Storytelling and meandering research
“Would you like an adventure now, or would you like to have your tea first? ” –
PETER PAN, JAMES M. BARRIE
It was in 2014 that we received this peculiar brief from our client-Asian Paints. This was a little different from the usual strategy work that comes our way. Asian Paints wanted to launch a décor brand in Exteriors. It would not just be a brand launch but a category launch as well since there were no other significant players exploring this category. So apart from the typical deliverables that would include a brief to the communication agency, we also had to brief or give direction to product designers working on the first collection of Exterior decor.
Unfortunately for us, customer interactions didn’t yield any major breakthroughs, apart from an understanding of their attitude or relationship with this ‘potential category’. It got too hypothetical and difficult for customers to imagine a category they hadn’t engaged with before. Majority of them were playing it safe when it came to exterior décor of their home. And only a handful dared to experiment in the category of exterior décor. There was too much at stake. Unlike the experiments or explorations done in interiors, the social and economic risks were really huge here.
We were slowly beginning to feel the heat of having reached a dead end, when someone in the team asked that question.
How can we bring self-expression to Exteriors but minimise the feeling of risk? That felt like an Aha moment for us.
If we could bring the joy of self-expression in Exteriors, like in the case of Interiors, customers would embrace the category easily. Also how do you minimise the social and economic risk ? This seemed possible only if we created design stories that connected with them deeply. Designs that could last for a long time. Not a fad that needs to be changed with every season.
And that opened up a refreshingly new pathway. Suddenly it felt like it was the most important part of the puzzle to solve. What should the brief to the product designers be? As a décor brand, what kind of designs do they go after? Where do they derive design inspirations from? And how do they translate them into a deep and tangible product experience for the customer?
This time however, instead of having customer conversations, we just booked our tickets and landed in Kutch. We had some idea that the geography was rich in art and crafts but nothing beyond. Next three days we just travelled from village to village, meeting different artists. We met people from various nomadic communities such as Ahir, Rabaari and Muttva who practiced different styles of traditional embroidery. Kutch embroidery was not one homogenous world. Each community had a unique style inspired by their own history, travels, culture and folklore. We also met copper bell makers who made bells for the cattle, each sound customised and forming identity of a particular community/tribe. We met artists making wall designs called Lippan kaam, usually done by the men around the time of their marriage as they build a new home for themselves. We even met the last family practising a unique art form called Rogan Art.
The landscape was pregnant with rich stories.
What is interesting is that during those 3-4 days in Kutch, we didn’t even know what we were looking for, what we had to find or how we would use the rich tapestry of stimulus coming our way.
We just went moving from one thing to another, absorbing like a sponge whatever came our way. To think that we were only there for 3-4 days itself is unbelievable in retrospect. For the amount of absorption that happened is way beyond our imagination. May be the design of not planning the research, just blindly following ways that opened up, just meandering our way through the various landscapes helped us form connections deep beyond what our rational logical mind would have ever managed to achieve.
Of course, there were days, during the course of the project, where we sulked badly with the pressure that uncertainty creates. Yet what saved us were the days when the stimulus we received overpowered our mortal aspiration for solving a client problem. At the risk of being criticised as mindless exploration or the fear of emerging without a solution at the end of the tunnel, what kept us going was just an inner voice. Something felt right from deep within. And we just went with that sense of comfort in our intuitive voice.
Post Kutch, we explored a few other geographies as well. In that, we crossed paths with the Temple Murals of Kerala and ancient ritualistic art form of Kalamazhethu that predates the idea of temples themselves. We also visited a few Hoysala temples in Karnataka and immersed ourselves in stories of temple architecture.
We understood the task at hand only after marinating sufficiently in this avalanche of experiences ourselves. It was neither about launching a brand or giving a strategy for its launch or delivering a product brief to designers. It was to weave a story that brought together these various data sets– customer context and relationship with design/category in question, the brand’s history and worldview, the rich stimulus of design inspiration that we had experienced as part of our travels and interactions with artists, craftsmen, designers, historians and culture experts.
But why would such a story work more than a logically thought out strategic framework? Perhaps, it’s the nurturance involved during the process of its creation that makes it pass the human centered lens much more authentically than any other track of thinking which the logical mind would have quite easily conjured up otherwise.
So at the end of this journey, we did craft a story for the brand. And with it we knew we had unearthed a process and a possibility to explore storytelling for brands. This project in many ways gave us permission to actively go down the path of new, wade our way through the slush, have many treks up and down but to never question the journey. Never question the lack of connection at the beginning, never doubt the team that comes together for it, and never underestimate the potential any client has to open up the world of stories for their brand.
Some of the design outputs that emerged at the end of this journey for Asian Paints Wall Art :
To learn more about how we made the link between Kutch and Kalamezhuthu and temple architecture and customer stories and Asian Paints -to carve out a unique brand narrative for Wall Art, join our course Brand Storytelling Springboard on HumanWorks.