Mindshare's Anita Kotwani shares what it takes to build a brand, how storytelling can set a brand apart, and how smaller brands and startups can succeed at storytelling.
Strategy without execution is hallucination. A brilliant strategy, a blockbuster product, or breakthrough technology can put you on the competitive map, but only solid execution can keep you there.
Anita Kotwani calls it as she sees it.
With a career spanning almost two decades, this true-blue Mumbaikar is the Senior VP of Mindshare, a global media and marketing service company established in 1997. She joined Mindshare in 2004 and grew from one office, Mindshare West, to leading the entire West Zone and overseeing 3 SBUs.
It has been, she says, a “fulfilling and rewarding journey”. Some of her truly memorable campaigns have been the DNA launch, the HSBC Boarding Call, Star’s Nayi Soch campaign, the ABC launch, and Idea’s Internet4All.
In a tete-a-tete with YourStory, Anita shares her story, the secret sauce for a successful brand story, and what truly makes for a good and honest one that really defines the brand, especially in the new world driven by digitisation and data.
Anita was born in a middle-class family. The youngest child in the house, she was pampered but had a “very grounded” upbringing. “My parents went through a lot to ensure that they gave us the best of education.” Anita, who respects the two religions in India, movies and cricket, was a sportsperson and played tennis while in college. With a B Com Hons degree and a degree in law, she started her career with Strategem Media.
“My entry into this industry itself was the first milestone. I was very apprehensive and unsure if I was doing the right thing. Strangely enough, though, it seemed like the right calling and I have never looked back,” she says.
She went to work at Dainik Bhaskar group and Lintas. In June 2004, she joined Mindshare.
“This is the place where I have done the best work of my career. It’s a place where meritocracy is rewarded, and where I have grown as a professional. Mindshare is invested in keeping pace with the changing ecosystem, apart from having invested considerably in talent transformation,” she says.
This year has been particularly special, professionally, as she has been recognised as a “Woman To Watch Out For” in the Top 50 Influential Women awards, and was awarded a “Certificate Of Excellence” in the Woman Leadership Programme.
Her latest mandate, she says, “is about leading growth for Mindshare, at an all-India level”.
“Given that we have clients across sectors, the most challenging part is to bring in newer categories into the fold. It’s about working in the new-age ecosystem and delivering projects on data, digital, and content, as part of our larger offerings, to clients. The biggest challenge, however, is to stay ahead of the curve, and provide solutions that drive business results,” she says.
As someone who has helped brands launch great campaigns and master storytelling, Anita emphasises how important it is to get the story right.
“Marketing is no longer about the stuff that you make, but about the stories that you tell,” Anita quotes Seth Godin and points out that a brand’s story makes it memorable and sets its business apart. Anita shares,
Stories are a powerful tool for human communication. To read a story is to feel an experience and to synchronise our minds with the subject of the story. The simpler the story, the better the impact. If you want to ensure that your story ‘stays’ in the consumer’s mind keep it simple and authentic. Most importantly for today’s distracted audiences, brand stories pull your potential audience into your marketing. The power of stories helps build brand trust.
While big brands have more resources, small startups often don’t have the luxury to spend on marketing and need to ensure that their story is apt and showcases the brand, but also has a lasting impact.
The basic ingredients for a good story are the idea, the pitch around which the story is built, and how to build around that idea without losing the narrative.
What can smaller brands do to put their best foot forward when it comes to storytelling?
According to Anita, most emerging startups are in the data and technology space. Given their inherent understanding of technology they should use “data mining” to understand their consumers. “With in-house analytical specialists, it is important for brands to look at real-time data to better optimise their product offering to consumers. If their story gets built on ‘data’ it can help them improve their ‘sales’,” she says.
While data is being heralded as the new oil, the challenge is to use the data to make informed decisions, be it for storytelling or launching a new product. With a good storyline and a good pool of data, staying ahead of the curve should be easy but it’s easier said than done.
“The consumers of today are changing at a pace faster than the client/agency. Our ability to accelerate full gear into the newer spaces is limited by our talent transformation agenda,” Anita says.
She feels that to keep pace with the evolution, re-skilling is essential along with building a diverse talent pool. “We need to get new-age specialists into our fold, including data scientists, technology experts, content specialists, and programmatic specialists.”
Another critical component is the measurement metrics and Anita feels that the industry does not have strong metrics in new and emerging spaces.
For a brand to truly succeed, she believes it is essential for it to stay true to its brand value. “Brand values are the rules of engagement, and the moral compass for the way brands should do business. So, if Mindshare’s values are that of speed, teamwork, and provocation, then our actions and behaviour must echo the same, and be ingrained across the company.”
To ensure that values are not diluted, Anita suggests rewards for compliance. “Most major companies have internal awards for those who have ensured that all communication and marketing activities have stayed true to the brand’s values,” she says.
According to Anita, Nike is one of the most consistent brands that she has seen. “Nike has understood and has been leveraging the power of great storytelling longer than most people have been online. It knows better than to push its brand down consumer’s throats. It has understood what it takes to make a lasting impression; it knows that authentic stories will help build the brand and allow the company to sell more products in the longer term. This ethos has held up, and is arguably what makes Nike one of the greatest brand storytellers.”
To remain consistent when it comes to storytelling and not dilute the brand values, execution is pertinent.
“I truly believe in the ‘4DX’ – the 4 Disciplines of Execution.” It is a book written by Chris McChesney, Jim Huling, and Sean Covey.
“This simple framework allows you to identify important goals, set the lead and lag measures for the goals, and ensure that there is a compelling scorecard to monitor progress, and a cadence of accountability by each team member, for delivery of the goal. An organisational transformation is possible using the framework, where strategic and operational decisions are translated into action,” she says.
Anita’s exposure to diverse categories across BFSI, telecom, FMCG, lubricants, retail, and broadcasting has enhanced her learning and keeping abreast of the evolving media ecosystem has ensured that “we stay true to being the lead business partners to our clients”.
When it comes to her work and leadership, her key drivers are self-motivation and the need to excel. “I am passionate by nature and set high standards for myself; when the drive is from within, the outside world does not matter.”
On the personal front, she shares that her brother motivates her and that she has always envied his ability to get into any new space and grow into a subject matter expert on that. “It’s a trait that motivates me and tells me ‘you can do it too’.”
As Anita signs off she gives a checklist of what makes a good story and a campaign for brands to follow. “Simply put, the key ingredients are: strategy and planning, relevant content, coordinated content delivery, consistent and ongoing campaigns, review and campaign measurement.”