Is e-commerce redefining PR content strategies?

In February, this year, Flipkart used it’s platform ‘Stories by Flipkart’, to announce that Binny Bansal will be replacing co-founder Sachin Bansal as CEO of Flipkart.

This immediately focused attention on the ‘Stories by Flipkart’ portal that carries a mix of customer and seller stories mixed with company news; all done in an editorial rather than PR style.

While companies have often toyed with the idea of ‘brand journalism’, this is one of the first full fledged attempts to offer complete content to the audience bypassing media outlets.

E-commerce is emerging as a defining trend for content in India.

E-commerce driving content boom

The e-commerce boom is driving innovative content strategies-forcing a relook at how to use content and are taking an editorial approach.

According to Sandeep Balani, director, business development with content discovery platform Outbrain, “All the e-commerce sites are focusing on writing. At the same time today’s users are quite clear that they go to coupon sites looking for discounts.”

Sites such as are creating highly focused content for the young mother, including a magazine called ‘world of MOMS’.

All of this content is designed with a key aim: how to aid a purchase decision.

Poonam Thakur, head, PR and corporate communications at hotel aggregator OYO Rooms, says that, “Content for web-consumers is mostly thought of as a top-of-the-funnel layer. Thus content-marketers cater to customers at the “research” stage of their purchase because they have the maximum intent and time to browse. So whether it is an Online Travel Agency or an FMCG company, a lot of focus is put towards creating and disseminating content about factors that should go into the purchase decision, choices available, and best deals.”

Giving the example of OYO room, Poonam says, “A travel brand will typically focus on top destinations, best time to visit a destination and must-do activities when there. Besides the stage of the consumer’s journey, brands also take the platform of delivery into account when serving content. It is important to keep the content topical, informative and relevant.”

Rohit Panchal who works with a financial services firm agrees that, “Consumers find favour with content that focuses on utility, where there is a clear takeaway. For example, the Ping Network that focuses on channel based content.“

Content Marketing

Sandeep Balani points out that that content marketing also needs to grow better in the Indian market. He gives the example of P&G which is focusing its attention on sampling.  In 2014, P&G said that only 5% of their sales come from e-commerce sites, whereas 50 % is coming from online search and marketing. This led Proctor & Gamble to focus greater marketing resources towards product sampling. Naturally content tied to this will grow.

Companies like Outbrain are also offering solutions that would help publishers to track the revenue yields on a piece of content though a measure called ‘Outbrain Automatic Yield’; an offering Time Inc. has signed up with.  

Should In-house outsource PR and marketing content

Poonam believes that, “Unless I work for a content shop myself, my vote goes to an external agency with the creative capacity to churn high-quality content. Agencies bring specialized skills and expertise which can be difficult to replicate in-house. There is likely to be a longer turn-around and some additional effort in getting them on-board with client philosophies…but we live in an era when it takes seconds for customers to discover and access the best and most relevant content – it would be foolish to compromise quality for the principle of proximity to brand vision or business objectives.”

Rohit however does not agree with this saying, “Content should be created in-house to keep a tight control on the message and the objective.”

Has PR missed the content boat?

Poonam feels that it’s a misperception that PR is not focusing on content. She says, “Advertisers and publishers churn out the most visible content simply because of the nature of duties (paid, brand endorsements, brand-mentions) whereas PR agencies do more of the below-the-line work which is not as apparent in terms of linkage. PR professionals are still called to the table any time content is discussed because they manage a large part of the brand’s public perception. I don’t think they will be out of the game any time soon, but they need to constantly upskill themselves and stay abreast with the latest trends.”

PR professionals will not only need to create quality content but also be on top of content marketing techniques. The content pie is up for grabs and PR pros are best equipped to tell an engaging brand story.

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