Ashee Sharma

"Media and entertainment is ready for disruption": Anisha Motwani

A quick chat with business strategist Anisha Motwani, former chief marketing and digital officer, Max Life Insurance, about her book Storm the Norm, which celebrates 20 contemporary and untold brand stories from India that either wrote or rewrote the norms in their respective industries. The stories include brands from across categories such as telecommunications (Idea), foods and beverages (Cadbury, Sprite, Tata Tea, Kissan, Kurkure, Real, MTR, and Saffola Life), personal care (Fiama Di Wills, Sensodyne), Automobiles (Honda Motors, Ford and Mahindra XUV 500), financial services (Axis Bank), entertainment (PVR), travel (MakeMyTrip), media (The Times of India, Radio Mirchi), and textile and apparel (Raymond). The book has a foreword by Santosh Desai, managing director and CEO, Futurebrands India.

Motwani turned an independent marketing and digital consultant to the Max Group of Companies in October last year. She is also the founder of - a portal of marketing insights.

Edited excerpts, with additional inputs from innovation specialist Ranjan Malik who collaborated on the book...

Edited Excerpts

Storm the Norm is not born out of imagination, nor is it about insights from a single source. It's more like a project that had to be executed at multiple levels. What were the challenges -- the highs and lows?
"Media and entertainment is ready for disruption": Anisha Motwani
The first high of the process was that people were very responsive. There has been no such attempt to collate the success stories of Indian businesses to make them available for future reference. So, people not only accepted the proposal, but were also quite excited about it and that reflected in the quality of responses which were quite insightful.

Secondly, I was doing all this as a full-time professional. The learning made me realise that if many business practices that are being deployed across industries, were made available to the SMEs (Small and Medium Enterprises), businesses and brands, or to management students (also the TG), it will be immensely beneficial, especially for those who are either starting off, or are not so successful.

However, there was a lot of back and forth, and maintaining the structure and quality was quite a task. It took me three years to put the book together and there were times when I felt like giving up. As working professionals, just as I was, people had their daily jobs and it must have been difficult for them to prioritise the book. And then, the approvals took more time. I had not anticipated all that. But, there's always a first time.

Storm the Norm is the story of brands that survived and succeeded through innovation. Which segment according to you needs to 'storm the norm'?

Media and entertainment; and, it has to do it fast. The digital and mobile revolution has drastically changed the way we consume media and the industry will have to evolve in accordance with this change. Whether it is newspaper reading, television watching, or content consumption, the media and entertainment sector is ready for disruption.

"Media and entertainment is ready for disruption": Anisha Motwani
You have chosen brands from three kinds of businesses: entrepreneurial, challenger and legacy. Do you, nevertheless, see anything common that unites these successful brands? Perhaps, even a human aspect, in terms of the people driving the business?

Motwani: It's the Storm the Norm framework. The method followed is common between these brands.

Malik: That's exactly what we have tried to find out through the book -- the pattern that these 20 stormers followed. This led us to create a five-staged process for 'storming the norm', and to realise that industry storms aren't purely accidental. There is a method to the magic. Knowingly or unknowingly, these brands did something right. All success and innovation, be it process, product, business model or ecosystem innovation, is part design and part serendipity. Usually organisations are so busy celebrating their success that it's only in hindsight that they realise what was really done.

In a period of rapid growth, mistakes are inevitable. How do these businesses deal with them?

There are two aspects to it. One is to be able to spot the mistake/opportunity, and second, to fix them quickly. The problem is that most visionaries are also optimists, and at times, evasive when it comes to dealing with problems. They are passionate about their business and so deeply involved that they tend to brush these problems under the carpet.

While there is no generic approach to dealing with mistakes, stormers are good at spotting them and this, according to me, is the key differentiator.

All brand stories are fascinating, but do you have a personal favourite among them?

Writing the book got me so involved in these stories that now, I feel, I was part of creating them. It's very difficult to pick one.

In the introduction, you say that a "rigorous and multi-phased" process was adopted to arrive at the set of brands that are featured in the book. The list was long and had to be pruned. If you were to write a Storm the Norm 2.0, which brands would you want on the list and why?

A start-up brand such as Paytm, and definitely an e-commerce venture. I also wanted to include few more Indian brands such as Himalaya and Patanjali, and some special ones like Tanishq in the current list. It would have been interesting to find out what drives their success.

In the course of investigating the stories of all these brands, have you had to revise any of your own long-held beliefs about how brands are created?

A lot of it just got validated. I strongly believe there is no conventional formula or theory that applies to one and all. There are some common principles though, but their application across categories and the context in which they are operating are different. It is often said, 'In theory, practice and theory are the same, but in practice, they are not'. That kind of sums it up.

What are you planning next?

Next on my agenda is the re-launch of Marketing Buzzar, which will soon be known as Market Buzzar. The idea being that the platform is not just about marketing, it a market place of buzz. It has some of the best story-tellers of the country under one roof who are willing to share their learning and insights. There is a vast resource of knowledge and experience that has to be made available to the world.

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