Storm the Norm

Much of a book’s success lies in a title or headline, which intrigues while clearly indicating the content of the pages inside. If the book title has the potential to become a catch phrase, so much the better. Anisha Motwani’s Storm the Norm scores on both these aspects.

I know it did with me because I have long cherished a dream that India will reach the forefront of the world by storming the norm in business, civil and social life.  

Now, since India is still mostly an emulator and not a leader in innovation, I had to carefully set aside my dreams for the nation while reading Storm the Norm. Lofty expectations after all belong to a reader and not a book whose clear stated intent is to simply narrate the untold stories of 20 brands in India that “Did It Best.”

Another interesting phrase – “Did It Best.” In marketing and brand management terms, the phrase implies that markets are never utopian or simple. You have to navigate the best path you can find across a maze of challenges thrown up by a plethora of product and price offerings, not to mention distribution, packaging and promotion options. If that isn’t enough, there are human resource issues and financial constraints to stymie one further.

So, yes, you have to “do your best” in a complex and competitive environment. As Santosh Desai says in the book’s foreword, “Building brands in India presents challenges of many kinds. An ancient culture with its own codes, an unevenly developed market, a bursting-with-aspiration consumer, diverse competitors and a fragmented media landscape, all add up to a complexity of a formidable kind. Growing categories and building leadership positions require a combination of many abilities and doing so consistently is a daunting enterprise.”

Desai’s use of the word ‘enterprise’ is more than apt because as you read the stories of the 20 selected brands, the one lesson that jumps out at you is that brand building has to be an organization wide effort, led as much by the CEO as the CMO.

Before and while reading Storm the Norm, I browsed through reader comments on Amazon and Goodreads. Quite a few of those comments slotted this book as valuable mostly to management students and greenhorns. I disagree there. On the contrary, I think this is a book, which would benefit top management, especially of those companies that tend to view marketing’s function as simply advertising and selling the wares it is handed over.

The readers comments on the target reader for this book also surprised me because the brand stories narrated clearly demonstrate that it is a mistake to compartmentalise knowledge into hierarchical and functional silos. Dabur, for example, might have abandoned its foray into the fruit juice market had the management not lent a patient ear to the ‘real’ issues highlighted by the sales people. Mind, those issues entailed a total revamp of the supply chain, packaging and communication, calling for more investment. Another case in point would be Radio Mirchi looking for talent in the most unusual places, including the church. If Mirchi is a brand success, today, it owes much to the organisation comprising brand aficionados from diverse backgrounds: “Then there was the chief financial officer (CFO), who we often said could make an entertainment TV channel by merely pointing the camera at him, and an HR head who was so into emotional engagement with an often volatile bunch of youngsters that he often forgot to maintain even basic records.” 

I am glad that I browsed through those readers’ comments out of curiosity. It made me reflect, once again, on whether the Indian tendency to be highly class and status conscious is holding back the country’s ability to innovate and progress. I guess it’s a fall out of the centuries old caste system, with all its rigid definitions on the role and status of ruler and labour classes. Now, this is a thought that the current government, led by Narendra Modi, should consider. Perhaps, in this lies the impetus to switch over from caste to economic affirmative action programs.

No, seriously think about it. How often have you heard the refrain across the rank and file: “It’s not my job or my problem!” There is that. And then, there is the fact that many MDs and CEOs tend to talk only in dollars and cents. Perhaps that’s where these readers were coming from. They probably perceived that senior management would only be interested in books such as Capital in the Twenty-First Century.  Not true. As Motwani’s collection of stories display,  the crafting of a brand has to be an organization wide effort, led by top management. Ergo, this is a book that could help guide aspiring MDs and CEOs in turning their companies into marketing organizations. That is, if they wish to establish strong brands, which command a premium amongst consumers and in marketplaces.

See, now this, to me, is the value of a good book. It makes one think and get inspired as Storm the Norm does. I have spent over 35 years of waking hours in the worlds of Marketing & Advertising. Yet, I gained in knowledge from reading this book. For one, in its pages, I found the answer to a question I have long had on the antecedents and strategy of the Jaago Re campaign by Tata Tea.  For another, I delighted in reading the success stories of MakeMyTrip, Mirchi, Honda in India, !dea and Fiama Di Wills.

I was also particularly pleased to learn that ITC obtained the first Indian patent in liquid crystal freezing technology for its Fiama Di Wills gel bar range.  Another achievement that impressed me is MakeMyTrip winning the Porter prize in 2012 for Industry Architecture Shift. It made me hope that my dream of India storming the norm in new inventions and innovations will soon be reality in more than one sphere.

There is one other reason why a book called Storm the Norm pleased me. I think this book has made a valuable contribution to documenting the history of successful brands in India. Fact is the business world in India is highly negligent about documenting its history, forgetting that the past informs the present. The exception perhaps are the Tatas who I have heard make a concerted effort to document their history. If I am not mistaken, Hindustan Unilever also makes a similar effort. As things stand, this book, I hope, is the first of many that sees the business history of India being recorded for future generations to emulate successful strategies while learning from the mistakes of the past. One can argue here that the business media offers a record of sorts but that content can never hope to match a well-researched and well-structured book.

There you go then. That’s one more reason to read Storm the Norm.

A word of caution though before you go. In my view, the first brand story, PVR, fails to hold reader interest and raises apprehensions on whether the book is worth reading at all. Trust me, it is. There is a lot of gold to follow.

It’s the one count on which the book suffers. Each brand story is written by the organizations concerned. Perhaps that was necessary for reasons of ownership and involvement in the book project. But the flip side to that decision, I guess, leads to a few brand stories that read like they were written by the firm’s PR agencies. The PVR story being a case in point.

I really wish Anisha Motwani had chosen to lead with the MakeMyTrip or Radio Mirchi stories.


Featured Cover Image: Phone camera capture of book cover on author’s Kindle device.


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