Shilpa Bhandari – Crackerjack’s Queen

[hero heading=”Mantra for Success”]Learn at every step in your life. Never quit learning.
See an opportunity? Seize the opportunity and pursue it. Pursue it with relentless passion.[/hero]

Shilpa Bhandari of Crackerjack is an embodiment of the above principles and one might add she is the symbol of leadership, creativity and excellence. This is about her journey.

Remember the days when we used to watch ads to get info and learn about new products and services? It was the time when brands used the medium of advertising to build trust through whatever limited media channels were available back then – mostly print, radio and TV and it was mostly one-way communication from brands to consumers. Many still remember the jingles and recollect the ads even after several years.

However, things have changed. There is so much advertising these days, it is a blur for most of us. We hardly remember their jingles and most of the ads shown are too good to be true types. Overtime, most people lost trust in corporate messages.

But for good or bad, the advertising channels to approach the consumer have changed over the years as well. The new medium has now made two-way communication possible. The days of traditional advertising is over. Consumers today are not just exposing unethical brands but are also exposing the quality of products they buy by reviewing products online, almost instantly.

While writing reviews online is a great way to get the voice of the consumer within all of us out, it also means brands need to reinvent and change their tactics. This translates into more work for companies today to retain their brand value.

But even in all this, advertising at its core remained the same as 50 years ago. While the money moved from traditional offline to online and onto other medium of advertising, the tactics remained the same. Most companies (large and small) still try to build a brand from top down and attract more consumers by saying they are great.

Companies have to shift from this mindset, they have to shift from saying they are great to being great. They need to build a brand from bottom up, not top down. They should not just tell fictional stories but be more transparent, be social. This is a big change.

Change is difficult for any industry but it can be gradual and this is the change Shilpa Bhandari is trying to help the brands make. She saw an opportunity in trying to help them make the change.

When she was in her mid-twenties and at the height of the career, she quit working for a renowned design studio to start Crackerjack, a visual communication and design studio catering to what she calls ‘unserved’ market segments. Here it is in her own words.

1. The beginnings –

After excelling in Bachelor’s of Fine Arts (Commercial Art) from the University of Rajasthan, Jaipur, I stepped into the world of advertising and graphic design in 2006. In the course of my career, I worked with renowned design studios in Jaipur and Mumbai. In the process, got trained by stalwarts of the communication design industry. Being a senior Army Officer’s daughter, I had the opportunity to visit many states in India, study in eight to ten schools due to my father’s frequent postings. This ‘nomadic’ lifestyle exposed me to different cultures, traditions, art forms, languages, experiences and creativity. Instead of opting for Science and Commerce, I therefore opted for Fine Arts, which in a way turned out to be a ‘creative lab’, where I could apply my past experiences.

2. The spark –

While working with renowned design studios under creative stalwarts, I worked on prestigious projects. It was an enriching learning experience and that’s where I earned my spurs. However, I soon realized many design studios were focusing on big accounts, like, FMCG, Consumer Durables, Hotels, Financial services, etc. Somewhere, start-ups, small medium enterprises, mom&pop stores, educational institutions, individual experts (like Doctors, Lawyers, Artists, Musicians, Actors, Stylists, Housewives, Sportsman, Insurance Agents) etc., were being left out by big design studios. This finding inspired me to serve the ‘underserved’ and/or ‘unserved’ market segment, i.e., both B2C and B2B. In order to make a difference in the creative world with out-of-box ideas and work, I founded Crackerjack Visual Communication & Design in 2010. Crackerjack refers to such under-served and un-served prospects & clients of theirs as [icons icon=”icon-star” color=”#000000″ size=”10″]’star accounts‘[icons icon=”icon-star” color=”#000000″ size=”10″], as they aspire to become big.

Crackerjack Logo

(But I kept learning) To derive best value out of Crackerjack and to add impetus to my business, I completed Post Graduation in Advertising, Marketing and Sales Management from KC College of Management Studies, Mumbai.

3. Why the name –

The name is often the first impression a potential new client will have so it needed to both stand out and if possible, fit in with the company’s product or service. Brand names need to be memorable in order to create a buzz and generate an interest in what is it that your business provides.

In other words, we wanted our brand name to stand out from the crowd and generate curiosity. We felt that making our brand name too descriptive and straightforward may kill the curiosity that is needed to sustain the interest. Hence, the name “crackerjack” (which we refer to as CJ)

As one word “CRACKERJACK” means – a person or a thing that shows marked ability or excellence, as a business – model of excellence or perfection of a kind; one having no equal. And “a crackerjack team” means a team of experts, the best.

We wanted a name, which would be unique and memorable!

4. Crackerjack Team –

Our Crackerjack team is a family of progressive and creative professionals, who share a common passion for visual communication and design. The core team comprises the Founder, a Manager of Marketing & Business Development, a Visualizer and a Programmer. We also hire interns from B-Schools and other graduate level students (Fine Arts etc) for internship, who can bring in fresh thinking and creativity.

4. The USP –

Crackerjack’s USP lies in consistently creating work that attracts, engages and has a complete recall value. Crackerjack in its work uses contemporary graphic design language which often draws inspiration from the visual culture of India and sets it apart from the crowd. We offer a fresh and savvy approach in designing projects, irrespective of its size. We experiment with fine art, illustration, and fashion to create graphic designs that are original, memorable and effective. Our objective is to develop, evolve and deliver products which contribute towards brand differentiation and sustainability. With respect to other advertising agencies, we educate our clients based on extensive research, are nimble in responding to our client needs, able to execute projects faster and charge reasonable fees based on the value we add.

Being a nimble startup, we also provide a value added service to SMEs in India where we see lot of potential. The big advertising firms have not been able to cater to SMEs completely, probably because they are already working with big industry players thus leaving them with limited bandwidth and resources for SMEs (or the Indian SMEs cannot afford the fees charged by biggies).

It is also important to understand the mindset of Indian SMEs. Based on our interaction, Indian SMEs are generally reluctant to loosen their purse strings for any brand building, marketing or advertising needs as their dreams are largely ‘local’. However, there are some SMEs who are thinking global and acting local by leveraging the services of firms like ours. As a futuristic firm, we are able to add value by spending a lot of time educating SMEs about the ‘power of branding’ based on a research based approach. Based on facts and case studies, we make them believe that in this competition they need to thrive and not just survive. We try and understand the needs, wants and pain points of SMEs who aspire to be big! We believe a customized ‘bundled service’ (based on extensive research) at a reasonable price point adds a lot of value in enhancing the brand. For example, to a SME it could be a combination of “logo, tagline, stationery, etc” and to an individual it could be “customized business cards plus a personalized stylized/classic notepad.

So, a customized bundled service could be a combination of any of the services we offer depending on the needs of the client.

5. Major challenges and how to overcome –

In terms of SMEs, major challenges include traditional mindset, lack of awareness on the branding front, non willingness of SMEs to spend time and money and looking advertising as an expense rather than income (a value addition). However, we have been able to overcome these challenges by educating the SMEs and thus they are getting more business.

6. Growth plans –

Few years from now, we see our team expanding and thus our reach expanding to various geographical regions through online offering in today’s digital world. We hope to make a transition from a boutique to a full service firm.

Need a crackerjack team to boost your brand image, ask the crackerjack’s queen.

(If you are an amazing Indian startup and would like to be interviewed or featured on then we’d be happy to talk to you. Contact us right away.)
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Bootstrapper at Startups
Being away from India for several years, I'm always excited about anything Indian. I'm particularly crazy (read passionate) about start-ups in India and administer the portal for Indian Startups which started off as a platform to write about startups around the world and India in particular. Do startups interest you? Then join startups. Let's build startups in India together. If you need to talk to me in real-time, I'll be available on IRC channel #startuphub. Click to connect.

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