Karambir Singh Rai

Vice President Marketing at Jio

Karambir Singh Rai on Evolution of Marketing Strategies: From Pre-Meta-Google Era to the Current AI for Content Age 

In a short span of time, Jio has managed to enter a market space that was already saturated and cannibalized the competition with its aggressive and user-friendly business strategy. Behind this orbital leap as a brand lies its decision to choose ‘winners’ to lead parts of various businesses. And, if someone decides to create a list, Karambir Singh Rai would certainly make it in the top five. 

Rai, with more than 22 years of experience, has spent 18 years in mainstream advertising. He has worked with top names like Ogilvy, and J. Walter Thompson (JWT). After making a space for himself in Mumbai, and Delhi between 1998 and 2011, Karambir was chosen to look after the key businesses of Ogilvy in parts of Sub-Saharan Africa. Further, he shifted to JWT and handled the Kenya, and Tanzania offices. Now, he takes care of the brand side of things in Jio Entertainment Services. Rai leads Jio Entertainment Services as VP for Marketing. 

Whether it is the entertainment industry or any other sector, marketing techniques have drastically changed during the last five years. So, which are the best tricks to get everyone’s attention despite the cut-throat competition? How do leaders at Jio use social media to drive awareness about content on various platforms? We recently interacted with Karambir Singh Rai to find answers. Here is a look at some excerpts.

1. Marketing and content strategies have been swirling across, especially since 2010. How have you seen these aspects evolve?

The social media and content marketing boom did not exist in 2010. Twitter and Facebook were things that people across the length and breadth of India were hardly involved in. 

When I moved to Africa in January 2011, the marketing culture in Asia and Africa was almost similar. Make that big TVC, launch a print ad, then, ensure your ad appears on main TV channels and newspapers. If the radio is strong in a community or geography, use it. Lastly, put out a few billboards. That’s it, you are done with your marketing, and ready to move on to the next campaign. There were a lot of spillover factors. Moreover, consumers often did not react to a lot of stuff, and unfortunately, we could not monitor all that. 

Fast forward to 2023, and everything that we do is around Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Now, it is easy to reach a consumer's heart space. They react positively to content if it appeals to them in the general sphere of life. You get good and bad feedback immediately. 

The rise of influencers is remarkable. They are ruling the roost, as there is a semblance of authenticity. He or she is experiencing the product as a normal customer.

Besides, communication tools have become sharper. We can monitor the performance of every aspect of the marketing campaign. Overall, that’s the direction marketing and content strategies have moved in the last five years. 

Marketing is all about being at the right place, and giving people what they want at the right time, without them asking for it.

2. You have worked in India as well as other growing markets. What are the key differences when it comes to content consumption in African markets and India? 

India moved from the television screen to the computer screen and then to the mobile screen. On the other hand, Sub-Saharian Africa predominantly shifted from TV to mobile screens. 

Desktops and laptops were not popular in Sub-Saharan Africa. But the masses were quick to get their hands on a mobile phone when it was introduced. So, phones have become an important tool to engage with the population. 

India is the second youngest country in the world when it comes to population, while the youngest continent in the world is Africa. The younger population gravitates to newer ways of communication. 

Social networking sites are a huge game in Nigeria, Tanzania, and Kenya. Outrage on Twitter can result in waves that can make big heads roll. For example, Twitter users in Kenya made CNN executive vice president and managing director, Tony Maddox, apologize for a news story that referred to Nairobi as a hotbed of terrorism. The country faced a lesser number of terror attacks than Western Europe back then. So, how can it be tagged as a hotbed of terrorism? Twitter users highlighted stats supporting their argument. Thanks to the backlash, Maddox agreed that his newsroom made a bad choice of words while reporting on Obama’s visit to Nairobi. That’s the power and impact of social media in Africa. 

Africa is rising out of poverty, it is a vibrant continent, culture, and community. People often mistake Africa as a country rather than a continent. There are 54 cultures, and each one is very distinct. Internally, there are hundreds of tribes and ethnicities. Language is ever-changing and evolving. People are now getting a voice due to mobile and the internet. Individuals who did not have a say in life now have an active role to play. 

There is no talking down. Everyone's an expert. So, the tone of communication is a lot friendlier. Now, because of the trolling system, there is a little dent in how much the public is following celebrity culture. So, marketing has impacted and is evolving. 

Language is agnostic. It is the content that really matters.

3. What are the challenges and best practices when it comes to content ops from a marketing point of view? 

My organization has dedicated divisions for content programming, content ops, and marketing. I am the VP of the marketing division. So, I will share the marketing side perspective. 

Content ops is a tricky subject. Various aspects have to be deciphered and debated with broadcasters, celebrities, and other stakeholders. The conversation keeps on continuously evolving. 

If we are launching a new channel on a streaming platform, there is a large backend involved. We have technical teams, on-boarding teams, and experts catering to the legalities like how long we have access to the content, how much we can use it for, etc. 

Put simply, content ops structure in marketing includes human resources, technology, and processes. The area of operations plays a key role in fulfilling marketing objectives. The part of operations is exhaustive and big. There are full-grown departments and high-flying executives who spend their entire day performing associated tasks. 

4. When it comes to content ops, there is a qualitative portion and a quantitative part as well. Which are the biggest challenges while dealing with the qualitative aspects? 

Well, as mentioned earlier, my organization’s VP for content deals with the qualitative side. My job is to market it. 

Content partners or stakeholders approach me whenever they wish to market or promote their content on the platform. The first step for my team is to check if it is the sort of content that would impress my target audience. If it does, we have to craft it and make it even more appealing to the viewers. 

Further, depending on the ATL budget, we amplify or promote that content in the app on carousels so that it gets the best viewing. There are thousands of movies. Based on the viewing pattern, my team ensures you see the content that you are more likely to tap into. You would click on it and watch it completely or leave it after a few minutes. If it is the latter, our team knows the content is not appealing. The process is evolving. 

5. You have seen the industry move from the pre-Meta-Google era to the current AI for content age. If asked to create that perfect marketing/content stack relevant for today’s time, what would it consist of?

Well, first of all, the audience is ever-evolving. Therefore, I wouldn't want to go with a one size fits all approach. My idea of marketing is, I need to figure out what your interests are. Then, offer you something relevant, and at the right time.   

Secondly, content matters more than language today. I have to attract my audience’s attention to my product. 

We are the urban elite of India and speak English more than our native languages. We gravitate to content available in English or Hindi which is slightly urban. Regional content is being subtitled. So, it is not restricted within the boundaries of a state. 

I watched KGF, a South Indian movie, with subtitles. Everyone, including me, inside the theater enjoyed it thoroughly. Twenty years back, I would have never thought about going to a theater and watching a movie in the South Indian language. Why would I buy tickets to a film that I cannot relate to or can’t understand? Today, the audience is open to all the content. So, the regional content phenomenon is fading. 

Your marketing/content stack must consider the changing sensibilities of the audience. 

Let me elaborate with a simple example. After watching Avatar: The Way of Water, Indian audiences, even in interiors, expect far better visual effects in Indian movies. The movie was released in English, Hindi, and three South Indian languages. Now that they have tasted the best there is, Indian films that fail to add special effects at par with Avatar may not impress viewers.

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