The Economist’s Mina Seetharaman has a message for brands: If you’re not solving a real problem for people, you shouldn’t create content.
“People tend to think about content marketing or branded content as longform advertising,” Seetharaman, the global managing director of marketing solutions, told me. “You really have to look from the outside in. What problem are you trying to help somebody solve and do you have a right to play? Do you have a real answer for that problem? If you can’t deliver on that promise, you have no right to play there for a brand.”
At the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity this summer, I sat down with Seetharaman to talk about the best B2B content brands, Snapchat vs. Instagram, and the vanity metrics to avoid. Check out the full interview below, which was created as part of our Accountable Innovation Series in partnership with Magnet Media, an industry-leading global strategic studio.
Joe Lazauskas: Welcome to Accountable Innovation at Cannes. I’m Joe Lazauskas, Contently’s editor-in-chief, and I am here with Mina Seetharaman, the head of global marketing solutions for The Economist, which is one of the more impressive job titles I’ve gotten to say this week. Thank you so much for joining us here in the Index Exchange Suite.
Mina Seetharaman: There are definitely worse places to be than here with this view, I’ve got to tell you.
Joe: I know, and we haven’t even gotten any frosé yet, which is going to be our treat for getting through this interview.
Mina: Alright, I’m looking forward to it.
Joe: So we’ve got you in the hot seat, ask some questions about content marketing, about where you see the industry going. Are you ready?
Joe: Alright. Who’s the best brand at creating content?
Mina: I work mostly with B2B brands. My two favorites are GE, not just because they were a client, but also because they’re willing to experiment on different platforms for lots of audiences and not afraid to just throw away things that don’t work and keep experimenting. And IBM because they have to traverse a lot of audiences at the C suite but also in the everyday population, and I think they do a good job of picking the right content for the right audience.
Joe: Two of my favorite too, GE Reports is incredible.
Mina: Yeah, that’s really good.
Joe: And still got to shout out my boy Tomas Kellner who runs that. Snapchat or Instagram?
Mina: I’m not terribly visual, I’m going to go with Snapchat, and I think it’s because a lot of publishers are doing interesting things on that platform. I think the key thing with any of the platforms is to figure out the best way to use your content and adapt it for that platform and really understanding it. And I think we’ve seen some great engagement with The Economist Discover.
Joe: What do you think is the key to creating branded content that actually maps back to delivering real business results and not just vanity metrics?
Mina: I think one of the big issues is that—and this is partly because we look at traditional metrics for a lot of things when we should maybe be thinking about the right way of measuring things—is people tend to think about content marketing or branded content as longform advertising. You really have to look from the outside in, so especially in the business space, what problem are you trying to help somebody solve and do you have a right to play? Do you have a real answer for that problem? If you can’t deliver on the promise that you’re making, you have no right to play there for a brand. I think that if you understand what your audience needs, promise them something that you can actually deliver on, and then really deliver it, I think you’ll see performance go up significantly.
Joe: And thinking about how you measure that impact, what are your three go-to marketing metrics?
Mina: So unfortunately, I think a lot of clients come to us wanting reach, and I always say that reach only matters if you’re reaching the right people and think of it as a really relative metric. If you have a very niche audience, you might not care about 100,000 views, and you might want the right 50 people to sign a one million dollar check. And then finally, am I helping to move the needle on some business metric. One of the trends that we’re seeing a lot at our panel this week, at Wake Up The Economist, is the idea that a CMO has to care about the business first and marketing second. And I think that we sometimes forget that in the marketing space. So remembering that we have to move the needle on the business is a key metric.
Joe: And now last question, hard-hitting one, we’ve got two days left here. What are the odds that we get a tweet from Trump about Cannes?
Mina: Unfortunately, I think they’re a lot higher than I would like, but I’m really hoping that that’s maybe around the 2 percent mark, but he’s surprised me before, so who knows what’ll happen.