Zaheer Nooruddin: Storytelling Will Lead Branding in 2014


Zaheer Nooruddin, VP and Head of Studio D

Zaheer Nooruddin, the VP and head of Studio D, Waggener Edstrom Worldwide’s digital operations in Asia Pacific is responsible for leading and expanding the agency’s digital business across the region. Earlier, Zaheer was serving as APAC regional lead digital strategist at Burson-Marsteller.

Zaheer has co-authored the bestseller The Social Media MBA, as well as numerous digital white papers and thought-leadership articles on the emerging trends of mobile, social, and analytics in marketing and communications across Asia Pacific. In the past, Zaheer has served as the head of Edelman Digital for China at Edelman Public Relations and worked with top digital marketing services agencies, including Ogilvy One in China, Proximity Worldwide/BBDO in Dubai, and Wunderman.

In an exclusive interview with Image Management, Zaheer highlights the importance and potential of content marketing in brand building and expansion. Waggener Edstrom recently released a proprietary research “Content Matters: The Impact of Brand Storytelling in 2014.” The report too reveals the relationship between brand storytelling and key consumer behaviours such as brand advocacy, spending, and engagement in India and nine other Asian markets.


Q. ‘Content Matters’ talks highly of ROI from content marketing. How’s been your personal experience with the same and what’s the future of content marketing as a business?

‘Content Matters’ is a primary research study that provides insights to brand marketers and corporate communicators about what consumers think. It also sheds new light about how ROI can be defined by organizations – taking a wider view of ROI than just the more established, narrow definition that only takes into account conversion metrics to show financial value. My own personal experience has been very positive too – content as a means of communication is the most power tool for personal profiling and brand-building. The future of content marketing as a business is as a key component of the integrated marketing-communications mix. It is here to stay and its strategic importance for brands is set to grow in the future as consumers and technology get even more discerning and sophisticated.


Q. With the kind of promising results as cited in the report, how much has content marketing started eating into the conventional advertising’ market share? How do you see this trend continuing?

I don’t see content marketing as a threat to conventional advertising’s market share – as advertising is a different marketing strategy, for different objectives, and with different outcomes. I do think that brand and product marketers will at some point re-evaluate the effectiveness of conventional advertising and the budgets invested versus strategic long-term returns with other storytelling options now in play with the rise of digital platforms, but this assessment and reprioritization will happen at different paces for different brands and organizations.


Q. Your report is an Asia-focused study but what’s your take on the scenario beyond Asia Pacific? Do you think that the Asian agencies are leading the bandwagon?

Our report is focused on Asia-Pacific markets. Results and findings will of course be different for each region and within each market in every region. Localizing context around the value of content for businesses and consumers is very important. Content and brand storytelling appear to be important universally. I think communications is transforming, bring many new opportunities to brands. There are many agencies in different places that are going good things and it isn’t geography-specific.


Q. Do the existing agencies have adequate expertise and bandwidth to handle content marketing or do you think there is a need of totally different units with a fresh structure to handle it?

I think that existing agencies in certain cases have adequate expertise and bandwidth, but in other cases, require to invest in new expertise across content marketing – from planning to management to development to measurement and analytics. Each agency will have different priorities and not every agency needs to specialize in content marketing, but for Waggener Edstrom Communications it is definitely a huge priority and we feel well-positioned in terms of expertise and priorities to take on supporting organizations in various ways with this important long-term strategy that creates immense sustainable ROI.


Q. What are the challenges for content marketing on the outset and anything specific as far as Indian market is concerned?

The main challenge for organizations in India is to create great, compelling content that creates value for customers and audiences, and to stay away from the temptation of churning out low quality, promotion-driven content that adds not value and creates little ROI. Another challenge is how content travels in India – with 3G still not having taken off in the market with the mass market, there are real limitations on how marketers and communicators can create rich content that creates more compelling brand and customer experiences. This is changing quickly though so I think there are less challenges than there are opportunities for companies in India.


Q. Which sectors are knowingly riding and harnessing the best out of content engagement and which ones of the lot are yet to catch-up? Any market leaders you would like to mention?

We see multiple sectors that are taking on content marketing and multi-channel storytelling as a strategic imperative, across B2B and B2C sectors. No sector has been left out but I do think that certain brands in particular sectors have catching up to do. This is still an early stage of the discipline’s maturity so brands are experimenting and trying new things – which is great. Innovation is key in this space.


Q. According to you, what are the unique findings in the study as far as India is concerned and what’s the takeaway for Indian planners?

Consumers across India who are connected are extremely engaged. They are far ahead of most brands and organizations in terms of wanting value from brand storytelling. I think the key takeaway for planners in India is not to underestimate the savviness of consumers in India and not to short-sell brands with the stories they tell, and how they tell them.


Q. Integration has become a little bit of a buzzword in the industry. What challenges do you think organizations can face when integrating content marketing into their traditional sales, marketing, branding, and social efforts?

Yes – integrating communications, public relations, marketing, customer service and sales is by far the biggest challenge for companies, not just in India, but in most markets. Organizations have not been traditionally designed to collaborate internally and to have a unified vision around outcomes. Siloes need to continue to be broken down, CMOs need to be empowered more – and organizations need to become social, empowering their people to work together and do the right thing for the customer. This is easier said than done, especially at large organizations, which is where trainings, and corporate culture and values come into play. The C-suite in India must understand the importance of integration across functions for their businesses and pass this mantra down authentically through their organizations – taking a broader view of how value is created and the meaning of marketing and communications ROI.


Interviewed by Lovejeet Alexander for Image Management

One thought on “Zaheer Nooruddin: Storytelling Will Lead Branding in 2014

  1. Absolutely, when content is rapidly becoming the King, its obvious. All your points are perfectly valid and very every useful..

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