By @SimonCocking

Interesting interview with Upasna Kakroo @upasnakakroo

How was 2014, what went well?

It’ll be the 6 months of my marriage in a few hours from now. I started piloting and working on the brand for my own baby Startup from October of last year. I’ve travelled every month. One of my blog posts with a client went viral with over 1 million visits in a 2 day time span. I learnt skiing for the first time with an instructor at the Austrian Alps. I cried the whole second day when I thought I could never do it. I could not stop smiling the time when I could finally make the turns and come down the hill. Things are moving way faster than I had imagined. Plenty of struggles, conversations, challenges, design issues, branding worries later, I’ve learned so many infinite things in this time frame. It feels like everything is brand new and yet, all that I’ve ever wanted.

I was a shy 10 year old obsessed with books. After reading George Elliot throughout my high school years, I wanted to be like her characters and create revolutionary stories. I read L.M. Montgomery’s – The Story Girl and it enchanted me as a kid. But somehow I was unable to see the profession tangibly. No one I knew was into storytelling and I could not understand how people could do that unless they lived in rural Canada. As the high school graduation came closer, I chose the more risk free engineering. I told myself, I am going to work hard, get a great job and before I retire I am going to study language and storytelling. I am going to write (in the end). In this year, I finally told myself, living in the present is way better than dreaming of the future. I wanted to have a life that I dreamed of. I wanted to have a job that I was so passionate about that I didn’t need to worry about how many vacation days and salary slips I was getting. I wanted to stop whining and create something tangible. A legacy of originality and not regret. This is it.

Upasna Image brandanew

Anything you’d do differently?

Take more risk. And delegate more. Of course because is an early stage startup, I like to be involved with everything. I trust my team fully, but I also passionately love being hands-on. I know I just think it’s less sustainable though- everyone requires breaks. I want to build my team to finally start taking up stronger ownership and bigger risks. I want us to try out everything and have a  year end party where we say, wow, we didn’t think we’d pull that one off!

Plans for 2015 and the future?

Work with a Hollywood or Bollywood film crew, ha! Well, they sure could use some better social media and content marketing. I’d like to travel for my stories, wherever I find them, and document more in different media formats. I’ve realized travel and cultural exposure has made me a far better storyteller. I connect with people a lot more organically. I’d like to continue doing that. I’d like to put myself in the zone where I’m learning something new on an ongoing basis. I do these 30-day projects to form habits. In the past I’ve done, 30 days of walking, writing, art etc. I like challenging myself like that. I think it’s important to push our boundaries and constantly reinvent. I don’t want to be stuck in a comfort zone.

How often do you find your self telling the businesses to focus on the marketing and business side as well as developing and tweaking the product?

In every client conversation. I find them thinking about their business models and product development but hardly thinking about customer experiences and the stories they’re exposing people to. Of course, I am talking about small businesses and Startups here, that I engage more with. A bigger brand has a different challenge, they usually have a set focus on marketing, and yet many say they don’t understand digital experiences. We’re in interesting times where everyone has something new to learn.

Overall top tips to starts ups / businesses?

Do not rush into things without a plan. Think about ethics, copying content won’t get you far. Thing about design. There are two key questions: a) What stories are you creating so that you’re discovered? b) How are your consumers experiencing your brand once they reach you? The point is: be found. But be found well.

How did you find McKinsey? what good aspects did you take from your time there?

If I was true to McKinsey (and I am), there are three things:

a) Great people and mentors that I found and am still connected with,

b) Focus on seeing the big picture and creating quality ,

c) Focus on ethics and values. I think no matter where I go, these three things go with me.

Growth Hacking – tell us why it’s a good thing!?

I’m still working on the exact formula. But 0 followership leads to 0 engagement. So you do need numbers behind you to be discovered. And for many other aspects, it’s a similar story. You need the basics to be covered. As a Startup, you want to automate, or find the technical hack to get to a certain base for sustainability. And having said that, I mean earned and authentic growth – not led by bots, because you won’t have engagement in any other way.

Stories – you’re an advocate for why they’re important for businesses, how do you explain this to potential clients?

It’s not so hard. I talk to them about a product they like as a consumer. And then ask them how they discovered it. My husband saw and read about Colin Chapman’s design ideas as a sixteen year old in a magazine article. He owned a Lotus a decade later, and still swears by the philosophy that he believed in. Stories inhabit us in ways we don’t often realize. Usually, clients do see the point.

Any trends you’re noticing in Germany? Anything you’d like to see more, (or less) of?

Brandanew recently concluded research with a University- we are still working on the stories we’ve managed to unravel. But from our survey group majority- well over 50% of digital natives (average age 25) don’t see the sense in sharing- anything/ anywhere. While brands are getting into Content Marketing and Storytelling, it’s hard to build engagement with an audience that doesn’t want to be spoken to much. The privacy concerns here are so deep rooted across age groups that even a 20 year old doesn’t understand the value of using social media for building their personal brand identities. What’s the point, they ask. It’s just making me believe that social media will always be a cultural thing. When we work globally as a company, I always tell myself, oh this is India, or this is the US, before I get onto a call. The reactions and fears are totally different.

From a marketing perspective, I’d think firms in Germany need to open up a bit and go beyond performance oriented marketing to creating informative, educational and engaging experiences. I’ve heard so many say- that site looks ugly. But you’d notice it’s a big brand. I don’t believe in sitting on past glory, but constant reinvention.

You are active on twitter, is this part of how you do business (guessing yes) – how has it helped you?

My first ever client for Brandanew came via Twitter. Twitter did and still gets me client leads. So, yes, it’s a network I use for business. I also like it personally because a couple of my mentors for a while now, are also folk I first interacted with on Twitter. There are plenty of people who I engage in meaningful conversations with. I also like to work with my Twitter community to get some views on things that I need some outside-in opinion on in real time.

Your own blog is good, visual, how much time do you have for it / or is it an integral part of what you do?

Thank you! It’s critical. I’ve been blogging since 2003. It has helped me grow as a person and understand things better. Now for the Brandanew blog, we try to post everyday from Monday to Saturday. It’s work and consumes time, but hey that’s our baby! I usually cover questions that clients have or ask. It’s an integral part of our Brand and ethos. There’s nothing that I ask brands to do, if I don’t do it myself. We like to walk the talk and be authentic.

Blogging, who do you follow / like what they do; Neil Patel or others?

I like Neil Patel’s blog. But I am a Michael Brenner fan girl, and he is aware of that. That’s my favorite blog on Content Marketing. And Seth Godin- who’s a magician, of course. Both have fantastic insights and make me think.

How do you manage life / work, and online / offline balance?

I think I am struggling. Not because I can’t manage it , but because I can’t stop myself from doing things that I love so much. I need to find detox zones every now and then and go hiking.

How do you see the future of storytelling for brands?

In my vision for Brandanew we always think through this. We will collect all the 7 billion stories and bring them out to the world, unabused and textured to add richness to our brand narratives. Original and creative experiences that people fall in love with. Not led by a fake celebrity but by real people who care and consumers who are advocates. We leave out far too much in our narratives that are led by a small 1%. We need to push for authenticity and diversity. There’s hope. And, this is mine.

Finally, you’re not from Germayn originally. You’ve lived in India, England, Scotland and now Germany. What has it been like living in these different countries?

That’s a hard question.
also need a sunscreen or how can I feel hot, or speak English.

My heart is lost in the lanes of old Delhi that are full of Ghalib. My closest friends now are from Pune. There’s nothing more beautiful than the Lochs and the warmth of the Scots. It’s challenging and satisfying to travel to understand who I belong with. I’m like, bring it on now when I travel someplace else. I can identify frogs who live in their own ponds and don’t want to necessarily engage with them on profound topics. I do not sit quietly and allow anyone to bully though. I show displeasure and get offended.

I channel this all back into my work. I ask clients not to generalize, stereotype and judge people based on what they read in an official document. For instance, when we make buyer profiles, I am not a fan of doing it by age, sex, and other such demographics, but by behavior and unique needs. Social networks are not the same everywhere, and cultural influences alter the way we react. I pick my battles. I usually don’t want to work with boorish people who think women getting pregnant slows down their business (yes, I heard that in a public meeting led by a CEO in Germany).

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