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The Disrupters: Langoor’s different wiring keeps it nimble, tech-first, innovative

Surviving and thriving amid the presence of large agency networks are the smaller, independent agencies, often referred to as ‘boutique agencies’. Quite often created by former employees of larger networks venturing out on their own, and sometimes by people from different professional backgrounds, these independent agencies are being increasingly recognised for their brilliant campaigns and benchmark-setting innovative thinking. 

Adgully is presenting its latest feature offering – The Disrupters – which will put the spotlight on such small independent agencies that have been setting a blazing trail in the advertising industry with their work, their new way of operating and ideation, which have been creating disruption in the way the advertising business is done in India. 

In the first feature report as part of The Disrupters, we present Langoor – a full service digital-first agency made of creative technologists and founded by Ruchir Punjabi in the year 2009. 

The skilled team at Langoor are experts in marketing strategy, building web systems and e-commerce platforms, building campaigns, creating connected experiences, analytics & digital marketing. By focusing on a balance of the customer experience and an organisation’s business objectives, Langoor carved out a place for itself as an agency that made heads turn. They have already worked with several start-ups, not for profits, governments and large businesses. A team strength of 160+ and counting, a combined client kitty of more than 80 clients, and a stalwart line-up of top notch talent makes this an unbeatable and winning combination that is already taking the industry by storm. 

Langoor has a skilled team working in offices across Sydney, Melbourne, Hong Kong, Singapore, Dubai, Bangalore and Ahmedabad. Excellent data driven strategy, visual design, content excellence and campaigns with real impact has always won them client accolades in the marketing world. Langoor is also one of the world’s and India’s first pure play Creative Technologists. Creative Technologists are redefining the world of conventional advertising and marketing. Driven by the opportunities emerging in the digital market space in India, the company provides integrated communication solutions to its clients in both the on ground and online space. Their focus will be on lead generation business models along with cutting edge design and effective communication for their clients. Most importantly, what sets them apart is the ability to innovate at the intersection of creativity and technology effectively to deliver results. 

With a bachelor’s degree in engineering and thereafter an advanced management education from Stanford, Venugopal Ganganna has over 21 years of experience in the fields of Business development, IT Delivery program management, resource & performance management, client engagement, solution definition and operations. 

As Langoor’s CEO, Venu, as he is popularly known, brings to the table organisational, people management and IT expertise as well as stellar leadership skills. Venu spent close to two decades in IT companies such as Wipro, Infosys and Intuit before taking on his role at Langoor. At Langoor, Venu strives to bring out the best in his team members and keep setting new benchmarks. He is also a key driving force across Langoor’s companies – supporting their CEOs and leaders with mentorship and support as required. 

In an exclusive interaction with Adgully, Venugopal Ganganna narrates the story of Langoor’s creation, how it ideates on client briefs, how its thinking and agency culture is different from its contemporaries and above all – how it has been disrupting the advertising industry. Here’s Venu in his own words...

The Langoor Story – How it all began 

In 2012, I got exposed to the concept of agencies, etc. In the first 6 months I realised and started seeing agencies from my lens. I felt it was only either about creativity or communication or buying, and every brand goes to 6-7 agencies, etc. My view was that the agencies need a different wiring altogether, which should be based on data and nothing else. There has to be an agency where it’s completely based on data, and if creative, technology, strategy is married to data, there is a value. Hence, we started with this in mind. It’s been 4-5 years now and the experience as well as the learning has been phenomenal. 

We have done pretty well and have grown to about 180-200 people now. We are India’s largest independent agency. We don’t come across like that because we are trying to position ourselves into the mix of different worlds altogether. So, from an agency perspective the initial thought was I need to balance everything. My premise was I have to be good in creative but not master in creative, again good in search, social, technology, etc., so I am trying to create a DNA of the organisation where a data guy can sit with the creative guy without getting slapped! So, that’s the biggest achievement. 

Before coming here I used to manage large organisations. When I came here, I thought how difficult could it be. In the last two years we got into a rhythm where we have created a culture where everybody respects each other and everybody believes that at the centre of all of us is where our power to the brands are. 

Why Langoor? 

The thought behind the name was basically to evoke curiosity in people, as I believe we as human beings have lost the need to be curious in life. We are four of us, out of which three are technologists and one is a creative person. 75 per cent of our business is retail business and the rest is project based. We do everything in-house. So, I would say we are a one-stop shop. 

The objective & vision 

I would say setting a vision and objective was one aspect of it. I think every year how are we changing directions and pivoting and going towards it was another. On a scale of 1 to 10, I would rank us 7 and I am very happy about it. All my 20 years of consulting only taught me about vision, and if you keep restarting and rephrasing that you will be able to achieve it. Therefore, I am very happy with the stage which we are in. We are exactly at the inflection point, where we are going to go very wide and that’s what I believe. 

Giving creative ideation an edge

I believe there is fundamentally one key difference. What I have realised is we have to bring a difference in how to fall in love with the problem and not the solution. It’s all about design thinking approach. This approach is a much known phenomenon in the developed countries. It’s a big fad here now. So, what we are saying is that if we fall in love with the problem enough, there will be solutions. Hence, my creative process starts with how do I fall in love with the problem, and everything is about data. For instance, if Tata Sky comes and says it wants to solve its subscription problem in Kerala, my creative starts from data. 

We are not a firm believer of primary research. We are firm believers of behaviour and intent. Primary research is all about getting intent, behaviour is only when I see you in your work environment and stuff like that. So, the data and insights that we collect by seeing people behave is one input that goes into my creative process and knowing the data that exists in their own world. 

Tackling the client brief 

The first and the foremost thing is only about what their revenue is and where are they trying to go. For instance, you are Tata Sky and you are making Rs 100 crore, now you want to know how digital can help you go to Rs 300 crore. So, let’s talk about that first and then plan on how to go ahead. 

Creating disruption 

Firstly, I believe in focussing on the core business; all our innovations must come from adjacent businesses. We have consciously made sure that there is one adjacent company that we open out of Langoor, and every two years that comes and folds because that’s where the innovation is happening. So for example, in the first year, we were trying to merge creativity, data, and technology. That’s what is called as Internet of Things in loose terms, where the software and hardware comes together and merges. We said that we wanted to create innovation there. 

For example, how can I turn the TV into a very immersive TV? How can I completely change the experience when people are watching a match in the stadium? For instance, you and I are watching the ongoing FIFA World Cup 2018 matches. While you are in Mumbai, I am in Bangalore, so is there a way in which I can converse with you on TV itself without interrupting the match telecast? We believe the conversations on phone will be dead. TV will be your next platform on which all the conversation starts. For that we need to come up with a new product. We call this business as ‘alter the Internet’, which means altering the physical space. For that we keep our product thinking hats on, our innovation hats on. Along with conceptualising something new, we also strategise as to how to take it mainstream and market it. 

Secondly, two years back we said that if a brand needs to win in India, they have to win on Amazon. Period. Our hypothesis is that in 18 to 24 months, all discoveries will start from Amazon. We believe that Google, which has been a discovery platform, will be an e-commerce platform and Amazon, which has been an e-commerce platform, is becoming a discovery platform. That shift is going on. So, if you are a B2C brand and you don’t win on Amazon, you are dead. But again, to win on Amazon it requires humungous amount of different skill sets. It requires skills like creativity, data focus, content focus, and technology focus. We created an agency that only helps brands win on Amazon. That’s the only objective. 

Thirdly, we are coming full circle. We believe digital brand disruption is the new phase that is coming. There have been brand thinkers, and now there are brand thinkers thinking only from a digital perspective. So, there we have come full circle and created an agency doing only digital brand thinking. 

Fourth one is design thinking. For this, we are approaching companies and explaining to them how we can apply design thinking to grow their business. For instance, for Dominos, we told them how we would work very closely to understand how the pizza eating behaviour in India would be. So, while I am imagining the future for Dominos, a product line can be set for them. Thus, all these factors are part of our agency culture, and that’s the difference that is helping us create disruption.

Running an independent operation 

It is a stressful world, but if you enjoy it and if you are passionate about it, every moment is so much fun. I really love what I am doing. I feel I wasted 16 years of my life, because now I know how much satisfaction can be derived when you crack the differentiator. Operating your own business gives you the agility, flexibility and independence to do things your way. These are the advantages. 

As for the disadvantages, at the end of day you are still running a small to medium business and the cash flow is always under pressure. However, that has not been a problem for us as 50 per cent of the business is from our global offices in Sydney, Melbourne, Dubai, Singapore and Hong Kong. We actually started abroad and then came to India. We are now starting an office in Mumbai. The only big disadvantage that I feel is maybe we cannot hit the scale from the independent point of view. Otherwise, the ability to make decisions, agility and flexibility is quicker.

Working out the pitch advantage 

The first two years were tough in India as we had to prove ourselves. Very few felt that one agency could do all the operations, because everybody is used to doing things differently. But things have changed in the last two years. We had a meeting with one of our clients where they were working with five different agencies – they had a strategic planning agency, a radio agency, a media buying agency, a technology agency and a social and search agency. They maintained that they didn’t believe in one agency doing everything, but we convinced them to work with us, a single agency handling all these operations. While pitching for the business, out of the 100 slides we had the last 3 slides presenting the creative idea. We believe in building a strong base first and then proceeding to effective creatives. 

The challenges & opportunities 

When it comes to small independent agencies, it’s not about the skills but the size of the business and the industry’s perception regarding the agency’s ability to pull off the work that comes as a challenge. For instance, a large mobile company in India had called for the country’s largest pitch, where the Chief Digital Officer told us that he had looked at about 16 agencies and that he really liked our work. However, he was very doubtful whether we could manage the size of the business. 

Data, big data, programmatic, analytics – where is it all headed? 

I agree there is too much of talk about it, but very few are actually doing it really well. Unfortunately, only the large players are doing it well, like Accenture, IBM, etc. They are the only ones bringing in trule data capability, the rest is a lot of talks. This year and next year you need to show the power of data, the selling period is over. 

We manage the entire digital business of a retail brand called IDFresh and it’s my favourite brand. Over the years we have been able to get them to trust data to the extent that today it is the most important aspect for them. Our challenge was how to take all the data about their retail information – they operate in 15,000 places across India, which includes cities, warehouses, stores, etc. – and devise a digital strategy for them to increase their sales. 

The 5-year plan 

I am very clear that this year we are heavily investing in data, analytics and marketing automation. We believe that in the next 3-4 years if you don’t become good in Adobe tools, Microsoft tools and SAP tools, those agencies will cease to exist, as that’s the fundamental on which everything will be built in the next two years. So, you can be as creative as you can be or very data and technology focused, but if you don’t understand these platforms then you are done, as the scale won’t come in. 

So, was it all worth it? 

This is it for me. The only thing I would have done differently is that I would have given more time and space for understanding from the empathy perspective to the creative side. I initially didn’t realise how important it was for the team to go to Goafest. As I don’t come from that background I didn’t realise its importance for the creatives. For me, what Accenture does is more important than getting an award, etc. Now, I am doing it for the culture and motivation perspective. Hence, I have understood that it’s a mix of both.

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