It is important for CMOs to be in touch with their consumers: Harish Bhat

Pitch CMO Summit: Bhat, Brand Custodian, Tata Sons, shared the story of Tata Group and how it has stayed relevant across generations

e4m by exchange4media Staff
Updated: Sep 27, 2021 10:23 AM
harish bhatt

At the recent Pitch CMO Summit 2021, which had the theme—Future Proofing Brands, Harish Bhat, Brand Custodian, Tata Sons, shared the story of Tata group and how it has stayed relevant across generations.

Bhat also spoke about his book ‘#Tatastories’ and the many lesser known facts that it dwells upon and how it could help the current CMOs in many ways.  The session was moderated by Nawal Ahuja, Co-Founder and Director, exchange4media.

Speaking about ‘Future Proofing Brands’, Bhat referred to the example of Tata Sons which turns 153 years old this year.

“The Tata brand this year turns 153 years old. There are just a few brands that are 100 years old and fewer who are 150 year old and still relevant in today’s world.  The Tata Group is a 100-billion dollar enterprise with a market cap exceeding 300 billion dollars.  It is the only Indian brand among the top 100 brands in the world and it is present in 150 countries around the world. The story of the Tata brand is an astonishing story,” said Bhat.

Bhat also spoke about the inspiration behind his recent book #Tatastories-- a collection of little-known tales of individuals, events and places from the Tata Group.

“By March–April, 2020 the world had closed around us. I was working out of home and it was not a positive period for many of us. There were job losses, the income was down and I thought the best thing for a person like me, who loves writing, is to write positive inspiring stories to lift the mood. Having worked with Tata Group for 34 years now, there could not be a better place to find these stories than from Tata Group. I wrote a couple of stories and put it on LinkedIn to check if it inspires people. Soon I noticed that the user response was phenomenal. Couple of young women professionals wrote to me saying they read these stories to children at bedtime.  So I felt encouraged to write more and more. When I completed 30-40 stories, it took the form of a book itself. The great part of this book is that each story can be read in less than six minutes,”said Bhat.

In his book #Tatastories, Bhat has dedicated a chapter on Swami Vivekananda. When asked how a spiritual leader found his place in a book on the corporate world, Bhat said, “The cover of this book has Jamsetji Tata, the founder of the Tata Group. He was a strong believer that India needed a research university in science and technology if we had to progress.”

“Once JRD Tata was traveling from Japan to Canada, on that ship he happened to meet Swami Vivekananda and they spoke about establishing India’s first research university. Once  JRD Tata was back in India, he was obsessed with the idea of setting up India’s first research university in science and technology. The British tried to put a number of roadblocks, so Jamsetji Tata wrote a letter to Swami Vivekananda. It read--“You may remember me as a co-passenger from our sea journey to Vancouver, and you may remember that we spoke about the university that I want to set up. I want to move that plan forward and would you help me in publishing an appeal in favour of this university.”

“Swami Vivekananda immediately responded and wrote about it in the magazine that he edited.  He put up a strong appeal. After that, the Maharaja of Mysore gave his land in Mysore for this university and there were other funds raised. Eventually, The Indian institute of Science, that we know today came into being. It remains today as the number one ranked university. This is how the industrialist and the monk came together to set up this university for the betterment of this country,”shared Bhat.

Bhat also spoke about his favorite chapter in the book.

“My favorite story is of Kalpana Chawla and JRD. When she went into space, she carried an old black and white photograph with her which was the first photo of JRD on the flight. JRD also flew at the age of 78 in 1982 and Kalpana Chawla was watching it and that got her inspired to take up a career as an aeronautical engineer and then join NASA later.”

Speaking about building sustainable brands, Bhat said that “obsession with quality” is what makes it possible.  

“The first thing you have to do in any business is to build the economic engine. This happens when you provide excellence in products and services so that the customer keeps coming back. We talk about customer retention and acquisition, it all goes back to the product and services that you offer and whether you are solving any problem in the customers’ life,” shared Bhat.

Making a case for brands to give back to the community, Bhat said there are many industrialists in India who have shown the way to give back to the society.

“I would say, be very competitive, build great products and retain your customers, but on top of that ask yourself what you can do for the society. I have worked for this group for 34 years, and one of the reasons that I have worked with this group for so long is the fact that what I am doing is helping build the nation. All our profits go to the Tata Charitable Trust, which owns 66 per cent of our company.”

Bhat shared some suggestions for today’s marketers who are being constantly pulled in various directions, the challenges they face, and how they could create a lasting impact.

“CMOs and marketers should ask themselves this question often—is it driving growth for the brand? Sometimes we are seduced to do things that are the flavour of the season, but is it driving growth in a real way?” 

He added, “At times marketers are caught up in the hurly-burly of the digital that they have no time to think what is good for the brand. I would say, divide your time between activation and real thinking. Also, it is important to be in touch with your consumers. During earlier days it was mandatory for marketers to visit consumers and meet them. I remember going to the markets of Meerut and Andhra Pradesh. While digital and data can be part of the picture, nothing replaces interaction with consumers. They give you ideas on how to build your next campaign and build your next product.”

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