Voted one of the ’50 Most Powerful Women in Indian Business’ by Business Today for three consecutive years since 2009, Anisha Motwani is a brand, digital and innovation expert with nearly 30 years of extensive experience across financial services, auto manufacturing and advertising. She also serves as an Independent Director across half a dozen major corporations, leads her own brand consulting firm, advises the World Bank as an industry expert, is also an author, and a columnist for the Huffington Post. We managed to get some time from Anisha’s undeniably busy schedule for a quick chat to know her thoughts on her journey, and the marketing and branding trends of today.
Q: Please share your academic or professional background. What responsibilities do you deal with on a daily basis, as part of your role?
I did my MBA in Marketing from the University of Rajasthan. I’ve worked for almost 30 years since then – half of it in advertising and the rest in marketing and digital. Over the last three years, I’ve started and run my own organization by the name of “Storm the Norm Ventures” – it’s an innovation and brand consulting firm.
Q: 30 years is a long and diverse experience. If you look back, is there any particular marketing move that you initiated and feel proud of?
There are several. A recent one I’m reminded of is when I was the Director of Marketing at General Motors. During my stint, we did some amazing amount of strategic work and launched Chevrolet as a brand in India. Now Chevrolet is an American brand – the gas guzzler known for its very western, large cars, probably invoking an imagery of it not being meant for Indian roads. From introducing such cars in India and having them compete with the likes Maruti and Hyundai, to making them mainstream for the mass market segment – I think we accomplished some really iconic works there. The famous karvachauth commercial was the first launch commercial for the Optra – where we used Indian rituals to step into the cultural milieu of India. The sunroof was a unique feature in India at that time, and us depicting watching the moon through the sunroof at night was very well appreciated.
At Max, we did some great amount of insightful work. It all began with just relooking at the category with a new lens. The insurance category tends to get burdened with a sense of pessimism. There are heavy overtones to it – a sense of responsibility, a sense of doing your duty and so on. We worked very hard to free the category of its typical seriousness and pessimism, and made it very optimistic. Karo zyaada ka irada became the iconic brand thought. There were campaigns after campaigns which were very very positive, whether it was the Czechoslovakia one for the health plan, or the diamond commercial. At least 10 of the 12 campaigns we did were amongst the top 3 when they were released, rated by external parties.
Q: And is there any well marketed product in any other industry, that got your attention?
There are several – from an international perspective, there is so much work happening across new-age categories. Like Tesco’s innovation in South Korea is one I really like in recent times. Today, communication and product are getting intertwined. You are communicating a story of the product. If it’s a new, innovational product, how do you communicate that effectively? Gone are those typical FMCG days when somebody would sit and create a product in a factory, and a marketing department would communicate it and create advertising around it. Today, before you ideate a product, you’ll have to think of the challenges of the consumer, create a product to solve that challenge, and bring it alive through communication.
In India, I think MakeMyTrip has done some good work. It was more integrated and comprehensive to an extent. I also quite liked what Vistara as a brand has done – it’s a brand where you can’t just identify communication alone as the reason for its success. It’s the entire customer experience, and the way they have extended it into their communication.
In the earlier days, one of my favorites was Tata Tea, which is also a story in my book (Storm The Norm, 2016). They’ve done a phenomenal job of taking tea from just a functional beverage that wakes you up, to waking you up to a new level – waking up of your consciousness, evoking the youth to awaken – and they did across several campaigns.
Q: How do you think a professional woman, just starting it out in the job market can build their careers and in their industries? How can they become leaders in their sectors?
Everyone seems to be in a rush today, about growing too quickly, learning too quickly, moving forward too quickly. What’s more important than anything else – and this doesn’t apply to just women, but everybody – is to recognise that the entire journey is enjoyable and that the learning is relevant. Learn cyclically and on a continuous basis is critical. The world is changing at a rapid pace, new norms are coming in, consumers are changing equally fast. India has always been a complex market, and today it is even more so. Understanding the reality, the kind of context, and the environment you’re operating in, needs to be a priority and focus.
For women specifically, what I often repeat is – women always put an expiry date to their career, even before they initiate it. There’s an expiry date in almost every woman – I might have to leave when I get married, or when I have a child or I might have to leave if my husband gets transferred. Going into a career with that mindset gives it a transient feeling. There will be several breaks in your career. I had them in my career too – as a mother, as a person who got married after working, as a person who had two children, husband’s job, not been able to take up international assignments…all those are realities. You have to get your priorities right, in terms of what is more important for you and be able to navigate through life and your career.
Also, having a a circle of influence, more than anything else, is very motivating for women. Women need to create that circle of influence in their life, who will, at every point in time, be there for you, and be part of your evolution.
- You’ve spend most of your time in Delhi/ NCR. What part of it do you love the most?
I like Connaught Place the most, it is truly the heart and soul of Delhi.
- Do you watch movies? Which one is your favorite if you’re trying to pick one?
I love movies, especially the historical ones. The Roman Empire, The Helen of Troy and the Indian historical ones – like Padmavati. Anything that’s got history in it and that’s got large scale production.
- What aspects of your role do you enjoy the most?
Right now, being in a position of knowing consumers well is one part that I enjoy the most. My understanding of life, and consumers, me being constantly hungry and observing life, and then applying it to work is very important to me. My roles – of branding, and marketing or innovation – come from human life. The second aspect would be decoding the virtual world – there is so much action in there.
- Your hobbies and interests?
I like traveling a lot, and am travelling most of the time. I like writing too, whenever I get some free time.
- If not in the current profession, what would you be doing?
I would still be a creative person, since I like working on ideas all the time. I would probably be involved in movie making or movie writing, behind the cameras, or directing, one of those creative roles.