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Samar Singh Sheikhawat

Samar Singh Sheikhawat, the Chief Marketing Officer at UB Group, thinks that the content marketing scenario is improving in India. But at the same time, he feels the quality of content has become worse and most of the brands are not doing it well.

Sheikhawat also thinks that 80% of the content creators, agencies and brands haven’t really understood the content marketing game and are mostly doing branded content, which consumers of today’s age don’t really want to consume.

UB Group was the first player in the alcobev category to embark on the content marketing journey as they realised that consumers are not interested in brand advertising but stories that hold their attention.

TVF Pitchers, Born Free and The Rise are a few of the brand’s content marketing works. It has its own YouTube channel, Cheers. The digital head of the company is also one of the writers for the brand. Going ahead, the UB Group will do content in the travel and food space. The group allots 50% of its total digital budget to content marketing.

It’s mostly a pressure for marketers to fetch sales leads on a brand’s content marketing initiatives, but for Sheikhawat it has not been the case. “In many other organisations, it can be an issue, especially when the CEO is from the early generation who has been brought up in traditional media and traditional way of getting your brand messaging across. The brave new world is challenging and for that, you need to have the right alignment at the top and we have been very fortunate.”

Excerpts:

What triggered UB Group to embark on the content journey?

We started much before most of the people and have been pursuing this journey for a long time. We have realised that consumers are no longer interested in brand advertising and are not interested in the stories that you want to tell and are more interested in the stories that hold their attention. That is especially true for the millennials. They don’t trust advertising. They trust their friends. They don’t trust the previous generation. They read news on ScoopWhoop, Buzzfeed and Twitter. They watch Ted Talks. Their mode of communication is Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and Facebook and WhatsApp. So, you need to modify the way you approach these consumers.

When it comes to content creation and curation, how would you define your approach?

Our approach to content creation has always been that we will tell stories that consumers are interested in, stories that are in the fun space, that are interesting, engaging and relatable and we will weave our brand along with those stories.

We will never pick up an existing programme and sponsor it. We will never just put our logo and do something that someone else is doing. There has to be relevance for the presence of our brand there and it has to be seamlessly woven organically into the story narrative. We were the pioneers in this space with TVF Pitchers. There have been conversations around Pitchers 2 but it hasn’t fortified.

Our own digital marketing head is one of our writers. We have been doing web series, short videos, launched our own YouTube channel called Cheers on which we made Half Ticket 1 and 2 and Born Free. The Rise is our four-part web series, which has been really successful.

You have once talked about paying more emphasis on ‘Return on Objective’ vs ‘Return on Investment’ through content. How would you persuade your CEO that success of any content marketing strategy is not just defined by how much sales leads it fetches but the overall brand objectives it achieves because at the end any person who is investing money would want ROI?

In our case, I have not had that problem. Our CEO is deeply involved, supportive and appreciative of all the work we have done around content marketing. He has partnered and contributed in his own way. In many other organisations, it can be an issue, especially when the CEO is from the early generation who has been brought up in traditional media and traditional way of getting your brand messaging across. The brave new world is challenging and for that, you need to have the right alignment at the top and we have been very fortunate.

How much does UB Group spend on content from the total advertising budget? How focused is UB on content marketing? Any plans to scale it up?

Approximately, 10% of our budget is on content and about 20% is on digital and almost 50% of digital is on content. We spend a lot on events that eventually generate content. If you account for that investment, the overall spends on content comes to 20% of our total budget.

Among available means to reach out to the consumer, how important is content marketing for the alcobev category, which can’t directly advertise in India?

It’s not the single largest thing. Our single largest spends are in events, sponsorship and associations from IPL, IFL to Sunburn to the Kingfisher Calendar because beer is an experiential product. You need to give it to people to experience it. However, digital and content space is growing. Therefore, it’s becoming really important for us. Currently, most brands are not doing it well, unfortunately.

How would you judge the content marketing scenario in India? Do you ever see it scaling so much that it reaches the traditional advertising position?

I think so. It is better than it used to be. However, it’s not where it needs to be. Before we get better, we will get much worse. In India, there is not one reality. There are multiple realities. There is a lot of poor content going around. However, there is an audience for that as well otherwise it wouldn’t be getting created. If I don’t watch Sab TV, doesn’t mean that there is no audience for Sab TV? Most brands have woken up to it. It’s a great time to be a content creator. At this time, 80% of content creators, brands, media agencies, creative agencies haven’t understood this. They are still doing branded content and stories in which no one is interested and treating it so much from the traditional media point of view and have traditional media people working on it and will bring in that filter when they will talk like that. So, the scenario is getting better, but it’s nowhere near the developed world.

What are a few things to keep in mind while taking the content route?

The first important point is that no one wants to hear your advertising. So, don’t do digital ads and tell stories that would interest consumers and organically weave your brand messaging into that. Secondly, less is more. If you want to be sophisticated, do less advertising and direct messaging with your brand. Unfortunately, India as an audience is not very subtle, but loud, over the top and obvious. That is why the content that is being created is loud, over the top and obvious.

How much of a believer are you of employee advocacy?

I am not a big fan of employee advocacy because at the end of the day you do expect your consumers to know, whether this person is your employee or not. The content gets devalued if it has your employee because the consumer would think that the employee is paid a salary to do that. Today you are in a company and tomorrow you would be somewhere else. I am not so sure if it’s going to work that well. There are exceptions to this, for instance, if the organisation is in a crisis. I have personally been part of the two organisations where the crisis happened. For instance at PepsiCo, where there was this pesticide controversy and Cadbury’s, where there was an infestation of insects. In both the occasions, the CEOs came forward and spoke to the media and did television advertising. That was in the pre-Facebook and Twitter age as far as India is concerned. In today’s time, it could be done a little differently. For example, in case of Nestle and I think they could have done a better job. There are roles where employee advocacy can play an important role, but I am not so sure if in brand communication it matters.