Head – Global Marketing | 13 Apr 2004
“Service is not a deck of cards. It is something that you customise your capabilities to create a solution related to a specific product. So you address a common set of problems that could be web solution investments, RFID investments or even something as simple as outsourcing – how do I increase my offshoring to India? It is around specific things like this that we create our mindshare.”
Indian IT industry has experienced several ups and downs over its two decades of existence in this country. With changing time, there has been change in lookout of the people and so has altered the demands and the industry has been evolving with the changing mindset.
Software companies have been constantly involved in the process of brand building. For Infosys, what keeps the brand alive, especially when the group doesn’t emphasise on advertising? For the Indian software leviathan, it is the urge to meet its commitments made to the customer. Over a conversation with Subha Kumble, Srinivas Uppaluri, Head – Global Marketing, Infosys Technologies, shares his views on the industry and the group’s core values that has helped them sustain the stand and grow beyond, constantly increasing the mindshare.
Q. Positioning and branding were non-key areas for software companies in the ’90s. What has led to a change in this attitude today?
If you look at the evolution of IT industry in India, it started somewhere around late ’70s or early ’80s. Looking at it from the perspective of market demand, people wanted more hands at a lower cost when they moved onsite and worked. Then came the era when people started looking around for what kind of small skill projects you can take over and this was still concentrating on supplementation. But if you move to the late ’90s after the Y2K boom, when more technology was seen around, people started demanding newer skills. In the meantime, GDM (Global Delivery Model) took shape and, instead of going there we started delivering from India.
This was when the whole model started evolving and people started asking if we could take on more responsibility. It was from the late ’90s when people started taking on more projects and positioning started gaining importance. It was post 2000 when the bubble burst and things started going down. It was the time when there was a need to prove that you can actually take something end to end and really deliver. All Indian firms grew during this period and established themselves from a global delivery point of view. Now, we’ve come to a period when offshoring has become mainstream. Now a number of smaller companies want to look at it and see in which way they can leverage the whole thing.
Q. What kind of marketing initiatives has Infosys furthered?
So far marketing has been done by one, creating leads, getting more openings and approaching a future client with a deck of service cards to pick from. Two, one can approach them and say: can I proactively identify your problem areas and, therefore can I position a solution or offering to you? So, it has mainly grown into a mindshare business. A person who gets the most mindshare is not necessarily a person who is a specialist in PR or in events, but a person who is also a specialist in content. So, now one says: can I get a guy who has been in the trenches in retail and actually looks at what does the retail industry requires from a long-term perspective? We basically ask where do we need the mindshare. For example, today RFID is the hottest topic but people are not ready to utilise it as they have apprehensions regarding how do I invest, where and so forth. This is where the role of marketing comes in. It is all about educating the market about the potential of technology. This should not be from a purely technological perspective, but more from how one ought to deploy it. This way, when you are ready with an offering in the market, they are ready to go for it.
Q. How have you gone about to gain a stronger mindshare of your audience?
This act of gaining mindshare has not been looked at earlier. It’s always been about whether or not I ought to put up a counter at a big event. So, you start making cold calls based on the visiting cards you collect. Or, you could go to a call centre and enlist their services. But that’s not really going to help. If you really want to go up the value chain, people need to be aware of you and should have confidence in you.
So, we went about restructuring our marketing approach and we looked at what is the maturity of our offering and of our presence in a particular area. We identified three areas. One is basic maturity, which we call presence. We have an offering, which is well tested; it has a value proposition, which is different from others in the market. This is the basic differentiation saying we have something unique in the market and path breaking in its leadership. It’s a combination of presence, confidence and leadership. Now, we have the base, we have the brand awareness but we may not have the brand confidence in some areas where there is needs to build confidence.
Q. Due to the intangible nature of software services, isn’t it difficult to brand and position them?
That’s simply by the mindshare. For example, most of our customers have invested a lot into technology and probably didn’t get the kind of returns they were looking forward to. So, the biggest concern today is how one leverages more from existing investments. Instead of creating a series of campaigns on how to leverage more, we make it experiential and we get people who have actually seen a difference. People are looking at attributes and they see you as someone who can help them solve problems. But if I create a whole series of campaigns on how to leverage more, make it experiential for them, get some customers who have seen the results, service is not a deck of cards. It is something where you customise your capabilities to create a solution related to a specific product. So you address a common set of problems that could be web solutions investments, RFID investments or even something as simple as outsourcing – how do I increase my offshoring to India? It is around specific things like this that we create our mindshare.
It is not about being different from someone else. Most people ask me how are your products different from Wipro’s? I don’t think one should play the differentiation game. What we need to look at is building the confidence in the market. We have gone beyond that on the basis of our track record. But what we need to think about is whether we are seen as advisors. We basically need to identify a number of issues that the industry is concerned about and increase our presence as advisors in these problem areas.
Q. Does Infosys branding hold constant for all its ventures? With the BPO section going by a different name, is it also positioned differently?
No, there is no difference. The BPO section is a different company mainly from a risk and rewards perspective. But I look after the marketing for them too. Increasingly we go to market bundles, as we believe that a customer’s needs are best looked at from a totalistic point of view. All Infosys initiatives share platforms of promotions, we share platforms of views and we integrate the way we make the bundle offerings. As we go ahead we will see a lot more cohesiveness.
Q. Coming to mainstream advertising, Infosys has over the years invested mainly in recruitment-based campaigns. Why is this so?
Infosys has built its brand based on an experiential perspective. So when we gain mindshare, our brand values are mainly experienced and hardly thrust upon. We are not as big as IBM or Accenture to set aside money to the tune of $200 million for advertising. In our case, people mostly talk about our track record and us. This is essentially how we get our exposure. But at the same time, we are not advertising shy. If we can think of a suitable campaign within our budget, which can make a continued effect, then we would surely consider it. An off and on campaign doesn’t make sense. Sure, we can sustain some advertising in India but that will not reach our customers. Specifically speaking, advertising to the IT industry is not about reaching the IT market as much as it is about reaching the CEO in a market where one would like to create and sustain an awareness level.
Q. What kind of ad budgets do you work with at present?
Very, very minimal. Looking at all my spends, advertising may not be more than 7-8%.
Q. Infosys has often been called the ‘Brand with a conscience’. What do you attribute this to?
I don’t think we have gone ahead and promoted this, but it is a result of the way in which the company works. Brand Infosys is very committed to its customers. Right from top down to bottom up we all believe that the customer comes first. Look at our slogan: ‘Powered by intellect, driven by values’ – this is the core value at Infosys. This sentiment has come top down, it is seen in the way we pick people; it is the spirit that drives the commitment throughout. From the start of Infosys, this has sustained itself and is present in everyone who enters the organisation. So, whether it is finance, or whether it is our normal day-to-day project delivery, commitment is our way of life. It has an almost academic structure where learning is a constant process.
We were the first to start the wealth creation programme. If it is stopped for a while that’s more because of some structural issues. And, the majority perception that we are a brand with conscience is a recognition for our work.
Q. What kind of a rub on effect has the Infosys Foundation created?
I don’t really follow the Foundation, but it is an initiative that is actively pursued by the promoters. I really don’t know about rub-on. This has been taken up for a larger cause, to improve the general environment – be it in India or elsewhere. I’m not really sure how much these activities have directly affected the company. But yes, we are certainly a very socially conscious company.
Q. The positioning of Indian software companies has been one of a ‘cost-effective’ one. Do you think such a positioning needs to be dispelled or it is something that can be worked along with to help these companies go up the value chain?
I think we need to look at two things. If you look at the market, the recession continues, so there are bound to be price revisions and cost revisions. At Infosys, we have two thrusts. One, we believe in rapid differentiation and the other, rapid growth. Both are very critical. When I say differentiate, it is not from a simple differentiation perspective, but to look at how one can create more value. It’s about how we can take ownership of some of the results as we come along. Strategically we look at how we can build our capabilities. At the same time, we say: can we proactively look at your needs on an ongoing basis –that’s how we are building solutions.
I think some people are trying to play at the cost and say cheaper, cheaper, cheaper. I think more than that we should now start looking at what value we are offering. This is going to be the way of life. It is all about the ability to add value to the players. Demonstrating more value to the shareholders. Cost basically means that at the end of the day we make them competitive. So, cost in its limited sense is only a short time value. Over time it cannot be sustained singularly, it has to be combined with value.