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IT’s all about branding

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Technology branding comes into its own as companies find the competitive edge has begun to matter.

Technology branding is coming into its own; (Above) A Wipro-branded bus in Davos, Switzerland
Technology branding is coming into its own; (Above) A Wipro-branded bus in Davos, Switzerland

Archana Venkat

Every time someone from my team meets a prospective client, I ask him to avoid the ‘low cost-quality-efficiency’ talk. We have branded India enough and now it is time to focus on branding our company,” says Deepak Khosla, Senior Vice-President and Head – APAC and Japan, Patni Computer Services.

Khosla’s statement reflects the change in the mindset of IT companies that until a few years ago were content toeing the ‘world’s IT hub’ line. Little wonder then that IT brand campaigns were full of ‘trust’, ‘confidence’ and ‘quality’. As clients began asking “what have you got that your competitor does not?” companies were forced to review their branding. The result — most companies today are evolving their unique brand identity and ways to market it to stakeholders.

Prior to 2004, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) did not see the need to build an external brand. Changes in the offshore landscape necessitated it. Not only did strong Indian players emerge, some global players too started emulating the TCS model. “Today if you don’t say who you are, somebody else will decide who you are and reposition you,” says Jayant Pendharkar, Vice-President and Head of Global Marketing, TCS.

A brand recall exercise on “who were the top international brands” held the answer. “After IBM and Accenture, there was no clarity on the third place. So we put ourselves to occupying that place,” says Pendharkar. After a few years of coming up with varied taglines, the company felt a single message was essential to promote itself. In came a Madison Avenue-based brand consulting firm, Siegel & Gale (USA), for brand positioning, and DraftFCB+Ulka for advertising. Last March, the company launched its global brand line ‘Experience certainty.’ The company now differentiates itself on its core competencies – business consulting, outsourcing and IT services – being delivered to clients in time.

HCL, possibly the oldest Indian company engaged in the computers business, took to advertising in spurts, first in the Eighties and then the late Nineties featuring various aspects of its business. Then came a long break. “We wanted a consistent branding message but there were three major challenges confronting us,” says Saurav Adhikari, Vice-President (Corporate Strategy), HCL Technologies.

HCL operated in the hardware and the software segment, which are two ends of the spectrum. Secondly, the group was 30 years old while the software company was only 10 years old, which left one wondering whether to position the company as a veteran or a young Turk. Thirdly, the hardware company’s focus was domestic while the software business catered largely to overseas clients. Should HCL leverage itself as an India-focused brand or one that is global? “It boiled down to finding the common thread running across all these businesses which was our personality and value system,” says Adhikari.

In 2005, the company came out with a campaign underlining brand uniformity featuring qualities such as guts, courage and risk-taking abilities. All employee e-mail IDs were changed to one domain - hcl.in - and then the logo underwent a change. Soon HCL’s technology capabilities were reflected in its ‘0&1’ campaign. More recently, its ad featured a young man talking of HCL’s pan-industry expertise en route to his next assignment.

“We focused on values inherent to HCL and not the Indian IT industry. We are not a linear company. We believe we are mavericks, and this shows in our advertising,” he says.

Since inception, Polaris was clear on its employer brand message, ‘Live your dream’, with the company’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Arun Jain as a role model. Jain grew the company from Rs 10,000 to over Rs 1,000 crore today. But branding for customers is quite a different kettle of fish. “Creating a software product came to us more easily than developing a branding strategy around it,” Jain says. Polaris had two products, Intellect (banking product suite) and an India-focused human capital management product called Empower (later christened Adrenalin) that was owned by its subsidiary. “Creating a software product came to us more easily than developing a branding strategy around it,” Jain says. That is when FMCG industry veteran V. Balaraman was brought in to head Adrenalin. He invested a couple of crores in Adrenalin’s branding and his understanding of the emotional aspects of buying the product was clear in its marketing. Today Adrenalin has been implemented for over 300 customers and is expanding to Asia Pacific and West Asia.

“We took the learnings from Adrenalin branding and have tried to apply some of these to Intellect,” Jain says. The company also set up a speciality centre called ‘The Capital’ for solutions in the investment banking space, clearly indicating its niche amidst competition.

MindTree Consulting too chose to focus on the solutions it developed for its portfolio of Fortune 500 clients. “Also, the intellectual properties we have developed in some of the futuristic technologies are stories we take to our markets,” says Manoj Chandran, the company’s Marketing Director.

Wipro Technologies chose ‘Applied Innovation’ as its brand theme last year based on a study involving 200 clients. “As we look to do high-end work in future, it was important to bring out our key differentiator,” says Jessie Paul, Chief Marketing Officer. Wipro will add strategic business components to it such as Green IT and service-oriented architecture. Wipro has taken space on a US media site and partnered with an advisory firm to sponsor poll surveys. Besides organising a large customer forum for the North American market, it also branded buses in New York and Davos and airports in the US and Japan. “We plan to deploy about 70 per cent of our spends in these pure branding activities,” she says. The rest will be used for basic branding that includes brochures, Web sites, media relations, events, direct marketing and influencer relations (analysts and other agencies).

24/7 Customer, a client lifecycle management firm, too put out stark differentiators starting with the message that they were not a BPO or a call centre. For prospective employees the brand promise was faster growth, while for clients it was over-performance. This was backed by data such as 50 per cent of the company’s agent population getting promoted in a year compared to the industry average of 18-24 months. For a prospective customer the proposition was: we will beat your existing centre by 10 per cent (margins), says Bharathwaj V., Chief Marketing Officer of the company.

With six centres outside India, the company is forging relationships in these regions to increase brand visibility. It has tied up with the University of Michigan to facilitate guest lectures. “We were featured on a BBC series on outsourcing, in Thomas Friedman’s book The World is Flat, on Discovery channel and BusinessWeek,” says Bharathwaj.

Patni engaged AC Nielsen to figure out its differentiators before going in for a brand revamp. The company got listed on the Bombay Stock Exchange to gain visibility and be seen as transparent. After changing its logo (to a red and grey spiral design depicting growth, maturity and end-to-end service capability) it requested the media to refer to it as ‘Patni’ and not ‘PCS’ (as was the practice then) as PCS was another company.

“People see us as mature yet approachable and our branding reinforces that,” Senior Vice-President Khosla says. Starting with two marketing professionals, his team today has about 50. “We have increased spends towards public relations and analyst relations in recent years,” he says.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated March 27, 2008)
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