Content - the eternal superhero

Whether it be a 2-hour long movie or a 15 seconder ad, content is and will always be the key to consumer engagement

My father is a retired railway official. He was born in Pakhanjore, about 224Km from the state capital Raipur of Chhattisgarh state. At a very early age, he lost his mother and his father lost his track to life after this incident. First, his grandmother and then his uncle took care of him but after a period it was mostly him.

Unlike me, he was an all-rounder in studies and sports. A top-ranked in class, only once he came second when he helped a girl (No, my father wasn’t dating her, okay will confirm). He was also a state football player and a terrific track and field athlete. Today, I am very proud when people say that I resemble my father. But sometimes when I compare his overall skills, I wonder am I his elder son?

Unlike the regular notion, I don’t remember him giving lectures on how he struggled in his days and how we are having a nice life. After serving a complete tenure with the Western Railways, he has now retired and settled in Bengaluru. Old age and retirement are tragic especially for an active person like my dad. He never adjusted with the big city culture and so he spends time with his wife or going out for walks or watching the TV.

I moved in 2017 and introduced Netflix into his world. While he sits and consumes Big Boss with, my mother, at the same time he has also finished all the seasons of Narcos.

Imagine this: a 67-year-old man, whose English is okay has watched all the episodes of an international series on Netflix. “I love the show because the story is very intense and even though it is difficult to understand everything but I want to see more of it. And the best thing is there are no ads.”

Last year when we were watching IPL, he would always mute all the ads that would be aired during the games. Except for the Sprite ad - he felt it was funny, simple and to the point.

Both Narcos and the Sprite had connected with my dad because of their engaging content. One is a show and the other is an ad but both follow the simple and basic formula of having strong content or writing. Irrespective of the length and format, the content has always been the key differentiator. And I don’t believe this will ever change irrespective of format, length, and mediums.

Whether we do a movie, tv ad, print ad, radios show, tweet, or even do a TikTok video - content will be the eternal superhero.

This was my core idea when Suresh Babu once again invited me to talk to his current batch of digital marketing students. Suresh has invested more than a decade in training and mentoring people in digital marketing. His institute Web Marketing Academy, based out in Indiranagar, Bangalore is always a bustling place with young minds learning the different aspects of digital marketing and content. In 2015, he had invited me to WMA to share my thoughts on digital marketing and some interesting case studies.

Recently he invited me again to share my thoughts on content. Trust me it was a challenge for me and I wanted to go beyond what I had done before. In 2011, I started Lighthouse Insights with a common belief that original content will survive and make money if it adds value to the target consumer. In 2020 the core belief still remains the same, even though I don’t run Lighthouse Insights as a startup. (The very humble and smiling Suresh in sky blue polo, trying to laugh on my stupid joke.)


In 2016 my life turned upside down when for the first time I asked myself what value am I creating with Lighthouse Insights. This was the beginning of me looking deep into my life. Early days and the question was wrong. Today I am a strong believer of value, irrespective of personal and professional aspects, if I am not creating value then why am I even doing.

The same holds true in content. As a content creator before I ask the question why is the world not even reading or watching my content. I should ask first what value my content is creating in the consumer’s life.

During my talk at WMA, a professional writer asked me if people would pay for my content. The common belief is that Indians don’t pay for content. In fact, Indians are more ready to watch ads than pay for the content.

According to 2019 Asia OTT Research Report, about 25% of the OTT population wants to pay nothing and watch ads while consuming content, 25% is willing to pay a lower fee with limited ads, 14% would like to pay a higher fee to be free from ads, and 14% would like an option where they can customise their price and ad packages.

However, I am a strong believer that people will pay if it creates value in their life. Even though the percentage is small, people are paying for Netflix in India. Pricing plays a big role in a country that is divided into so many layers and societies. But the “Why” has to play a big role and that’s why I have my doubts about Discovery Plus. Quantity can never be a competitive advantage at a time when the consumer is looking for “what’s in here for me.” (Initial thoughts on Discovery Plus - the video-on-demand streaming platform from Discovery Communications India)

Target audience

In one of the boring brainstorm meetings, we were discussing how we should launch a healthy tea for a regional client. Thankfully the client had an elaborate business brief. After a week when we met again to go through the creative routes, the team had exciting ideas that coolly ignored the target audience or the consumer-defined by the client. Obviously we didn’t read the business brief.

So make sure you are aware of who is your target audience, once you have clarity on the “Why”.

Sarah Noeckel, writer of the Fermstreet newsletter, dedicated to bringing greater visibility to women in tech has an interesting piece of advice.

I don’t aim to please everyone, but rather write for a few real faces that I know share the excitement that I have. When creating content and building a community, you have to listen to superfans and ensure you are building for them. My narrow focus has been proven to be an asset for the development of Femstreet’s brand and our authentic audience in an entirely organic way.

Objective > Medium

A few years ago, a senior agency head told me that the majority of agencies have become “execution agencies.” Last year I was invited to a gathering of marketers to share my thoughts on digital strategy. To make the talk interesting, I gave a simple client brief and asked what are the ideas that come to their mind. The idea was to just have some fun and understand how different minds think.

Almost all of them told me that we should do a Facebook campaign, or do an integrated campaign. In other words, we all had mediums even before I discussed the problem. And this is also a common problem across most agencies and clients that look digital from the lense of mediums. When you do the same, you are forgetting the business objective and then you will break your head when ROI is not met. Because there happens to be a big divide between the expectations set and met.

Mediums are important but keep the objective on top of your mind. Facebook is different from TikTok, but if the objective(Why) goes missing the content will fall flat.

Google India recently launched a series of videos with internet celebrities like with Bhuvan Bam, Zakir Khan, etc to highlight that the search engine is now about consuming content based on one’s interests. Google’s never-ending push to own the social space. These videos are a bit long because they tell a story and that’s why TV will be a problem besides the audience on the internet is aware of Bhuvan. But tomorrow these same videos can play on TV if Google wants.

On International Men’s Day, The Man Company released a hard-hitting video featuring Ayushmann Khurrana. The video is a beautiful poem written by screenwriter and lyricist Gaurav Solanki. The writing is the soul of the content if you remove it even Ayushmann won’t be able to save it. It’s like advertising can’t save a bad product or service.

Hindu recently released a long-form content introducing the sea turtle - dumbest creature on the planet. But we geniuses who put a vehicle on the red planet are killing the stupid turtle with our love for plastic. This was a print ad but why wouldn’t it work on digital?

Image result for hindu sea turtles print ad

Quality vs Quantity

This is a never-ending debate but over a period of time I found out that quality works from me. What do I mean by quality is creating content that is slightly different from my competitors and provides value to my consumers.

When I started Lighthouse Insights, I had no clue what content was so I did what everyone was doing. Over a period I realised that I was working even on Sunday’s but the traffic was the same and nothing was happening. I was looking for answers everywhere but the answer was right in front of me. I was creating content that other 5 or 6 publishers in the industry were creating so there was no motivation for the readers to open Lighthouse Insights.

I shifted gears in 2016 when the startup started moving away from news and focused on original content. We started writing stories that provided insights which a marketer could use in his professional life. One of the reasons why the LI Digital Marketing Awards(online) could run for 3 years and allowed us to survive.

From spending 80% time on writing, we started spending 80% time reading and bringing clarity to what we don’t want to write.

Remember the initial days of Facebook, we all had uploaded 200 plus vacation pictures on the social network. Today we hardly upload one or two. I don’t use the network anymore but this behaviour has impacted brands. From posting 5/10 posts in a day, brands today post a picture when there is a need.

Let’s get this clear in our heads - people use any form of the social network because they want to take a break, have fun and see what their friends are doing. They are not there to consume a brand’s content, no matter how path-breaking the content is.

The consumer today is way too smarter than the marketer so if you don’t have anything to share then please shut up. Don’t spam the networks with your shit in the name of marketing innovation.

Dettol is running a TikTok campaign on how you should wash your hand while dancing with the same bunch of Bandra West influencers. Why? TikTok is the latest buzz and everyone is dancing on the platform. Dear Dettol people are anyway buying hand sanitizers because of the mayhem Coronavirus has created. “When you don’t know what to do just don’t act cool and hope people will start dancing to your dumb tunes.”

Finally, whatever content you create irrespective of mediums, just don’t fake it. Won’t work when the consumer is one step ahead of you, she will notice it and make sure that her followers are aware. Why would you want to give your communications team sleepless nights?

“Chase value over anything in life, rest will follow.” That’s how I ended my session on my love for content at WMA followed by a long question and answer session.