Karl Multer: Content marketing is so efficient that traditional advertising has almost disappeared

Interview with Karl Multer, Head of Marketing and Communication at SEB Baltics. Karl is a speaker at Balticbest conference in Jurmala, Latvia on August 23-24, 2016.

In 2014, at the first Balticbest festival you were one of the panelists discussing the differences and similarities of the three Baltic markets. If you look back now – do you feel that the differences between Baltic countries have increased or decreased? 

Within our SEB team, we have definitely become more similar – in terms of the whole work culture and processes. Each country, of course, still has its peculiarities, but in general we are more similar now than a few years ago. And if we look at the broader picture of international trends, these are also similar in all three Baltic countries. What is big in Estonia is also big in Latvia and Lithuania.  

Certain differences of course remain and these must be respected. If we compare the Baltic states, Lithuania and Estonia are most different from each other and Latvia is somewhere in between. A recent study showed how the three countries relate to each other and who follows whom. It appeared that Lithuanians follow both Latvians and Estonians, Latvians keep an eye on Estonians and Estonians aren’t following anyone (maybe Finland). We also had an interesting experience with our Christmas campaign in which we enabled people from all three Baltic capitals to send out video greetings to our Baltic neighbours. In Lithuania this campaign was a big hit, but in Estonia people didn’t quite get it and wondered why should they send a video greeting to some random Lithuanian. 

But in general, I believe we are all still globalizing more and more and thus constantly become more similar. The world is getting smaller and each next generation is more what we call the citizens of the world.  

A couple of years ago you were really into the idea of content marketing and predicted that the campaign-based marketing will soon be replaced by constant content creation. And in SEB you’ve been very active in doing so. If you look back today, how has it gone for you? Was the content marketing road the right decision for SEB?  

Yes, we did manage to push this new content marketing based approach through. And for now, I am really surprised and impressed by the magnitude of the whole thing. In the top month we’ve had more than half million unique visits from all three countries. In Estonia, we have more monthly readers than the biggest Estonian county newspaper Pärnu Postimees, and Delfi, the biggest news portal in Estonia, already sees us as a competitor. The volume of the whole thing has become so big that we’ve had to rearrange our organization’s workflow. We’ve created editorial boards throughout the company, working almost on a newspaper-principle. We have built so-called story-journeys of our content pieces, which people can follow. For example, if you are planning to buy a new home, we have a complete set of stories for you – from generating the interest to tips and advice on how to fill in the home loan application. 

One thing we are still learning, however, is the question how to measure the content marketing properly. In the end, the goal is still generating business. Another thing with content marketing is that it’s difficult to understand or compare how is it going for others and how is it going for you. It’s all a bit behind the curtains. But in general, at the moment we are very confident.  

If you do so much content marketing, does it also mean that you do less traditional campaign-based marketing?  

Yes, the amount of traditional campaign-based advertising has decreased a lot. For example, last year we did only one TV commercial and this year we are doing none. I wouldn’t dare to say that we aren’t doing any advertising at all, but the content marketing is so much more effective that the traditional advertising has almost disappeared. Yes, you can of course still find our banners here or there, but this is also one step of the content marketing journey.  

Also, we obviously use mass media channels, like Delfi or Postimees, for spreading our content. In each country, we have such news portals (we ourselves call them satellites), which we use in order to get more traffic to our content hubs. On the other hand – the better our articles are and the more people read them, the more traffic we get from Google organically. We’ve had some top stories that have received 20 - 30 000 views without almost any boosting.  

There has been a lot of discussion that in content marketing a random youtuber, who makes videos in his bedroom, can have millions of views, whereas really big brands like Coca Cola or Red Bull, who have big stars and expensive production, won’t ever gather such audience. The problem is that brands’ tone of voice is still too careful and bureaucratic, so that people don’t want to engage with that kind of content. Is that a problem for SEB too? 

I understand this problem very well - if I look at it from the angle of these big marketers who are almost like entertainment brands. But for me, this absolute reach number is not so important. For me it is essential that my articles will be read by those people who are right now considering taking a home loan. Also, at least in Baltic market, there aren’t really any so-called third party experts who would create competing content around financial services.  

We actually have a huge amount of readers – e.g. in Latvia we had 150-200 000 unique visits last month. And this is a great number of course, but for me, it’s important that within this audience, I also have these 3000 people thinking of taking a loan. So all in all, I don’t think we have to worry about youtubers at the moment.  

If you look at today’s marketing agencies, do you see any shortcomings? In which way should the agencies develop in order to serve a client like you better in the future?  

I wouldn’t dare to evaluate the whole market because I obviously don’t know all marketing agencies out there. But I can tell you in which direction we are heading with our current marketing partners. It used to be like that – if we had an idea or message that we wanted to spread, the first thing that came from the agency was some poster. And then, after the poster, we started to think what else could we do. But it’s not the poster that’ll make it work, is it. It’s the content marketing ideas that will. And it took quite some time to understand that we need a different approach. But now we’re getting there – the first things we get from our agencies now, are content marketing ideas and tactics, and after that everything else. I’m sure it was quite big change for our partners, but at the moment I’m really positive about all this. It surely wasn’t an easy journey for any of us.  

Is this the much talked about media-neutral approach – that you first need to have a strong idea and then comes everything else, e.g. design, channel selection, etc.? 

In content marketing, the big strong idea is of course very important, but tactical execution may be even more important. In my opinion, agencies put even too much effort into this big central idea, but in the end, the main question is how to implement and carry out this idea if you don’t do TV, radio or print ads. You may have a nice slogan and a smart piece of copy, but in reality it comes down to 15 or 25 small content marketing activities. You end up polishing your big idea for two months, but in the end, you still need to make these videos and write those articles also. Our partners have now understood this, and start their presentations already with a practical content marketing plan of how their big idea will be carried out in reality. 

For me the whole content marketing approach comes down to the point where it is not important how you shoot your one bullet, but rather how have you prepared for the battle and how will you carry everything out. I want to see what is the structure of your attack, where are your weapons placed, how will you shoot, etc. The big idea is anyway to win the war, right?

Authors: Hando Sinisalu and Maarja Laasu (Best Marketing International)