What drives successful strategy and design? How does Landor produce inspired ideas for some of the world’s largest global brands? This year, we’re sharing the inner workings of our studios around the world through our Inside the Studio series. We’ll speak with some of our top strategic and creative minds, asking what it takes to produce innovative, effective, award-worthy work. Up now: Landor Mumbai’s managing director, Lulu Raghavan, and design director, Hiren Dedhia.
Lulu Raghavan brings over 20 years of experience to her role as managing director of Landor Mumbai. Having worked in Landor’s San Francisco, New York, and London offices before establishing the Mumbai office, she has vast expertise across a multitude of international markets. A renowned industry commentator and thought leader, Lulu anchored Bloomberg UTV’s show Beyond Logo and continues to be a sought-after speaker and moderator at brand-focused conferences. Among her many awards, Lulu was named one of India’s 50 most influential women in media, marketing, and advertising by Impact magazine. She was recently a judge at the 2018 Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity for both the design and Young Lions juries. She has also been named a juror for Businessworld’s Future of Design Awards 2018.
Hiren Dedhia has been a champion of Landor Mumbai’s design department for over five years, helping guide numerous award-winning projects for both local and global clients. With over 10 years of experience, he has worked on brands such as Axis Bank, Cinnamon Hotels & Resorts, Godrej Nature’s Basket, Mother Dairy, and United Spirits, helping them expand to new audiences through innovative, transformative design. Hiren believes in the power of design to impact business results and works closely with Landor Mumbai’s strategic and client services departments to create holistic, 360-degree solutions for Landor’s clients and partners.
1. How do you help creativity flourish in your studio?
Lulu Ragahvan: Having worked in three Landor offices before setting up Mumbai, I had the privilege of taking the best from each location. Our Mumbai office works within the context of Indian culture. It isn’t about posters that explain what we believe, funky beanbag chairs, or retro pool tables. Our culture is about what we do every day. Our actions reinforce how we consider our business and generate value for our clients. I believe strongly in the idea championed by Todd Henry that “just like a good gardener, you aggressively fertilize the aspects of your team’s culture that you want in abundance, diligently pruning the things you want to get rid of.” Our four Landor behaviors—listen, grow, excite, and be fearless—are elements I fertilize in every way possible. I do my best to prune anything that goes against them.
2. What differentiates Landor’s design studios from other agencies?
Hiren Dedhia: Especially at Landor Mumbai, we don’t have pure designers or pure strategists. Both areas go hand in hand, so our office works collaboratively to bridge that gap. Strategic designers and creative strategists generate work that is rich and differentiated.
Lulu Raghavan: A big distinction is our ability to tap into our global network in ways that are highly relevant to our clients. For example, in our recent work with a grocery store chain, we engaged designers from several of Landor’s international studios to collaborate on the brief. For one of our banking clients, we audited retail banking branches in other countries. For a telecom pitch, we polled creative directors from around the Landor network about the challenges and opportunities for the client’s brand identity—a process the client found extremely valuable.
We put big ideas at the heart of our work and think about a holistic, 360-degree experience. Our clients may come to Landor because of our reputation, but they return because of our superb talent and the fierce passion we pour into our work.
3. What is one unexpected way you gain inspiration for your work?
Hiren Dedhia: My personal source of inspiration comes from a parallel stream to branding: fashion. Its ever-evolving nature and “one day you’re in, the next day you’re out” attitude keeps fashion brands and designers on their toes, forcing them to embrace change as a constant for survival. I am fascinated by the color trends on display each year, as well as the texture, craftsmanship, and detail that enable unexpected silhouettes to take shape in human form.
4. Which project at Landor stands out as having been the most challenging, and why?
Lulu Raghavan: Landor Mumbai worked on Taj’s brand architecture transformation for over a decade. The work was some of the most challenging of my career, but also some of the most rewarding because of its huge business impact. We helped transform a hospitality brand with ratings from two stars to six stars into distinct brands (Taj, Ginger, Vivanta by Taj), each offering unique customer experiences. The new brand architecture called for significant operational change and a major mindset shift away from a master brand strategy. It had to be rolled out across enormous geographies, thousands of employees, and hundreds of thousands of customers. And all this occurred during an intensely competitive time in the Indian hospitality landscape, with new entrants and shifting customer needs shaping completely new customer segments. We worked very closely with our Taj client to overcome these challenges and create a successful strategy for the brand.
5. When faced with a new project, where do you start? Do you have a standard process?
Hiren Dedhia: Unique design is born out of strong, differentiated insights. These insights can be derived from multiple sources, but they should lead to a powerful and inspiring foundation for design. The next step is experimenting with craft. Fresh, innovative work often occurs when you get away from the screen and test out different executions. Our work for Miss Chhotee’s is a great example of this, where the final design was created using food instead of Adobe Illustrator.
Lulu Raghavan: While every project is unique, we always begin by asking one critical question: Has the problem been framed the right way? It’s imperative to get this right, as it allows us to unlock unexpected solutions for our clients. From there the process shifts. We may delve more deeply into problem definition or research, or we may dive into benchmarking or strategy, but at the end of the process our goal is always to deliver a holistic solution to help our clients thrive.
6. How do you define success? Is it notoriety or PR, ROI for our clients, influencing trends, or something else altogether?
Lulu Raghavan: Success is when every single person on my team wakes up in the morning and looks forward to coming to work. This mindset creates an infectiously positive culture, outstanding solutions, and happy clients that keep coming back or referring us to others.
7. How do you maintain your vision while keeping your clients involved in the process? What do you do when a client partner disagrees with the solution you think is best?
Hiren Dedhia: The keys are chemistry and co-creation. The former begins at the initial kickoff. The latter should be fundamentally ingrained into the project process. When disagreements occur—and they are bound to happen—it helps to dig deeper into the why. By jointly mapping the design or strategy back to business objectives, we can ensure all parties are on the same page and working toward the same goal.
Lulu Raghavan: It’s imperative to have frequent and healthy dialogue with our clients about the thinking behind our work. The worst thing any team can do is wait until presentation day for the “big reveal.” This is an outdated way of working—even radical ideas should fall in line with the business’ strategic vision and should be staged using a gated process from the time the idea is germinated until it is realized.
When there is disagreement, open dialogue is almost always the solution. After having fully listened to our client’s perspective, we have three options: (1) Respectfully defend our idea using proof points and explanation; (2) refine the idea and incorporate our client’s feedback; or (3) walk away from the project to ensure that both groups maintain their integrity and passion for the brand. Whatever the result, we make these decisions by working closely with our clients. As brand consultants, it is important for us to listen to feedback and have the humility to accept that we are not always right.
8. Who is one of your favorite thinkers, artists, business leaders, or designers, and how have they influenced your work?
Lulu Raghavan: My favorite business author is Todd Henry, whom I’ve been hooked on since his first book, The Accidental Creative, where he refers to himself as “an arms dealer for the creative revolution.” One pivotal idea Henry expresses is “don’t go to your grave with the best work inside of you.” This pushes me to continually elevate everything I do. Most recently, I have been devouring his latest book, Herding Tigers, which focuses on being the creative leader that your people really need. I’ve seen fantastic growth and creativity after implementing some of Henry’s ideas into my management style, especially around the differences between doing work and leading work.
9. Now that design blogs and commenters are more vocal than ever, how do you cope with loud and negative reviews?
Hiren Dedhia: Ultimately, you have to remember that you get to decide which feedback to acknowledge and which to ignore. After all, brand outputs stem from a brief, a strategy, and distinct business objectives. If you’ve done a good job articulating these through a differentiated and relevant solution, you should be able to stand proudly behind your work.
As a design community at large, we should be able to appreciate all good work—even when it’s done by a competitor. This is what helps our community grow and reach greater heights.
Lulu Raghavan: Two fundamental requirements to work in branding: Develop thick skin and cultivate your ability to ignore baseless criticism. Once you and your client decide to launch a particular solution, it’s important to protect that idea at all costs. The only real concern is a claim of plagiarism. As long as the legal due diligence has been completed, you can rest assured that any noise will blow over in a few weeks—and will likely become positive discussion once the brand’s strategy becomes clearer over the ensuing months.
10. How do you feel creativity could be used to influence larger culture and create change in your community?
Lulu Ragahvan: There is immense potential for creativity to create positive social impact. A few years ago, our team developed Masti Clean, a hygiene kit for underprivileged children living in the slums of Mumbai. It was a major passion project, and it was incredible to see firsthand the impact our work created in the community. By changing attitudes about cleanliness and the connection between hygiene and health, we not only created great work, we also gave back to those around us. I’d love for us to create the time and space for every member of our team to pursue a project that generates positive change in the world around us.
11. What advice would you give to aspiring branding, marketing, and design professionals looking to join a company like Landor?
Hiren Dedhia: I have just one key piece of advice: Do something different. Especially in design, success comes from fresh ideas that allow your personality to shine through. It’s tempting to be influenced by beautiful images on social media and create something similar, but what really cuts through the clutter is work that dares to experiment while expressing the designer behind it.
Lulu Raghavan: Apply all your learnings from branding to your own personal brand. We see hundreds of résumés every month. How will yours stand out? Think about every touchpoint you have and how to make a strong impression with each.
Prospective employees should also remember that being successful in branding isn’t just about curating one skill set—it’s about having multidimensional talent. We want our creatives to be strategic. We want our strategists and client managers to be creative. We love people who have passion projects outside of work. We love people who can tell us a good story. And we love supreme confidence and a bit of swagger.
Extra credit: Is there anything else you would like to share?
Lulu Raghavan: Positivity and passion are the two most important traits for success. Cultivate these in abundance and you will be sure to achieve your dreams. In the words of Oprah Winfrey, “Create the highest, grandest vision possible for your life, because you become what you believe.”
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