Akhil Almeida

Head of Marketing at Aegon Life

Akhil Almeida on the Evolution of Content Marketing

Content marketing is a digital marketing strategy that involves creating and sharing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a target audience. The goal of content marketing is to build trust, establish authority, and ultimately drive profitable customer action. Content can come in many forms, including blog posts, videos, social media posts, e-books, and more. To be effective, content marketing requires a deep understanding of the target audience and a commitment to creating high-quality content regularly.

In an insightful conversation with Pawan Rochwani, Head of Brand & Partnerships at Pepper Content, Akhil Almeida, Head of Marketing at Aegon Life, talks about the evolution of content marketing and what it means for business in the new normal.

1. Please tell us about your professional journey so far. What do you currently do as a day-to-day marketer?

Currently, I lead the marketing transformation at Aegon Life. My role encompasses all facets of brand building, whether media planning, product development, consumer insights, content marketing, or corporate communications.

I began my career as a content marketer over two decades ago as a marketing executive for Virgin Records. Back then, the content we marketed was primarily music from famous artists like Radiohead and Coldplay. At that time, artists relied heavily on publishers to promote their work and reach a wider audience.

However, with the advent of digitization, everything took an unexpected turn. The internet and web technologies democratized the reach of artists and creators globally, making content more accessible than ever before. Today, whether you are a musician, writer, photographer, filmmaker, poet, comedian, dancer, or even a stay-at-home parent with a young child, you have the potential to create and share your art with the world.

The digital revolution has transformed the world of content marketing, empowering creators with unprecedented access to audiences. However, it has also made standing out from the crowd more difficult than ever.

The evolution of content creation and consumption has been unexpected and profound. There has been an explosion in the number of channels on which content is available and an increase in the number of tools available to creators. As a marketer today, creating content has never been easier. Yet, the paradox is that making your message stand out in a sea of existing content is increasingly difficult.

2. Was content marketing any different over two decades ago?

I believe that during the period in question, the labels used to describe content differed from what we use today. I previously worked for a music and recording label, where we viewed music as the content we aimed to sell. However, we never identified ourselves as content marketers. 

This trend can be applied to other creative professions, such as photographers and writers. For example, writers never considered themselves content creators, instead preferring to identify themselves as writers. The labeling of creative industries has evolved, and they are now amalgamated under the umbrella term of content marketing. This shift can be attributed to changes in consumption habits. 

Watching a movie is no longer limited to just watching; it now involves participating in a watch party, sharing thoughts on social media, and discussing it with friends. The multidimensional nature of content consumption today highlights the continued importance of content in our lives, past and present. However, we now attach a label to it: content marketing.

If we delve into history, we notice that even the Institute of Recording, Music, Arts, and Sciences, which gives out the Grammy Awards every year, refers to the creator as an artist, except when they refer to producers or publishers. This shows that creating content may be considered an art form that applies to all creative industries regardless of how they identify. Being an artist is not limited to those who hold a paintbrush or pencil but anyone who can create.

3. What, according to you, are a marketer's top three pain points?

If you look back to the analog days, there was an obvious line between content and advertising. The content was the kind of programming you tuned into, and advertising was the interruption you had to deal with to access that program. Today, the lines are blurring. 

So you have advertising that's dressed up as content, and you also have content today that is sometimes dressed up as advertising. Now, this poses a challenge because, as marketers, we need to choose how we will measure the effectiveness of the content we're producing. Speaking purely from a marketing standpoint, your marketing objectives will help you define content's role in building a brand. 

Before creating any content, it's crucial to establish this role and strategize how to achieve it.

Generally speaking, advertising has focused on reaching a large audience with an inclusive message accessible to everyone. That's been the role of advertising. Content is much more targeted and much more in-depth. The reason it needs to be more targeted and in-depth is because of content; you have an opportunity to create real engagement, right with consumers.

When it comes to advertising, it's easy to overlook it as something that may or may not catch our attention and is quickly forgotten. However, with content, there's an opportunity to create meaningful engagement. When designed effectively, content can take on a life of its own. But with the blurring of lines between content and advertising, even unique content cannot succeed in isolation. Tools like advertising and broadcast media are still necessary for content to reach a critical mass and impact. 

The biggest challenge for marketers today is understanding the delicate balance between content and advertising and determining the role that content is expected to play. 

4. How do you distinguish between extraordinary content and mediocre content?

The impact of content on an individual's experience can be highly subjective; a piece may resonate deeply with one person while failing to connect with another. According to me, to create content that stands out, four crucial pillars must be considered. 

The first is the audience's sense of identity - the content must align with their values and beliefs. Emotion is the second pillar, with research consistently showing that content with an emotional element is more effective. The range of emotions that can be tapped into, from joy to nostalgia, provides marketers with ample opportunities to connect with their audience. The third pillar is information - content should be relevant, presented engagingly, and provide the correct detail. Finally, aspiration is vital - the content should inspire and motivate the audience, whether providing actionable insights for their work or personal life, offering escapism, or building camaraderie through collaboration. 

5. What are your views on AI? Do you think it's a boon to the industry, or will it be a bane?

So, when I look at technology – and AI is just one other aspect of technology – I think technology has changed many things. If I'm a content creator and an artist, technology has made it easier for me to create and disseminate content today. If I'm a consumer, technology has made it easier to find something relevant to me. Two things that technology has not changed – and I don't think it will change – is the customer's desire or the end user's desire for a good story.

With new technologies, you can experiment with packaging a story in novel ways. So what originally started as a campfire tradition – that's how we all started telling stories – evolved eventually into the written word.

Today, you have online worlds and digital worlds where we immerse ourselves in. But in each case, the story is central to engaging an audience. This is where human ingenuity and creativity come to the fore because stories will always lie at the heart of every piece of good content available. Technology allows you to package it, maybe presented differently or interestingly. But if there is no story, if there is no engagement, there is no content.

6. What are your top three predictions?

As a marketer, it's crucial to have a clear mindset when it comes to content creation. Sure, numerous tools and frameworks are available in the market, but the key to great content lies in understanding your target audience and delivering value through your communication. 

It's more than having a large marketing team, a big budget, or fancy tools. Instead, it's about understanding what your customers want and need and using content to fulfill those expectations. To achieve this, marketers must constantly engage with their audience, seek feedback, and create a positive feedback loop to improve their content continuously.

Social media has played a significant role in showcasing the value of good storytelling, and it's essential to leverage this to create content that resonates with your audience. So, we need to build a mindset that prioritizes delivering value to customers and constantly improving our content based on their feedback.

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