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Indonesia 2015: Thought Leadership

From fragile to agile – adapting to new markets and challenges

      Thomas Sutton
Technical Advisor
Landor
Thomas.Sutton@landor.com

What constitutes a truly strong brand? One could argue it is a brand that is able to remain true to its purpose while being able to adapt to changing environments and needs.

But all too often, brands have followed a dogmatic adherence to brand rules to a damaging extent. It’s true every brand needs sensible working parameters; it needs do’s and don’ts. A brand without guiding parameters would be a brand without direction. But there comes a point where seemingly prudent consistency can become rigidity and stagnation.

The brand guardians, the very people empowered with the task of communicating the brand in a relevant, empathetic way, often view themselves as the arbiters of law and order, brandishing their well-worn copy of the sacred brand guidelines. Often they’re seen as no more than brand police. But doesn’t this slavish adherence to a tight set of rules smack of insecurity? Why police a brand so stiflingly, when you can run with itand explore new opportunities? Are these brands really too fragile to flex with the times, culture, or evolving consumer needs and desires? It might be time for them to try being a bit more agile.

This does not mean order should give way to chaos. However, a strong brand should be able to flex its muscles and also be flexible. With online brands able to adapt at a moment’s notice, it’s increasingly critical to keep up. Brands have to move as fast as the culture that surrounds them – yet this agility is rarely evident.

Also, in every brand’s constant search for relevance, they should remember that their customers don’t live in their world, but that they live in their own. McDonald’s is one brand that is very aware of this and adapts accordingly. They are often seen as a ubiquitous monolithic symbol of U.S. culture, but are actually a choice example of an agile brand. Known worldwide for its beef burgers, its menu in India is around 40 per cent vegetarian and contains no beef or pork. They adapted their menu to India’s religious and cultural norms, while retaining values essential to the brand experience. That’s because McDonald’s knows that they are not just selling beef burgers, but an aspirational experience of simple, easy, enjoyment. McDonald’s, for all its huge scale, was flexible enough to adapt to local culture through products that most would have thought were core to the brand. McDonald’s knows its core is far more emotive than just its menu.

It is important for brands aspiring to be agile that they are clear in distinguishing between the products or services they deliver today, and what they stand for in the long term. Products can come and go, product lines can be extended, existing products can be renovated and new products can be innovated. But with an agile brand platform that helps a brand stand out and stand for something, the products and services it offers are merely expressions of a much more robust core brand soul.

Are customers of Apple merely buying sensual products, or are they buying into a deeper brand promise? Apple’s agile brand platform has allowed them to innovate and diversify their product portfolio whilst delivering a consistent trademark experience.

And, who would have thought that a 70s upstart music business would have diversified into financial services, telecoms, condoms, soft drinks, air travel, space travel and pretty much anything else it wanted to? Well, Virgin did precisely that. Knowing that its core appeal lay not in its products but its disruptive attitude, Virgin was able to use its agile platform to spread its wings and become one of the most admired brands across so many sectors.

Brands in developing markets particularly are facing an interesting challenge. Moving from a product manufacturing to a brand marketing mindset is a crucial step forward. As they juggle consistency with agility, defining what they stand for and building on that will help ensure their future success.

With flexible innovation and renovation, even within its current products and services, a brand can prevent rigid fragility. This agility doesn’t come without its risks, and failure has to be an option; without the risk of failure, it’s unlikely that groundbreaking innovation will occur. But one thing is for sure: agility drives innovation, and standing still is a sure way of moving backwards in an ever-changing world.


Landor creates some of the world’s strongest and most agile brands. As new audiences and new technology generate new demands the pace of change is accelerating every day. Agile brands seize these opportunities to sharpen their strategies and transform their markets.

Landor helps brands stand out and stand for something—while never standing still.