The moment brands stop looking at Metaverse as a gimmick they will be able to leverage it: Karthik Nagarajan

Pranali Tawte
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Karthik Nagarajan

Karthik Nagarajan shares his thoughts on trends in content marketing, data based storytelling, personalized measurement metrics and more

In conversation with Karthik Nagarajan, Chief Content Officer, Wavemaker India and Head- Branded Content, GroupM India, Social Samosa attempts to understand how the content space has evolved, the role of data in content marketing, and the importance of sustainability for brands.

Edited Excerpts:

What are some of the content marketing trends seen in 2022? 

Advocacy or influencer marketing is the new social media. For the last seven to eight years, we used to think of social media, as the fulcrum of content marketing. Whatever it is that you did in content marketing, fundamentally, you will land it on social media. Currently, it is not an overstatement if you say that whatever you're doing in content marketing, you will fundamentally anchor it on creators or influencers.

Content marketing has never been as data-driven as it is today. For every decision we make on an influencer or a celebrity, 100 different data points come into play - whether it is the right audience, is the following of the creator genuine, or whenever the creator makes brand posts, does it work as well as other posts?

Content marketing has become more of a lower funnel performance tool as much as it is a middle funnel tool. We were trying to drive preference and conservation through that, but today, many of the large clients, especially in the beauty and definitely in the technology space measure success in terms of conversions and commerce goal posts. These are some of the big trends that are happening.

As more guidelines, like those of ASCI, come in, which require creators & brands to tag branded content - do you think that this form of marketing has lost its touch? 

No, this regulation will actually make it a bigger force than it ever was. I'm a big fan of everything being transparent to the end user. I think it is very critical. The argument is that if a fan today knows that this is paid for, then he or she might not be convinced with it. That's an argument that I completely disregard. Today, the relationship between a creator and his or her following is very strong. The audience understands that for the creator, this is the vocation and there are certain brands for whom there are certain content pieces for which the creator gets paid and the audience is absolutely okay with it. In the same way, the audience was okay with a movie star doing a television commercial knowing fully well that the movie star is probably getting paid top money for that.

The grey area here is that there is an element of trust. Today, the audience trusts the creator to make the right judgment. Whether it is a product or the genuineness of the relationship between the brand and the creator, and if the creator doing some level of a sense check before asking their following to try the product out. It is up to the creator to make sure that the trust remains intact.

Any tips on how brands can be transparent yet effective when practising content marketing? 

Transparency should be part of the brand's DNA. It is important that the brand comes across as caring and as someone who's interested in the greater good of the consumer, society, and the planet. Time and time again research has proved that brands which care about the world and the larger good, it is easier for them to find fans than brands who were indifferent to sustainability. From that perspective, it is very critical.

It is more than ever very important to be authentic. I'm using the words authentic and transparent as interchangeable. It's more than ever important for a brand to be authentic because consumers have become very sensitive to nonsense. They're able to see through something, whenever it is not genuine, whether it is a purpose campaign or whether it is an emotional campaign or whether it is a claim that a brand is making. Consumers are able to see through it more than ever. It goes back to the trust fabric.

What are the best parameters to measure your content marketing efforts?

Measurement has become very customized. 5 to 6 years back we were all looking for a common currency by which you can measure content marketing. Today, there is no such thing. Previously, there used to be a common currency of how many followers do you have on a platform. Not very long back, we have seen my followers are greater than your sort of conversations among brands, but we've seen the futility of that too.

Today what a brand wants to achieve is very unique to them. Hence measurement models are also very unique. Today when we work with different brands, like say Netflix or L'Oreal or Vodafone Idea, we've set up a bar, within the premises of these clients to ensure that kind of customized unique measurement, we are able to deliver to them. Measurement is now very personalized for clients.

Also Read: Swiggy Reels Strategy: Creativity sprinkled on snackable content

Audio content has grown by leaps & brands in the last few years. How can brands use formats like podcasts in content marketing? 

I'm a podcaster myself and I'm very passionate about audio content. Audio is an enormously powerful tool when it comes to brand building for a variety of reasons. One is when you choose to listen to audio content, like podcasts, it is usually a very intimate experience because you don't listen to it while driving a car, at least many of us don't. We're not listening to it while we are watching something. We are listening to it in our me time which means when we're going for a walk or going for a run when you're doing your dishes at home or when you're travelling and you're always listening to it with your earphones on because you want to catch on to it. There's a lot of intent in that in that experience because of which, it is a willing audience.

A lot of research has told us that the recall in audio is much higher than what you will find on video. Because in a video, there are so many distractions. Recent research by IBM and MUBI it was found that many people today listen to podcasts as an active exercise. What a brand can do with that sort of engagement is phenomenal.

3 mistakes that brands & agencies tend to make in content marketing

Brands not being authentic is the first mistake. Brands do what we call a purpose wash.

Pretending to be the champion of the pride movement for a day and a half. Pretending to understand the subculture that they really don't. Consumers are able to tell when a brand is faking.  

Another mistake that brands often make is when they work with creators, they make the creators talk like the brand which defeats the entire purpose.

By the time brand is done with all the hashtags, and all the brand mentions in influencer content, very little of the creator is left. It is very important that creators talk like creators and keep the brand messaging as subtle as possible. 

A mistake that probably agencies do a lot is to shy away from performance KPIs when it comes to content marketing. It's an opportunity. Content is an extraordinary tool to drive performance and works as much in the lower funnel as it does in the middle funnel. Content marketers, especially agencies should be willing to embrace performance measurement more and not shy away from it. 

What kind of a role does data play in content marketing?

Data has always played a very important role in the creative side of marketing and it continues to do so. Today, a great example of this is what we did for Mother Dairy. When we were launching a ghee brand from Mother dairy at the peak of the lockdown, conventional wisdom, or intuition would have asked us to go with a TV soap star. But when we looked at the data, we were really clear that we want to create something on digital and social. Artists like Zakir Khan can resonate a lot with our audience in the Indie belly and especially with the young homemakers and so when we created that kind of content for launching the ghee variant which is ‘Maa ke haat ka khana’, it absolutely resonated with everyone.

It worked well that the competition, Mr. Sodi of Amul appreciated that on Twitter. There can not be a bigger endorsement of any content marketing than that and the campaign that looks like it came entirely from the heart, actually has a huge data angle behind it. That's the power of data.

Data actually helps you refine your idea and sometimes come up with great ideas. So It's a very healthy marriage that is happening. 

One tip for brands & agencies who plan to invest in content marketing.

The content marketing industry is a people industry and whether it be the client or an agency that wants to invest in it, my recommendation would be to invest in a great organizational culture. Content marketing teams are insiders to different subcultures and they have many shades within them. You need the right environment. and the right organizational culture for those things to thrive.

It is not about the size, it’s not about the budget. It's not about the quantum of the following of the creator or of the celebrity you're working with. It is fundamentally about how honest the idea is.

If an idea is rooted in a great cultural insight and is honest to that need gap, to the audience, then it will absolutely work.

Please share your thoughts on Web3 and Metaverse. How can brands create better content for Web3?

A deeper understanding of Web3 is required especially at a time when everyone is very excited, about the metaverse and blockchain. It is important for everyone to understand why Web3 was important.

Web1 was mostly read-only then. People read what was on the website. Web 2.0 was more about community and conversations and the ability to create and share. But both of these models were driven by advertising.

One of the big changes in Web3, along with the fact that things are decentralized fundamentally, is also the fact that there is an opportunity for direct monetization of a creator’s content with the audience. We are going there as a digital ecosystem. Spotify is testing subscriptions on podcasts. We have platforms like Patreon. The creator audience monetization pipe will be one of the biggest features of Web3 and so it is important to understand that Web3 is not a brand situation, it is a societal impact.

If you're trying to decentralize something like finance which has always been centralized or to decentralize intellectual property, or governance, all of them through smart contracts, you are revolutionizing a world.

You are creating a world which can fight some of its inequalities better. That is the depth of Web3. The moment you look at it from that perspective and not just view the metaverse as a gimmick or a game then I think brands will be able to create for Web3 better.

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