Outbrain has emerged as one of the premier content discovery platforms in the world. Recently, the company tied up with Indian’s third largest publisher, India.com in a multi-year partnership. Gulshan Verma, GM (India and SAE) at Outbrain, tells us that the platform serves more than 200 billion content recommendations each month to users in over 150 countries. He also shares insights on the company’s future plans and how India fits into this strategy. Excerpts.
How important is the Indian market for Outbrain in the overall strategic roadmap?
India is one of Outbrain’s strategic markets. According to ComScore, in April 2015 we reached nearly 26 million unique visitors on desktop (and far more on mobile) and we can count within our network 7 of the top 10 English language publishers in India.
We have spent the past 3 years on the ground in Asia building the largest network of premium sites for content discovery. In India we’ve been constantly growing our publisher network and this further extends the content marketing opportunity for brands in this market. A growing network that today extends across all major verticals - news, lifestyle, finance, youth, just to name a few.
What has been the experience working in India? What are the unique challenges and opportunities in the country?
One of the opportunities we’ve certainly seen in India lies with the growth of Mobile: nearly half of our network’s recommendations in India come via mobile or tablets, so we obviously put a lot of effort into developing our mobile offering: the device or the platform on which the user is on forms a very important part on determining which form of content to use.
Outbrain can integrate recommendations within publishers’ mobile sites or apps through our SDK, while publishers have a wide variety of options and flexibility in terms of how the content is recommended across different formats, platforms and so on.
Mobile marketing campaigns are reaching a growing audience as mobile consumption is only increasing. With little reason to project a downturn in this trend, publishers who grasp the need to adapt will be far ahead of the competition in the near future.
We recently published our Content Consumption Trends Report, which clearly shows how content consumption on mobile devices is growing, particularly in India.
Can you give us an idea of the publishers you are working with in India?
As I mentioned earlier, our publisher network currently spans across all major verticals - news, lifestyle, finance, youth, sports, travel, technology, and more.
Recently, we also announced a multi-year partnership with India’s third largest online publisher, India.com. Through this partnership, India.com will be implementing the Outbrain offering across all its properties, including Zeenews.com, dnaindia.com, Bollywoodlife.com, Cricketcountry.com, OnCars.in, Prepsure.com,BGR.in, Careerfundas.com, TheHealthSite.com, Travel.india.com and Video.india.com.
Premium publishers like Times of India and The Hindu have been long-term partners of Outbrain. Other publisher names that have recently joined the Outbrain network in India include, Indian Express, ABP Live, Financial Express, MTV India, ScoopWhoop, Sanjeev Kapoor, StoryPick, MissMalini, fossBytes and Network18, amongst others.
What is the business objective for India in the coming year?
Our plan is to continue to grow and expand our partnerships with premium publishers in India across not only the news genre, but into finance, lifestyle, youth, automotive and other categories. For publishers we intend to roll out more and more new tools and leverage our analytics and insight capabilities to help them personalise both their content and content recommendations.
For marketers we are very focused on helping them develop and build a comprehensive and insight lead approach to digital content—one that allows them to measure their returns from content marketing. As an example, we work with many brands to help them better understand how users are interacting with content in a specific category or identify trending news stories in a category they wish to be relevant in.
What are the content consumption trends you are seeing in India?
Earlier this year, we released a comprehensive report analyzing the key digital content consumption trends in India and comparing those to some of the key mature markets like Singapore, Japan, Australia, US& UK.
It was fascinating as we identified some really interesting trends for content consumption in India. For example, when looking at engagement on mobile devices, we found that India is the most engaged market on tablet, overtaking even the U.S., and it’s also one of the most engaged markets for consumption on smartphones, second only to Japan.
We were also able to analyze consumption patterns throughout the day and identify peak consumption time in India across various platforms, and saw that in India online consumption peaks at 2 pm on desktop and at 10 pm on smartphones and tablets.
What are the most interesting trends you’ve seen recently regarding content distribution/consumption? Are content consumption trends similar in India and other geographies?
It’s interesting to notice that there are both similarities and differences in terms of how, where and when content is consumed in India compared to other major markets globally.
For example, we observed that particularly in markets like India and Malaysia, and, in general, in all fast-growth markets, Android is now in a truly dominant and almost unchallengeable position, probably due to its more affordable pricepoint and its availability on a much wider range of models. Nevertheless, iOS still enjoys its best engagement rates in a number of key, mature markets such as Australia, Japan, the UK and U.S.
In your opinion, do brands have the right approach towards content strategy? Is there any scope for improvement?
Content marketing is in its very early stages in India. Brands have just begun to explore the content marketing arena and are trying to understand who are the key players they should be working with. Marketers need to identify the right target audience and strategy and then choose the right partners to execute on that strategy.
Another challenge is that many people think of content marketing as consisting of two key parts: strategy and creation. I would argue that content marketing actually comprises three parts: strategy, creation, amplification. And by amplification, I don’t mean distribution via social media channels only. With so much content out there these days, creating great content is really only half the battle. Getting your content amplified and discovered by the right people at the right time is becoming just as, if not more important. Once brands realize this, evolution will be just around the corner.
How does the Outbrain platform function? What is the reach that Outbrain provides a publisher?
The Outbrain platform comes with a solution for businesses & brands called Amplify, and a solution for publishers & media companies called Engage.
With Outbrain Amplify, links to branded content appear as recommendations on the web's largest content publishers including sites like CNN.com, ESPN, India.com, Times of India, etc.
As for publishers, with Engage we provide the best in class integrated solution to personalize content. Outbrain has established itself as a strategic partner with many of the world’s leading publishing and media organizations. As we have advanced our discovery product to become a highly sophisticated content discovery ‘platform’ we have also increased our touch-points within our partner organizations to include the commercial organization, newsroom, editorial teams, product teams and now sales.
Fundamentally, we are seen as a strategic partner that can match our partner’s global footprints and growth momentum, can be trusted with their brand equity, provide a growing monetization stream for them and in many instances are baked into the very foundation of their design.
What are your strategic objectives for the future?
Over the years we have developed our offering and evolved from being a widget at the bottom of the page driving revenue streams, to an end-to-end platform serving multiple stakeholders within the publisher’s organization.
On the publisher’s side of our business, the main objective is to continue to improve our platform, which empowers editors to program the ‘what’s next’ moment on home pages and articles. Business and commercial teams use Outbrain to engage audiences and hit business KPI’s, while product teams use Outbrain to manipulate the page layout and create a more personalised reader’s experience on desktop, tablet, mobile sites and apps. We enable publishers to truly capture the opportunity of content discovery, on desktop and on mobile devices alike by working with the entire organisation.
The response we have so far received from Indian, as well as global publishers is very encouraging.
Could you give us an idea of the revenue model for Outbrain?
Outbrain serves more than 200 billion content recommendations each month to users in over 150 countries. For the most simple implementation our revenue model is quite straightforward: brands who want to get their content recommended through Outbrain are charged on a CPC (cost-per-click) basis whenever readers click on their content. Outbrain then shares part of the revenue generated with the publisher.
Native advertising is becoming more and more popular on digital platforms. How are you gearing to take advantage of this trend?
You are right. Native Advertising is one of the most promising areas for publishers to monetize while not disrupting the user experience. However, typically we found that publishers faced many roadblocks while trying to implement such a solution. Firstly, they had to pay separately for yet another platform, which did not always integrate well with their ad server and was complicated to use. Secondly, while the publisher sales force was transitioning to selling this native format, the publisher did not see the monetisation from native.
We recently launched a new product called Native In-Feed, which allows publishers for the first time to use the Outbrain platform to serve native (in-stream) advertising. This means that Outbrain partners can sell their own campaigns and use the Outbrain user interface and tools to deliver these campaigns to their audiences quickly and simply. If the publisher does not have the relevant demand, Outbrain will then monetize those impressions and share the revenue with the publisher.
This new tool leverages Outbrain’s growing pool of data about online user behavior, including more than half a billion unique visitors across the globe. Native In-Feed is built on top of Outbrain’s existing proprietary technology and enables publishers to easily set-up and deliver native ad campaigns, relying on Outbrain’s premium network to fill unsold inventory. The solution works with all content types (articles, videos, etc) and delivers the content seamlessly across all platforms: mobile, tablet and desktop.