For the next installment of our Journalist One-On-One series, we are thrilled to speak Kavi Guppta, who writes for Forbes and Contently’s The Content Strategist (where he runs a #modernmarketing podcast in addition to writing). Kavi is, in our humble opinion, one of the smartest reporters when it comes to all things marketing and technology. This is a One-On-One you won’t want to miss.
In your Forbes column, you write about 'technology's impact on business and culture.' You have an extensive background in social media marketing, including strategy and content creation. It's easy to see how social media has impacted our culture at large. In your time, what's the single most way social media has impacted business?
Social media, and digital mediums in general, have completely flipped the notion of businesses and brands creating trends. All culture is now created by the audience and it’s incredible because brands are struggling to catch up.
We’ve left the Mad Men era where what was cool or hip could be dictated in a top-down approach.
What you’re seeing now is this constant remix of culture through video, image, and text content taking place and audiences are at the steering wheel. Social networks are the playground by which regular people decide what’s funny, what’s worth caring about, and how the rest of the world should see that information.
2. Earlier this year, you launched a great podcast series with Contently called #ModernMarketing. Here, you inquire with various industry leaders about the future of marketing and advertising. In your estimation, what are the top one or two things that will shape and define marketing over the next 5 - 10 years?
The first one will be relevance, and that goes back to my answer above. Marketers really are struggling with how to remain relevant (not only among competitors, but with audiences). How do marketers connect with customers through the interactions they want to be communicated through? How do marketers connect in a human way? How do marketers adapt to what customers want, and create an experience that isn’t such a hard sell?
The second one will be metrics. We haven’t completely figured out how to measure and be held accountable for our efforts. This is the first time in decades that the industry has truly been faced with the challenge of measurement. Technology has made tracking incredibly detailed, but marketers were super slow in adopting the software and taking advantage of what the data was telling them.
There won’t be a silver bullet that nails a standard for the industry in either of these areas. But relevance and metrics will force marketers to reinvent their approach to the concepts more frequently.
3. The lines between content marketing and native advertising are easily blurred. What must brands who are creating content and consumers who are reading content do to properly distinguish between the two?
Advertising is not content. Ads explicitly sell something. Content is the experience around the ad, and it doesn’t spend all of its time selling something.
Audiences know the difference--it’s why they’re tuning out of advertising experiences disguised as content. It’s marketers that have to be reminded of that distinction frequently because of the bubble they live in.
4. At what point did you become interested in moving from writing content and running the social strategies for various brands to writing about the larger marketing space from an editorial perspective?
I’ve wanted to seriously be a writer since high school. The marketing experience was just the pathway I chose to realize that dream. Although I spent my days communicating to clients and audiences through presentations and campaigns, writing was at the core of everything I did.
Despite the long hours I still made time to keep a blog and write regularly even though nobody noticed or that the thoughts weren’t fully formed. My editor at Forbes, Bruce Upbin stumbled upon my writing one day and kicked off a career pivot where I was able to really just focus on my writing. It also helped that I quit the industry, sold everything, and decided to travel and work at the same time as a digital nomad.
5. You have lived all over the world and are currently in Perth, Australia. From your perspective, are the marketing and media sectors (and consumer attitudes) in the APAC region widely different than in N. America?
I’m actually in Pondicherry, India right now -- deep in the south of the country.
And yes, APAC is WIDELY different. So different. Extremely different.
The region is modernizing rapidly, and of course APAC has the West as a reference for what their future can look like, but even their comprehension and imitation of the West is vastly different and routed in very different habits.
Technology out here is helping the region elevate its standards to meet very basic human needs. We have a tendency to take advantage of the tech services we enjoy; we just expect them to work. In a region like Asia, there are hundreds of millions of people who have just been introduced to new technology and it has profoundly changed the way they live. I wrote about it with my friend Anjali Ramachandran in our ebook Disruption in the Developing World.
The way companies market in these regions are really interesting. India for example is a very consumerist culture, and they’re a very ad driven culture. Ads drive a majority of the digital interactions people encounter out here: free wifi? Watch an ad. Coupons for ecommerce? Here’s an ad. There’s a currency that the culture here values where time in exchange for something useful is worthwhile.
6. Where do you get most of the ideas for your stories and content - be it for Forbes or your podcast? PR folks? Direct from brands and entrepreneurs? What in your mind makes for an irresistible story?
A lot of my ideas come from reading and real-life moments. I keep an ongoing list of article ideas in Trello that come to me on my travels, while I’m trying to fall asleep, or while I’m eating. I’ll iterate on those ideas over and over again until I think I have a sound concept that will resonate.
There are a handful of really good, timely PR folks who pitch me with really good article ideas (shout out to Peter Moran -- you’re one of them). I’m not on some mass list for those folks, and they always approach me with well thought out concepts to consider.
Endless reading is really my main source of inspiration. I read everything, even if it’s subject matter I don’t understand. The key is to find something useful in everything and apply it to your own life.
At the end of the day, I pump out good stories and I pump out a lot of terrible ones, too. The best ones are useful to my readers and share explicit takeaways that can help them in a problem they are trying to solve. I will admit I’m still figuring that one out. It’s a process.
7. Technology has of course improved the way we consume media (faster, broader access to information) but also has negative aspects (too much info, a lot of garbage/clickbait). How do you strike a balance and keep from becoming overwhelmed?
Curation is really transforming the way media organizes information, and the way audiences choose to consume information. I recently recorded a podcast episode on the concept.
We’re seeing this fascinating intersection of software and human interaction that is reshaping what’s important to audiences. Media is getting smarter in how that information is delivered: personalized email newsletters; quick mobile updates; social media feeds.
Garbage content and click bait tactics have been a part of media since the invention of newspapers. Tabloids practically introduced the concept. Garbage will always exist, but how that garbage is packaged and presented to people is what changes the context of how the information will be consumed. There’s plenty of garbage content out there that does a better job of attracting audiences than heavy weight, prestigious brands like the New York Times.
8. As far as personal media consumption, what are your 'must-read news sites or 'must-watch' shows every day?
I don’t watch TV (not out of some puritan value -- I just don’t have one). I really only watch TV in hotel rooms. When you don’t understand a language I just gravitate to whatever MTV region I’m in.
Documentaries on YouTube are fantastic. Right now I’m watching a three part series on Napoleon Bonaparte.
I don’t have a set-in-stone list of must read sites. I do have must read curators who inform my work every day. I’ve talked about a few of the email newsletters I love. I’ve also shared Twitter profiles that teach me something new everyday, and Twitter profiles that curate the best business information.
Curation just works better for me than visiting a set list of sites. It keeps my feed fresh with perspectives gathered from across the web.
9. Just for fun: You've lived and worked in many places around the world. What destination is currently number one on your travel bucket list?
Japan! Haven’t been there yet, but I’m absolutely in love with the culture and the history. 2016 looks promising for a visit.