We are kicking off our expert interview series with Anjali Gupta, an experienced entrepreneur and marketer. I have closely worked with Anjali, and she is one of the smartest marketers I have met. She has co-founded several startups and has worked with companies like Amazon, Persistent Systems, Scripbox, and Flipkart.
Hello, Anjali. Thank you for agreeing to be part of our interview series. It is great to have you onboard. You started off as a programmer and went on to do MBA in Marketing from Wharton. What prompted you to switch from a technical role to a consumer-centric role?
I built a web product after my engineering, which had done well. But it was a simple product. Not a stand-alone business. I wanted to startup full-time, but at that time I was working in the US.
Since I did not have a concrete idea to pursue, I decided to focus on learning for some time. MBA was a shorter degree compared to a Ph.D., and had subjects that I was interested in – consumer behavior, consumer marketing, and marketing strategy.
Speaking of MBA; In your Medium post, you mentioned that doing MBA might not have been the best decision. Instead, you wished you had pursued something which required you to be a life-long learner.
In hindsight, I should not have based my education on the idea of eventually doing a startup. Also, there was no hurry to finish studying. As I have said in the post, it is healthier for you and your career if you go deep in a few areas, rather than acquire a generalist degree. Post-MBA, most people rule out further studying, probably because the degree is expensive and your mindset becomes short-term (sort of next five years).
Do you believe marketing as a career can get saturated or boring after some time?
Marketing is never boring unless the need for your product does not exist, or your product is too limited in scope and fails to delight the customer. Then its gets frustrating. Marketing and Product always go hand in hand. If you are interested in what you have created, and it has a place in this world, then marketing will be fun.
You are an expert in consumer behavior. What do consumers want?
Consumers want to relate to stuff – if they can relate, they can have a conversation about it, and find a place for it in their life. If not, they will pretend to relate for some time, or completely ignore.
How true is it to say that most B2C buyers buy based on emotions, and B2B buyers buy based on logic?
Everything we do, or say, or buy, eventually boils down to who we are – our sense of identity. B2C and B2B are not different because even B2B decisions are made by consumers (stakeholders of the business). It is always emotions that make the decision, and logic is later added to justify it. Your business may buy a product because your competitor has bought it, but that decision was driven by your identity as a business, and your personal identity to make a safe decision in your job.
How do you define content marketing?
Instead of creating a brochure, if you write a blog or publish this interview, it becomes Content Marketing. Finally, the thinking that goes behind the message, the audience, and the pitch is no different. You cannot forget that you want to give a message, and your aim is to start a conversation about a topic that is related to your product in some way.
Sometimes your goal may be just to engage a person so that they remember your website. However, that is no different from handing out T-shirts at a marketing booth. Let’s not get carried away with content marketing. Otherwise, people start believing content is superior to the product. It is just one dimension of the sales cycle.
You are spot on about people forgetting the marketing part. Many businesses create content and wait for the magic to happen. Even agencies who pitch content marketing services often focus only on the creation aspects of it. Would you recommend a 50-50 split for budget and focus when it comes to content and marketing of that content?
There is no formula although 50% is too high for content. It depends on the nature of content required for the business. If you require high-quality videos with professional editing, your production costs will be much higher.
Always reserve the majority of the budget for distribution (marketing) and pilot the idea (content story) with faster, less expensive content formats, before investing in producing something that’s going to eat up the budget.
Content marketing, initially, was about writing and publishing tons of blog posts. Then marketers started focusing on quality instead of quantity. Now interactive content is gaining prominence. Where do you see content marketing heading to in the future?
A good story told, with the right format will always win. A bad story in any format will lose. It has always been about quality. First, work on the story, and then decide which medium is best for conveying it such that it resonates with the audience – could be text, image, video, game, app, etc.
So do you see marketers as storytellers?
Without a compelling story and a good product to back up that story, you will be ignored. You have to give people a reason to pay attention. A story that resonates with the audience is your pitch. Users will initially pay with their attention and later with their wallets. In the early years of a product, attention is the primary metric of marketing.
Do you think content marketing works only for few companies?
Content marketing works for all companies – everyone wants to deliver a message to their customers.
You have worked with e-commerce companies in the past. Is there scope for content marketing for e-commerce companies?
In e-commerce, you may not write a blog on every product you sell in every category. Instead, you can write posts about aspects of your service, your customer support, your payment process, your sellers, even posts on category creation and usage of products in innovative ways. Myntra (a leading fashion e-commerce business based out of India) and others have used content very successfully for their categories.
With organic reach on most platforms declining, what would be a good budget to experiment with content marketing? Which channels would you recommend marketers test their content first?
Your budget should depend on the product and the potential audience. One has to be smart about choosing the initial set of potentials so that they are as close a match to your target paying customer.
If you are a B2C product, you need to at least put yourself in front of 100,000 customers over 1-3 months to gauge reactions.
Different channels work for different products – depends if the consumer searches for your product, or is it impulse based. Choose the channel that matches behavior, but make sure it can scale.
How can marketers combat the increasing costs of distributing content? Facebook, two years ago, was very affordable. Today, CPC rates are edging towards what I would say is “extremely high.” Considering platforms like Facebook have no incentive to lower CPC rates, what should marketers do to ensure consistent ROI?
Build better products. Solve problems no other product can solve. Consumers will notice and tell others. 80% of marketing effort should go into improving the product itself – make it useful to more people in more ways. You pay more when you do not have something that people want to share. It is still cheaper than going door to door, though.
You advocate building better products to ensure ROI. In most companies, marketing and product teams work independently. How can marketers influence product decisions?
That’s one of the reasons products fail, build unnecessary features, or take too long to penetrate.
Product and marketing have to work together, under one strong leader who has a single clear vision and understands both functions. Otherwise, many good ideas are lost in communication challenges and ego wars between functions.
Thank you Anjali for sharing these valuable insights. It was a pleasure hosting you.
If you have questions for Anjali, you can get in touch with her on Twitter @anjaligupta.