Storytelling to Shape Your Business

Storytelling to Shape Your Business

October 6, 2015

Indranil Chakraborty, more popularly known as IC, has had over 21 years of experience in the corporate world. His formative years and two-third of his career were spent in Unilever, in India and abroad. He was a Global Brand Director when he decided to make a change.

The next seven years were spent in selling teddy bears, airtime and holidays. IC’s last corporate assignment was at Mahindra Holidays as their Chief Marketing Officer.

In 2013, IC founded STORYWORKS the first Indian company formally focusing exclusively on Business Storytelling. STORYWORKS harnesses the natural power of stories to help corporates to make their key messages like vision, value, strategy and change communication stick with their employees. In a way that they can easily understand, remember and retell.  Other powerful use of business storytelling is in diverse areas like employee engagement, knowledge management and behaviour change.

In the recently held Communication Summit 2015, IC pours out his learning and insights on marketing and the art of storytelling. Excerpts from his mind-opening interview with Bangladesh Brand Forum (BBF) is shared here.

BBF: How do you feel visiting Bangladesh? Share few of your observations.

Indranil: I have visited Bangladesh few times when I was working in Unilever. Those were also great visits because I got to know new consumers here. Dhaka has obviously changed in these years. One thing that hasn’t changed is the warmth of the people. I am a Bengali by born and my grandparents from both parents’ side are from Faridpur district, so the root has always been connected. It always feels great to be back here.

BBF: Almost two-third of your career was spent in Unilever. How was the experience? What was the key learning?

Indranil: I have never looked at Unilever as a company. For me, Unilever was a finishing school of marketing funded by soaps and detergents. Unilever taught me everything I know about sales and consumers. The biggest thing it taught me that answers to any marketing question always lie with the consumer. If you can go and spend enough time with the consumers and ask the right questions, you will always get the answers. And everything I know about marketing comes from those formative years, so Unilever was a great experience.

BBF: What made you leave such a high profile position at Unilever? What motivated you to start something new?

Indranil: That’s a good question! I was the Global Brand Director running the brand called Radiante which is Rin in this subcontinent. So I was in charge of the Brand for the whole world.

What made me leave actually was someone approached me to help them set up a new business in India for a very interesting franchise which is called Build-A-Bear Workshop. It’s a retail store where people come and make their own stuff toys or Teddy Bears. Half of Build-A-Bear store was responsible for making the Teddy Bears while the rest was for dressing up the Bears and these all according to the customers’ choice. The customers could customize their Teddies and could get birth certificates for those. I found the concept really amazing.

Before I said yes to them, I was able to make a visit to the Build-A-Bear store in London as I was visiting there. What astonished me was that every customer stepping out of the store was happy like anything. And when I followed a group of them for 10 minutes, all I could see were smiles on their faces and perhaps they were talking about the experience at the shop for that whole time.

So, that to me was a great opportunity to learn as I had always been a marketer. Thus I left Unilever and started working with Build-A-Bear and ran that for 3 years.

IMG_1863BBF: You have founded STORYWORKS in 2013. Would you like to share the story behind it?

Indranil: My last corporate job was in Mahindra Holidays. At that time, we had just set the values and vision for the company. While everybody was happy with that, something uncomfortable bothered me a bit. That is the values we created were supposed to be ending being posters on the wall; which happens in most of the companies. And unless the last person of the company understands the values, you cannot expect them to behave the values. So, I was struggling within myself to find a solution. Workshops were initiated at the beginning but after six months, barely anyone remembered the values.

In that search for a solution, I got to know about Anecdote, a business storytelling company based in Australia. I found their theme very interesting and interacted with them. The reason they were using storytelling and story-listening for was exactly what I was willing to do. So, consulting with the founders of Anecdote, when I used storytelling in Mahindra Holidays, I had miraculous result. I realized storytelling is definitely a great power to convey the message every company wants to give to their employees. Therefore I always wanted to something on my own, so I founded “StoryWorks”

BBF: Using the natural power of stories to facilitate the corporate is a brand new concept. What are your expectations from the application of this? How are the effects?

Indranil: It’s not about expectations anymore because I have enough proofs that it works. Firstly, we all can connect to stories much better than connecting to facts or opinions. Stories are easy to understand, remember and retell. Now, when you want to help the corporate by changing their key messages like strategy, vision and mission, into a story structure,  then you land up having a situation where they can easily connect with and remember the strategy as because it’s been told as a story.

Secondly, when you are trying to understand what is really going on collect stories instead of asking for opinions and judgments and then you can make much better decisions out of the pattern recognized from the stories.

BBF: What is the role of communication to develop a better corporate culture?

Indranil: To me, the definition of culture is “the way we do things here”. Now, if you want to shape “the way we do things here” in a particular manner, every person needs to understand the way. Suppose a manager tells his employee that his company believes in transparency, what are the employees supposed to do next day? No idea! But if you can collect stories about people being transparent and use them to demonstrate transparency for your employees, they will get your message immediately. Transparency is an abstract word and you use stories to make that abstract into concrete so that employees understand what you want. Only when they understand they can behave accordingly. And when you get many people to behave in a certain manner you create culture.

BBF: Commward recognizes the best creative communication campaigns run in the Bangladesh. How imperative do you think initiatives like Commward are, for inspiring brands?

Indranil:I find it extremely imperative. There is one thing about being recognized in your company and another about being recognized in your corporate community. By being able to know that if I do good work I can have a platform where I will be recognized as part of something good in a community, will always inspire me to do much more. In Bengali, there is a phrase called “Kupmonduk” which refers all the frogs in a same well. We typically are like frogs of our own wells; may it be a Unilever well or Nestle one. What Commward does is letting us come out of our own wells and interact with frogs from other wells. And that definitely opens our minds.

BBF: Tell us something about your topic for the Communication Summit. What are your observations?

Indranil: It is very difficult for a speaker to understand the body language of two hundred audience whether they get it or not. At least if I take the first two rows which were more visible, I saw people were leaning up. To me, that is a great sign of engagement.

BBF: What would be your message for the young marketers of Bangladesh?

Indranil: The core thing is that if you are a marketer all the answers to your question lie with the consumers. If your consumer is using butter then you need to meet the consumer in the morning when she is using it most; sit and understand why she is using it or does not like to use it. So, first message is that marketing can only be done, learned and delivered by meeting the consumer. If you have not met a consumer for five days, you should lose your license to be a marketer.

Secondly, learn how to ask the right questions because consumers are not sitting there to give you answers. Let’s say, I came out of a shop buying a polka dotted Tie and you asked me why I have bought it. Though I had no particular reason for buying the Tie and just because you asked a question I answered “All my Ties are plain, so I thought I must buy a polka dotted one”. Now, as brand manager of a Tie making company if you go back and make twenty more designs of  polka dotted Tie, would that be worthwhile? No! By asking opinion based questions you will usually not get the right answers. So, learn how to get consumers tell stories about their purchasing decisions. And through the patterns you get in those stories, make your marketing decisions.

Interviewed and Compiled by

Raiyan Rumman

Watch the video interview

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