There was a time when companies’ marketing efforts revolved around either talking about the product’s features and how it’s superior from a convenience/technology perspective or wooing customers with a discounted price. Then Google redefined the internet, giving companies a new and far broader avenue to market themselves to virtually the entire world. The technologically savvy brands naturally saw it as an opportunity to leverage the opportunity and thus began the hustle to get oneself ranked on top of the search engine results page.

New roles emerged, most notably the search engine optimisation (SEO) specialists. The best way to be on top of Google’s results page was obviously to create content that was relevant to a user’s query. So if you are a business news service and want more visitors to your website, which in turn obviously helps in getting more and higher-tariff advertisements, then it’d be worthwhile to focus on optimising keywords like ‘dollar rate’, ‘stock market’, ‘forex reserves’ and so on.

Healthtech Oladoc’s 2,000 subscribers on their Youtube channel at the beginning of 2020 have grown to almost 1.1 million now, with 40,000 coming in just the last 30 days

But somewhere along the lines, instead of content helping in bringing more business for the actual product/service, it became the product itself. Meaning many a startup started focusing more resources on developing content than actually refining their platform. Among the local startups, it’s common to see many doing content marketing long before their product is even remotely ready or commercial operations live.

It’s meant to be a transitional thing: create the right buzz to engage the audience, improve the reach and then cash in on them when the opportunity strikes. But often, it seems that the focus gets too bogged down into content and away from the product, especially if the former is bringing in some money while the latter’s income is far into the future.

For example, Patari — whose journey resembles that of a star musician fallen off grace and then trying to recover (Aashiqui 2’s storyline for my Bollywood people out there) — ventured into producing original content (which to be fair is the modus operandi of similar startups internationally too) long before it figured out how to monetise the product itself. In fact, the latter took more than three years to materialise. In the meanwhile, the startup was collecting cash from whatever source it could gather, i.e. YouTube or sponsorships from brands for organising concerts.

It was no exception. Quite a few other local tech players have taken the content route, which in turn can take various forms from running a blog to maintaining a YouTube channel. For example, Oladoc — a healthtech based out of Lahore that offers an online booking platform for consultation with doctors in addition to offering clinic management software — has been getting more active with its content.

“Product is obviously our first priority but we needed to create more brand awareness which brought us into producing regular content, which initially was in the form of just blogs before we started doing videos at the start of 2020.

This came amid the realisation that doctors like talking and doing interviews while customers also prefer visual media over text,” says Abid Zuberi, the CEO of Oladoc.

From just around 2,000 subscribers on their Youtube channel at the beginning of 2020, they have grown to almost 1.1 million now, with 40,000 coming in just the last 30 days according to Social Blade. The analytics website also puts their total views over the same period at 4.15m. All in all, Oladoc has over 1,000 videos and 250m minutes of content.

Yet, the entire initiative is being managed by just two people, says Mr Zuberi. “We have a very lean way of doing things and try to leverage our relationships with doctors, as some do the recordings themselves.” While the costs have been under control through this, the revenue has been healthy, falling within the very broad range of $1,000-16,500 a month according to Social Blade’s estimates.

“Though there is sizeable revenue coming in through this channel, it’s still a side product for us. The idea is to get more users onto the platform, which the videos have really helped with. In fact, roughly 105 of the total traffic on our portal comes from YouTube which translates into some 90,000 sessions.” The company continues to have a very active blog’s page on the website as well, which helps grab more eyeballs and rank better on Google’s search results.

Another tech player that has made quite a name for its content is PakWheels, the go-to platform for anything auto-sector related. Ever since the renewed activity in the automobile industry which has seen a wave of new models being launched, the company has positioned itself as the most active voice on all the developments. That includes not just providing news on the industry but also doing test drives.

The face of it all is Pakwheels CEO, Sunil Sarfaraz Munj, who can be seen doing car reviews in the most layperson style, which could perhaps be the reason for the traction they have amassed. Their Youtube subscribers stand at 1.27m with 8.2m videos views over the last 30 days. Social Blade again puts the estimated monthly earnings in the extremely broad range of $2,100-33,000.

However, the founder says the content side is a loss-making entity as the production costs plus the remuneration for the 20-member team well exceeds whatever dollars come their way. But instead of spending marketing budget on other platforms, Pakwheels prefers to do it in house. Their main revenue streams are the inspection services or the partnerships with banks for auto loans.

But despite most startups having a dedicated content team, often with the objective of increasing the reach, few are yielding similar results in terms of traffic (which however crude, is nonetheless a proxy).

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, July 19th, 2021

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