Anirban Mozumdar: Apurva, when we say Marketing we often mean a single discipline or function. My first question, is marketing truly category or market agnostic? Do you see a fundamental difference between B2B and B2C marketing?
Apurva Chamaria: I’m a firm believer that at the core Marketing is and has always been about forming and retaining relationships with customers. No matter what category, region or industry (B2B or B2C) you’re in, you develop relationships with customers in a certain way. Marketing is no longer just a category or a function that exists in silos. If you ask me honestly, the lines between B2B & B2C marketing are blurring. Be it B2B or B2C marketing, it’s all about creating meaningful narratives for customers to engage with brands and in the process of creating that customer experience, hopefully creating that emotional connect with them. These divides of B2B and B2C are often made by agencies and clients to show “how different and unique their category is” while the good old rules of marketing still apply across both of them.
At HCL, we create that environment where we can work together with our customers by creating win-win relationships. We run Customer Advisory Councils where we have an opportunity to get unfiltered and honest feedback from some of our top customers about how we are doing as a company, where could we improve, what are the areas that are going well or the areas that we should get better. This approach to building relationships is reflected in our positioning of “Relationship Beyond the Contract” and at the same time very seamlessly embedded in our culture.Honestly, the lines between B2B & B2C marketing are blurring, it’s all about creating meaningful narratives for customers to engage with brands and create an emotional connect with them.
AM: Is there anything sexy, glitzy about B2B marketing at all? Or, do consumer marketers have all the fun, glam and budgets?
AC: When one is focused on the idea of forming a relationship or bond with a customer, one has to get really creative and innovative. We recently hosted one of the biggest Tweet Chats in the world on the theme of “celebrating success” with Manchester United. Manchester United fans shared their unique ways of “celebrating success” and MU players like Paul Pogba replicated some of the celebration poses sent in by the fans, who received a priceless image in reply from the players – featuring them side by side. So, B2B marketing definitely gets sexy, fun, glitzy and glam in a 21st Century scenario as we call it. This particular campaign led to 126K user engagement and garnered 107 million impressions. That’s B2B getting as sexy and fun as B2C for you. In a nutshell it’s the marketer and not the category which defines how much fun and glamour you add to your marketing initiatives.
AM: What, in your opinion, is the role of brand building in B2B marketing? Does ‘brand’ play any role in B2B decision making? Or, is it more to do with proposition and price?
AC: At HCL, we believe that Brand = (is equal to) Business Model and our brand promise “Relationship Beyond the Contract” reflects that. I do believe that the strategic choice that HCL has made to take a very employee-centric and culture-driven approach, and the empowerment of the employees for delivering exceptional interactions and creating deep relationships with the customers is clearly a strategic differentiator. This has resulted in us out-performing our peers for many quarters now.
I don’t see any other brand in the IT/ITES/Consulting category doing this. Other companies have made their strategic choices. Some brands are talking about price. Other brands are positioned on solving bigger global problems or on their consulting capabilities. We are the only company which really talks about the people aspect of it, and I think our results are certainly very encouraging. And that’s the HCL Technologies brand we are proudly creating in the global market.
In terms of numbers, our customer satisfaction has increased 14% and our revenues are up by 54% in the last 4 years which is almost 10% above the industry averages. We are for the first time a Forbes ‘Most valuable 500 brands’, we made it to Forbes Asia Fab 50 List for the 7th time, in India we have been ranked amongst the ‘Top 50 Most Valuable Brands’ by Interbrand at No.17, in Top 500 Brands in the world according to Brand Finance, we’ve again received award for being the Top Employer in the UK and so on. If you look at it from a brand perspective our brand value in the last 4 years has grown 122% that’s better than anybody in our category. We have the highest brand value growth in the category, 35% in 2014, almost 30% in 2015, and we are very comfortable that we will continue to create new benchmarks and become a very well-known brand in U.S and Europe soon.
We are for the first time a Forbes ‘Most valuable 500 brands’, we made it to Forbes Asia Fab 50 List for the 7th time.
AM: You have authored the best-seller “You are the Key - Unlocking doors through social selling”. How do you think social media has reshaped marketing overall and specifically, to business and enterprise? What are some of the latest trends that you see?
AC: Social Media is an oxymoron is one way as all media by nature should be social in nature. What has changed is that with the rise and proliferation of social platforms like Facebook and Twitter the ownership of brands has gone from being just “company owned” to a shared ownership between the company and its consumers. I still see a lot of marketers struggling to understand this paradigm shift and still continuing to use social channels as they would use traditional channels like TV to do a one way broadcast rather than have an engaging two-way conversation. Social media has moved from SMM (social media marketing) to Social as a Business where platforms like Twitter and Facebook bots are being used for everything from research to customer service. Some of the latest trends are LIVE Video, Rise of Chat-Bots, Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality, Increased personalisation and dark social.
AM: Apurva, so, what’s next? Are you working on a new book - could you share brief preview or key premise of the work? When do you expect this to be on the stands?
AC: My next book is on “growth hacking”. Growth hacking is a process of rapid experimentation across marketing channels and product development to identify the most effective, efficient ways to grow a business. Growth hacking refers to a set of both conventional and unconventional marketing experiments that lead to growth of a business. Most traditional or for that matter even digital marketers are not comfortable with these new age growth hacking techniques so this book will aim to share best practices and case-studies to help bridge the awareness gap. I’m speaking to 4-5 international publishers and the book should be in the stands by end of 2017.
AM: HCL Technologies is a global corporation - what are your learnings as a marketer about the challenge of building a brand across different markets and cultures? Does “from India” help or detract when it comes to hiring or even providing services in markets in US, UK, Europe or even Australia?
AC: Being an IT Services company born out of India has a positive connotation in Fortune 500 companies so there is a positive “country of provenance branding” effect. At the same time we ensure that we come across as an “Indian heritage” company and not an “Indian company”. Today we have in-country operations in 32 countries and employees from 120 countries working with us at HCL so we are as global as most large global firms and we don’t see any challenge in either attracting talent or customers from other countries. People in every region have their own way of engagement and so do the decision makers we work on influencing. Working with a global firm one cannot remain from India or from America or from Japan. One has to strive to reach a level of “global sensibility” such that you are able to engage with each customer or prospective customer at a very personal level. Some of my learnings as a global marketer are as follows:
1) Marketing has become far too dynamic, technical and omni-channel for any single agency to act as a full-service, one-stop-shop for a complex global brand. Also agencies which traditionally acted as a “local specialist” need to increasingly integrate their work, storytelling and/or media skills with big global ideas, themes and brand movements -- as well as the creative that comes with it.
2) Structure needs to follow strategy, and as marketing evolves, marketing departments and responsibilities need to as well. As core brand pillars and “big ideas” become globalised faster by borderless internet channels like Facebook and LinkedIn, top-performing marketing organisations are frequently restructuring toward a global-to-region model, where regional teams translate global ideas into regional -- then ultimately local -- action plans, media and campaign positioning. This is resulting in the rise of “agile marketing”.
3) New Skills are needed both internally and with external resources as marketing leaders need to organise for expertise around a new set of key competencies, including: Data science, analytics and cross-channel attribution, User experience design and development, Mobile, Content marketing, brand editorial and storytelling etc.
AM:Your journey at HCL and your evolution as a career marketer - what are some of the key things you have learned over the years? And what would be your advice to young marketing professionals today?
AC: My journey at HCL has been of remaining in a state of “constant delta” with respect to learning and putting myself in new challenging roles. I have done varied roles like sales and strategy as developmental stints because I believe cross-functional stints help you become a more well-rounded marketer. Some of my learnings over the years have been to create a strong partnership with your agencies (here are no bad agencies only bad clients), inculcate a culture of “un-learning and self-learning” and keeping things simple. For young marketing professionals, my advice would be that “the only risk is not taking a risk” so whatever you do, always be inherently curious, understand deeply so that you can explain simply and practice bold, differentiated marketing.I have done varied roles like sales and strategy as developmental stints because I believe cross-functional stints help you become a more well-rounded marketer.
AM: I would like to end with a quote from you on how you see the future of marketing?
AC: The more we change, the more we remain the same. Like I said earlier, marketing is and has always been about forming relationships with people. In the future, channels of engagement will continue to change and those who learn to benefit from this change will grow. Some of the trends I see in the future of marketing are: Transparency will dictate brand-customer relationships, The need for powerful moving content will keep increasing, More and more brands will try to create and own their communities and Data driven marketing technologists will be the new brand managers. The more we change, the more we remain the same. Like I said earlier, marketing is and has always been about forming relationships with people.