Shantesh Row on why influencer for a brand is the brand itself
Shantesh S. Row, the Chief Creative Officer of Slant Agency in Dubai, boldly refers to himself as a creative animal after spending 25 years working with 500+ businesses. He insists that engaging stories are what draw audiences. And one shouldn't be afraid to narrate tales in the manner of a grandma, tailoring them to suit Gen-D or Digital Generation.
While doing so, Row, in his candid conversation with Archana Mishra, explains how brands will have to realize the value of building a personal brand. Particularly in the post-pandemic period when brand reliability will be necessary. Plus, he throws light on why influencer marketing will continuously grow and expand amid the evolving marketing landscape.
A Chief Creative Officer, wow! What does a day in the life of a CCO look like?
Generally, a long day for me since I also run my own agency. Usually, my day is all about meeting clients (zoom, wherever possible), taking briefs, gleaning through them, working closely with my creative team to ensure all deliverables and making time for many coffee breaks! I'm hands-on through every aspect since business targets also loom on my head. But creative and copywriting is still where my heart lies, so I do spend most of my time in that role.
From working with some leading agencies in Dubai to now managing your own! And with 500+ brands and 25 years of experience under your belt, according to you, what has been consistent in content marketing and copywriting, and what has changed the most in these years?
The art of storytelling has, and perhaps, will never change. Copywriting is about addressing an emotion of a consumer to make him or she aspire for a brand. The basic emotions – love, fear, caring, dreams, etc. – will always be based on human truths or insights, so that's what will remain consistent.
What has changed is the media landscape. Print is decaying, TV will stay, and radio is declining. But social/digital media is where the shift is. And this is where copy and content have to be crafted to suit this Gen-D (Digital Generation). So content has to be more engaging and visual/video-led, and snackable.
Rightly said, digital media is overtaking traditional media. But are you seeing any top trends and innovations that are likely to make a big impact in the consumer marketing space?
Brand relatability will be paramount in these post-pandemic times. Emotions of 'joy' and 'community' will be crucial for all brands. Cause-based marketing or CSR will be a huge trend, with more brands looking to societal 'purpose' – being more humankind – with people, planet and purpose overriding profits.
Media-wise, the shift will continue towards Influencer Marketing, which will accelerate, but the authenticity of influencers will matter even more. Short-form video content will continue to trend – TikTok, Instagram Reels, Snapchat, etc. And then, of course, there's the Metaverse, which though nascent still, looks to be the big card for the future.
Amid the ongoing changes in marketing, what advice would you give to B2C/D2C marketers of today when they approach their campaign strategy?
Well, the consumer will and should always be at the core. Storytelling is key. A good story, told well, in the right channels, will always be a winner. Also, B2C/D2C will need to define their marketing strategies sharply. If the objective is customer acquisition, SEO and PPC will be a good bet for ROI.
Social media will always be a powerful tool, but brands will need to harness their potential of being a 'personal brand' just as individuals are doing these days. Less stuffy corporate to be replaced by warm, personable conversations. Viral marketing strategies that seed stories via user-generated content are a good way to increase engagement.
Since building upon personal branding is the next big thing for businesses, are there any specific brands that come to your mind and have made you say, "what a great way to market to consumers"?
I do have 5 brands in mind that I admire in the way they are marketing their stories to consumers. The first is Dove, which has done something amazing lately with its 'Reverse Selfie' campaign. I admire Spotify for the way they have integrated music into everyday slice-of-life situations. What VICE has done with their 'Unfiltered History Tour' British Museum campaign (a feather in the cap for India at Cannes Lions 2022) is just amazing.
Duolingo's TikTok campaign focused on Duo the Owl and his love for Dua Lipa (besides other celebs) has been super enjoyable and effective. And lastly, I am a great fan of what Zomato is doing in India, some delicious work!
You work with big players, and we know it takes a lot to create a successful campaign. To ease your task a bit, what are the 3 (or more) best content tools you currently use that you would urge other content marketers to use?
This depends on what marketing you need your content to achieve. There are various tools for content management, content collaboration, digital analytics, email marketing, project management, CRM, AI, advocacy, content analytics, content experience, influencer marketing, content optimization, online advertising, desktop publishing, etc.
But again, since I speak more from a content creation perspective, I will list the tools that most content creators need to work with. Such as Canva, Crello, Prezi, CapCut, etc. I'm still an Adobe creature – give me my old Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, Lightroom and Premiere any day of the week. And yes, using LinkedIn is the best place to market yourself and your content these days.
You mentioned how the shift will be towards influencer marketing — an industry that has grown from an ancillary marketing tactic to a $5-10 billion dollar industry. What is your take on the influencer marketing space and any trends you see picking up?
Here to stay. Here to grow. The trends I see are that preferred creators (influencers who share content and are popular across multiple social platforms) will be the kings and queens.
I see live shopping done by Influencers being key. There will be a move to having more authenticity from Influencers (and not just big names for namesake) with their connection with the brands seeming to be more real.
Nano and micro-influencers will be in greater demand as brands will move to broaden their budget pie. Most importantly, I see brands encouraging another breed of Influencers – their employees – after all, who better to be a spokesperson for a brand than people who bring the brand to consumers?
As influencer marketing will hold the market, what does the future look like to you?
I truly believe that every brand will need to move into the personal brand territory. So in effect, the main influencer for a brand would be the brand itself. The future lies in ongoing partnerships between brands and influencers rather than one-off projects. This will ensure deeper, richer and more meaningful engagement across the board.