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An Interview With Neeraj Singhal, Director- Sales, India, Outbrain

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Neeraj Singhal, Director of Amplify Sales, India - OutbrainPrior to joining Outbrain, Neeraj Singhal was with Viacom18, where he was responsible for digital media advertising sales revenues across the organization’s five networks, – including Nickelodeon, Vh1, Comedy Central and MTV.

With 12 years of experience, Neeraj has previously worked at Komli Media, Religare Technologies, the Times of India Group, and Lime Labs. 

How did you get into Digital Media Marketing? Do you think that Digital Marketing is a threat to the future of conventional marketing?

Neeraj: It all started in 2013, during my time at Viacom 18 –India’s fastest growing entertainment network of iconic brands offering multi-platform and multi-generational brand experiences across television, film, digital media as well as live events. 

Being a part of Viacom 18’s revenue strategy through Digital AFP’s, online, mobile and social advertising sales, I discovered that the primary driver of sales was none other than content.

Across languages and genres, advertisements had to be content-led so they do not come across only as paid-for. It was at Viacom 18 that I saw the importance of, and opportunity in content creation; how having a large repository of original content helped in positioning the business as a premium network.

Content marketing was, thus, a natural progression.

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Today, content marketing has become a ‘must-have’ component in how brands execute their marketing strategy, especially in digital. How do you see Content Marketing evolving in future? What are the top 3 trends you foresee in 2016?

Neeraj: Content marketing has really picked up in India, with brands now creating more content than ever before. This trend emerges more strongly around the festive season, when brands step up activity to elevate themselves in the minds of consumers.

That being said, businesses are still experiencing some difficulty in cracking the content marketing code.

A huge proportion of consumers continue to be bombarded with multiple messages on various platforms – social media, emails, and even via SMS. The challenge is for businesses to stand out by personalizing their content and making it more relevant for their consumers.

The top 3 trends to look out for this year are:

Greater emphasis on content marketing in the full-funnel journey

A lot of digital media marketers will give greater consideration to content marketing throughout the funnel – from the delivery, reach, nurturing to the acquiring stage. Greater emphasis will be placed on embracing content with two hands, and implementing a connected content strategy that fills the consumer funnel from top to bottom.

Content going mobile

Recent studies – including those by Outbrain – show that there’s a powerful connection between the growth of mobile technology and the increase of content consumption on smartphones and tablets. A study by Millward Brown recently revealed that among global multi-screen users aged 16-45, videos are viewed for more than three hours a days, with time divided between TV and other devices. Of the non-TV viewing time, one-third is on mobile devices – and this is possibly increasing by the minute. As such, it’s time for both publishers and brand marketers to move away from desktop-only site maps and constructions – or one-size fits all content – to one that is as intuitive and native to mobile platforms.

Increasing user concerns around data privacy

Consumers in India are becoming more mature in their understanding of content, and resultantly, have higher expectations of marketers’ responsibility in data privacy and protection. Content marketers must walk the fine line between utilizing consumer data for targeting and yet, respecting consumer privacy or face harsh penalties. They need to start by making sure that basic capabilities are in place – from managing the risk of data leakage to adhering strictly to internal privacy policies.

Share about your 3 favorite Content Marketing case studies. What did you like most about them?

Neeraj: One of my favorite examples is Hindustan Unilever’s launch of the “100% Real” Kissanpur campaign, which emphasized the importance of real, natural experiences.Through content, kids were encouraged to connect with nature by sowing seeds and growing real juicy tomatoes.

  • Kissan realized the importance of using content marketing to engage with their target audiences, on an emotional level. Understanding that the strategy behind how that content is distributed is just as important,the brand also integrated great storytelling with a content distribution strategy, using Outbrain to drive traffic coming from premium publishers to watch this story.
  • Oreo India, which came to the country only in March 2011, has exemplified in its Daily Dunks campaign how branded content can work. Oreo created content which connected the brand with an important event of the day on which the post was made, packaging the use of Oreo products to explain the event described. It kept fans engaged on social media, and made for a brilliant brand awareness campaign.
  • Another great example is how Babbel, an online language learning platform, used content to drive registrations to its online magazine and app downloads. What I liked most was the illustration of how valuable geo-targeting was, to a brand that had to reach users across several countries, languages and devices. Tapping on Outbrain’s technology to geo-target readers by location and language, English language sites in Germany could be targeted with content on learning German, and people located in California shown content related to learning Spanish.
According to you, what are the top 3 mistakes committed by organizations today in leveraging Content Marketing?

Neeraj:

  • Failing to create compelling content

Content marketing should not revolve around a particular product, or look like a product advertorial. Instead, it should be designed in a way that is conversational, creative, insightful, and most importantly, created with an aim to solve problems and quench desires in a particular marketplace.

  • Leaving out a call to action 

Calls-to-actions are prime opportunities for business to capture information on specific actions taken by customers, and what they are interested in. Businesses that leave out a call to action – be it a share, download, subscription, or purchase, miss out on the chance to drive customers in a certain direction. After all, very few become a lead after consuming a piece of content. So keep them engaged, and keep them coming back.

  • Not promoting your content

Just publishing content online is not enough for it to get noticed at its full potential. The internet is full of great content, and it is difficult to earn meaningful attention. In order to get specific content noticed, the final step in the content creation process – promotion – must be managed well.

Would you recommend that content production be outsourced to an agency or done in-house? Why?

Neeraj: In-house. Nobody knows the brand better than you do.

Considering we are talking about content strategy here, when you keep the function in-house, there is a certain level of control guaranteed. The other real value is that those working on the content are employees, who are in a better position to create content true to the company’s tone of voice and well-aligned with the company culture.

Some things to consider when keeping your marketing in house, however, is the amount of time taken to train and manage the team / individual, and the possibility of resources being stretched too thin if the team / individual have original job duties to perform.

Which are your 3 favorite Content Marketing Tools?

Neeraj:

  • LinkedIn’s Pulse

Designed for members to share self-published content with the LinkedIn network, Pulse is an excellent platform for anyone to stay updated with content from influencers, thought leaders in the industry, long-form publishing authors and stories that mention the brands or people you work with. In particular, I appreciate how the newsfeed can be customized and expose me to the kind of news I am looking for.

  • Pocket

Sometimes having a wealth of information to work with can feel overwhelming. Pocket for instance, is one organization tool that helps in categorizing content more effectively. Pocket allows me to compile all the research and data needed and access them in a clean, stripped-down reader view. Articles, tweets, websites, and even videos can be cached so they aren’t forgotten about later in the day.

  • Outbrain

I may sound biased, but Outbrain is really a tool that has changed the way we do content marketing. Its innovative products and tailored approach to both brands and publishers, is outstanding. It is no wonder that we have partners in the biggest brands and publishers around the world.

Why do you think is important for entrepreneurs, marketing professionals and students to learn about Content Marketing today?

Neeraj: Not to underscore the importance of determining the right key performance indicators (KPIs) of any content marketing efforts, considering that content marketing goals are highly individualized. This is so real, accurate insights can be achieved when evaluating how much progress has been made.

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What are the top 3-5 skills you look for when hiring a candidate for a Content Marketing role?

Neeraj: 

  • Possessing a deep knowledge of optimization tools

One that has a deep knowledge of SEO, PPC, web analytics, conversion rate optimization, marketing automation, email marketing and how marketing technologies work together to helps achieve marketing goals.

  • A learner

A lover of great marketing and content, who is always learning to get better at her craft. She is never satisfied with positive results of past campaigns, and continually looks to ways to improve visibility, engagement and value for the brands she represents.

  • A unique voice

One that possesses a unique voice that sets her work apart. She should have a gift for writing; turning phrases that deliver excitement and enjoyment to readers.

How do you stay updated on the latest trends in Digital Marketing? Which are the Digital Media Marketing resources (i.e. blogs/websites/apps) you visit regularly?

Neeraj: I follow the conversation on platforms like LinkedIn Pulse, Twitter, as well as blogs by thought leaders within the industry. Specifically on Twitter, I stay updated by following trade events such as ad:tech India, publications such as AdExchanger, The Quint, Think with Google, AdAge India  (to name a few), and a variety of brands.

I also believe that regular conversations with clients not only help us to understand them better, but also our products and solutions that have been most effective. It is through these conversations that we get a glimpse of new trends that have surfaced in the marketplace.

Share the names of 3 people you respect when it comes to Digital Marketing in India, and internationally?

Neeraj: I have equal respect and admiration for all marketers I have worked with in my career. However, there are 3 in particular whom I would like to mention:

  • Ritesh Tanu: I worked with Ritesh in Lime Labs and he managed the digital media marketing from the India entity. It was really wonderful to see him use all his learnings in SEO, SEM and digital advertising into day to day work
  • Aashish Nanavati: I have been interacting with Aashish since the last many years now. He has a clear vision on KPI’s for digital media marketing activities and which are the best tools to achieve those
  • Sushant Shreeram: Sushant is a passionate, data-driven and content-focused marketer with whom I got an opportunity to work while he was with Ebay and currently Xiaomi.
Would you like to share few words about the work we are doing at Digital Vidya?

Neeraj: 

Great talent is a challenge that we face across the industry.

While there is plenty of emphasis on the role of digital, its importance and the growing investments, there appears to be a lack of investment in developing digital skills and talent. With many businesses not walking the talk, there is an urgent need for always-on education.

Indeed, it is encouraging to see Digital Vidya bridge this talent and knowledge gap with its training programs,designed for digital marketing professionals at any stage of their career – both on a corporation and an individual level. It will be exciting to see Digital Vidya further augment its presence in a rapidly evolving digital landscape, especially with its recent acquisition of Digital Academy India last year.

Are you inspired by the opportunity of Digital Marketing? Start your journey by attending our upcoming orientation session on Digital Marketing for Career & Business Growth. It’s online and Free :).

[Sr. Associate - Content Marketing] A content passionate, Jasleen handles the content writing and marketing activities. Additionally, she leads Digital Marketing Internship Programme. Her deep passion and enthusiasm for writing guided her towards being the Associate Editor in English for her college magazine. Only deep passion and zeal can guide a person towards a professional writing career. Apparently, Jasleen is one of those persons. She is in the content writing and marketing fraternity for 5 years now. A top-notch individual, she is proficient in writing content for multiple requirements including blogs, articles, books, brochures and social media. She embraces practical knowledge of WordPress CMS. Besides this, she is also highly engaging in Social Media Marketing activities.
  • Digital-Marketing


  • There are 2 comments


    • 1 year ago

      Vishal Singla   /   Reply

      Well articulated and insightful.

    • 1 year ago

      Jasleen Kaur   /   Reply

      Thanks Neeraj for your contribution to our community through this interview. Really happy to know your feedback about the work we are doing in spreading digital (marketing) vidya :).

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