Outbound Marketing Came Before Inbound Marketing: Interview with Shradha Agarwal of ContextMedia

Shradha AgarwalShradha Agarwal, Strategy Officer and co-founder of ContextMedia

With her own business at age nine, Shradha Agarwal definitely has the entrepreneurial gene. Fast forward to now, she’s Strategy Officer and co-founder of ContextMedia, Stevie’s 2012 Young Female Entrepreneur of the Year, a speaker, investor and advisor to those with ambitions of their own.

During her time at Northwestern University, Agarwal founded the Northwestern Business Review, a magazine that highlighted how businesses can be an agent for positive change. At that time focusing on conscious capitalism was still novel. The magazine highlighted everyday decisions such as buying a car and the effects a grocery store has on shopping practices.

The idea that prompted ContextMedia came when Agarwal wrote an article about the value of digital information placed near elevators in malls. Her idea was to transition digital media into doctor’s offices with the goal of providing patients with timely information to learn how to become healthier.

Initial costs for the company were kept low by buying televisions from Walmart. But even though the idea was well received by doctors and customers, they were still hesitant to pay the price. As a result, ContextMedia approached advertisers instead – an approach that led to success. As a result, Agarwal graduated from Northwestern University in 2008 never having held a real job but with a promising business underway.

ContextMedia’s earlier days focused on the specialty of diabetes. Today, with 40 employees, the company provides digital media to healthcare networks in all fifty states. Similar to Pandora, the videos are tailored but specifically to different doctors and locations. The content ranges from themes including cooking recipes, fun ways to get exercise, shared stories and other mostly health related topics.

On the way to success, Agarwal developed a marketing strategy by trial and error. Here are some of her insights:

    • With the recent inbound marketing shift, businesses are questioning the effectiveness of direct sales. ContextMedia uses both but since doctors are still in a more traditional market, a market that employs direct mail and faxing, that’s where their focus is. Yet inbound marketing has been very effective for the business as a new channel to boost brand recognition/awareness and interest. By utilizing both approaches, the inbound marketing cost of acquisition is lower.

    • Business-to-business (B2B) marketing has unique problems. Agarwal believes that businesses get caught up in either the marketing message or marketing medium instead of focusing on both. She finds that, “Reaching doctors through Twitter or Facebook is not realistic.” Instead, B2B marketing, efforts should be focused on talking to customers.

    • Agarwal believes a common misconception about SEO is to “set and forget.” Research and monitoring is important because words that might be very good targets could end up being irrelevant. Things to monitor include click through rates, bids and the selection of keywords. A copy should be tested until it works well. Cutting the fat of ineffective leads should be a priority. ContextMedia found that wipe scope keywords, for example “education,” were not relevant to their business because leads came from students instead of doctors. Wide scope keywords were also costly.

    • ContextMedia uses content to drive loyalty and upsell to clients. By curating information, such as industry information and indicators, useful links and articles, data, polls, upsells and introductions for busy executives, the firm can entice bigger prospects. In addition to receiving content at healthcare locations, consumers can also receive SMS health tips. ContextMedia partners with research companies to analyze data received from surveys and patients in order to maintain useful content.

    • Just how useful is this content? Helping people get healthier is their biggest challenge but ContextMedia is up to it. The company encountered a Chicago man, in a hot tub, who was encouraged to lose 60 lbs from the inspiring story of an Olympic swimmer. This content was shown on the company’s diabetes health network and subsequently the plan was dubbed “the hot tub plan.” In other cases, content has driven employers to provide gym memberships for their employees.

  • Technology is changing content as we know it and in coming years the full potential of its capabilities will be revealed. Artificial creativity or artificial intelligence is one way we can see changes in the future. As a journalism alumna, Agarwal can relate to the subject. She remembers a time at Northwestern when artificial creativity was in debate. Her position is that artificial creativity leaves more time for humans to spend on valuable articles such as cutting-edge news and in-depth stories. She also believes information based content is very much possible by the use of strong and targeted algorithms.

    “The future of media in a lot of ways is going to be around smart algorithms,” she says. “Conceptually is has to work out.”