In the series of interviews with market leaders, change-makers, and innovators, we bring our next interview with a renowned brand storyteller and author, Mr. Harsh Pamnani.
Harsh Pamnani is a brand storyteller and author of Booming Brands, a bestselling series on new age ‘Made in India’ brands, published by CNBC. He has written numerous articles on branding and marketing in leading publications such as Forbes and The Economic Times (Brand Equity). He has over 14 years of experience in brand management, communication, and analytics with Think Tanks such as The World Bank, corporates such as Deloitte, and start-ups such as FirstCry. He is also the curator of iPamnani, a non-commercial visual storytelling initiative, and a TEDx speaker. He earned his MBA from XLRI, Jamshedpur. To know more about Harsh, please visit www.harshpamnani.com.
NBB: Please tell us about your journey from an engineering student to becoming a renowned brand storyteller?
Harsh: Pritish, first of all, I would like to say thanks to Next Big Brand and you for interviewing me! Coming to your question. After engineering, I got opportunities to work with a few top companies in India and the USA. I could have settled down in life with these jobs, but I was curious to understand how a few entrepreneurs create iconic brands, while many struggles. To satisfy my curiosity, I used to attend sessions at various entrepreneurship forums. Later, against my parents’ wishes, I left my well-paid job and picked up a fellowship opportunity at a non-profit focused on fostering entrepreneurship. By the end of this fellowship, I realized that I was not ready to become a full-time entrepreneur, and going back to a similar job was not a possible option.
I discussed my situation with one of my mentors, and he gave me a piece of precious advice. He said there are two role models in the world of cricket. One is Sachin Tendulkar, who goes and plays in the field, and the other one is Harsha Bhogle, who doesn’t play, but understands the game, its players, and their strategies very well and talks about them. He said, “You don’t want to become an entrepreneur, who goes and plays like Sachin in the business field, but you are passionate about brands and entrepreneurial journeys, you may like to become someone like Harsha Bhogle in the field of business.”
That advice gave me vision, a positive role model, and a source of inspiration. While doing my MBA at XLRI, I started writing for business publications. Then, I decided to write books in my area of passion – building brands. Also, in my jobs, I got opportunities to work on a few impactful initiatives that made me realize the power of stories. One of the happiest moments came when I got an opportunity to meet my role model – Harsha Bhogle.
NBB: What exactly is a brand storyteller?
Harsh: Every day, brands generate multiple content pieces in the form of advertisements, blogs, brochures, emails, SMS, business presentations with bullet points, etc. targeted towards customers, employees, shareholders, influencers, partners, vendors, and others. It is a crowded marketplace out there. People are not just receiving content from one brand. They are facing a crisis of information overload from many brands. Unfortunately, many times, even the essential messages are lost in the noise.
Brand storytelling is a specialized category of marketing in which a marketer uses the power of stories to garner attention, change perceptions, establish emotional connect, and inspire action. Research shows that messages delivered as stories are more memorable than just facts. Stories like Steve Jobs starting Apple in a garage, Narayan Murthy leaving Patni Computer Systems to start Infosys, a graphic design student creating Nike’s iconic logo for just $35, have been shared millions of times. These stories have made people think differently about these brands.
Stories are strategic brand assets. A brand storyteller discovers and structures these assets around various areas such as employees, products, customers, etc. He/she then assist brands in communicating these stories in the most efficient ways such that brands stand out in the crowd and become memorable.
NBB: What have been your major learnings as an individual in this journey?
- Behind one night of pictures with champagne, there are hundreds of days of problem-solving with coffee.
- Countless incredible people work in the back to make one person shine in the front.
- Persistence increases the probability of success.
NBB: What is iPamnani? Tell us about this initiative?
Harsh: iPamnani is a non-commercial, social initiative with the mission to inspire people through fascinating stories and path-breaking ideas of business leaders. Under the brand iPamnani, I create calendars and posters covering journeys of people who became someone from no one.
NBB: According to you, how important is branding for any brand?
Harsh: Multiple brands exist in a category. Branding helps in differentiating one brand from another. It helps establish a brand as a suitable and preferred choice in the minds of stakeholders, including customers, prospects, employees, shareholders, and others.
Branding could elevate the perception of a brand. However, poor product quality, bad customer service, non-working technology such as payment gateway or website, financial irregularities, etc. could damage the stakeholders’ opinions about a brand. Therefore, branding, mostly the responsibility of marketing function, cannot create a brand alone. A brand is created and managed by the support of all the functions within an organization.
NBB: With the shift from traditional to digital, how has branding and marketing changed in the last 10 years?
Harsh: Digital is a powerful channel that has played an instrumental role in the marriage of marketing and technology. It has increased the reach of brands tremendously and has made marketing more measurable. Now, marketing is driven by data instead of personal opinions, powered by automation instead of manual interventions, and optimized by analytics instead of human perspective.
NBB: When did you decide to write ‘Booming Brands’? What was the inspiration behind it?
Harsh: I had met many professors, marketers, entrepreneurs, and students who had expressed that there is enough material available on growth stories of international brands, but not much has been written about Indian brands. India is not America. The way brands were created in America can’t be built in India. Noticing this void, I felt I could write a book that could be leveraged by people interested in understanding how new age ‘Made in India’ brands are getting created.
NBB: Which brands you have covered in Booming Brands (Volume 1 & Volume 2), and who all gave you the testimonials?
Harsh: In Booming Brands (Volume – 1), I have covered brands like BookMyShow, BYJU’S, Paper Boat, Zomato, Shaadi.com, FirstCry, Goli Vada Pav, SU-KAM, Pagalguy, Elephant Design and Jayashree by Arunachalam Muruganantham (Pad Man).
The book received testimonials from Mr. Harsh Mariwala, Chairman, Marico; Mr. Ronnie Screwvala, Founder, UTV; Prof. David Bell, Professor of Marketing at Wharton; Prof. Sharad Sarin, Retired Professor of Marketing at XLRI; Prof. Anand Narasimhan, Shell Professor of Global Leadership and Dean of Faculty & Research, IMD Switzerland; Mr. GV Ravishankar, MD, Sequoia Capital, India; Mr. Sridar Iyengar, Chairman of ICICI Ventures and Former Chairman and CEO, KPMG, India; Mr. Vinit Malhotra, MD, BlackRock, San Francisco and Mr. Anand Lunia, Founding Partner at India Quotient.
In Booming Brands (Volume – 2), I have covered brands like PolicyBazaar, BigBasket, OYO, Super 30, Josh Talks, Zoomcar, Epigamia, Quikr, ShareChat, Portea, and Hidesign.
The book received testimonials from leaders like Mr. Sunil Kant Munjal, Chairman, Hero Enterprise; Mr. Harsh Goenka, Chairman of RPG Enterprises; Mr. Suresh Narayanan, Chairman, and MD of Nestle India; Prof. Rishikesha Krishnan, Director of IIM Bangalore and Ms. Samina Hamied, Executive Vice Chairperson of Cipla.
NBB: How important is it to create a trust for brands?
Harsh: I would say the most important. The brand name is not just a trademark; it is a trust mark. Many companies develop similar products, but customers are ready to pay a premium for products from trusted brands. Also, more is the risk associated with a category, more customers look for a trusted brand name.
NBB: Any tips for upcoming storytellers.
Harsh: The step that comes before telling a story is making a story. A good storyteller should take the story making process seriously. Making a story needs patience, curiosity, exploration, and listening. Develop these skills.
Team Next Big Brand extends heartiest wishes to Harsh. Kudos to him for such an amazing and insightful interview.
You can check our other interviews here.