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Outbrain’s Sandeep Balani on why the India market matters

Founded in 2006 to help audiences discover content they can trust to be interesting, relevant and timely, Outbrain’s first publisher partners included titles like Daily Hunt, Indian Express, Money Control, Business Standard and BW Businessworld.

In the age of data transformation and artificial intelligence, performance marketers have been able to obtain valuable insights into the success of their brand campaigns, which has helped with optimization. To equip the next generation of marketers with the tools, insights and best practices they need to drive results, Outbrain launched its own certification course in 2016. Following a roll-out in parts of the world, Outbrain Performance Academy debuted in India last year.

This, according to Sandeep Balani, Head, Outbrain (India) and Harish Iyer, VP of Media Planning & Buying, Interactive Avenues, is aimed at helping media planners maximize ROI on digital spends in advertising, especially for video content. In an interview with Digital Market Asia, they delve further into the concept of relevant, performance-driven advertising in India.

How important is discovery as a medium for marketers? What are the tools that Outbrain has launched in the market in order to gain in-depth analysis of a user?

Sandeep Balani:

It is not just content, but discovery as a segment overall, is growing quite rapidly. The entire phenomena revolves around India’s inclination towards digital as internet penetration grows, and people are more engaged with the content they consume online. Essentially, consumers are taking on a broader set of online activities, which is growing the Discovery segment.

Being in the Age of Discovery means that it is not uncommon for the consumer to know as much about a specific product or service as the company does, and they often come ready to make a decision and fulfil a need. Our interest targeting capabilities enables marketers to reach their most valuable users – those who are mostly likely to take action, efficiently and at scale, by putting the power of discovery in their hands. We’re talking about matching audiences interested in reading an article on mutual funds, with content in other desired categories beyond finance. The discovery experience is not limited to articles and whitepapers, but can take many forms beyond content.

We are all about performance and optimization, which is why the tools that we provide are for agencies keen to drive results for their clients. We have now come up with multi parametric pixels where marketers can capture multiple matrix in the same pixel i.e. the javascript code, for a client. It can be a click to view, transaction or lead they want to capture and that is very important for agencies to have a technology that can track the overall journey of a user – from first click to the final transaction.

How does Outbrain strategize its plans especially during the times where media planning has become less differentiated?

Sandeep Balani:

We work with a lot of premium brands in the publisher space so there is a clear differentiation. But our underlying strategy is consistent; it continues to be about the quality of content we serve. We have content guidelines that agencies follow and what differentiates us from others is the quality monitoring that we do. Very often, campaigns are not monitored and publishers then face the problem of users getting hindered. Quality content is a core part of our strategy because we see the value in reaching a specific, highly qualified audience and hence improvise over the agency’s decisions to publish the right kind of content to generate awareness through our platform.

Where would you see content discovery in the industry after 5 years?

Sandeep Balani:

We are seeing phenomenal headway in videos, and expect this to fuel growth for Outbrain in India. As we innovate our platforms with transformative technologies, we have come up with auto-play video, city targeting options, and endless feeds of content discovery. Lookalike audiences are also available on the dashboard, which gives agencies a lot more tools to play around with to give more value to the clients. Our main goal is to empower agencies and educate them about our platform because they are the experts of what the client should be spending on.

Harish Iyer:

Harish Iyer

If we combine all the mediums in India, the overall advertising expenditure right now stands at 56,000 crores INR – out of which digital is around 11,400 crores INR. If you see the shift in digital in the last 3 years, it has moved rapidly from 5000 crores to 11,400 crores. Meanwhile, in the coming years, the growth from traditional media like print, television, radio etc. will see single-digit growth whereas digital is likely to grow at double digits. With cheaper data, Jio & free WiFi coming into play, rural markets is the next leap in terms of where we will see new internet users Right now, we are looking at 460 million internet users growing to 800 million users by the year 2022. This may sound promising, but we also need to keep in mind that these users will come primarily from the rural sector, which is a priority for some brands – such as those in the FMCG space, more so than others

What are the key trends that would define digital advertising in the coming years?

Harish Iyer:

We have been talking about programmatic advertising for a long time coming, but this year is likely to see the space being disrupted to a large extent. In 2017, programmatic was just 10 per cent of the entire digital advertising market in India, but this year we will see a lot of data players coming into play, and the kind of data they bring having multiple cuts. As a result, existing players in India have stayed ahead of the curve by integrating their products, and experimenting on using data better.

At the same time you have content discovery platforms where a lot of useful data is being accumulated, all in the pursuit of providing better content for consumers. There is a lot of data that has come into the picture, which is where programmatic is going to shift towards in the coming years. Video advertising is also going to evolve at a different scale because users have now shifted from television subscription to online channels and OTT platforms, coupled with an increase in subscriptions.

Sandeep Balani:

Network providers have played a crucial role in the digital advertising space, simply because India is a huge market and everyone wants to capture the market. Browsers are also getting segmented; Opera and U.C. have been growing and we’re likely to observe the same trend for the rest of this year. We will also see an interesting trend with aggregators; app aggregators in particular, have betted big on India because of the sheer amount of content here. This is good news for advertisers because in a bidding model, rates come down, which drives huge investment returns on the platform.