The Battle of Agility: Automotive Branding in the Modern Age

April 1, 2016

Royal Enfield has long been a brand admired and cherished in India. The Ambassador, produced by Hindustan motors, was also widely revered. Nitika Parekh looks at the history of each brand to understand why one thrived, while the other failed.

They were the icons of their times and everyone wanted to own one.
They were preferred by the military and elite—only dreamt of by commoners.
They belonged to the golden age of British motoring and began their brand battle in the late 1950s in India.
Their aficionados still have enormous respect for the brands and the experiences they provide.
And yet, Royal Enfield emerged triumphant and produces motorcycles even today, while the Ambassador, a car produced by Hindustan motors, lost the brand battle and was eventually retired.
As participants in an agility race to resonate with modern consumers, why did one brand succeed while the other failed?

Consumers expect agility

Today, customers know what they want. Information is shared in a spilt second with a single click or a tap. Some brands have leveraged this drastic shift in communication to help them thrive, while others have tried to do so, but to no avail. Still other brands have perished without trying to adapt at all.

Landor has been keeping tabs on this trend by talking to millennials and analyzing businesses to understand which brand actions are resulting in business gains. We found that the most successful companies are those that take advantage of “The Agility Paradox,” balancing multiple seemingly contradictory behaviors to fulfill complex consumer expectations. These brands are able to clearly define and be true to their purpose, while at the same time looking for ways to innovate and reinvent themselves. There are six key behaviors that agile brands must manage—being principled, adaptive, global, open, multichannel, and responsible.

As we think about brand agility, let’s consider the example of Royal Enfield versus the Ambassador. The six behaviors of agile brands highlight why Royal Enfield survived the test of time while the Ambassador disappeared from the streets of India and was ultimately left behind.


A principled brand stands for something that its customers can relate to, offering a primary reason to buy that particular brand.

Royal Enfield took advantage of this: It created an identity around being built for consumers that are passionate about riding and adventure. The brand stays true to this core belief and efficiently communicates its message across consumer touchpoints. Everything that the brand says or does links back to its identity and belief system.

The Ambassador, meanwhile, couldn’t find its sense of self. Being one of only two cars made in India until the 1980s, Indians used to feel a sense of pride from owning an Ambassador. But the brand couldn’t translate this legacy forward in a competitive modern market, leading to its eventual demise.


Change is the only constant, and to survive in today’s world, brands need to adapt to current times.

Knowing that efficiency and technology were imperative for its success, Royal Enfield adapted its manufacturing plant to be completely automated. As a nod to its history, it preserved one unique product feature—continuing to hand-draw the stripes on the fuel tank of the Royal Enfield Bullet. By leveraging state-of-the-art technology, Royal Enfield creates innovative bike designs that meet modern customer demands.

From the days of the Landmaster in the 1950s to those of the Encore in 2013, Hindustan Motors, the maker of the Ambassador, has made only slight changes to its car designs, regardless of model. Its unsuccessful attempt to market a transport vehicle called the Trekker reinforces the reasons for the Ambassador’s failure—the company’s lack of adaptation prevented both cars from being relevant to consumers, irrespective of the brand’s strong cultural ties to India’s history.


A brand does not have to expand to all corners of the world to be global, but taking inspiration from the world can help it establish strength and relevancy.

Royal Enfield was brought to India from the United Kingdom to serve the needs of the Indian military. It came to believe that it would only be able to understand its customers by getting close to them, so it set up a wide network of stores and dealerships in towns and cities across India and around the world.

The Ambassador, meanwhile, was based on the Morris Oxford. Although Hindustan Motors ceased its creation in May 2014, the Ambassador was truly an Indian car with a global influence at its pinnacle in the 1970s. In 2013, Top Gear even ranked the Ambassador the best taxi in the world. Relying on its prior status as a global icon could not protect it, however. As the world became a more interconnected place, the Ambassador lost prominence and top-of-mind awareness for consumers.

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Collaboration and co-creation is the norm in today’s world. Companies no longer create and control brands in isolation—customers themselves are brand advocates that weigh in and offer advice on brands, products, and ideas for companies.

Royal Enfield pushed forward with its brand belief of catering to passionate riders and adventure seekers by organizing meets and rides at different locations across India. It also organizes Rider Mania, an annual bike festival that attracts Royal Enfield riders the world over. Its website gives the brand’s cult followers a platform of their own where they can create communities and meet people with similar interests.

The Ambassador was an old-school company that focused on creating products, not building a brand. Its lack of openness prevented it from adapting and did not allow it to establish a strong, lasting connection with consumers.


Customers today have the power to make or break a brand. Brands need to be where their customers are, in the right places at the right times.

From factory tours and brand stores to social media, fan communities, and major events, Royal Enfield believes that every channel provides an opportunity to tell its story. Consumers are invited to share brand experiences, discuss problems and solutions, and provide feedback. All Royal Enfield’s endeavors seamlessly route back to its brand promise and deliver them across numerous platforms. These activities only form a small percentage of Royal Enfield’s sales, but they go a long way in building esteem and respect for the brand.

With the Ambassador, attempts at a multichannel approach were abandoned long ago. During its heyday, the Ambassador succeeded in establishing a strong network of dealerships across the country, allowing consumers to access the brand in many locations. Over time the brand fell behind, however: it did not look to interact with customers through new channels, thereby limiting its growth. Ambassador enthusiasts have kept the spirit of the car alive through social media, but it unfortunately amounts to too little too late.


For modern consumers, brands have to focus on more than just monetary gains. Giving back to the community, mitigating environmental impact, and conducting business in a responsible manner have all becomes elements that consumers consider before making purchase decisions.

Royal Enfield was proud to announce that it was the first to comply with mandatory government regulations for emission regulation. Its manufacturing plant has also received certifications for its product quality and health and safety measures.

Interestingly, Hindustan Motors also performs well in this category. It introduced cars that run off compressed natural gas, offering consumers an eco-friendly alternate to petrol and diesel cars. The Ambassador was also known to be a fuel-efficient, long-lasting automobile that rarely needed repairs. Unfortunately for the brand, maintaining just one agile behavior wasn’t enough—agile brands must strive to manage multiple agile attributes in order to succeed.

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Although Royal Enfield has proven to be an agile brand, its story has not always been an easy one. Turmoil, trial, and triumph are part and parcel for any brand that has existed a long time. From financial losses and faulty motorbikes to a dwindling fan base, Royal Enfield has had to create new strategies to help it thrive. It has succeeded because it understands its brand and its customers’ changing needs, using agile behaviors to continually push the brand forward.

Today’s marketplace is more competitive than ever before. It is a battleground, with brands constantly struggling to make their mark in consumers’ minds. To be victorious, brands must be armed with the right artillery, requiring a change in mindset for brand managers. Victorious brands need to continuously innovate and evolve while being true to what they stand for. This is the core of the Agility Paradox and what ultimately decides if brands thrive or fail. As the Ambassador demonstrated, brands that are unprepared to face the onslaught of change will be annihilated in time.

Header Image Credit: Nicolas Mirguet (Ambassador) and Harsh Man Rai (Royal Enfield)

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