Episode #14: How Apollo 24|7 Reinvented its Content Marketing Strategy During The Pandemic
During the initial months of the pandemic, there was an influx of information from various sources, often from non-credible sources. Apollo 24/7, a leading healthcare player in many cities of India launched a platform to share the correct information with the people. Natasha Puri, Content Marketing Lead at Pepper Content, talks to Shamik Banerjee, the Chief Marketing Officer at Apollo 24/7 about the importance of relevant content. In the wake of the pandemic, Apollo 24/7 reinvented their content marketing strategy to provide the right information to the public.
Apollo is almost 37 years old, famous for its medical excellence. Shamik Banerjee, who is at the helm of their application marketing team, has worked with other popular health insurance companies like Reliance, Aegon, Apollo Munich, IFFCO-Tokyo, amongst others. With almost 20 years of marketing experience in the industry, he states that bringing the right information to the audience is of utmost importance during a pandemic.
Shamik Banerjee elaborated on the importance of spreading relevant content with the most accurate facts to their audience. When the world is learning, medical experts are running into newer variants and cures every day. Within a year of its launch, Apollo 24/7 has gathered over seven million users, with over one million active weekly users.
Natasha Puri: Hello everyone. Welcome to the Top of the Funnel, the series where conversations about content begin. Our guest today is Shamik Banerjee, the Chief Marketing Officer at Apollo 24/7. This chat promises to be very informative and insightful.
Thank you Shamik for being here. Let us dive right into it. You have seen the evolution of digital content. Could you outline your journey as a marketer? Tell us about your journey across several companies and your current role as CMO of Apollo 24/7. How does that look like?
Shamik Banerjee: It has almost been 20 years. My first job was at market research. For the first year or so, I used to get paid for the number of questionnaires I was filling up, or the number of people I was meeting. My professional life began in customer feedback and content. It was a time when content was mostly one-way. Customer feedback was very scarce. There was no internet connectivity. So, during the first few years that I spent on market research, my job was to understand the corporate’s and market’s problems, go back to the customers, and bring them so that they can create good content to be relevant. I did a lot of those ad-effectiveness studies. During the first five years or so, I worked in market research and facilities.
Then, I joined a company called IFFCO-Tokyo. Insurance companies during those times had a given product. The price and features of the product were the same. We just had to go and distribute them. In 2005, de-tariffing took place. The government said that insurance companies would have the freedom to decide their prices. During those times, the market forces began to take over. I joined the insurance fold then. In our first content marketing strategy, we built a brand. We were talking to people and they would choose to communicate. We did a concept called ‘hassle-free claims.’ We were the first-ever insurance company to talk about services. Before those times, it was not important. When we were speaking of hassle-free claims, it was the first time we took note of making content relevant.
One of my observations from the past twenty years is that as the market forces have become stronger, content relevance has become more and more important. After the industrial revolution, a major change has been the digital revolution, that has happened over the past twenty years. If the Industrial revolution solved the problem of speed, the digital revolution solved the problem of distance. Lots of things and products are made to combat the problem of distance, be it transport or telephone.
When that problem goes away, you need to look at the world differently. Classical economics comes into play when you are building a world differently. People started supplying more and more content to meet the demands. If I look back at my days at IFFCO-Tokyo and Apollo Munich, compared to the world of today, it has been a leap. There is an outpouring of content from every sector. It has been a fabulous journey. The next five to six years would be even more interesting.
Natasha Puri: Let us talk about your current role at Apollo 24/7 and the app itself.
Shamik Banerjee: Apollo has been trying to do something around digital for a long time. Distance has been one of the biggest impediments, with doctors and patients in different places. Sometime in 2019, Apollo realized the importance of creating a platform, which gives customers a concept of continuity of care. When people face challenges in healthcare, they go straight to a surgeon. They go to random pharmacy stores or seek advice from their neighbors to tide over the issue. If nothing works, they go to a doctor. We felt the need to democratize the expertise of Apollo’s services as India is a young nation. How did we reach it to people? We had to use content, for people had to know about us, come to us, and engage with us.
We have about three to five million active weekly users. Of them, about 80% to 85% of people come only for our content. They do not come to buy. The number of people who start their journey is far low. But, it is the content that would retain them and make them come back for more.
There is a dearth of relevant, personalized, and projected content. Apollo 24/7 seeks to fill this gap. We started the flatform on 5th February 2020. With the pandemic, we grew and challenged ourselves.
Now, we service about 17 thousand people in the country. We have done consultations in 400 cities in the country. Since the beginning, we have had around 10 million registered users on our platform. We have about 2 billion people on the platform. This is what 24/7 stands for. Relevant content that is helping people to answer the questions that they have on their minds is of utmost importance now. There is no substitute for that.
Natasha Puri: Content is at the heart of your business now. How is it structured in the overall scheme of things? How is the marketing team structured? How does the content function within that structure?
Shamik Banerjee: We do not have a separate content or social team. We have a very flat organization system, one growth marketing team, and some support for the growth marketing team. The support teams work in terms of CRM, performance marketing, and branding. Content in the runner-up of all. The entire content game works like a pod. It sits on two things, a customer data lake, where I have to understand the different types of consumers, what do they consume, what are their content needs, and so on. On the other side, we have 32 years of content. We have a huge collection of doctors and pharmacies. These two pods are connected by content.
I have a pod of about three to four people each. They are engaged in different functions like CRM, performance marketing, branding, etc. Data connect the content to utilize it. The utilization team takes it forward. It is a pod that integrates data to content to utilization. This is how we operate. At present, we have about four pods. Each pod has four people each. We have a layer of networking that ensures that we do teh work faster. One of the things that we larned during the pandemic is that speed is a blessing. It is important to understand what people are searching for and to quickly get that for them because confusion leads to horrible decisions.
Natasha Puri: Content that people can trust and are relevant to their needs are very important. You have to deliver that quickly. How do you measure the efficacy of the content that you are putting out, keeping in mind these few parameters? How are you able to stay on top of this? It is a huge amount of content that you are talking about. How do you maintain these three to four parameters in the entire setup?
Shamik Banerjee: We go by the philosophy of not putting huge amount of content. We go by relevant content. When the pandemic began, we were sitting on a huge amount of data, who has a risk for Covid. We brought out something called the Covid-19 test. In March, we published a study and distributed it among Whatsapp groups. Within 6 days, 15 billion people took that test. Everybody was taking that test to check if they had a chance of contracting Covid-19. We supported that with content. People would need Covid-19 guidelines, what people should do, and so on. It is not about the quantity of content. But, if we just bring it all out, it will not make any sense.
If we bring in an analogy, when we go hunting, content is like that water bowl that will draw in the prey. They will spend time on that water bowl. That is the way to engage with them. If you add value to their lives, they are more likely to come back to you.
Natasha Puri: That test was a fabulous example of how content can come in handy in such a short amount of time. Are there any other specific campaigns that can tell us about the objectives of Apollo 24/7? How do you use content to do that? What are the objectives and end goals from a strategic point of view?
Shamik Banerjee: Our primary reason to exist is spreading our expertise to everyone.
In India, expertise comes only with affordability and accessibility. Our entire objective is to spread our expertise to everyone. Out of 100 people, 85 of them come to us for content. They come to us because we communicate our content effectively. We have about 67 different categories for people of different ages, diseases, symptoms, and so on.
The pods try to get relevant content based on everyone’s needs timely based on these codes. It is the responsibility of the marketing team to give them these codes at the right time.
There is a general attraction. People want to read those things. When the ‘black fungus’ emerged, we saw that people had already begun to look it up. Going forward, it is not just about spraying and praying. It is about relevance, personalization, data, and how you do it.
The biggest challenge that arises is how to manage digital marketing with quality content. Digital marketing has precision. It can make you a very sharpshooter. At the end of the day, the bullet has to hit the target. When the content is credible, it is more likely to reach the audience.
Natasha Puri: It is so important in your industry to be an authority in the content that you are pushing out. Are there any key tips to ensure that the quality of the content is maintained? It is easy to slip, as there is so much content outside already. Are there some measures that you take internally to ensure that there is no miss at all?
Shamik Banerjee: One thing that we practice daily is that one pod checks the quality of the other pod nearly every day. There is only one question, ‘Can a child understand and read this?’ We are looking to save our customer’s time. Two kinds of phenomena are happening simultaneously. As marketers, we are following the rule of one, breaking our audience into infographics and making content specifically for a certain group of our audience. Parallelly, that person has never been so connected with everyone in the world ever before. So, either I can adopt a personalized approach. Or, it has to be relevant enough that the network that the person has can leverage it. These two things have to be done together.
When we used to send the Covid scanner report, we would personalize it. It was absolutely personal. But, almost 98% of the tests were circulated through networks. Relevant content needs to target an individual personally. It should have the quality of infection that they will spread to everyone. Personalization and infectiousness must come together in content. This is what makes digital marketing and quality content so important. I have not yet touched upon different types of content purposely. I cannot say that video is more relevant than audio, or vice versa. Whatever format you are using won’t matter, if you are bringing our relevant and credible content.
Natasha Puri: The distribution strategy and the end goal of the content becomes similar to the early goal of content marketing. Am I getting it right?
Shamik Banerjee: Yes, you are right. It is not about getting the content and then, thinking about how to distribute it. I have not seen much success in that. If we envision the result of content, what we want customers to get out of it, we can structure, produce, and distribute it accordingly. Every content marketing team needs to create ato bank of data. It is an unending process. I do not think that anyone at any point in time can say that they have enough data.
Natasha Puri: It is almost a marriage of data, content, and technology to distribute that content. These three things are resonating with me again and again. Is that right?
Shamik Banerjee: You are spot on.
Natasha Puri: The pandemic has cropped up a lot in our conversion. What do you think the past year would have looked like, had the pandemic not have happened? The sheer rate at which healthcare has shifted and expanded. Do you think that you have moved that fast without the pandemic?
Shamik Banerjee: When we launched, it was only a few months before the pandemic would strike. The pandemic has made us realize a few things. We almost felt that we had defeated this disease. Initially, we thought that this disease was in passing. It was just fiction. We have understood that health is of paramount importance. We started with demonetization. The digital space bridging distances began since then. The pandemic connected the two. It connected the digital space to healthcare.
Healthcare was all about getting a doctor’s appointment, going to their chamber, getting tests done. The doctor shows up and assigns medicines. If you do not get the assigned medicine, you have to roam three shops. It has changed now. The importance of healthcare has changed in people’s lives and the distance is bridged by digital.
A new concept has been accepted. We are showing people a concept, that they do not need to go to a chamber to get a doctor’s consultation. They can get the best of healthcare from anywhere around the world. We will deliver the medicines to your doorstep. We started 24/7 because it has always been relevant. With 10 million registered users and the pandemic, we have confirmed that this is what needed to happen. The pandemic has hastened the process.
Natasha Puri: The customer has also changed. There was always a tendency to go on WebMD and check if you are having some symptoms. Many healthcare terms are now in the mainstream tongue. The customer wants more reliable information. Would you agree?
Shamik Banerjee: The customers have always been searching for reliable content. The question was to trust which resources. WebMD was the only platform that could be trusted then, because of its credibility. There is a barrier that arises after you have read the information. What would you do after you read the symptoms? Self-diagnose? How would you choose which medicines to take? Now, the customers want action. That connection has come due to this change. Covid condition searches have gone off the roof. But, specific condition searches have always been there.
The number of people looking for digital platforms like us, to seek help has gone up. The pace of digital has moved into healthcare. If doctors in different cities can look at the data of searches and suggest medicines, it will accelerate the digital healthcare space further. 400 cities and villages have come to us for consultation. Every day 10,000 people are consulting us, as it saves them a lot of hassle, setting up appointments, and going to a doctor physically, and so on.
Natasha Puri: There is a beautiful marriage right now between data and content. Where do you see this going? What is the future of content in healthcare?
Shamik Banerjee: I do not think that the core will change much. The importance of relevant content will go up. I see a lot of spam these days. Everyone has tons of things to say, which may or may not be authentic. It will cease. Low-quality content will not work. There will be personalization. I see videos, shows, writeups, and content becoming personalized. The most important thing that will happen is probably relevance, as people have very little time to spare.
Natasha Puri: What great insights into making such a productive content machine. Thank you so much for joining us.
Shamik Banerjee: Thank you so much.