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Interview with Virginia Sharma, LinkedIn Marketing Solutions, Director, India

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virginia-sharma-director-marketing-solutions-linkedin-india-2-coVirginia Sharma has been a marketing professional for over 17 years. Her journey in marketing started off with IBM wherein she held regional and global marketing leadership positions across North America, APAC and India. In 2014, Virginia came onboard with LinkedIn as Director, Marketing, Talent Solutions, Asia Pacific, based in Singapore. As part of her role as a director then, Virginia led data driven and digital demand generation campaigns to grow the LinkedIn Talent Solutions Business in APAC. Virginia’s most recent move got her back to India in 2016 as the Director of Marketing Solutions at LinkedIn India, Gurgaon. Through her new role, she help brands engage with the world’s professionals in one place and target a quality audience in a professional context. She is excited to bring her experience as a global marketer to her clients in the Indian market. Virginia has been a marketer all her life and continues to enjoy wearing that hat. 

Digital marketing, which was a growing conversation in the early 2000s is now a reality one cannot escape. Digital media has been a major catalyst in transforming the relationship between brands and customers. It has given brands a new platform to interact and engage with their diverse audience spread across a wider geography. Thanks to digital and social media,the role of marketing professional has evolved to that of a ‘marketing technologist’, making it essential for marketers to integrate technology solutions with traditional marketing strategies.

Virginia’s current role at LinkedIn is also an intersection of marketing, technology and leadership. Their marketing solutions empower brands to target consumers with relevant content and raise brand awareness through high-impact content marketing campaigns on their platform.

How did you get into Content Marketing? What interested you in learning Content Marketing?

Virginia: My content journey started in 10th grade when I started my school magazine. I would curate articles and stories from various students. This got me on the radar for an inter school competition to design a campaign for a French perfume company called “Un Monde Nouveau” targeting teenagers. My friends and I won the competition and got a chance to pitch our idea to the brand in Paris! Although this campaign was created 20 years back, when internet was yet to change our world, it was ahit because I, a teenager, was the persona I was targeting; I was also my campaign’s audience. And this learning gave me the power to truly empathize with my audience. Marketing is not about how great your brand is but more about how well your brand understands its audience. In my opinion, content marketing is one method that helps brands do that –it enables them to consistently share valuable content that can help them make the right buying decisions.

The outcome of the “Un Monde Nouveau” campaign, made me an early adopter of content marketing. I realized that a well-researched content strategy that understands the consumer mindsets at different touch-points is what brands need to communicate their product story.

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According to you, how important is the role of LinkedIn for Content Marketing?

Virginia: Besides being the largest social professional network, we are also a platform that brands can leverage to market and reach out toa quality audience with content as the premise. We see a great opportunity in working with brands and publishers to create relevant content for audience and help them make the right buying or career decisions.  Unlike a traditional advertising house we are focused on delivering and amplifying quality content toour 450 million members around the globe, so they can be even more engaged. We help brands engage with professionals on the LinkedIn platform with relevant and valuable branded content. Our platform allows companies to create their pages, strengthen their online presence and seed in organic content which can be read by their followers.

Given the nascent state of Content marketing in India, we believe that we need to infuse content marketing skills across brands, publishers and agencies. To accomplish this, we have partnered with the DMAI (Data Driven Marketing Association of India) to be a founding member of the Content Marketing Council of India. Unlike other markets, India doesn’t have an industry body focused on helpingmarketers grow their content marketing expertise, which is increasingly becoming an in demand skill by brands and agencies alike. The council’s initiatives will help marketers develop their content marketing strategy, help them create brand awareness, and drive quality leads for their business. I am proud to serve as the Chairperson of the Content Marketing Council.

According to you, what are the advantages of conventional marketing over Digital Marketing? Do you think that Digital Marketing is a threat to the future of conventional marketing?

Virginia: I see digital marketing as an essential extension of conventional methods rather than a threat to conventional marketing. India is one of the rare markets, where both, print and digital media are growing in parallel and therefore marketers can use both traditional and digital mediums to their advantage. People may read about your brand in print ads but digital is where they go to get more information about it or revisit a story they read in print.

In areas where mobile and internet penetration is low, radio and print remain the primary channels to engage on. However, regardless of the medium chosen, quality and relevant content remain the secret sauce to attract the right audience.

How do you think Content Marketing for B2B is different from Content Marketing for B2C?

Virginia: Marketers deal with two different mind-sets in case of B2B and B2C and thus the need for different content strategies. However, both boil down to understanding the audience or the market. The main difference in addressing B2B audience versus B2C is their intents and motivations. B2B buyers are likely to look at a brand’s thought leadership whereas B2C buyers are likely to evaluate products or solution based on the value it adds. Therefore the messaging and tone differs to each type.

While digital channels can be accessed to target both, B2C marketers can use multiple touch-points to engage with their buyers depending on where they are during the day. A mix of traditional, geo marketing through apps and digital media can help address pain points throughout their customer’s journey. On the other hand, B2B marketers benefit more from using more targeted solutions on platforms where companies engage. For instance, our Sponsored Content at LinkedIn helps surface relevant content for prospects in the B2B market and helps drive quality lead generation.

Would you like to throw some light on the “a-ha” moments in your Content Marketing journey up till now?

Virginia: My biggest a-ha moment was when I at IBM and decided to create my first video led marketing campaign to launch an enterprise software solution that was a little technical in nature but needed to be understood by business leaders, like finance and manufacturing.

This was the early days, even before Google bought YouTube! I wrote and produced a 20 minute short film called “Launch”, complete with a 30 second and 2 minute teaser and trailer which we showed both online and offline in theatres and invited our customers. Over the next 6 months, the movie was subtitled into 17 languages and ran panel discussions featuring clips from the movie. This was the most successful launch campaign I had seen during my time at IBM and also the first time any team had used video that was not a TV ad.

I didn’t know the term “Big Rock Content” at the time but my a-ha moment was that if I invest in one substantial piece of content, like the 20 minute film, I can leverage it across other media in different formats over several months. This is the single most important learning I can share with content marketers – figure out your big rock content piece and squeeze it for snackable content for all that its worth!

What do you think is your greatest Content Marketing achievement till date?

Virginia: I think my “greatest achievement” has yet to come given how nascent content marketing is as a discipline!  However based on my experience to date, I would say my greatest accomplishment was being the first at LinkedIn to introduce persona based marketing and coaching my events focused marketing team on how to shift to content marketing and subsequently launching 6 persona buyer journeys. These personas live on even after I have moved on and were adopted in other geographies. They also helped us grow our lead volume by 80%+ despite flat budget and less headcount. This was a nice feather in the cap before I moved out of marketing into sales! I am now lucky to work with Indian brands every day to build their content marketing strategies. My greatest achievement looking forward would be to see one of my clients or partners become a global leader in content marketing practices. 

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

Virginia:

  • Ricoh Case study – Ricoh, an electronic company, used powerful and unconventional formats to engage with IT professionals.  They used comic strips to catch the attention of its target audience and used LinkedIn Sponsored Content to better communicate their messaging. I believe the use of creative formats in storytelling provided them with an edge over other technical content.
  • Van Heusen’s ‘Most Fashionable Professional’ – This a great example for those finding the formula for ‘virality’ of campaigns.Van Heusen wanted to reinforce their brand advantage among young working professionals in a market replete with a plethora of competitor brands. They launched their campaign, “Most Fashionable Professional” through a microsite powered by LinkedIn. LinkedIn tools enabled them to target young working professionals, who would resonated with the overall theme of the campaign. Through the campaign, Van Heusen successfully managed to establish the importance professional attire among young professionals and within their network.
  • Axis Bank – Axis Bank’s #myideaofprogress is another interesting campaign on brand building and a classic example of how connecting with the right audience with the right content generates great results. Progress is something Axis Bank stands for and through the campaign, the bank aimed at strengthening its relationships with its customers by getting them to share their idea of progress. The best ideas shared by professionals would be brought to life by Axis Bank. The bank leveraged LinkedIn’s solutions to reach out to relevant professionals, drive conversations and engagement across. At the end of the campaign, Axis bank successfully established their mantra of ‘progress’ among people who matter.

According to you, what are the top 2- 3 mistakes committed by organizations today in leveraging Content Marketing?

Virginia: 

  • Not using the right formats on the right channels – While it’s established that content has to be relevant to your consumer, the format and the channels are equally important. For example, pushing a long story on a desktop may not gain interest on mobile because peopleprefer snackable content on the go. As marketers, we not only have to study consumer interests but also keep track of channels they frequently engage on to ensure that the content delivered is truly relevant.
  • Partially mapping the customer’s journey – Data is a great tool to understand the customer’s interests, their intentions and needs. However, most marketers only analyze transactional data at the time of purchase, not realizing that it’s the pre-purchase data that can really tell the story on the customer’s interests and motivations. 

Which are your favorite Content Marketing Tools?

Virginia: As customer attention shortens and content consumption habits alter, it is increasingly becoming difficult for brands to deliver the most effective and efficient strategy as there is no “one size fits all answer”. Before you consider opting for a content marketing strategy, analyze your brands goals and match it to the overarching content marketing strategies for achieving those goals.

Here are my set of favorites in content marketing tools that I have personally seen success with as a marketer:

  • LinkedIn Sponsored Content is a great tool which provides the right professional context and enables a brand to connect and build relationships with the right audience. It allows relevant content to appear alongside organic content in members’ LinkedIn feeds across desktop, tablet and mobile devices.
  • Outbrain is an excellent content syndication tool that I have seen a good results from as a B2B marketer. It leverages the real estate on the footers of many online news publications that business decision makers read.
  • MailChimp is an excellent tool for Do it Yourself Email is still an important way to deliver content along the buyer journey so visually compelling, mobile friendly, easy to navigate newsletters are important in a marketer’s toolbox.

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Share the names of 3 people you look up to when it comes to Content Marketing.

Virginia: More than following these people, I am more inspired by these people on how they use content marketing:

  • Jason Miller
  • Seth Godin
  • Sandy Carter

How do you see Digital Media, specifically Content Marketing evolve in future? What are the top  trends do you foresee for 2016-17?

Virginia: Today, the world is in the midst of a digital revolution, a revolution that has transformed the way brands interact with their customers across.  The convergence of marketing and technology has led to the emergence of a new role, marketing technologist. As these two worlds come closer and successfully function alongside the other, the role of a marketer is transforming rapidly to becoming a key strategy driver of a company’s business mission.

With technology becoming a key topic of discussion by marketers in the boardroom, companies are increasingly showing higher adaptability levels for solutions such as marketing automation, analytics and cloud based technologies. Today, marketers realize the power of harnessing big datato identify customer’s demands, behaviors and interestsat each stage of their buying journey; further gaining a competitive advantage over others.

What is your advice for newbies, who are looking at building a career in Content Marketing industry?

Virginia: The newbies, millennial and GenZ, are born in a digital world and their advantage is that they adapt to technology faster than any of us. To all you young content marketers; make the most of technology to identify and understand different customer persona for each brand. I’m sure most of you spend plenty of time on social media, good content marketers also invest time on social listening. This can truly help you understand what your audience is looking for, what are the sources they consider credible. Once you have a clear understanding of who you are talking to, go ahead and use the innovative formats (videos, images, listicles) to tell your story. Being the digitally savvy generation, I’m guessing you guys will know these formats better than me!

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

Virginia: The sites I visit most regularly are:

  • LinkedIn Marketing Solutions Blog
  • marketingsociety.com
  • contently.com Blog: https://contently.com/strategist/
  • King Content Blog: https://www.kingcontent.com.au/blog/
  • Content Marketing Courses on Lynda.com

I also attend regular roundtables with B2B and B2C marketers as well as serve on Content Marketing Award Juries where I get to assess content marketing entries.

Would you like to share few words about the work we are doing at Digital Vidya?

Virginia: 

The work Digital Vidya does is very important to help traditional companies and marketers reinvent themselves to become digital. Making digital education more accessible to business of all sizes and across industries is critical in growing the digital advertising market. I am looking forward to working with Digital Vidya to grow its content marketing courses and also develop a content marketing certification.

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 :).

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  • There are 9 comments


    • 11 months ago

      Jasleen Kaur   /   Reply

      Thanks Virginia 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 :). Sure, we are looking forward to collaboration for Content Marketing certification.

    • 10 months ago

      Vkn Prasad   /   Reply

      One of the most “content rich” interviews. VKN PRASAD

      • 9 months ago

        Jasleen Kaur   /   Reply

        Thanks Vkn Prasad, glad that you found this ‘content-rich’ interview worthy. 🙂

    • 10 months ago

      Cyriacus Kaduru   /   Reply

      Very rich content interview.
      Indeed inspiring and educative.
      Well structured and helpful

      • 9 months ago

        Jasleen Kaur   /   Reply

        Cyriacus: Glad that you found the rich content interview not only inspiring, educative & well-structured but also helpful. 🙂

    • 9 months ago

      Ashish chauhan   /   Reply

      want to know is digital marketing is good career for future prospectus if yes from where we have to do

      • 9 months ago

        Jasleen Kaur   /   Reply

        Ashish: Glad to know your interest in learning digital marketing. Acquiring ‘digital marketing skills’ will help you expand your job role. For large corporations and high growth startups, there’s an ever growing demand of traditional marketing professionals, who’ve acquired digital marketing skill to manage large scale integrated marketing campaigns. Accordingly, you are sitting on a great opportunity to leverage digital marketing for your career growth. No wonder, we get over 35% of sales & marketing professionals in our digital marketing certification course. I am not sure if you’ve attended our online orientation session. You can sign up for the same at http://www.digitalvidya.com/dmo.

        You can explore ‘Career opportunities in Digital Marketing’ through our blog: http://www.digitalvidya.com/blog/career-in-digital-marketing/.

        Let me know if I can be of any further support. All the best for your career!

    • 8 months ago

      Khushboo Priya   /   Reply

      Good to see your effort to educate your audience . Keep it up

    • 5 months ago

      Anwar Saadat   /   Reply

      Very inspiring. Please, share such contents regularly.

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