Only a handful of brands have the propensity to experiment: Publicis Groupe's Hari Krishnan on the state of brands, platforms, and content caught up with Krishnan, Publicis Groupe's newly appointed Managing Director and Head, Publicis Content, to talk about his views on the branded content space shaping up in India, including the Metaverse, and the challenges associated with influencer marketing

Akansha Srivastava
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Hari Krishnan

The Indian market is evolving, albeit slowly, in the domain of branded content and platforms compared to developed markets. And according to Hari Krishnan, Managing Director and Head, Publicis Content, one of the reasons for the current pace is Indian brands’ lower propensity to experiment than their global counterparts.

Some brands today are also experimenting with the Metaverse in India, and it is common knowledge that when it comes to advertising, Indian brands occupy one of the leading spots globally. But the Indian market still needs to catch up to the way content marketing and branded content have gained momentum in the West and other developed markets.

Low appetite for ‘test and learn’

Krishnan told that one of the biggest reasons is that marketers are yet to develop a healthy appetite for testing and learning from experiences with new platforms and innovations.

He said, “Budgets with brands to experiment are relatively higher abroad. Brands here are displaying interest in the Metaverse largely only to FOMO, without much clarity of outcomes and ROI. When it comes to innovations and platforms, we still seem to be chasing the larger ‘reach’ objectives.” 

Illustrating his point, he said that at Publicis Content, the teams observe brands’ relatively higher interest in influencer marketing, since it is easier to attribute reach numbers vis-à-vis other platforms and content alternatives.  

He added, “Marketers are still measuring ROI from influencer marketing mostly via follower metrics and not measuring it through the influence a content creator can create. While few have started giving more weightage to quality engagement through influencers over reach metrics, it will take time for other brands to follow. But as we know, only handful of brands really innovate and the rest follow over time.”

Evolution of branded content in India

Krishnan then went on to talk about the evolution of content marketing in India. He said that earlier consumers used to be satisfied with the content that broadcast media served them. 15-years ago, with the advent of social media, consumers have become content creators themselves. Social media also gave birth to several social media channels like TVF and FilterCopy. Brands too realised this shift in content consumption and started collaborating with content creators and platforms on social media. 

He also said that as the content marketing space evolved, brands understood the importance of Google’s ‘Hero, hub and hygiene’ content model. “Hero content defines the identity and positioning of the brand. Hygiene content consists of educational and informative content about the brand. Hub content stands for engaging content and content that helps in building brand engagement. As the platforms evolved, brands started populating content in these three buckets,” added Krishnan. 

Over time, while video content has gained prominence, he emphasised, that we must always remember that even long-form articles, blogs and infographics are equally important tools even today. 

Cut to today, he told, podcasts as a medium have also become highly important for hygiene content. He commented, “People listen to podcasts about the things which they might not like to discuss with others openly, which is relevant for categories that need concept sell. Over here, their doubts and myths are dispelled. What used to be FAQs for certain brands are now happening on podcasts and embraced by few marketers, especially in the start-up space.” 

Can branded content marketing ever become ‘the mainline’ in India?

So many times, brands do content marketing, branded content and influencer marketing to amplify the larger mainline campaign. But can content marketing ever become mainline in India?

Krishnan answered, “I agree that largely the content discussions are to amplify the mainline campaigns. But we must also understand that there are so many brands winning over consumers through great content even after having a mainline ad campaign in place.” 

He then went on to talk about how several brands with not-so-humongous marketing budgets are opting for content marketing over regular advertising to engage with consumers. 

Krishnan also pointed out that several big brands too opt for content marketing over regular ads when they have smaller niche offerings and don’t need to create mass awareness.

Challenges associated with content marketing

Pointing out one very big problem that is not just associated with content marketing but, A&M in general, Krishnan said, “We are attuned to seeking quick results. Culturally, we are not attuned to looking at marketing activities fetching results in the long term. We look at quarters, half years and a-year time frame for a marketing initiative to show results and it only becomes a tick box. Our conversations revolve around ROI and reach and engagement metrics. Certain ideas need a long time to show results.” 

He further said that when it comes to content marketing and branded content, “The lack of proper measurement metrics around branded content is a challenge.” He added, “newer platforms and innovative solutions don’t have proper measurement metrics despite deep engagement and conversions. This is a deterrent.” 

Building customised attribution models can help cope with measurement-related challenges, and is perhaps the need of the hour. Krishnan commented, “At Publicis, our aspiration and effort is to build a framework that helps brands understand the impact of marketing activities along with deep analytics.”

Talking about the challenges associated with influencer marketing, Krishnan cited fake followers as a significant risk for brands and influencers alike.

Stating the solution to this problem, he said, “In such a scenario, we must look at the rate of effective engagement of influencers versus their reach. There are platforms and tools that can measure the effectiveness of influencer engagement. We are collaborating with developers and platforms which have built these capabilities and we are educating our clients about these tools and measures.” 

Content marketing in the era of Metaverse and gaming

According to a report by InMobi, over 75% of brands in India have been spending on mobile games and an increase of 32% (YoY) in average ad spending is being seen. Similarly, even out of FOMO, several brands have ventured into the land of Metaverse and hosting parties, being part of events, and opening shops in the Web 3 world. 

While Metaverse and gaming have become the talk of the town, brand collaborations are mostly limited to visibility and branding in this space. 

Krishnan added, “While we are looking for ways to be part of Metaverse and gaming in a meaningful way that doesn’t impact the consumer’s experience, we haven’t really found the answers yet. We aren’t seeing many proper brand integrations in gaming because firstly our learnings aren’t evolving at the speed at which gaming is. Secondly, gaming developers are not very keen on brand integrations in gaming because they want a certain level of sanctity and don’t want to make everything for sale.”

But we must remember that the largest quest is how to culturally become part of the gaming community and Metaverse, said Krishnan. Currently, doing in-game branded content is difficult, but brands are figuring out ways to be part of moments in the game streaming space. 

Social commerce: The new bee in the field of content marketing

According to reports, the social commerce market in India is expected to grow to $70 billion by 2030. YouTube, Instagram, and platforms like Roposo and Trell too have upped their ante on this front. Not just this, social commerce is an important sales funnel for eCommerce platforms as well. 

In the case of social commerce, Krishnan again insisted on not going by the reach of the content creator but his/her efficiency in converting sales. He explained, “Our insights suggest that in many cases nano-influencers sell more effectively than macro-influencers. It’s surprising to see how a homemaker sitting in small towns with following in thousands sell products worth lakhs. On the other hand, there are influencers with lakhs of followers who are not able to sell anything. Brands need to figure out which influencer will seriously sell their products than the influencer who will become bigger one day and not worry about selling the product.”

How Publicis Content is catering to the appetite of content marketers

Krishnan said that the biggest quality that Publicis brings to the table is strategic thinking. “ In order to create meaningful interactions between a brand and audience on a particular platform, we map the brand proposition to platform insights. It's the starting point for everything we do. As a result, we are able to create great content.” 

Gone are the times when it was all about buying media. The past approach was to establish brands as dominant and innovative in traditional media, and then came digital. Now it’s all about platforms. 

He explained, “We ensure brands are not just present in the media, but are on platforms where people engage with multiple interests. Consumers come to a particular platform with a certain mindset. For example, one will find mothers on a platform discussing motherhood, children and products around mothers and children, etc. In order to engage consumers on a platform, we need to understand the platform and how brands can meaningfully be present there.”

He concluded, “The Publicis Content team is not limited to the possibilities of what we can create in-house. We engage with the world outside which is constantly creating new things. We have built bridges with them. We can reach such people right away whenever a brand wants to do something innovative. The nimbleness of the content team allows that to happen.”

Content marketing brands Publicis Groupe Metaverse Hari Krishnan Publicis Content platforms Head