• Content Marketing

    People are bored with advertisements. I know that’s a big statement, but think about it. Unless an advertisement is really attractive and catchy, do you really bother taking note of them these days? You flip though a magazine, browse the net, watch TV; how many ads actually stick to your mind? Aren’t there times when you happily turn the page, click the ‘back’ button or switch channels to escape those pesky ads and pop-ups?

    The answer would most likely be in the affirmative. Now suppose, as a marketer, you are not only able to grab the customer’s attention, but you are actually able to make the customer eager for your next ad? No magic formula, the answer is content marketing.

    Content marketing involves sharing useful content and information with customers, in an attempt to interest and engage them. It involves providing them with useful information which would help them make informed purchase decisions. The idea is to find favor with the consumer through non-intrusive means, by helping and supporting his decision making, rather than forcing it. This ‘benevolent’ form of advertising, coupled with repeated exposure to the brand will help develop deeper ties and improve brand loyalty and recall.

    The scope for this form of advertising is immense. And it is about to get even bigger. Your objective is to deliver content to the customer for free. What better way to do this than through the internet? Blogs, newsletters, videos, podcasts are just some of the ways to reach out and create value for the customer. Social media and networking sites provide the perfect platform for providing a steady stream of useful content to the customer. The advent of 3G and advanced mobile computing also bodes well for this form of marketing.

    Suppose you wish to market engine oils. Imagine sending out a tweet every 2 -3 days about good engine maintenance practices, about how performance is affected by the oil used and providing tips and tricks to tweak the engine. Refrain from mentioning any aspect about your product. Stick to providing quality content to your customer. An automobile enthusiast will lap up this content and will begin to eagerly await your next tweet. He may even re-tweet your content and slowly, your expanding customer base will begin to associate your product with high-quality performance.

    All you had to do was come up with quality content which benefited your target customers. The rest just happened. Behold the power and potential of content marketing!

    However, it is important not to get carried away. A certain level of moderation is required to succeed with this form of marketing. It is important not to bombard customers with content. The objective is to draw out the customer and make him an active participant in the marketing process. Excessive content will again become akin to traditional, intrusive means and the very idea behind content marketing will be lost. At the risk of sounding clichéd, I will emphasize, “It is the quality which matters, not the quantity”.

    The differentiating factor will be the ability of the marketer to keep a tab on the pulse of consumers and design quality content that benefits them. High-quality, relevant and useful content will be the key behind a successful content marketing campaign. And remember, moderation pays!

  • Brand Strategies.

    A typical Indian youth today wears all the global brands, knowingly or unknowingly. Knowingly because very small section can afford and others wear duplicates, Gucci, Armani, D&G. Unknowingly because of ignorance, they don’t realize the watch they bought from road side is copy of a Rolex or belt with “G” shaped buckle is a copy of a Gucci. Speaking of brands one of the Indian brands I’ve been following carefully since last few years is Fastrack. Let me just inform readers my liking for Fastrack in not because I am fond of fancy, youthful and peppy products, it’s because I believe it gave Indian youth, fed up of wearing cheap, duplicate copies of western products, an affordable designer brand.

    But ever since I landed in Jokaland my fondness for the brand has increased even more. After whatever I picked up from Marketing Management -1, I realized that how efficiently Tata’s have managed to evolve a brand out of another brand and then extend it to new product categories. In doing so, not only did it strengthen their hold on existing market but extended it further. A little more research into the brand for answering “what’s your favorite brand?” during summer internship preparation gave me valuable insight about the brand. I tried to study the “Brand Development Strategies” of Fastrack by trying to fit Fastrack’s history to the Brand Strategy matrix.

    Multibrands: Definition: Creating brands within same product category.

    Launched in 1998 as a sub-brand of Titan (A Tata Company), Fastrack targeted the urban youth watch market, leveraging the brand equity of Titan to enter a new category. I believe Tata’s did this because Titan was a sophisticated brand and they didn’t want to confuse the customers by introducing peppy, youthful products under same brand. A new brand (Fastrack) was created within same product category (watches).

    Brand Extension: Definition: Extending an existing brand name to new product categories.

    Realizing the potential of the Urban Youth market Fastrack was spun off as an independent brand in 2005. Indian youth responded well to the refreshingly different and affordable products. Fastrack diversified into eye gear (hired John Abraham as brand ambassador) and currently is the largest sunglass brand in the country. Further exploiting the target segment, Fastrack has now ventured into new categories of bags, accessories, belts, wallets and adventure gear. Existing brand (Fastrack) was extended to newer (sun glasses, bags, belts) product categories.

    Line Extension: Definition: Extending an existing brand name to new forms, colors, sizes or flavors of an existing product category.

    Huge collection of watch and eye gear under various categories introduced by Fastrack over the years, for example in watch segment army collection, sports collection, biker’s collection etc. Latest line extension in both eye gear and watch segment is the new Hip-hop line (visit www.fastrack.in)

    New Brands: Definition: Creating a new brand name when entering a new product category.

    No example in Fastrack’s context, but if tomorrow Fastrack decides to sell apparels as well it may create a new brand to enter this product category.

    Just try to visualize how Fastrack has been evolving as a brand over the last few years. We as customers perceived it as watch brand, then they entered sun glasses segment and now they make bags, belts, accessories. Fastrack has a vision to become a “complete fashion brand for the youth”. I believe Fastrack has been reinventing itself quite successfully. A new brand has been emerging out of Fastrack. With vision to become “one stop shop for complete fashion for youth”, Fastrack is now opening independent stores, which were initially shared with other Titan products (you might have noticed this in shopping malls). The first store was opened in Pune in 2009 and recently new stores were opened up in Guwahati, Coimbatore. Fastrack plans to have 100 such stores by 2011. I wish the brand “Fast tracks’ to success” with a greater pace.

  • Content Marketing – how to get your brand to talk more

    Shortly after the end of WWII, a bubble gum named Bazooka was launched by Topps candy company, in the US. Going with the patriotic vibe of the time, the gum had a red, white and blue coloured packaging. In 1953, the company adopted a marketing
    strategy that, today, Coca Cola, Lego, BMW, Kraft, GAP, French Connection, Unilever, Proctor and Gamble, Ford, Red Bull, Nike, Peugeot and other consumer-targeting organisations/products, B2B offerings of Logitech, Deloitte, IBM, Agilent Technologies, and even internal marketing efforts, such as that of Cisco, are following, and seem to see the future of marketing in.

    The strategy Bazooka adopted simply consisted of including small comic strips with each bubble gum, with a character named ‘Bazooka Joe’ as the protagonist. A silly ‘fortune’ was featured at the bottom. Here’s how they looked:Bazooka bubble gum, a product that is easily an impulse purchase, suddenly gained cult following. Over 700 such comic strips have been made to date, in many languages across the world. Bazooka Joe is now being made into a Hollywood movie. And the product has remained virtually unchanged in over 50 years.

    What happened here was that content (here, humourous text in a comic-format) was used to add value for the target group (TG) to the product, and thus, increasing the TG’s connect with the product. This, and many other related strategies that involve using content to engage the TG in building a positive disposition towards the brand and/or product is called Content Marketing.

    The earliest examples of what is called Content Marketing today go much farther back in history. Certain Content Marketers, for example, cite cave paintings as the first such effort. The first modern examples, however, probably have to be the John Deere’s The Furrow (a magazine with articles on topics relevant to farmers, such as innovations in grain storage and new kinds of gourmet beef, coupled with articles on John Deere events), Michelin’s The Michelin Guide (a guidebook on maintaining one’s car, finding lodging while travelling, etc.) and Jell-O’s recipe book (on how to make exciting dishes with Jell-O). The latter ended up saving an organization that was about to be sold off for a pittance. Even back home, marketers have seen Hawkins cookers accompanied by elaborate cookbooks.

    Content Marketing has gained extreme relevance today, and for good reason. When this age is called the information age, it is because transmission of information is infinitely easier today than could ever be imagined before. Not only is it incredibly easy to share content online, through social media, blogs, YouTube or owned media, it is possible to narrow down your targeting to a specific TG using a little something we call SEO. Even before these forms of online media came into existence, the internet was enabling the sharing of white papers and webinars by/within organisations. Email further fuelled this information revolution, with Hotmail being launched in 1996 and giving users free access to email. Around 2000, ebooks too gained popularity. Microsoft launched the world’s first corporate blog, Channel 9, in 2004, one year before the launch of YouTube. Today, organisations are using these and many other channels spawned by the internet to conjure innovative marketing strategies where the brand-product marriage is much stronger than can be probably achieved with conventional media.

    Take Lego, for example. In order to encourage children to develop stories around their products, make the products ‘come to life’ in their head and place the product in a cultural context relevant to their TG, Lego has a magazine called Lego Club, with very well
    targeted content. Typical features include short stories, join-the-dots, Lego featuring Avengers and other such fun-learning activities targeted at the same TG that uses their product. And the best part: the magazine is available online as well. Here’s an edition:

    http://imc.ceros.com/legous/issue42012/page/1

    There can be three ways in which content can be packaged with the product

    1.) Content can be part of the product, as is in the case of Bazooka bubble gum. Another example of this usage is a restaurant called Conflict Kitchen. Located in Philadelphia, the restaurant only serves cuisine belonging to those nations that are in conflict with the USA. It’s a takeaway restaurant, and the wrappers they use for packaging carry information about the nation in question and the conflict.

    2.) Content can be separate from, but complementing the product. Here, the content is freely available for the TG to access, but is separate from the product. A large percentage of contemporary content marketing efforts fit into this category. Examples span all online communities, blogs and brand Facebook pages. One such community is P&G’s Being girl. Targeted at the teenage girl, it features articles such as ‘how to make friends at school’, ‘healthy diet and exercise’, educational content about the female body during the phase of development they’re going through, and a peer agony aunt column, ‘Ask Nisha’. Whisper, a
    P&G product, is the focus of promotion for P&G in this community. Another fascinating example is Cisco’s The Threshold alternate
    reality game, with which, Cisco aimed to engage its employees, creating interest among them in their annual global sales meet. The game consisted of looking for clues to unlock the encryption key to uncover the kidnapping of a certain individual. It used the skill-set of the the employees, and combined that with their understanding of their employees in creating a challenge that kept them actively engaged for a sustained period of time, before and after the conference. Caterpillar has an online community, where experts (professionals) who use Caterpillar’s equipment share notes on usage, find expert advice on issues, etc. Note that content here is consumer-generated (and not corporate), and that also qualifies as Content Marketing.

    3.) Finally, content can be a product separate from but complementing the main product. Lego Club falls in this category. Red Bull has a magazine called Red Bulletin, with a similar approach towards engaging its TG. This approach can be used for a brand extension, owing to the expertise built in the category. An example of this is Lauren Luke, a brand of make-up, owned and run by a girl of the same name. Initially, she had a YouTube channel with videos containing tips on how to use make-up for best results. The channel was started to support her brand of make-up – an approach of the 2nd type, discussed earlier. However, when she eventually launched a book called Lauren Luke Looks: 25 Celebrity and Everyday Makeup Tutorials, she created a product in a new but related category.

    One is likely to wonder how Content Marketing is so different from conventional forms of corporate communications viz. advertising and PR. Firstly, unlike just about all advertising, Content Marketing is non-intrusive. Picture all the occasions where you have seen advertisements – in your TV-serial break, in a movie interval, on a billboard while you are driving down the highway, eyes on the road and hands on the wheel. Conventional advertising asserts itself onto you, shrieking at the top of its voice “why don’t you like me?!” Content Marketing, on the other hand, is a rather chill dude. The content does not seek the audience out; the audience has to seek the content. From online communities to magazines and mobile applications to white papers, the user has to click on a URL, buy a magazine, download the app and make the effort to get the organisation’s branding message through the content. And why would they do that? Because unlike most conventional advertising and PR, the content has value for the audience that goes beyond pure communication of the organisation’s message. Content, in the Content Marketing approach, has to be entertaining, educating and/or enhancing product value. It has to be engaging and exciting (that’s the last adjective with ‘e’ that I use, I swear!). Because if Red Bulletin does not cater content that is interesting or helpful in some manner for Red Bull’s TG, they simply will not read it. Make no mistake – content definitely is king here. Also, not only does the content have to be very useful, it has to be useful to its specific TG. That is, it has to be very targeted and not mass-marketed. Red Bulletin, for example, follows Red Bull’s brand personality and it’s content reflects Red Bull’s exciting, goofy, energetic image. It defines itself as “a modern lifestyle mag focusing on sport, people, art and culture designed to break new ground”. The closest parallel advertising draws with CM here is in soap operas, which were also similarly targeted.

    Apart from this, the CM approach typically involves a longer form rather than advertising and PR in delivering information. Unlike a typical ad on TV or in print, which demands your attention only for so many seconds, a typical blog or magazine will keep you engaged for a much longer duration of time. Even if it’s a Facebook post or a tweet, which takes even less time than an ad to be read/seen, the approach there is to dole out posts/tweets with high regularity to keep the TG engaged over a long period. Longer engagement would imply greater brand imprint, and hence, better connect of the TG with the brand.

    Another very interesting aspect of CM, which is especially true in the information age, is that unlike all advertising and PR, a large number of CM approaches involve two-way communications between the organisation and the TG regarding the brand, rather than just the organisation talking about the brand. Just about every online community involves users sharing content. Caterpillar’s online community, for example, is completely built upon user-shared content. This content, however, is shared under the Caterpillar brand name, and hence, adds value to the same. Coca Cola probably has the most clarity in terms of how in the future it will use user-generated content to sculpt the Coca Cola brand. Take a look:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LerdMmWjU_E

    Just the kind of clarity of vision we’d expect from (one of) the biggest brand(s) of the world, and a clear indicator of where marketing communications is headed in the future.

    CM draws a lot of credibility from the fact that it is (or at least seems) unbiased. Lauren Luke’s tips, for example, do not in themselves promote their line of make-up. A user could use these tips with any other brand of make-up as well. Ditto for Being Girl, Red Bulletin and other examples talked about here. The content is typically detached from the brand, and it is the ownership/sharing of content by the brand that causes the desired effects, not the content in itself. One instance where this is, however, not true, is that of advertorials. While the one showed below states that it is an ‘advertisement’ at the top, a large number of advertorials do not make this clarification, and lie on the blurred boundary between earned media and paid media. I strongly recommend interested readers to look into the Indian film reviewing industry for an example. But this is an outcome of how the (online) media is evolving, and shouldn’t be seen as a repercussion of CM alone.

    Which makes one wonder, what is the point in sharing content after all?

    The most recurring objective of CM is establishing thought leadership. Forbes defines a thought leader as an individual or firm that prospects, clients, referral sources, intermediaries and even competitors recognize as one of the foremost authorities in selected areas of specialization, resulting in its being the go-to individual or organization for said expertise, and one that significantly profits from being recognised as such. Take the following example – the first chapter in the BMW Activate the Future series of videos:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JKLqRr–DDg

    When one sees this video, one is compelled to believe that BMW has a very fundamental understanding of transportation, our need for it and how it can be improved. This would have a rub-off onto their image of technology experts in mobility – one would believe that if BMW’s thought engine has delved so deeply into issues such as the context of mobility and cars, they would definitely be at the cutting edge of technology for transportation, and would be the most equipped to understand and fulfill one’s need for transportation. This sort of positioning is what thought leadership refers to. This is especially applicable in the B2B context, where requirements are typically more customised.

    Another important objective behind using the CM approach is to develop the product category in the TG’s mind. Educating the TG about the category and its importance to them would increase total category sales, the large majority of which would go to the market leader, real or perceived. Take Robert & Durkee, for example. In recent years, a construction material called ‘Chinese Drywall’ has been used by certain contractors in the US for construction of houses. It has been found that this material is somewhat toxic. Now, it is quite unlikely that a house-owner would be aware of whether or not they fit in the group of people aggrieved by this problem, what remedy/compensation they are liable to receive, and from whom in case they do. Robert & Durkee, a law firm, specialises in the law concerning such issues. It has a website with a blog, that informs house owners about their legal rights in this regard, and gives them the initial impetus and means to seek redressal. Thus, apart from positioning them as the thought leaders in this niche, the website and blog educate the TG about the importance of the category, thus developing the category in their minds.

    There are, of course, many other objectives of this approach, such as building a community around the product, collecting market information, and even pure and simple marketing communications. The bottom-line is, the CM approach lets you talk to your TG about your brand in a manner that’s favourable for the TG, so that the engagement is long, mutually beneficial and sustainable. In effect, it is an interesting tool to cut through the clutter, and talk more.

    It is upto the marketer to figure out how CM fits into their communications strategy, their media mix, their brand’s positioning, levels of their product and other variables of their brand. But one thing is for certain – with the advent of the internet, the extravagance of content on it and the gradual transformation of mass media from a primarily one-way communication form to a primarily two-way one, Content Marketing, as a serious marketing approach, is here to stay.