Bianca Ghose is a digital communications strategist and content marketer, with a penchant for storytelling, marketing, and narratology. A journalist turned brand content advisor, turned content marketer, Bianca is passionate about connecting strategy to story, linking messaging to creative thinking and technology to drive marketing effectiveness.
As the head of Content Marketing for HCL Technologies, Bianca oversees digital content for the global technology services firm. Her mandate is to increase the effectiveness of HCL’s digital content, to ensure a relevant, consistent global experience of the messages and content across digital platforms to drive awareness, engagement and business leads. Her responsibility spans the corporate website, the blogs platform, B2B digital campaigns, social media content strategy, content partnerships. Bianca oversees the development of multi-format content via in-house and external copy, creative and video teams. Her team plans, manages & delivers integrated content-led programs that are smart, engaging, & make a business impact.
Importance of Digital Marketing
Bianca moved from television journalism to digital brand publishing in 2014 with global communications firm Weber Shandwick. As the India lead for their branded content practice, she led the agency’s content and brand publishing function – Mediaco – in India for two years, advising clients on their branded content strategy, evangelizing internally – and to brands – on digital content investments, overseeing content production and contributing to high-profile multi-market pitches. Before moving to the ‘owned content’ side, she has spend almost a decade in some of India’s most credible news organizations. This was during the heydays of journalism, when news was about being right, not about being ‘first’! Bianca developed her flair for news, facts and stories during her editorial, reporting and anchoring stints at NDTV, CNBC-TV18 and Thomson Reuters. She continues to remain fascinated by the digital transformation of content!
How did you get into Content Marketing? What interested you in learning Content Marketing?
Bianca: Around 2007 / 2008, newsrooms across India were preparing for digital disruption: making investments to bring digital-first publishing capabilities, training staff etc. As smartphone use and broadband availability increased exponentially in India, content consumption moved swiftly from the traditional print and television mediums to online channels. The content publishing business stood at a watershed.
It was inside a traditional newsroom where I learnt Content Marketing: how to make news more human, ‘snack’able, engaging and audience-specific, while still retaining factual and editorial integrity. I learnt audience segmentation and all about content ‘hooks’, how to find insights from traffic data – who was reading what online, how often, at what time, from what device and how were they interacting with it? For journalism to survive, it was no longer sufficient to produce factual and authentic news and stories; it was increasingly about retaining the audience and engaging them with the information they were looking for. In essence, content marketing.
What began with a lot of common sense and good storytelling, has today been refined into a sophisticated and dynamic craft that merges, very successfully, the art of creative storytelling with the science of data-backed insights and smart optimization, to drive clear marketing benefits and business returns.
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?
Bianca: Neither is a threat to the other. As more customers research and buy online, digital marketing has become the natural extension to conventional marketing. Developing a plan around one marketing medium in today’s dynamic environment is doomed to fail. Marketing strategy or tactics need to be deployed across both digital and traditional mediums, and marketers need to create ideas and content that can be distributed through all channels.
While traditional avenues may have a proven success rate, they’re costlier, time-consuming and most importantly, not always flexible. Digital marketing is far more agile. In the flexibility that digital technology allows, it takes marketing and communications to a completely new level: digital content can be rolled out across platforms, it can support multi-directional communication, lend itself to continuous assessment, thereby allowing marketers to optimize the content strategy, channel strategy and media spends along the way. And with more accurate attribution models available now, the returns from – and impact of – digital content are increasingly more measurable. Digital content investments or content marketing are no longer ‘good-to-have’ in a brand’s marketing communications mix. Any good marketing strategy will include both digital and traditional marketing in a way that complements each other.
How do you think Content Marketing for B2B is different from Content Marketing for B2C?
Bianca: Content or stories must be creatively told, uniquely delivered and should be useful to your audience. That is the simple truth for both B2C and B2B marketing! Change is hitting both B2B and B2C marketing and the lines between them are somewhat blurring. While B2C has been better on the creative front and high on the ‘emotional’ quotient, B2B is catching up quickly. They’re exploring creative ideas and delivering incredible experiences as they focus on the lessons from B2C: speak to consumers’ emotions using storytelling, visuals, simplicity.
Similarly, B2B’s use of marketing technology is something B2C folks are taking inspiration from. Because B2C sales cycles are rarely as long drawn and often less complicated as in B2B, B2C brand strategies have not always invested in long-term engagement, community building and thought leadership efforts. But everything is overly competitive now. The biggest challenge for B2C (well, also for B2B) now is to build brand trust in an over-crowded market, at a time brand loyalty is fading quickly. Whether B2B or B2C, you’ve got to win credibility and build trust before you can try to sell something. That is where content marketing comes into play by creating the path to future engagement. And marketing technology will provide B2C a wealth of data that will deepen impact by measuring more than just the purchase.
I see B2B’s heightened emotional presence and B2C’s use of marketing automation (in particular, and the whole marketing stack in general) as the convergence of B2B and B2C. 2018 will be the year we will all stop being surprised by cool B2B marketing!
Would you like to throw some light on the “a-ha” moments in your Content Marketing journey up till now?
Bianca: I am truly surprised – and very pleasantly – when I see marketing and communications leaders today championing content marketing, upskilling themselves and their teams with the ‘how to’s and the latest content and platform innovations in the market, and moving away from a channel-first approach to a content-first approach. During my speaking opportunities at events or when running workshops, the participation, interest and willingness to experiment that I encounter from the audience; or when I see traditional marketers asking questions about how to kick off an enterprise content strategy, these are everyday ‘a-ha’ moments for me. (As it should be for those of us who live and thrive in this ecosystem and are squarely responsible for the maturity of this function!). My personal motto is, ‘don’t leave even one person behind’: share your content success stories, discuss your content failures, mentor, bring the next generation of content leaders into the fold and allow them to take the stage and wow the world. And alongside, always stay curious, keep learning.
What do you think is your greatest Content Marketing achievement till date?
Bianca: ‘Greatest achievement’ is most definitely yet to come given that the content marketing space is evolving so quickly! Success today, history tomorrow. Before you realize, before the achievement sinks in, someone else has possibly raised the bar.
That said, there have been some very satisfying projects and successes along the way. One success I am particularly proud of is conceptualizing, crafting and delivering the best performing digital campaign in HCL Tech’s history, using a first-of-its-kind content-led approach. This was a 2-phase content marketing program that aimed at establishing leadership for HCL Technologies in a specific technology area, driving awareness and recall for a particular business unit and, influencing new business opportunities. The campaign helped HCL Tech penetrate a competitive market and establish its IoT business unit as the go-to partner for large enterprises who are beginning or are on their IoT journey.
The HCL Tech – MIT Sloan Content Partnership/campaign surpassed all expected campaign RoI and metrics, and led to a recalibration of funnel impact benchmarks across the top & bottom of the funnel. The campaign worked primarily because the content was unbiased (not developed or marketed as a sales pitch), it was credible and had a unique and useful point of view, which was delivered intelligently to a discerning audience that was looking for accurate, actionable insights.
Key reasons for succes?
The high quality of the content, the credibility of the content partner, an integrated cross-channel and multi-platform campaign executed using various content innovations and all possible content formats and channels. My team ran the 6-month campaign with the mindset to hold the audience’s attention, rather than to merely broadcast messages. I am proud to have led this effort from the front.
According to you, what are the top 2- 3 mistakes committed by organizations today in leveraging Content Marketing?
Bianca: It is not the early days in Content Marketing, but to many brands, it is still a mystery. Getting it right is tough if you haven’t done it before. Here are some of my learnings from my own failures, and successes, over the years.
- Don’t run before you walk. The reason most branded content don’t work is because there is no strategy that underlines what the content is going to achieve and how it’s going to achieve it. When digital technology made brand publishing possible, the buzzword was ‘branded newsrooms’, editorial calendars and publishing practices. Most of the content from brands ended up being random acts of content that were inconsistent on the message/narrative and irrelevant to the audience. They still are. I have learnt that you cannot take ad strategies and apply them to content. So this is the hard part – but the most essential – for content success: go beyond the basics (what content we will create, where we will publish, how we will promote), and develop a content strategy (articulate and get your CMO to approve the role that content will play in every aspect of the larger marketing / communications strategy). You need to have a purpose, and a plan, before you jump into content production.
- Don’t have a “How Hard Can It Be” attitude to content. Great content requires dedicated focus and particular skills that can make the content connect with the audiences. It requires its own strategy, commitment and headcount. Many brands make an inadequate commitment to this journey in hiring the wrong person to lead this effort. They hire a head of digital when what they need is a managing editor, or vice versa. My experience tells me brands should hire a change agent who loves what they do, who can bring fresh ideas and early value to the organization. Content marketing is not rocket science, but it is complex. To have a vision for the brand’s content efforts and long term outcomes requires a mature, outside-in view. Often, comms or marketing teams serve internal stakeholders at the expense of external audiences; to succeed, brands need to flip that equation and put customers’ needs first.
- Create a narrative, not a message. A brand is essentially a promise. And customers should experience a consistent promise across physical and digital touchpoints. In doing so, we need to pivot away from pushing the brand at every possible turn. The problem with brand messages are that they are self-contained. Narratives and stories, on the other hand, are open-ended and invite empathy and participation. Creating an experience based on a narrative the audience can relate to is infinitely more powerful than a brand message extolling a mission or vision or corporate success. A message can create awareness, but it will not help build a community of advocates, or induce a trip to the store.
Which are your favorite Content Marketing Tools?
- Buzzsumo: A fantastic tool for content ideation. It helps you find trending topics and does a pretty good job of giving you keyword-driven information and data for your brainstorming and content ideation process, as well as content popularity by topic.
- Kapost: A superb content operations tool/platform that – when customized and implemented well – can allow your content operations to run as a business process. It allows you to plan, produce, review, iterate on, and publish content from one platform, besides making the process transparent, time bound, and allowing real-time access to content performance and engagement.
- PikToChart: We consume visual content better than words. Instead of a wall of text, consider a simple, visually appealing infographic. PikToChart lets you do that. It has pretty much democratized graphic design, so anyone can make simple infographics. Simple to use, and easy to customize. And if you’re a business, the paid version has some great ready-to-use templates, and leaves no watermark.
How do you see Digital Media, specifically Content Marketing evolve in future? What are the top trends do you foresee for 2016-17?
Bianca: This has already begun, and increasingly we will see a growing list of companies that are achieving very tangible successes through content.
Some brands are doing content marketing astonishingly well. They are not just reaching their audiences but creating their own audiences, and developing more and more unique content-led journeys to convert them. This will accelerate, and here’s why. Marketing strategies are essentially backward looking. They start with market research based on target geographies, audiences, and how competition is engaging the audience set. This research defines a content plan that aligns to predetermined business goals. So your content strategy is basically restrained within two fixed poles. I expect this to change somewhat in the future as brands realize that the race to the top can’t be fast-tracked by targeting readers, but by attracting them. And those that made it to the top, did so because while they served their audience well, but did not remain defined by it.
I believe brands will increasingly put forth new ideas, find new ways to express themselves and new ways to deliver these to the audience. And in doing so, they will discover new audiences. This is absolutely essential for longer term marketing-communications success. Positive conversations with audiences is one of the most important and rewarding benefits of content marketing.
What is your advice for newbies, who are looking at building a career in Content Marketing industry?
Bianca: Today content marketing is happening against a constantly shifting landscape – new platforms, native and interactive content experiences, changing algorithms etc. You are the new breed of hybrid marketers who will need to know a fair amount about each of the specialist skills required in this craft. From copywriting, visual creativity, applied technical skills to an understanding of SEO and how social platforms work. You will need to invest your time in learning these skills. Of course you won’t be expected to be an expert in every format or field, but knowing the basics will help you rise to the top and stay on top of the field.
My second advice to you will be to get out there and build your network. Content marketing is not a behind-the-desk job. It is core to a brand’s presence, perception and business. Talk to sales, lunch with the media team, sit in on SME briefings, attend workshops, understand why customers convert. Be seen, build on the density of your connections within the enterprise. That is the only way you will know the difference between effective and ineffective content for your brand.
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?
Bianca: Inspiration is everywhere. How one stays updated on the relentless and constantly evolving content & digital marketing landscape, new technologies and creative strategies is a function of one’s curiosity, and the connections one makes along the way. But there is a great amount of content about content, so if you want a place to start at, try these blogs:
- The Contently Blog
- The MarTech Blog
- LinkedIn Marketing Solutions Blog
I also attend marketing roundtables, gatherings and events where I get to talk to people and discover new and creative ways people are approaching marketing and digital communications. People are the greatest source of information, and inspiration.
Would you like to share few words about the work we are doing at Digital Vidya?
Bianca: While Content Marketing is not new by any means, it is still confusing for many brands and practitioners. Digital Vidya is helping traditional marketers think digital, think content-first. There are not many formal training programs available in the country to help marketers and communication specialists understand the ‘how to’s and best practices of Content Marketing or the benefits and challenges of digital content.
Through your courses and programs, Digital Vidya is helping develop a strong pipeline of young marketers who will join the industry with a well-rounded understanding of digital and content tactics. Great job so far!
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 :).