The Managing Director at Landor Associates takes us through her 16-year ride, how Landor grew roots in India, how branding has changed over the years, why it is necessary to be an agile brand today, and balancing work with motherhood.
Lulu Raghavan, Managing Director, Landor Associates, has been in the business of building brands since 1997. She has spent 16 of these years at Landor. Armed with only a laptop and working from home, Raghavan is credited with single-handedly setting up Landor’s India business.
When not naming brands and designing airports, Raghavan likes to cook and even has a food blog. She is an avid reader and likes to use the long hours she spends travelling in devouring books. Sporty by nature, Raghavan finds time to play a little tennis and practise yoga.
In a free-flowing chat with BestMediaInfo.com, Raghavan talks about how she ended up being a Naming Consultant with Landor, what are the characteristics of an agile brand and why trade markebility is important. Excerpts:
“On my resume, I have five languages. I am a Tamilian, so, of course, I speak Tamil, and Hindi. I did my junior semester in France, so I am fluent in French, and when I moved to California, I learned Spanish…When the brand strategy person looked at my resume, he said I would be perfect for naming!”
Q: You have worked with Landor since 2001. You joined as a Naming/Brand Strategist. What did the role entail?
The role entailed developing product names and company names. Naming actually is a big business in the US because it is very difficult in many categories to come up with names that you can use and protect, as in trademark. There are so many companies in every category that you can’t just start up a company or create a new technology and name it whatever you like because 100 per cent that name might have already been taken. So, the US market is very mature for branding services and within branding, this whole business of giving names and an identity to a product or a company is also a business. It is very difficult to come up with a name that makes sense for the product or for the company, for it to clear all of the trademark registration, for it to not mean anything negative in some country around the world.
So, naming is a whole process and I got into naming when I applied to Landor. I was very interested in branding and brand strategy. On my resume, I have five languages. I am a Tamilian, so, of course, I speak Tamil, and Hindi. When I was in college, I did my junior semester in France, so I am fluent in French, and when I moved to California, it took six months for my visa to come through and during that time I learned Spanish. So, I knew all of these languages and when the brand strategy person looked at my resume, he said I would be perfect for naming! So the person who was interviewing me convinced me that all the people who had started off in naming at Landor had gone on to be very successful. I asked her why was that, and she told me that naming is very strategic because you have to understand the product or the company. You have to make the link with the business and what you are trying to do with the name. It is also very creative because there is the whole name generation game which includes brainstorming, being very expansive in your thinking, really knowing words and languages and, finally, you really need to have good persuasive skills so that you can facilitate the selling of the name. She told me it will be a great point of entry into Landor. Besides, they were not hiring brand strategists at that time. So I thought I would at least get into Landor via naming. After a couple of years, my naming boss told me that I am much suited for brand strategy because the kind of ‘namers’ we had were PhDs in linguistics. But it was a really great background and it has helped me here in India. We have done a ton of naming for clients.
“We always think of the name as an opportunity to engage the consumer. It is their first touch point with the brand and it says something about who you are, what you stand for and what you don’t stand for”
Q: What are some of the factors that one needs to keep in mind while naming a product or a company?
We always think of the name as an opportunity to engage the consumer. It is their first touch point with the brand and it says something about who you are, what you stand for and what you don’t stand for, it also gives the clients a glimpse into your personality. For us the first priority is to fit the brand, and what you are trying to portray as a brand, the DNA of the brand. In this day and age it is short and easy. Easy to say, easy to spell is important but you have to balance that with availability. If you look at a name like Accenture, it is not easy to say or easy to spell but it was quite distinct (accent on the future) and they were able to trademark it. Sometimes it is a trade-off between what is easy to say and spell and trade markability but definitely simpler names are coming to the fore today.
Thirdly, it is just availability, it is very important. How you stand out from your competitors is also important. If all the other competitors are really funky, then you can be a little bit more serious, you can have a different kind of personality. Sometimes you may choose to blend in but mostly brands want to stand apart so that is another factor. Also, how you will use the name as a part of your overall marketing communication also matters. Is it a really powerful vessel?
When we were doing Lavasa, we could have called it Lake Town but there are only so many things you can say with that name. It is a town and it has a lake, so it is a very restrictive kind of a name and you can’t do anything with it. But a name like Lavasa is open and fluid and immediately opens pathways for marketing and branding. So we also look at names as vessels. Is it an empty vessel into which we can pour meaning like Lavasa or does it come completely filled with meanings like Lake Town?
Lastly, you have to be careful that it is not grossly negative. Today naming is so difficult compared to when I did it 15 years ago. Naming projects today are very difficult just because of the creativity that is required to make sense of a name and sell it, especially because of the explosion of the internet.
Q: You basically set up Landor’s business in India. Please take us through how you went about that particular Herculean task.
When I look back now, I hadn’t even dreamt that we would be in this office. I was the brand ambassador for Landor on ground and we had two clients, HCC and Taj. I had also had my first baby around that time, so the company was very supportive of me because I had worked with them for seven years. I was very honoured that they trusted me and it didn’t matter that I was working from home because I would show up at meetings. The year after when I started to believe that there was a lot of potential in us because we were getting more briefs, I was going out and meeting a lot of people and we were getting traction. That is when I decided that I couldn’t do this from home anymore. So, when I was able to get more business enquiries I felt it was important to have a proper office. We have a lot of sister companies here with WPP and Grey is one of our sister companies. They were very gracious and said that I could set up Landor in their office. So I got a lovely office in Grey. For me it was wonderful because I was just one person and I had this entire office and their great infrastructure. They had an auditorium, a library, a terrace garden, so it was fabulous as a first office! To begin with it was me and I hired a Brand Strategist.
“A client who has that belief in the expertise that is required to build a brand or refresh a brand and doesn’t think of this as just a cosmetic logo job is very important. There’s a lot of discipline that goes into the creation of a brand and refreshing a brand”
I remember the first day we entered that office. It was February 7, 2008 and it incidentally was the coldest day in Mumbai in many years. We were in the terrace garden thinking we would have lunch and we were freezing. That was the first day and from there it has just been being dedicated, sincere and hard working every single day and it has just slowly grown from that. It was not a grand plan or a big strategy that I had but it was just being really good at what you do every day.
The first big project that we won here was Café Coffee Day in 2008 and slowly as we started winning projects, we started hiring people. For the first three to four years it was five people and then there was a jump to 10 people and then 15. We also had to sustain our business because we don’t have any retainers as we are a project-based business and so I just couldn’t hire tons of people and it was also not like my bosses gave me a billion dollars to set up the business. Rather they believed in me, put me on the ground and they wanted me to be resourceful and slowly build up. I think that also helped. It was quite pragmatic. Otherwise, you have big plans, you hire 20 people and then you have to let them go.
Of course we have had our bumps, sometimes we have been larger than we should have been because you see that you are growing and you feel you will always grow but you also recognise that in our business it comes in waves. In the early years I actually was on Bloomberg and I had a TV show on branding and that helped a lot, and I would say that in many ways Google helped. When people look up Landor or my name, it shows us. And I have written articles. So I think all of that underscores credibility and expertise. A lot of it has been PR and marketing ourselves, and not with any big budgets. I think the everyday actions have really built the brand in India.
I think in the initial ages one of the challenges was relevant work. Our clients loved to see international work but then they would ask what has your team done? Now I have a sizzle reel of my team’s work and it is really impressive. But in the early years the challenge was to convince our clients that yes we have a lot of global work and we will get global resources to help on our India projects as well. So, convincing clients that they would get the same quality of work as the examples we showed was definitely a challenge. Another challenge was convincing the clients about the value that we bring to the table. Not all clients have experience in buying branding. So convincing them of the value that a brand consultant brings to the table, the value that we add to their business was a challenge.
Q: Since the services that you provide are so niche and refined, did brands in India understand that when you first came to India? What were the challenges you faced while setting up business in India?
Setting ourselves apart from ad agencies, digital agencies, PR agencies, freelancers, basically claiming a competitive position, was key as well. We are also probably not relevant to everyone. A client who has that belief in the expertise that is required to build a brand or refresh a brand and doesn’t think of this as just a cosmetic logo job is also very important. There is a lot of discipline that goes into the creation of a brand and refreshing a brand.
Q: Would you classify Landor as a mainstream creative agency?
Yes, absolutely! Why should we not. I know that branding is more niche but we are one of the largest branding agencies in the world, and I think that we are very mainstream. I suppose in the bigger realm of consulting, we may be more niche and we certainly are not a big ad agency. But we are a creative agency. Our work is creative; the strategy is only what enables us to get to the work at the end of the day. It is very tactical. Creativity is a great way to get into the hearts and minds of consumers.
Q: How is a branding exercise essentially different from an advertising campaign?
You can have a launch campaign for a brand or a product but typically ad campaigns are about meeting specific business objectives like increasing sales or reinforcing a certain aspect of what the brand stands for. It tends to be time bound, it runs for a particular season or a particular period and it is linked back to the objectives. A branding exercise on the other hand goes to the roots. It deals fundamentally with what the company or the product stands for, the identity and the DNA. It is more deeply connected to the business strategy, overall of the company and the product and the role that the brand will play in driving the business.
Advertising and ad campaign is purely communication but a branding exercise is much beyond communication. It goes into areas like internal branding, how is the brand going to impact the culture of the organisation, how the brand will be expressed in the customer experience and all the touch points of the brand. So, it is much broader, it is more strategic in nature, there is a component of how it flows through but it is very intimately connected to the business because we believe that the brand is an asset that adds tremendous value to the business.
You also have to think of the brand as a tool for driving the culture and the customer experience. Brand is not just communication and it is not just a logo in our world view.
“I like the airport in Delhi. It was a space design project and unlike any other project that I have ever done. It was really about understanding how a space can set itself apart…Every time I land in Delhi, I get goose bumps”
Q: It is often said that a lot of good marketing money is spent on advertising and not brand building. Do you think that is true with companies today?
Yes, absolutely. Let us take the example of Amazon. It has come up with a wonderful campaign and it makes you want to download the app or go to the website and place an order. But if my order is bungled up, then my brand promise is broken. So brand building is not advertising, brand building is investing in every touch point of the brand from operations to delivery to product, which in the end enhances the overall delivery of the business. So we think of it as promise and delivery. Advertising creates the promise and if you spend too much on the promise, and all the other aspects of your delivery are not lined up, then you are actually pulling yourself down as a brand.
Q: Naming Consultant is a role close to your heart. Do you think it is getting the desired importance from brands and marketers?
I am not sure about the role of a Naming Consultant per se. I think clients are starting to recognise that naming is difficult to do, they have tried it themselves and found it difficult and have understood that you can’t just sit around during lunch time, order pizza and come up with a name, it is more difficult than that. I think they recognise it now. But do they recognise the value of a much disciplined process and are they willing to pay for it as a service? I am not sure yet. I think it is still nascent. Branding has got much more traction. Companies may invest in branding but they may not think of including naming as a part of that exercise, they may just do it themselves. There might not be knowledge that you can approach it in a scientific and process-driven way and that at the end of those two months you will have a name. People still don’t recognise the value a Naming Consultant brings to the table.
Q: From the time you joined the industry to now, how has branding changed?
It has changed hugely. It was very rigid earlier. It was very logo and image centric. For example, earlier if I was sitting as a Coke Brand Manager in Atlanta, my job would have been to ensure that the brand is reproduced exactly in all of the other countries but that model doesn’t work today. We live in a dynamic marketplace, technology has completely up-ended industries and we have moved to an era of brand as an experience. It is no longer about the image; the brand today is only as good as the experience of it. So, in this day and age, brands have to be a lot more fluid. The biggest imperative for brands today is being agile and what that means is that you have to deliver consistently and at a very high level but you also have to keep innovating. You can’t just deliver and not move the business ahead. So what we say is that you have to stand for something and deliver that constantly but never stand still.
We developed a construct about three years ago called the ‘Agile Brand’. We looked at brands from around the world and started to ask ourselves what are the characteristics of brands that are succeeding and thriving in today’s marketplace. We developed six characteristics of an agile brand. They are: Be very clear about what you stand for and what you don’t stand for; be very adaptable; being quite responsible in the sense that, yes, we are a business but what is my responsibility to my community and the stakeholders and having a larger purpose. Agile brands are also open. Before, brands never opened themselves up for scrutiny the way they are doing now. Brands also have to be multi-channel. What we found is that agile brands are very clear about the strategic intent from each channel. All of these characteristics make up what we call the Agile Brand.
The imperatives for brands have changed in the sense that the Brand Manager’s job is hugely difficult. When you wake up every morning, you are worried that maybe some disaster occurred in your Sydney office and it is all over the social media and there are 10,000 tweets about it and that component is becoming very hard for brands to manage because of all these facets. So customer experience has come to fore as the most important thing that companies have to master in order to build strong brands today.
“There have been few women in the advertising and branding industry. Sometimes I think it is just the expectations or the stereotypes of what it takes to run an agency. Women also do bear the brunt of child bearing and raising a family and it does tend to get in the way”
Q: How can digital platforms be effectively used to create brand recall and brand relevance? Are brands in India using them optimally or is it a long way to go?
I think it is hard to generalise. Some brands are using it quite well. If you look at grocery brands like Foodhall or Nature’s Basket, they are really embracing digital. Look at their Instagram, the blogs they put out, they are really engaging with their community and customers in a conversation. They are very high on visual production values and these are all good things because they are really leveraging the medium of digital to reach out to their audience. The whole delivery category like Snapdeal, Amazon and Flipkart is using the medium in a very powerful way. They have almost made next day delivery the norm for every category; they have created this immediacy that customers want. I do think that a lot of companies can use digital in a much better way but there are a lot of good examples. There are entire businesses that are purely digital and new ones are popping up everyday like the food service apps but as a nation we are probably still behind. So I think companies recognise the power of digital but are they putting their money where their mouth is, I am not too sure.
A project that you have really enjoyed working for…
I like the airport in Delhi. It was a space design project and unlike any other project that I have ever done. It was really about understanding how a space can set itself apart and airports are such an integral part of a developing and progressing country like ours. We were hugely honoured to have this mandate from GMR. The construction was steel and glass and the Chairman told us and Incubis, the company that we worked with, that we would have to infuse soul into this steel and glass structure. Every time I land in Delhi, I get goose bumps. From the Canyon Wall to the mother and baby elephant to the Suryanamaskar structure to the painting we commissioned from Paresh Maity, conceptualising the traveller’s journey, identifying the touch points and then having these creative responses to those touch points was a hugely exiting project. It was the first airport in India to take such a different and a well branded approach to space. That was a very special project for me.
A challenging project you have worked for…
I would like to rephrase that question to a challenging project I have learned the most from. And that would be the Taj project. It was spread across so many years and so many different stakeholders. It was a very diverse portfolio. At that time our task was to create a brand architecture solution that was right for the business strategy that they were pursuing. There were so many external factors there, including the global meltdown and the terrorist attack in 2008. How long it takes for a strategy to be executed I learnt a lot from that project. I also had the opportunity to work on one client in one category for so many years, the learning was much deeper. It was a mammoth exercise to match the brand strategy with the business strategy. So I would say that was one project that was hugely complex but highly fascinating.
“Advertising and ad campaign is purely communication but a branding exercise is much beyond communication. It goes into areas like internal branding, how the brand is going to impact the culture of the organisation, and all the touch points of the brand”
Tell us some of the brands you have named.
Vivanta is very close to my heart. There was a new generation of customers who did not want all of the elegance of the Taj, they wanted something fun and contemporary and these guys were ‘bon vivants’. Bon vivants are those who want the best out of life and so the name Vivanta was born. It was interesting because it had this wonderful story to it but it was also very accessible to the Indian consumer. It was very open ended and energetic as a name but most importantly it was available for trademark.
On the more corporate side, Suzlon had brought a company called REpower, which now they have sold off. We had to rebrand REpower because they did not have the rights to the REpower name. So we developed the name Senvion, which was about sustainable energy. It is a big global name and we are very proud of the work that we did for Senvion.
Q: We don’t a see a lot of women at the helm in the industry. What do you think is the reason behind this and what can be done to remedy the situation?
I think historically there have been few women in the advertising and branding industry. Sometimes I think it is just the expectations or the stereotypes of what it takes to run an agency. Women also do bear the brunt of child bearing and raising a family and it does tend to get in the way. There are very few women who are willing to make sacrifices on the home front to get ahead in their career. I think I have been lucky because I have been at Landor for a while and they fully support the other things that you have to do. So it requires a very supportive culture and company as well.
This piece was originally published by Best Media Info (14 March 2017).
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