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Smart marketers are increasing budgets on design front to drive preference, desire for products: Lulu Raghavan of Landor & Fitch India

In a candid conversation with BestMediaInfo.com, Raghavan, Managing Director, Landor & Fitch India, discusses how the business for the re-imagination of brands or the creation of new brands is booming. She also talks about the recent integration of the two agencies

Lulu Raghavan

Multiple reports say that up to 94% consumers are influenced by their trust in a brand when it comes to product innovation. Part of it is packaging and designing, which are not only considered as an extension of the brand but also a bearer of the brand message. Though still underestimated by many companies, the perspective and focus of marketers on this aspect seems to be evolving over the years.

Lulu Raghavan, Managing Director, Landor & Fitch India, believes that smart marketers are really increasing their budgets in ensuring that a brand has a strong standout and can drive preference and desire for its products.

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This focus has now accelerated with the Covid-19 pandemic. She said recognising what a brand stands for or how it is presented at all of the touch points—everything matters in the perception of the brand.

In a conversation with BestMediaInfo.com, Raghavan discussed the impact of the pandemic on design-centric agencies and the increasing demand for rebranding and semiotics.

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She talked about the brand integration of two WPP agencies —global brand consulting and design agency Landor and experience and retail design consultancy Fitch and their diversified suite of offerings for a complete brand transformation.

Raghavan, who was former MD of Landor, has now taken on the role of Managing Director, Landor & Fitch India, which includes two offices in Mumbai and Delhi.

Her leadership team includes Kurnal Rawat and Arnab Ray as Creative Directors, Ronita Mukerjee, Vishal Patankar, Manukrishna Nair as Executive Directors, Client Services, Rajbhushan Sawant as Architecture Director, Swarupa Bhangvi, Finance Director  and Manil Dodani, Business Development and Marketing Director.

Excerpts:

Landor has integrated with Fitch to form ‘Landor & Fitch’. What new expertise and offerings will this integration bring for brands in India?

Both agencies are actually very well established in India. Landor is a pioneer in branding and was set up almost 80 years ago. As Walter Landor famously said, “Products are built in the factory, but brands are created in the mind”. And Fitch was set up by Rodney Arthur Fitch, a pioneer in retail design, who said, “Only one company can be the cheapest but everybody else needs design”. So it's really the integration of the thinking, the culture, and the activities of two very iconic companies. And when we come together, what we see is a huge opportunity for an integrated offer in the space of brand transformation and that's really our space. The world is undergoing digital disruption and every brand is undergoing changes. Brands have to fundamentally ask themselves what do they stand for or how are we relevant to our customers. How can we be different? How do we bring our value to life in the whole 360-degree experience? So we think that there's a huge opportunity for a brand's transformation and that is our offer, which starts with brand strategy and then to brand expression, which is really thinking about how the brand is brought to life visually, verbally in motion, then thinking about the experience of the brand. We use brands to drive cultural transformation. The brand is a catalyst for the culture, design of workspaces. So how do you really manage the brand to extract the maximum value, and then keeping an eye on brand performance? The brand transformation wheel shows our integrated offer.

Brand Transformation Wheel:

We're really excited about that opportunity to provide the full suite of brand transformation services from the more upstream strategic work to the executional work, all under one roof. My team is now almost 100. So being able to have all of that expertise under one roof is something that our clients value hugely.

You have been with Landor for more than two decades. It needs a lot of love for the company, dedication and honesty towards work to continue working for a company for so long. People look for growth and change after working for a few years at one company. What made you stick with Landor?

It's a fantastic company. I love the mission of the company, which is brand transformation using creativity and the power of design to create an impact. I love the culture. It's a global culture; it is a place where you can really feel like you belong. So there is a great sense of belonging, there's a lot of pride in the work that we do. And there are a lot of opportunities for growth. And now with the integration of Landor & Fitch, I have the opportunity to lead it again. So when you're constantly being recognised for your contributions, you have the freedom to innovate, to create, to grow, so why would I even look anywhere else? On a more serious note, I really believe it's only when you stick in a place for a while, you start to have an impact. If you constantly move around every two to three years, the impact and legacy you will have is much less, but I'm not saying it's for everyone.

Business across agencies was impacted due to the pandemic. Being a design-centric agency, was the impact worse or better than the regular digital, media and creative agencies?

It really depends and it is hard to generalise. But I can say that our business has been excellent. If you look at what design can bring to the table, which is to help you innovate, to help you reimagine, to help you think about every touch point of the experience, it is relevant today. So yes, maybe some of the smaller guys who were not able to establish that differentiation have shut shop, but any designer worth their salt that can really add value should be booming right now. Because there's a lot of business for the re-imagination of brands or the creation of new brands. I think the demand is quite robust.

How is the scenario around talent acquisition, upskilling and employee retention among the design agencies in India? How willing is the young generation to join design agencies and make their career in this field?

As opportunities pick up, the smartest designers will have more opportunities for growth. Digital design is growing rapidly, that's probably the hottest area for talent acquisition. I think it really comes down to how as agencies we treat our employees, the kind of opportunities for growth we give them, how much we reward them, both financially and sort of emotionally, the kind of work we give them – and that will determine how much they stay or they go. However, Covid-19 has shaken people up and there is a sense and desire for stability unlike before. But the pandemic has also worn people down; work from home is quite a drag and that fatigue has set in. And so the leaders have a lot of responsibility to really energise their teams and to constantly provide motivation, stimulation, inspiration to keep the whole team going. The younger generation is much more willing to join design agencies than advertising agencies.

How are you seeing the focus of marketers evolving on the design aspect of branding? What kind of marketing budget is allotted on the design front? Do you see the share of design in the marketing budgets improving?

Absolutely. I think more and more, the understanding of the value of brands and how brands can make a difference is increasing. If you see some of the briefs that we get, people are recognising what the brand stands for, how the brand is presented on all of the touch points; from your website to retail to trade conferences, everything matters in the perception of the brand. So the smart marketers are really increasing their budgets in ensuring that the brand really has a strong standout and can drive preference and desire for the products.

We have seen increasing focus from the brands’ end towards sustainable packaging, innovating designing and transparent communication with consumers. Do you think the global pandemic has something to do with these trends, and will the brands that are not working on this front lose the game? 

Firstly, I think these trends had already started and Covid-19 has accelerated each of these. A lot of companies are aligning with the Sustainable Development Goals outlined by the United Nations. And everyone is realising that sustainability might be a buzzword but it makes real business sense. So there's a huge emphasis and understanding about how it applies to each company. We at Landor & Fitch have an initiative called the Good Squad, which is a global team of those who are interested in sustainability and dedicate up to 10% of their time to learn more about it and to advance their knowledge in this area. And through the initiative, we've done some amazing work around the world, including partnering with P&G to help Gillette launch ‘Planet Kind’, which is a new line of products that are kind to the skin and the planet. This is an area of increasing interest and I think more and more CMOs and CEOs are having this conversation. For us, it's not sustainability for the sake of it, but it is brand-led sustainability, which can really create differentiation in line with what the brand stands for.

When is the right time for a brand to go for rebranding? What are the basic checkboxes to be ticked while rebranding? It is seen that some brands undergo rebranding after several years while others rebrand within 2-5 years of launch. Does the number of years of existence of a brand even matter when one decides to rebrand?

The key is relevance, differentiation and energy. In any of these, if you're starting to do badly, it's time to think about rebranding. You have to be relentlessly relevant to your consumers. If you lose some energy in the market, you're fading, or you're just looking a little bit tired. I don't think a total rebrand is always required, but you have to constantly keep your brand fresh. And it doesn't mean a logo; the brand is much more than a logo. It's the entire visual, verbal environment in which the brand lives. I think the golden rule is fresh but familiar. How do you constantly be fresh but not change? I think many times brands are tempted to go in for wholesale change, and that may not always be required.

Recently, Myntra had to make changes in its brand logo due to unwanted criticism. What is your take on such an issue? Is there a way for brands to be doubly sure that something like that doesn’t happen with them?

There's no full-proofing. Myntra logo has been around for a while and this issue never came up before. Millions of consumers saw it, but never saw any negativity in it and did not see a sinister plot to bring women down, as was alleged. There is no way to fully protect. Though a lot of brands will do consumer testing to ensure that there are no gross negatives, you can also do cultural testing of brands. You have to be clear on what the story is and what is being represented. Unfortunately, sometimes the criticism or what has been pointed out is an issue and then you may have to pull off your brand. But a lot of the bigger brands do take all of this into account before launching.

According to you, what role does semiotics play in marketing? Are brands becoming more aware on this front or has it always been there and is it just that the conversations on semiotics have increased? 

I would say the conversation has increased. It's always been there, symbolism is at the heart and root of brands. Semiotics is de-coding what is on the pack or what the brand stands for. It was always there, the conversation has increased a lot because there is much more emphasis on design and aesthetics. It wasn't there so much before. The conversation, the rigour, the discipline of semiotics has become a lot more also because I think brands want to be culturally relevant and to be culturally relevant, you have to be very cognisant of semiotics in different categories, and how semiotics will be decoded by consumers. So it has become more evolved, I would say.

How can agencies help brands when it comes to understanding culture and create designs and experiences accordingly?

I think the agency world is full of smart people who have a lot of breadth across subjects. So if you have access to creative and strategic brainpower that you may not have in-house, and the role of that brainpower is to bring you fresh ideas that are culturally relevant, that can really help you connect more deeply with your consumers. Because the folks at the agencies are constantly in touch with culture, with consumers, and due to their outside perspective, they bring fresh insights to the client.

Info@BestMediaInfo.com

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