Aniket Thakkar

Vice President of Marketing at the smallcase

Demography Context-Driven AI Writing Will Dominate The Future 

In a regulated industry like BFSI which is dominated by heavyweights, driving innovation in marketing can be a challenge. Yet there is a basic need to garner consumer mind-space in a contemporary medium.  When what is considered contemporary is fast evolving, negotiating the challenge becomes all the more difficult.  What all features should an ideal content marketing tech stack/platform boast of, is the questions companies of all sizes have to grapple with.

How does one handle the quantity Vs quality debate in the content marketing space? This and other queries were answered by Aniket Thakkar, Vice President of Marketing at the smallcase, in conversation with us.

Here are the excerpts:

1. Can you tell us, what has been the essence of your experiences with content marketing?

It was always thought that content marketing was only equated to SEO and long-form content over blogs. However, definitions have evolved. In my opinion, the highest purpose of content marketing is to build strong relationships and trust with consumers, and at the very least, act as a medium to take a person from point A to point B in their journey.

In the past, text content was the primary medium for customers to land on a website via SEO or PPC. However, things have changed a lot in recent times, especially in India. The turning point was the launch of Jio, which led to a shift in people's content consumption habits. Now, consumers are used to consuming content in various formats like videos, infographics, and GIFs, which has resulted in the definition of content exploding in India.

Even my dad, who I never thought would change his content consumption habits, now consumes news and other content on YouTube. With changing distribution mediums and consumption habits, we plan our content marketing efforts accordingly, keeping in mind the diverse set of audiences and their preferences. However, the sole lesson remains the same – we want the content to be the medium to help people make decisions and move ahead in their journey.

3. As an experienced marketer, how do you approach competing with traditional BFSI giants in India?

At the outset, I would like to acknowledge the traditional players in the BFSI industry who have created the market for us. They are giants in their space and have earned massive trust over the years. However, I believe they have been slower in catching up with new trends and changing market dynamics. When I was working on the long-form content and SEO project for Coverfox, I realized that traditional players had a significant advantage in terms of trustworthiness and domain authority. Most insurance companies are bank-based, backed by giant houses and banks, which makes it tough to beat the internal linking game.

To compete with them, we focused on creating better content. We were very confident that we could beat them in two areas - tech SEO and content quality. We believed we had a better pulse of the consumer, and that helped us create content that resonated with them.

Traditional SEO guys often write for Google and forget the consumers somewhere along the way, and that's where we flipped the equation. Our first focal point was always to address the specific query that the person would be searching for when they land on our page.

We didn't ignore Google, but it was not our priority item. Giving the right signals to Google and helping it understand our content was equally important, but it was always a priority two item for us. This approach was different from the traditional insurance companies, and it worked for us.

4. How do you approach the balance between quality and quantity in your content strategy?

It's a common challenge in most organizations I've worked with, where everyone wants to have a good content factory and distribution system that can generate business through content marketing. However, it's not always easy to achieve.

There are two approaches to content distribution: creating your distribution system or latching it onto an existing one like YouTube or Google. Both approaches take time, and not every company has the luxury of time and money to build its audience. This is where the quality versus quantity debate comes in. Many organizations face the decision of creating a few high-quality content pieces or many mediocre ones. It's a tradeoff between quality and volume. However, the cost factor is often the limiting factor, and not everyone can afford to create high-quality content at scale.

The way I approach this challenge is by following the 80/20 rule. The majority of your business still comes from 20% of the queries and keywords that are focused on your business and are the real pain points of consumers. I never compromise on those and spend the necessary time, effort, and money to create high-quality content for that 20%.

For the other 80%, I take a more relaxed view. We need content to rank and distribute, but it takes time to review, edit, and refine it. So we publish it, take user feedback, and make quick edits or kill it if it's not resonating with users or not reaching a certain threshold on distribution platforms. At both Cover Fox and Acko, we had a monthly list of edits and kills, and any content that wasn't performing well was ruthlessly let go of.

5. What are the factors that are typically considered when deciding whether to use in-house teams or outsource content?

Initially, we started with a small, in-house team for both content and SEO. As we faced scaling issues with the volume of content required for different verticals and products, we explored various permutations and combinations to find a sustainable model.

We realized that for certain periods, we needed to create a large volume of content due to the launch of new products or seasonal trends. Hiring a large number of writers for these short-term requirements wasn't feasible as it would result in excess capacity once the demand subsided. Therefore, we adopted a hybrid model that involved outsourcing content creation to external agencies while also maintaining an in-house team to manage the process.

This hybrid model worked well for us and allowed us to scale our content creation efforts while still maintaining control and oversight over the process.

The in-house team was responsible for maintaining relationships with external agencies and ensuring that the content created met our brand guidelines and quality standards. They also handled the two rounds of editing required for compliance and product quality checks, which were necessary for the fintech and insurance industries. When it came to hiring for in-house roles, I prioritized candidates with strong editing skills, as this was a critical component of our content operations. For writing work, we were happy to outsource to external agencies.

6. What is your opinion on the content technology stack?

I have a strong grasp of technology and marketing, and I believe that in today's digital landscape, everything is marketing. As someone who started as a developer and later transitioned into marketing, my tech background has been instrumental in my success. I love experimenting with new SaaS tools and have been an early adopter of many cutting-edge platforms.

In the past, I struggled with managing content outsourcing to individual freelancers. I explored various platforms to streamline this process, but couldn't find a structured way to manage invoicing and billing.

I have witnessed the growth of SEO tools like Moz and SEMrush, which have evolved from being simple keyword research tools to providing content suggestions and even writing entire pieces of content through AI engines. I have used some tools that specialize in writing advertising copy and email subject lines, which have proven to be 30% more effective in conversions than manual writing.

Although I have experimented with various AI tools to streamline content creation, the cost factor still needs to be considered, especially when it comes to US-based tools. However, I remain optimistic about the potential of AI in content creation, and I look forward to exploring and adopting new technologies as they emerge.

7. What would an ideal content marketing stack look like for you?

I had several coffee conversations with multiple people trying to identify possible solutions to the problems faced while managing a large-scale content team. The problem always started at the basic level, which is collaboration. Every writer has a personal preference for writing, and finding a platform that could cater to everyone's needs was the starting point. Some writers preferred a distraction-free environment, some liked offline modes, and some preferred tools that they could personalize with plugins like Grammarly.

The second major problem was building a collaboration layer on top of the platform because every piece of writing goes through multiple layers. We had to gather requirements from different teams and give them visibility as to where the status was going. We defaulted to different project management tools like Asana, Zero, or Trello, but it always resulted in a big mess because requirements were sitting somewhere else, and the actual content writing was going on somewhere else. Managing the approval cycle was another significant problem. We had to ensure that the content piece went through several checks before it was approved by the SEO team, business team, editor, and legal compliance team.

A good workflow management tool that could cater to both internal and external teams, including freelancers, would solve a significant portion of the problem. Outside of that, bringing an analytics piece into the platform would also be helpful. However, getting content writers to open up Google Analytics or SEM version to see whether their content is ranking was always an uphill task.

8. Is any other feature desired on the platform?

The last dimension of the platform would be publishing. In my opinion, when it comes to content management systems (CMS), WordPress still dominates the market for publishing. However, headless CMSs are gaining ground, and at Acko, we've moved away from WordPress.  If you want to have control over how your content appears visually across various devices, such as smartphones, tablets, TVs, laptops, and IoT devices, you need to adapt your content accordingly. This is where headless CMS ecosystems excel.

Any platform that aims to solve the workflow problem should also consider solving the publishing problem. This means that the content should be formatted and edited in a particular way so that it can be submitted over APIs and consumed by various devices seamlessly.

Ideally, a platform that solves the workflow problem should either become a headless CMS itself or tie in seamlessly with all the headless CMSs out there. I believe this should be the expectation from any platform that aims to solve the workflow problem in publishing.

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