Event Coverage, SPECTRA 2020

Real storytelling comes from instinct: Amish Tripathi

Bianca Ghose

On day 2 of Spectra, a reputation management-focused online conference, Wipro’s Chief Storyteller Bianca Ghose engaged in a fireside chat with author and social commentator Amish Tripathi on the ‘Three things that brand marketers can learn from Indian mythology’. The bestselling author of The Immortals of Meluha and The Secret of the Nagas, among others, spoke passionately about how Indian mythology has various lessons in humility, humanity, acceptance and in inculcating differing viewpoints – all critical goalposts for brands and managers. He went on to explain why the most effective communicators are the best storytellers and how brand marketing relies on effective storytelling to reel in its audience.

Get insights from the ground, not from your AC office

“I worked closely with marketing teams when I still worked full time as a banker. During that time and even today, I find that most marketers do their ‘research’ from inside their air-conditioned offices. PowerPoint presentations will not give you the on-ground insights about real India that you are looking for. Authenticity will not come from reading research reports compiled by your team. Go out and travel, research your markets by physically immersing yourself in them. Not only is travelling in India fun, but you will also come away with a lot of interesting perspectives on how real India works and thinks. You will be amazed and inspired by the passion and drive to succeed that rural India exhibits,” he said.

Tripathi said that these insights will help storytellers shape their communication and brand strategy – the storytelling style and depth is already shaped by what one knows. The Vedas and the numerous concepts they addressed were not understood by a lot of Indians, but when Ved Vyas put together the Mahabharata, all the concepts of love, bravery, loyalty, truth became clearer to all. “Take the time to research the roots of your market, rather than relying on ready research reports which might not give you the right direction for your campaign,” he said.

A good story draws people in

All too often, marketers lose authenticity when communicating a concept or product features, Tripathi expressed. “The most bizarre thing I have heard of is ‘crossover storytelling’ – it means creating a story in one geography while trying to make it appealing to another. This is nonsense – storytelling is not about individuals, it is about your inheritance and what one has imbibed from their ancestors. Be true to yourself, your own roots – our mythological texts have enduring value even today because of this basic truth,” he said.

Tripathi agrees that people want to know about other cultures. However, they still want authenticity and stories that are rooted in India over everything else. Brand experts cannot approach a campaign or messaging from a Westernised standpoint, which talks down to Indians with ads that imply ‘We will improve your standing and bring you up to global standards’.

Another area to consider is that a piece of communication becomes effective when it reflects the zeitgeist of its times. For instance, the film Pyaasa was a massive flop when it released, but it is now considered a cult classic. ‘The angry young man’ idea would have failed in the 1950s when India was still a hopeful nation, but it worked in the 1970s when the nation was suffering from the economic disasters of socialism, he said.

Have clarity about the role

“I often find this to be a problem area among marketers in India and around the world – they lack a clear vision and boundaries of their own roles,” Tripathi said. “As a marketer working in a certain geography, you should not comment on the working policies or politics of another country – that is not your job. At the same time, you cannot be so focused on the outcome that you use any wrong means at your disposal to bring your ideas to fruition,” he added.

There is also the question of risk: when to take it, how to take it or whether to take it at all. There is a Sanskrit saying that explains how extremes can be dangerous. “Taking too much risk is as bad as not taking any risk at all because both set you up for failure. In this context, I also want to say that when taking the risk – whether in planning an audacious campaign or simply quitting your job to pursue a passion – follow your heart but let your mind plan the journey. Leave your company on good terms, not by burning bridges. Take the risk, but don’t be stupid about it!” he said, in closing.

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