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As someone who thrives on creativity, both in my professional and personal interests, I know that inspiration can be hard to come by. On Monday, I am pumped with ingenious ideas for a naming project that I am working on, and by Tuesday, I have flatlined. Whilst I know that the peaks and troughs boil down to feeling uninspired, the crux of the problem is that I often do not know where to find inspiration. So, I decided to put together a nifty list, for both your benefit and mine, for those times when everything seems dull, lackluster and stale.

01. Solve a crossword puzzle.

02. Come up with at least one risqué idea that would result in loss of the client/project/mandate. Tone it down.

03. Go for a run and do not stop until your abdomen is hurting.

04. Use Visual Thesaurus. I am absolutely hooked to this wonderful tool.

05. Head over to the local art gallery and feast your eyes upon the latest exhibition – the less famous the artist is, the better. Allow yourself to be provoked, pleased and prompted.

06. Read through your old poetry, uncompleted novels and teenage journals.

07. Eat an entire packet of gummy bears and bask in the sugar rush that follows.

08. Switch up your medium. If you write on your laptop, switch to pen and paper. If you sketch out your thoughts, try painting them onto canvas.

09. Shoot hoops.  

10. Play with a child.

11. Walk into a grocery store and only purchase products with appealing packaging.

12. Urban Dictionary. Start by searching for your own name.

13. Wear your least favourite colour. Give it the benefit of the doubt.

14. Treat yourself to an embellished manicure. The more outrageous, the better.

15. Get your hands on Alphabet Soup and whip up a bowl of the stuff. It’s amazing what staring into a bowl of letters can do for the imagination, especially for writers and namers.

16. How would your mum do it?

17. Yoga.

18. Say yes.

19. Reach your office half an hour early. In the midst of the quiet before the hustle and bustle begins, allow your mind to wonder and wander.

20. Pull a book off your shelf at random and start reading. Sometimes, one word can set off an entire chain of thoughts, not only for writers but also designers, marketers, strategists et al.

21. Is your exhaustion getting in the way of your creativity? Take a power nap.

22. Make the funniest face you can. Click a picture and send it to your favourite people.

23. Refer to yourself in third person for an afternoon.

24. Take yourself out to brunch.

25. Switch your phone off for 24 hours.

26. Have your palm read or, better yet, try to read it yourself! In the past, I have used the wacky predictions to craft the lives of fictional characters in my stories. Fun, fun!

27. Make something out of paper using origami techniques.

28. Read one page of the dictionary.

29. Coffee (with an extra shot of espresso, please).

30. Buy yourself a bouquet of ridiculously expensive flowers. Blue hydrangeas, anyone?

31. Find yourself a pen pal.

32. Take up a free course at Open Culture.

33. Climb a tree. As a child, I spent a lot of time thinking on the highest branches of my favourite tree in our backyard in Melbourne. Oh, how I miss those days.

34. Try thinking out loud. Record it so that you can revisit your brainstorm and catch golden tidbits that you may have missed before.

35. Eat something and then try again.

36. Read about the history of someone, something or somewhere. History is a great place to find some creative inspiration.

37. Free writing. Forget about structure, spelling, syntax and grammar; set a timer for five minutes and start writing. Let it flow out of you.

38. Use your hands to make something – a meal, a painting, a necklace or even a sweater.

39. Revisit your favourite novel.

40. Listen to new music. It’s amazing what a change of sound can do for your creative soul.

41. Finish an old, long-forgotten project.

42. Create a mood board and update it regularly.

43. Write a story of ten sentences without using the letter ‘e’.

44. Watch a Woody Allen movie. Seriously. I always have something brilliant to write about afterward.

45. Create a comic strip.

46. Stare at a blank page (or canvas, presentation template etc.) I guarantee that if you stare long enough, something will come to you.

47. Write a letter to yourself.

48. Draw on a fake beauty spot a la Marilyn Monroe.

49. Start a book club.

50. Be curious.

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Feeling inspired by the sophistication of simplicity,

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I could tell you a lot of things about the month gone by. I could tell you about nursing an NYE hangover that lasted for two days. I could tell you about the fiery monologues that play within my mind. I could tell you how brilliantly Benedict Cumberbatch plays Alan Turing in The Imitation Game, or how often I have been indulging in a sinful boozy brunch. But what I must tell you, is that I have never felt more energetic and inspired.

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Here’s what brought a smile to my face in the first month of 2015:

Sangria sessions; falling in love with the words of Mary Gaitskill; cheese, cheese and more cheese; finally being able to conquer negative emotions; having my favourite people back in the city; dreaming bigger and brighter; the perfect shade of grey nail polish (Concrete Me from H&M); high waisted jeans; my new job and my ah-mazing boss; old postcards; brand Melbourne designed by Landor Associates (represent!); scoring great deals on hotels for my upcoming Tokyo trip; basking in the glory of life itself; Sunday brunching; colour coding my calendar; ankle cuff sandals; endless holiday planning; mastering the perfect winged eyeliner; hummus; sky lanterns; laughing till my stomach hurts; feeling awake and alive.

Et toi?

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In 2015, creating an iconic brand with a stunning identity to match is simply not enough. People – especially Millennials – want to know who you are, why you’re here and what you do. They want a story. At this point, I must clarify that I am not referring to stories about the brand but rather, stories told by the brand. These tales need not be in long-form; an infographic can often be far more evocative than a narrative blog post.

Now, you may argue that ad-men have been weaving these tales into their work for decades; however, I guarantee that this year will see global brands hone their stories and communicate them directly to the common folk in the form of engaging content.

When it comes to skillful storytelling, Charity Water is in a league of its own. The non-profit organization tells tales of poverty and death, regress and progress, statistics and emotions, clearly establishing its raison d’être and drawing people in to the cause and the campaign.

How do they do it? The first thing to remember is that the basis for great brand storytelling is the truth. Though the tales may be nothing more than a figment of someone’s imagination (although they don’t have to be), stories that stray from a brand’s core values will confuse the audience and eventually drive them away. Be consistent. Be real. Be you.

What is a story without characters? If you want your story to resonate with people, create characters that people will cheer for. Fictional or not, the story needs a character that the audience can connect with on an emotional level. Charity Water tells real stories of real people, forges an instant connection with viewers and moves the masses into action. Win, win and win. 

The final commandment, and perhaps the most important, is to stay relevant. Why should people care about what you have to say? How do you add value to their lives? Before the story begins, step into the guise of your audience and answer these questions. Let me tell you, the answer certainly is not “…diseases from unsafe water and lack of basic sanitation kill more people every year than all forms of violence, including war.”

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So, what draws me to Charity Water? I dare you to watch a couple of their videos and take a wild guess.

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Perhaps I should begin this post by apologizing for going MIA over the last few weeks. The end of 2014 and start of 2015 have been an absolutely whirlwind: acing the GMAT, catching up with old friends after months, leaving my first “real” job, starting a new one with my dream company, planning a summer trip to Japan, endless brunches and copious amounts of sangria. I have also spent many hours pondering over love, life and everything in between, vowing to start 2015 with a bang and make it the best year yet.

Rethinking Relationships

Someone wise once said, “If you want to fly, you have to give up the things that weigh you down.” Nowhere does this ring truer than in relationships with family, with friends and with lovers. If a relationship is weighing you down, giving rise to a murky feeling in the pit of your stomach or simply isn’t working anymore, have the strength, the sensibility and the courage to let it go.

Pick Up A Healthy Habit

Rigorous workouts are not for everyone, but your health should be on your priority list if it isn’t already. This January, pick up one healthy habit and stick with it. Pound the pavement every morning. Quit smoking. Start juicing. Replace chips with carrot sticks. Sleep early. Wake up early. Eat your vitamins. Healthy body, healthy mind.

Indulge Your Inner Bibliophile

My only regret from the year gone by is that I did not read enough. Having been a voracious reader ever since I learned the alphabet, I feel terrible about not making enough time to unravel the secret worlds hidden in the pages of text and tome. On the first day of the New Year, I made a list of sixty-two books which I must complete before the clock strikes twelve on the last day of December, and I plan to check them all off, one novel at a time. Among them are Two Girls Fat and Thin by Mary Gaitskill and Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham. Happy reading!

Address Your Money Matters

Most twenty-somethings turn a blind eye to tax planning, retirement funds and saving schemes. This year, I am taking my money matters into my own hands, setting monthly budgets, considering investments for the future, learning how to file my returns…the works. Once you understand what is going on, you will feel far more empowered and confident when taking crucial financial and life decisions. The time is now. 

Start Over

The best part about the New Year is the opportunity to hit the refresh button and start all over again; an opportunity which must be used to the fullest. You can create new dreams, make peace with your failures, edit your goals, try one more time, move on from your mistakes, give your life a facelift, change direction, throw away old clutter and be a brand new person. Make it happen.

Living large in the New Year,

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All the way back in March, I proclaimed 2014 to be the year of subscription e-commerce. An offshoot of e-commerce as we know it, this model has long held my interest because of its sheer strength to influence a well defined target audience with utmost cost efficiency. Fab Bag is the largest beauty subscription service in India and I was lucky enough to interview the beautiful founder, Vineeta Singh, via email.

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Bonjour, Vineeta! I think we should begin my introducing the readers to Fab Bag…

Fab Bag is a colourful, monthly beauty bag with four curated, high quality products at your doorstep for as low as Rs 400 per month.

Whilst Birchbox is pretty popular overseas, your business is one of the first subscription e-commerce websites in India. How did the idea strike?

I had subscribed to Birchbox through a friend who shipped the boxes to me from New York. I thought the idea was so much more relevant for India, because here it was even tougher to access trial sizes of premium products, especially in smaller cities. Also, Indian women didn’t want to spend a lot of money on beauty products as it was perceived as a guilt inducing purchase. So, a budget way to get access to the best products from across the world would work even better in India.

Most entrepreneurs face hurdles and naysayers when they begin bringing their idea to life. Did you face any negative energy during inception and how did you deal with it?

I did face some resistance from brands at first, because they were not very used to the idea of sampling or eCommerce, but once we convinced the first few brands, we were able to get the others on board as they wanted to replicate the same success.

So, what makes Fab Bag different from other global players like Birch Box et al?

At Fab Bag, we don’t give sample sizes like most global players. We try to give travel or full sizes wherever possible, so that the customer can use the product at least for 2 weeks. Every bag has at least one make up product and the others are a mix of skincare, hair, bath and body products. Also, we have a bag rather than a box, because we learnt from our customers that bags are a lot more handy and useful.

Your website was initially called Velvette. Tell me more about the re-branding.

We were getting customer feedback that the friends who they referred were not able to find the website because of the spelling. So, we were planning a re-branding exercise and we decided to synchronize it with the launch of the men’s bag, as Fab Bag was also a more gender neutral name.

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What is your favourite product from the Fab Bag collection?

My closet is full of Fab Bag products, but if I have to identify one favourite, it would be the Sally Hansen Miracle Cure nail strengthener. I have always had brittle nails and this works like magic for me.

Let’s talk about the market. Subscription e-commerce is such an interesting model! Where do you see the industry heading in the future, specifically within India?

India is a tough market for subscription e-commerce because unlike all other countries, we’re not allowed to do monthly recurring billing on credit cards in India. So, the customer has to pay for subscriptions in advance and this puts more pressure on the company and the customer. So, for subscription based models to work In India, the company has to constantly deliver value that’s way higher than the cost of subscription and innovate every month to keep the customer excited. I think companies that are able to do both will succeed and the others will have to adapt.

What is the best (and worst) part about running your own company?

The best part is that every hour, every day is a new adventure and you have no option but to learn and grow incredibly fast. The worst part is paying all the bills!

Lately, the talk in work-life balance has been spreading like wild fire. Do you manage to strike the balance?

I will not say I have much of a balance. However, as an entrepreneur you don’t distinguish work and life as two separate entities as clearly as most employees do. So, it doesn’t feel like there is a lack of balance. There’s a singular passion that determines most of your actions and choices. Having said that, I do manage to take enough time out to spend with my family and run marathons around the world.

Could you tell me a little bit more about the lady behind Fab bag?

I started out being a math geek and electrical engineer from an IIT. None of my friends could fathom that I’d be the one to start India’s largest beauty subscription company!

If you were stuck on a deserted island, which three things would you take along?

Swiss knife, matchbox and sunscreen – in a Fab Bag!

Finally, what advice would you give to entrepreneurs who are just starting out?

Sell, sell and sell more. There’s nothing more important for an entrepreneur than to be a master salesperson. Also, watch your cash flow closely and hire inspired, passionate people – even if they are inexperienced.

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Interacting with driven, goal-oriented ladies like Vineeta is always such a wonderful experience!

Feeling super inspired,

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Traditionally, consumer-centric businesses have driven and retained customer loyalty by offering value. The greater the perceived value of the product (or service) on offer, the more popular it is amongst consumers…or so the old wives’ tale goes. 2014 has been an exciting year for many industries in India, particularly so for the e-commerce space which has seen the entry of Amazon India, the acquisition of Myntra by Flipkart and the rise of several product discovery platforms like Doozton, which was bought by Snapdeal – but this isn’t yet another blog post about the rise of e-commerce in our nation.

When Flipkart introduced the Cash On Delivery service, it completely changed the dynamics of the market. It capitalised on the Indian consumer’s reluctance to divulge credit card details and make payments online, turning what international companies previously viewed as a disadvantage into a point of differentiation – convenience. Although every online store followed suit and the differentiation was short-lived, there is no denying that the Cash On Delivery service gave Flipkart the leg up it needed.

Banks are bringing out the big guns when it comes to convenience too. They are harnessing the power of mobile internet, creating systems for 24/7 accessibility and doing away with time-consuming compliance. Today, I can create a fixed deposit at the click of my mouse with the HDFC internet banking facility (represent!) In a time-starved world, saving five precious minutes can cement customer loyalty.

Urban Ladder knows that spending large chunks of money without experiencing the look and feel of a product can be nerve wrecking, especially for the Indian middle class which is near-synonymous with the consuming class. As a result, Urban Ladder offers free home trials so that one can understand how a piece of furniture will look in their house before buying it. Urban Ladder’s big idea – “Buying a sofa was never this easy!” – is spot on.

What do these three companies have in common? They correctly identified their consumers’ pain points and cured them. Voila! Instant success. I strongly believe that convenience will emerge as the strongest driver of loyalty in 2015. If you want to win the hearts of your consumers, you had better deliver convenient solutions to their doorstep with cash on delivery at 4am. Just kidding. Not really.

Until next time,

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December is truly a magical time. Ever year, I find myself in shock on the first day of the month, questioning how yet another year has come to an end. However 2014 has been for you (and I sincerely hope it has been out-of-this-world amazing), you must vow to end it with a resounding bang. You can only embrace the upcoming year with open arms when you have gained closure from the one that has passed and December is the time to do it. Easier said than done, I know, but I promise you that these five commandments can make a world of difference:

1. Review your goals. Most of us go into every year with certain aims to tick off the list before the 365 days are over. December is the best time to review your progress and wrap up all of the outstanding goals which you have put aside for the last eleven months. Cut yourself some slack if you cannot complete them all. As Oprah once said, “Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right.”

2. Make amends. Ridding yourself of baggage and negativity from the past is absolutely critical for making the year a success. When the clock strikes twelve, you want nothing but positive thoughts in your mind, heart and soul. Apologize where it is due. Text the old friend you fell out of touch with. Make peace with the world around you. Forgive yourself, too. Remember, that you cannot cross a burnt bridge until you have rebuilt it.

3. Quit cold turkey. You are stronger than you think and there is no excuse for why you have not let go of that nasty habit yet. Quit smoking. Stop binge drinking. Delete that old flame whose charm you cannot seem to resist. Excuse yourself from mindless gossip. Abandon thoughts of self-hatred. Eliminate the negativity from your life; no matter who, what or where it is. 2015 is all about #GoodVibesOnly.

4. Make a change. There is something extremely revitalizing about switching things up, no matter how large or small the change may be. Colour your hair (or chop it all off!). Rearrange your work space. Invest in new daily jewelry. Indulge in fancy bed linen. Paint the walls of your bedroom. Find a new go-to lipstick colour. Learn an exciting sport. Change is good, change is healthy and change is right.

5. Alone time. Most of you have probably spent the last eleven months running from pillar to post and trying to balance your career with your love life, family time and what-not. It is time to take a breather and rediscover the joy of hanging out with yourself. Use the time to catch up on your goals for the upcoming year, re-evaluate your choices and pump yourself up for 2015.  Question yourself: Who am I going to be in 2015? What will I change about myself in the new year? What will I keep? Where will I travel? Will I apply to business school? Think, think, think.

Yours,

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November has been the defining inflection point for my year. I got a new job with my dream company, registered for the GMAT and began a new freelance project which has been both immensely challenging and rewarding. I have been feeling extremely grateful for the people in my life – family, friends, clients and colleagues, both old and new. I have also been making a conscious effort to shift my energy to what I want from life rather than the misgivings of the past. I feel happier and healthier. I feel alive. And I am very, very excited for 2015.

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Hitting the tennis courts after ages; chasing my dreams; colourful office lunches; sangria nights with my best friend; chia pudding with fresh fruit and nuts for breakfast; finally penning down a study plan for the GMAT; raging with Afrojack; lazy days with my man; holiday planning (Tokyo, we are coming for ya!); juice cleansing for the first time; rediscovering my favourite jewelry; making amends; working on my first re-branding project and kicking ass; gratitude all day, every day; being regular with my daily workout; the classic combination of ham and cheese; being silly with the fam-jam; Lay Me Down (Epique Remix) by Sam Smith; feeling super inspired after TEDx Gateway; learning to live and let live; chatting with my favourite people across the world and realizing that some relationships are forever; morning rituals; arm cuffs with everything; marinated feta cheese; laughing a lot. 

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I’m on a roller coaster that only goes up, my friend. 

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If I asked you what the most important driver of brand awareness is, what would be the first thought to cross your mind? Social media? Television commercials? Large scale events? Public relation campaigns? Celebrity ambassadors? These elements are effective but I would not go so far as to say that any of them are absolutely critical.

The biggest lesson I have learned during my fifteen months with a strategic advisory company is this: people do business with people. We do not do business with Facebook posts, internet commercials or multinational corporations. We do business with the humans who support it. So when you ask me what the most important driver of brand awareness is, I will not think twice before giving you my answer: Brand Advocates.

At this point, I must differentiate between Brand Advocates and Brand Ambassadors. The latter are paid by the company to actively promote the brand name at events, with the media and in advertising. More often than not, the relationship between the advocate and the brand in question lasts only as long as the contract does or until one party sues another (case in point: Nike sues Virat Kohli on breach of contract).

Brand Advocates, on the other hand, champion the brand without being paid to do so. Their relationship with the brand can last until the end of time (or at least until the brand continues to deliver on its promises). Who can be a Brand Advocate, you ask? Satisfied customers, well-treated employees, senior managers who believe in what they do – absolutely anyone! So, what should your ideal advocate look like?

Brand Advocates are reliable. In fact, they are trusted by 92% of consumers.

Brand Advocates are talkers. They are 50% more likely to create content that influences purchase decisions.

Brand Advocates love to share information. They are 83% more likely to share information than the average internet user.

Brand Advocates are social beings. They are three times more likely to share information with people they do not know.

The key to implementing a successful advocacy program is to build it organically. Identify people who are already talking about your brand and make them your best friend. Encourage them to participate in building a strong brand by helping you solve problems, gain a better understanding of consumer perceptions and recognizing their role in helping you grow.

Make them part of the conversation.

One of my favourite examples of harnessing the power of brand advocacy is My Starbucks Idea – a think tank started by the world’s favourite coffee stop which allows coffee drinkers to share their ideas for new caffeinated concoctions. “We used to launch a new product and it cost millions of dollars. Now, when we launch a new product, we already have millions of fans,” says Chris Bruzzo.

Starbucks, American Express, Subway and Walmart all know what most brands do not: Brand Advocates are the best marketing force you will ever have. Use them.

Indulging in the magic of advocacy,

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