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Unplugged with Entrepreneurs with Sonali Brahma

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In our Unplugged with Entrepreneurs series got an opportunity to interact with a name among Asia’s Top 50 Content Marketing Professionals Sonali Brahma -Brand Strategist and Creative Consultant. So we questioned Sonali about what is her inspiration, How she developed her skills related to branding, What challenges she faces with competitors, the brand’s post-pandemic situation, important successful brand strategies, and advertising and marketing strategies.

What inspired you to develop a branding strategy and advertising as your main career?

Necessity is the mother of invention and with me – life guided me to enter this field. The inspiration for me to begin my career as a writer in advertising came from my flair and love from writing. 

I am a Commerce Graduate and have an MBA in Marketing from SIBM Pune. From there, I got placed in corporate in marketing roles. There came a point in my life when I had to focus on my newborn, as he required constant attention from his mother (me) – this was also the Doctor’s command and hence the need to quit my job and start my independent consultancy in advertising creative services.

I started as a writer and built my consultancy offering brand and creative strategy for corporate, product/service and personal brands. I love working on brands, creating them, growing them and sitting back with pride revelling in their world. Out of my 30 years of experience in working on marketing, sales and brand-building, it has been 27 years that I have been creating powerful strategies and stories for brands, in the traditional and digital space. A rare combo of the right and the left brain, I ensure that the brands I work with, get the best of both worlds, be it MNCs, SMEs or start-ups in B2B and B2C. Currently, I work for brands in India, UAE, the US, UK Singapore and Australia.

How did you start developing your skills related to branding at the beginning?

At that time there was no formal education/degree in advertising in India. I completed a practical, intense 1.5-year course in creative and copywriting (copywriting is a specific term used for writers in advertising), from an internationally renowned advertising leader. The rest, I learnt on the job. More than acquired skill or a degree, creative thinking is a natural talent, which I am blessed with. Reading, observing, asking, listening – all these are huge contributors to the skill development process.

How have your priorities changed from when you first started?

The business has changed and so has the classic concept of advertising and of course the way consumers think, buy and consume media or content. I have seen a non-digital era (called traditional advertising) and today’s all-encompassing digital era. 

Work-wise, my priority has always been ‘living for the brand’ and doing the best one can do for the brand.  

Priorities in life if you ask, are never in black and white, and we constantly evolve. I am a believer and practitioner of work + life balance. I espouse the concept of ‘well-being’, whether it is for my brands, my client’s business, the planet or my kith and kin. Three things dominate my life – family, work and fitness. You will find me at the happy intersection in life where purpose, passion and profession meet.

What challenges did you face while entering this field as a career?

The major challenges were getting a job in a new industry and getting it as a mother of a newborn. Advertising is a weird industry; deadlines dominate work and one ends up working and living out of the office; late working is the norm and is even glorified and so is working during weekends. I got my first job because of my excellent work; from there it was always an upward career graph.

Life was not easy for a working Mom and I couldn’t travel for work, as there was no one else to look after my baby. I couldn’t take up opportunities in other cities (Google offered me a job in Hyderabad) as I could not relocate. Of course, I said a big ‘NO’ to Google and I can still hear the HR person – (her name was Deepa) fall out of her chair. Kidding! 😊

Today, I am glad to see women take those big opportunities in another country even, take kids with them and work their way up the corporate ladder.

Who are your closest competitors or companies in a similar business?

There are many today, solopreneurs, freelancers, companies, ad agencies – so many. But I feel, each one of us is unique. What works for me are these things:

  1. A strong personal brand.
  2. The rare combo of business acumen, strategizing and creative talent
  3. A proven track record of 27 whole years
  4. Exceptional pedigree – SIBM Pune and an MBA in Marketing
  5. Maturity, authenticity and clear, structured thinking
  6. Strong code of ethics and conduct
  7. Going the extra mile
  8. The ability to say ‘No’.
  9. And to stick to my commitment.

What was the leading change that you observed within the brand’s post-pandemic situation?

Initially, everyone just froze and businesses panicked, the first axe fell on advertising and brand-building professionals. Budgets were chopped and we lost orders. New opportunities not many. 

The positive side was that international doors opened, people and organizations became okay with doing business through virtual means. I got many more international clients’ in less than a year, things picked up and we are good now.

I followed one key thing during those tough months – I kept going on, doing my work, showing up. Why? Because, the key thing about branding is that, when there is a lull in the market, don’t give up, persist with your brand-building efforts, step them up and you will see good results.

According to you What are the important successful brand strategies, advertising and marketing strategies?

Difficult to generalize, as each brand has a unique strategy. But my top 5 messages to brands would be:

  1. Know your brand and know what it stands for. Get your brand strategy in place.This will help you know your positioning.
  2. Stand for that one thing.
  3. Be authentic. Real. That works.
  4. Don’t ignore building your brand. It rubs well on your business brand as well.
  5. Keep reading, observing, and build steadily.

You’re among Asia’s Top 50 Content Marketing Professionals, What’s your perspective about such achievements or recognitions?

Recognitions are a good motivator, especially when they are well deserved. It is human psychology after all. I was ecstatic when I won 14 awards within six months of starting my career in advertising! Pure joy! And ditto for this one as well.

What are your tips on how one should level up the brand?

Brand building is a process. A brand should always stay relevant, real and memorable. Every brand’s journey is different and growth plans or scaling up should be planned based on the brand’s unique environment and identity.

Any message that you want to tell the upcoming youth?

You live in a different era and are trying your best to establish, grow and win in this era. Keep up the good work, but don’t forget that ‘Y.O.L.O’ (You Only Live Once) so, use this life to have fun (responsibly), smile, be kind, and do good. It’s not worth to stress over things or doing things because others are doing them. It’s best to open up, speak up, rest, and laugh – all this while working deeply, fully and intensely. You have a bright future only if you know how to make the most of it.

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