60% of our budget is spent on content partnership and brand activations: Vasantha Kumar, IBM

Vasantha Kumar, Director of Marketing, IBM, talks about IBM Watson’s latest campaign, his emphasis on print and digital and why he can’t apply the usual marketing strategy to target start-ups

e4m by Madhuwanti Saha
Updated: Aug 1, 2017 8:00 AM

Talking about AI (Artificial Intelligence) Vasantha Kumar, Director, Marketing & Communications - India & South Asia, IBM, informed us that IBM pioneered this technology when it introduced cognitive system ‘Watson’ six years ago. With the country undergoing a digital revolution, the timing couldn’t have been more perfect for the technology company to launch their campaign in July with Ogilvy as their agency.


Kumar, in a chat with e4m, talks about why there was a six-year wait, their content partnership with Forbes, Watson being IBM’s prime differentiator and how print is important to reach out their TG. Excerpts:


What took you six years to come out with a campaign for Watson? What mediums have you focused on?


Over the last six years we have expanded to what Watson can do with regard to its range and capabilities. We thought it was a point in time where we should tell the world that today, with the use of technologies around Watson, you as an individual you can enhance the kind of outcomes that you seek.


Whether you are a doctor, fashion designer, engineer, movie producer or a banker, today you can use IBM Watson to do your job exponentially better.  That’s why ‘You to the power of IBM’ is the premise of our campaign. The base of our campaign is digital. On top of digital we have used print and outdoor. We also use a lot of brand expressions. 


For instance, the combination of innovation and intelligence is the best way to bring it alive. Take for example our collaboration with designer duo Falguni and Shane Peacock in May to help them design a Bollywood fashion line using Watson. Now we are scaling this up. We will soon announce another partnership with another fashion brand to take this to the next level. 


Who is your core TG? What’s the scale of your campaign?


Our audience consists of professionals in medicine, creative industry, working corporations, developers and start-ups. If you look at our advertising, we have featured some of them in the ads. For instance, doctors from Manipal hospital use Watson to help them in cancer care. We use such personas to model our audience. That’s the marketing approach. 


In terms of digital, we use Watson in our programmatic media buying to increase its value. Since our audience is well defined, we use a lot of event activations to reach out to them. 


60 per cent of our budget is spent on initiatives like content partnership and brand activation and expressions. 


Start-ups happen to be an important part of your TG. How are you targeting them? 


They use the same digital social channel like us. Start-ups are also techies. When you are talking to techies you can’t do marketing. You need to connect to them in their language and show what’s helping them do their job better. 


There are a lot of tech forums. We have our evangelist participating there to engage with them and open their minds to the kind of possibilities they can achieve with our code. 


We do a lot of immersive sessions where they come and play around with stuff. 


How important is print considering your three-page ad in Economic Times and Mint recently?


Our entire plan is modelled around following the customer journey. Print plays a very important role at the awareness stage because it gives you a certain sense of visibility and is outbound in nature against other touch-points. For the rest of the customer journey, they (consumers) prefer more inbound channels like digital. This is why we have started to shift more of our budget to digital. 


We will use a lot of ET’s digital titles like Forbes and Fortune because we found that our audience likes to read content at their convenience. That works well for a digital format. You will find our presence in the digital edition of Economist. 


Tell us about your content partnership with Forbes titled IBMVoice.


The content partnership with Forbes started about two months back and is thematically about digital transformation aimed to engage with our audience and be more immersive. It will last for six months. At its centre we did an interactive discussion with a small group of six to seven senior business leaders where we captured that content, curated it and amplified it across print and digital titles. The first out of six parts is out. It will come out on various Forbes’ channels across various formats like tweets, web-episodes, long format videos and print.  


There are a couple of other content partnerships which are being worked out in the next two-three weeks. 


Is it safe to assume that Watson is IBM’s differentiator?


IBM is repositioning itself as a cognitive cloud platform company. Our brand for cognitive is Watson. IBM and IBM Watson are interlocked. We are leading with Watson because we see a huge potential there. It’s a huge differentiation for us. Today all our products and services (across security, marketing and technology) use AI of Watson. 


Going ahead, what’s the marketing plan?


We have piloted the fashion piece (with Falguni and Shane Peacock) a month ago. We are looking at a lot of brand content partnerships and expressions that will demonstrate the power of Watson. We will first show people, then use advertising to talk about it. During Wimbledon 2017, Watson helped an editor make a highlight video based on audience-applause sound, players’ facial expressions, break point and match point by identifying those bits and putting it together. It made his job so much easier.

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