No marketer can avoid podcasts in 2022: Shailja Saraswati of OMG

In an interaction with, Shailja Saraswati, Chief Content Officer, Omnicom Media Group, India, talks about how marketers should focus on a blend of great storytelling with an emotional connection

Akanksha Nagar
New Update
Post Thumb

Shailja Saraswati

Marketers should focus on trying to get a good mix of emotions, coupled with great storytelling, in digital content to drive the message home, and empathy content can completely humanise a brand’s approach to content marketing, said Shailja Saraswati, Chief Content Officer, Omnicom Media Group, India.

In an interaction with she spoke about the importance of utilising human emotions in order to make digital content more relevant for the Indian audience and also spoke about why Indian marketers do not seem to be getting the global recognition they deserve, as is widely believed, among other topics.

She also spoke about the changing relations between brands, agencies and creators, and stressed that building trust between the three is of the utmost importance.

Excerpts from the interview:

How do you see marketers balancing data with human emotions to provide creative digital content solutions via effective storytelling?

For me, these are the two aspects when I'm building solutions for my brands. Having a good mix of data and human emotions or human insights is essential. Till the time you don't have the proper mix, the propensity for that idea to just be just “one-off” is very high. And it will also not lead to higher engagement or building a community. So, the need of the hour is to have a proper blend of emotions, insight with data points. Also, if you see a country like India, compared to others like Singapore, Malaysia, China or Japan, the way we react or respond to content, and content solutions or videos, there is always some emotional aspect. That's why I keep harping on emotional storytelling. Emotions are a very important part of storytelling, that obviously needs to get back to the data points. It is the power of empathy content, which completely humanises a brand.

How do you see the content marketing space evolving in India and what role does technology have to play in it?

The content industry has been very quick to reinvent itself, especially during the pandemic period. We have seen very interesting examples in terms of how various verticals have grown, whether it is video consumption going up, and podcast as a new format has come up, but at the same time, because of smartphone penetration, digitisation, technology has accelerated in a very hyper way. We are looking at ways of blending in to get more of these 3D projection solutions, AR/VR into our conversation, adapt more of our solutions, which are to do with what the consumer is actually doing. Consumers are consuming content on these three or four gadgets. They are watching, gaming, playing eSports. We did this one campaign for one of our auto clients, which was a 3D projection mapping, which we are releasing very soon. We keep creating these filters for our campaign for a few brands, which go on to short video apps. I think brands right now are pretty much open in terms of technology solutions with a blend of storytelling in it.

Pandemic has been quite a lesson for most marketers, to learn the importance of content marketing and branded content. However, when it comes to the measurement of its ROI- do you think marketers need to evolve much more beyond the basic parameters of likes and shares (since most of these can today be bought)?

Times have changed and marketers are much more knowledgeable about the power of content marketing and the solution required in their marketing mix. Content solutions are embedded within the media agencies and they have this advantage since it is to their core. Since it’s the core for agencies, they can create right solutions for brands across touch points and if that science and arithmetic is cracked well, ROI is an output of that. At the planning stage itself, one must have a proper consumer understanding backed with data insights. Till this is not fixed, no solution will drive that business objective of yours. While it can touch upon consideration and awareness, it might not lead to purchase.

Which are the main streams/platforms of content marketing where you see brands increasing spending?

I definitely see an upswing in influencer marketing and that will continue. Every other campaign will have an influencer marketing solution as a part of it. It is just here to stay for a very long time. Second, digital video consumption has gone up quite a bit, streaming platform consumption has also gone up. Short video apps, as an industry, has exploded ever since TikTok got banned. There were so many influencers who actually had a very good time, they benefited the most during the last 18 months. It's an important product to be part of any business model, so content marketing business cannot be separated from influencer, in my opinion, in the mix anymore especially in such a diverse country. Influencers offer hyperlocal, personalised targeted marketing, as compared to the plain reach mass marketing which the marketers were tired of because maybe that was not fulfilling their business objectives. It is only from an awareness perspective that mass marketing is great.

Agencies today are more often acting as scouts for influencers, and not as creative agencies that they are. Not many help influencers to polish their talent, but just use them as platforms. Do you feel somewhere this is true, or is this scenario changing?

Till agencies develop a partnership of trust with clients, clients are going to micromanage. Micromanagement is bound to happen because it's a journey both the clients and agencies need to cover before the rhythm sets in. However, if agencies take the ownership of being a partner in creating sustainable and scalable businesses for the client, it can be a healthy co-dependency with collaborative efforts. The creativity skills are there in agency, it is the trust and trusted partnership journey which needs to be travelled with their clients, for them to understand their capabilities. Ours is a relationship driven industry. Trust is built over a period of time, with the proof of good work.

You joined the group this year in March. How has been your experience so far?

It's been a very, very interesting 10 months for me. The categories I am working on have grown massively during the pandemic. We were trying to build enormous stories and narratives, whether it was customer testimonials or be it virtual launch events for car companies. I think it was about the ability of the human race to adapt very fast. The first thing which worked during the pandemic was influencer marketing. Consumer testimonials, virtual events, video storytelling were other themes and formats explored during the pandemic. The brands who have continued with their visibility and human connection with their consumers, their businesses have grown. Brands or categories that just didn't spend amid the pandemic are having a tough time.

You’re a podcaster too. Why do you think there’s an utmost need for brands to actively engage with consumers via the audio medium, and especially podcast?

Podcasting has seen massive growth in recent years, from storytelling to chat shows, and each platform offers a wide array of content for its listeners. India is the world’s third-largest and fastest-growing country that is consuming podcasts. No marketer can avoid podcasts in 2022. The opportunities in podcasts vary from getting ad spots, to brand integration, sponsorship- it can be a part of your larger campaign and not the only thing a marketer is doing.

Having seen and judged so closely the content marketing efforts taken up by marketers across the globe, where do you feel Indian marketers lack to achieve that level of global recognition when it comes to content marketing?

I don't think that the Indian marketers lack in anything. I have stayed outside for six to seven years; I have worked in two countries and I have seen the Indian and Asian markets sitting on the other side of the globe. On the contrary, everyone is looking at India for inspiration and creativity. With 1.3 billion, the population is so diverse and vast that marketers are doing a lot in India. The complexity of sheer size, and the volume, and at the same time all the creativity and inspiration which is coming from India is absolutely amazing.

The real question is are these solutions being packaged and reaching the global forums?  That's something which I would really want to focus on. I have been part of global forums, and I can tell you that I don't think it's about lack of visibility, it's the lack of participation. There are volumes of entries I have seen at Cannes coming from X number of countries within Asia, and the ones coming from India are still less. To qualify for international forums, one needs proper structure to enter your work. There is sort of a process required, which some agencies have aced because they also are global companies, and they take the best practices and experiences from outside India and are able to package all of those solutions better. But, again, I think it's a lack of participation and a lack of following the process.

Is it because of the high entry fees too?

Yes and no. I don't think any amount is too high to enter good work. I have been part of these entries from the agency side. We have sent entries for Cannes and we have been shortlisted in my previous organisation. I didn't see fees as a big impediment in terms of either approval or submission of those entries. Rather, if you've had like 40 awards for a campaign in India, it is a no brainer that even if it takes a high investment, it has to go to the global forum, it needs that kind of visibility.

Shailja Saraswati No marketer can avoid podcasts in 2022 OMG