Network.

“The objective of content marketing should be clear. One piece of content can’t help a brand build awareness, affinity and push sales. A brand should have multiple pieces of content that helps consumer gather information and make the right purchase decision,” Sinha said in an interview with BuzzInContent.com.

Sinha predicted that brands will soon move from branded videos to brand-owned videos “We want more and more clients to invest in intellectual properties that they can own and grow over a period like any other brand asset,” he added.

Sinha feels that brands should not run after number of views but should focus on content that’s more engaging and solves the brand purpose in the long run. “Ad avoidance is making brands shift towards content marketing. It is very important to have an editorial sensibility when you are creating content, otherwise it becomes product advertising, which viewers avoid,” he added.

He said that podcasts and native advertising could be the new avenues for brands to explore for content marketing.

Excerpts:

There are numerous content marketing agencies or content creators in the market today. What makes Dentsu Story Lab stand apart?

We are not another content agency. We are not in the business of bridging the gap between a creator and a brand. We are in the business of creating entertainment content that attracts audience at scale. Our stakes are much higher than just getting a brand on board. We invest in, nurture, develop and distribute premium content. We believe content that attracts audience at scale will also be attractive for platform and brands to associate with. Hence, our starting point is identifying intellectual properties backed by data and experience, developing them in local markets with our preferred partners for the most suited platform and distributing them in local and international markets.

In the branded content space, our belief is that now more and more brands will look at investing in intellectual properties, which will help them connect with loyal as well as new audience and drive value for them over years. Branded content will transcend from branded videos and sponsorships to brand-owned intellectual properties with a longer shelf value (multiple seasons). Our role will be to help brands in identifying the right intellectual property and help them acquire and create at the right price with the best possible talent to drive relevant viewership at scale.

One of the solutions that the Story Lab offers is ‘content investment’. How does this offering help brands?

We see ourselves as serious stakeholders in the content ecosystem. We have a more holistic role to play, which is not just limited to creating content solutions for advertisers. We are creators and distributors of unique and innovative entertainment content for content platforms and viewers. And we are actively looking at investment opportunities to develop intellectual properties for both domestic and international markets. We believe a good story has the potential to travel across geographies and we are ready to invest on properties that can win both domestic and global audience.

Similarly, we also actively invest in intellectual properties that can be owned and leveraged by brands. As I have said earlier, Branded Content 2.0 will be about brand-owning intellectual properties. However, creating an intellectual property from scratch is huge investment, and that’s where we come into the picture in investing along with the client and co-owning the property and helping them monetise it and reduce outlay through distribution and syndication. We want more and more clients to invest in intellectual properties that they can own and grow over a period like any other brand asset.

You can crank out volumes of content, but if it doesn't work for your clients, it’s worthless. Shouldn't your approach towards a client's brief be like creative agencies? Making the pieces work for the client is the main objective.

The debate is never between volume versus effectiveness. The fundamental logic behind any marketing communication investment is that it should effectively address a brand’s marketing objective. The fundamentals don’t change for content marketing as well. Hence, we can never justify content pieces by volumes of content created, if they don’t address the marketing objective.

However, one should remember we are operating in an environment where consumers resist watching ads on one hand, and on the other hand when they are making any purchase decision they actively search and consume information. Now if a brand can create multiple pieces of content that effectively help the consumer in his information-gathering process as well as buying the correct product on the basis of his requirement, in my mind that is the most effective form of communication.

Content pieces of this form might not get you a million views in a day or get you high scores on TOM recall, but it is the most effective piece of communication over a longer period.

In conclusion, if we are clear about the role of content at the starting point, and create content that serves that purpose, we have created content that works for the brand.

What is the most important point to be kept in mind while creating content?

Before we create content, we should ask two fundamental questions

What is the role of content with respect to brand marketing communication objective?

What purpose does it serve for the consumers and viewers of this content piece?

We should spend maximum time on this supposedly easy question and go beyond the most obvious answers. The answers will be the guiding principal in the journey of content creation.

Content marketing is considered to be slow when it comes to delivering results, which leads to a dull response from clients. How do you make sure that it is not boring for both clients and agency teams?

A lot of times, the expectations from a content campaign are completely wrong. If a video hits a milestone within a certain time frame it is considered successful. Hence a content campaign should become viral, get people to talk about it on social media organically and hopefully drive consideration and sales for the brand and achieve all of this in the shortest period.

I believe content should be measured through very different benchmarks. Content should create deeper engagements, trust and brand love. It can’t be created overnight. You must be consistent and persistent. It’s a long-term engagement and commitment. Because if a consumer loves your brand, he will be your biggest unpaid brand endorsers. Don’t we all behave in this way, when it comes to brands we love?

Measuring the success of content only based on views is the biggest disservice we are doing to the subtle art of content marketing.

Most of the brands are creating single videos, fetching millions of views and thinking that they have done great content. Is this the right approach to content marketing?

I believe creating a single video and fetching millions of views is great digital buying or plain and simply lucky with the creative and most definitely a huge opportunity lost. Because tomorrow they will see another video and move on in life. If I do get a boost with millions of views it is an opportunity for me to create engagement and interaction with more relevant content and slowly move them towards brand love where they look forward to every piece of content we release and share the content in their circle. And it makes commercial sense as well as your cost of promotion and distribution will go down with time. Hence, we should look at content as creating millions of connections and ensure that we nurture those connections with more relevant content over time, rather than creating one video and fetching millions of views.

Content is also about the pace at which the pieces have to be produced. How do you make sure that clients order multiple pieces?

The starting point is never how many pieces of content you can create. Yes, there are economies of scale when you create multiple pieces at the same time. However, we should not create multiple pieces just for that reason.

Ideally when you launch a content campaign, there should be a threshold level of content pieces to effectively support the idea. However, we should consistently keep on listening to viewers and consumers once the content pieces have been released and be flexible enough to create more content around what is gaining traction. Content marketing is not a one-way street. We should always plan to create ancillary content to support the campaign and drive more engagement based on viewer feedback. It’s important to be flexible and nimble-footed when you are creating a content campaign. That way you can maximise your return on engagement.

Even as investment in content initiatives is growing, many marketers struggle to measure its impact. Isn’t it true that brands have perceived content marketing as a tool for building brand affinity largely?

Measuring content effectiveness is work in progress. I have seen the process getting better over the years. Earlier, there was a period where the biggest high point of any brand was how many likes it can get on Facebook. Today we are talking depth of engagement. Content effectiveness is actually evolving with every campaign. We at Dentsu StoryLab are also investing in research and tools to measure content effectiveness.

However, it doesn’t help if we try to address multiple objectives with every piece of content. Content can help build awareness for the brand, drive affinity and purchase decision or even convince a consumer to visit a store physically. Once the purpose is clear, content can be generated to drive that purpose most effectively. But expecting one piece of content to do everything is like expecting one man to win a cricket match single-handedly.

How do you prove your clients’ investment has delivered an impact on sales, retention, engagement, brand building or other key objectives?

There are tools and brand tracks which are available to measure each one of them. Most of the time what we are lacking is the clarity on the purpose or the role of content.

Which are the mediums or platforms that are unexplored despite having immense potential?

Digital audio, specially using podcasts for brands, is still an unexplored medium. Considering the travel time for most people in cities, it has a huge potential for brands who want to connect with a niche set of consumers, specially the brands targeting the HNI customers. However, the content should be truly unique and interesting for them to devote their time. With the advent of services like audible and spotify (to be launched soon) as well as many native podcast apps, time spent on this medium will only grow over time.

Also, I believe there is immense potential for a brand in native and influencer-driven content marketing. Currently it is mostly used as touchpoints rather than long-term engagement. However, a long-term native and influencer strategy can reap wonders for a brand.

Content marketing is an editorial effort. Isn’t it difficult for an agency to think like a publisher in this case?

Content marketing is a perfect cocktail of editorial sensibility and brand communication expertise. It can’t be one or the other. It is very important to have an editorial sensibility when you are creating content, otherwise it becomes product advertising, which viewers avoid. It needs a team that can think creatively, logically, can craft wonderful stories, yet drive brand objectives. Editors are masters in crafting stories for their platform and audience; however, they struggle in crafting brand message within the editorial piece. And that’s why you need storytellers who can seamlessly merge brand stories without compromising the platform or the publisher.

How difficult is it to persuade rigid and traditional advertising-focused marketers to undertake content marketing?

The environment around us is doing the work beautifully for all of us. Ad avoidance is growing every year. Add to that the growth of new platforms, which are subscription-driven and ad-free. So, advertisers have to engage with consumers in an alternative route and content marketing clearly stands out as the winner.

However, the greatest disservice we are doing to this practice is by creating digital videos with the expectation of going viral. And when we hit the home-run and it goes viral, we stop at the viewership data without tracking what the content piece achieved for the brand. And in cases where the video doesn’t go viral, we lose a client by creating wrong expectation.

I believe the tipping point of content marketing will be when brands start investing in content as a campaign by itself with a clear purpose and right tracking mechanism. And it is not a distant dream. A few good case studies will make the change happen in 2019 itself.