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Grace Chan_Axiata

Chapter One: That just happens to be my favourite find in Dublin, Ireland. A pit-stop before Dublin Airport that turned out to be a humbly wonderful place that served glorious lunch with sugary hints for dessert. Now when I think about it, be it Dublin, Ojai, Carmel, Wengen, Manama, good old Malacca and many more, our lives are defined by moments, delightful or otherwise, that form stories.

Memorable stories deserve a second glance. If all your delightful stories are stored in your heart, you’d somehow like to pick a few and tell them at parties or over dinner. But today, with most of us racing to keep up with the latest trends, stories are forgotten. With that, potentially so are values and learnings attached to stories. I would humbly like to change that.

Part of being a marketer today is creating and curating content for our brands. Now, we are talking about serving millions of people, who thanks to digitisation, are experts in all areas: food journalism, comedy, photography, and the list goes on. So, for me, storytelling, laced with insights, needs to somehow find its way back into the forefront of content generation. This aspiration inspired Celcom’s Hari Raya and Merdeka-Malaysia campaign series.

My favourite part of the job was to sit with Marzuki and Henry (the talented ECDs of one of our agencies) to craft stories (I’m not sure they appreciate that I’m bordering on infringing their area of expertise!). I’d say, “Abang Zuk, you know back in the day, I used to stay hours at my friends, Noraini and Natalie’s homes until my late grandma had to phone their house reminding that I had been out for hours”. We led carefree lives with our friends and paid no mind to race, religion and politics. We were fine being caned on our palms with those infamous feather dusters, delighted in sipping Milo from a saucer and didn’t mind sitting with our elders to listen to “petuas” (advice).

These are stories I’d like to tell people, to gently nudge them in giving their own life stories a second glance. But it’s not as straightforward as that. These stories need to be repurposed to remain charming and memorable. Personally, between generating flimsy content versus stories that resonate regardless of a digital age, I would choose the latter. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate that gimmicky content that drives up shares and views, but wouldn’t it be nice to courageously find a balance with stories which are a memorable part of our lives? I’m confident we can find a space to house these eloquent and sometimes quintessential stories.

As marketers, we should aim to understand the nuances of the delightful Malaysian culture and respect the differences that make this country special. Beautiful stories require careful crafting and appreciation for details. We have to get it right below five minutes and we need an insight to strengthen the story. No story is as compelling as the one with an insight. Subsequently, it’s understanding the plot layering and selecting instances that resonate the most, and staying true to relevance across time and generations.

To complete the appreciation and appeal to people’s senses, cinematography and music become the final brush strokes. In summary, beautiful storytelling is like developing a scent, you decide on the notes and personality to create lasting moments. If you’re lucky, you create magic. Just remember, stories come from places where you spent time, by chance, by fate or by design.

The writer is Grace Chan, head of brand marketing, Celcom Axiata. The article first appeared in A+M’s The Futurist edition.