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.... TCS has already become the default brand name with all calling it as such. Branding is tricky, often. It is wrong to abbreviate some names, ever. It is wrong to do it prematurely even when feasible. And, it is wrong to postpone doing it when it is obvious.


  4 November 2007

  The (brand) is within brackets

Tata Consultancy Services's (TCS) recent brand-charge campaign articulated to ingrain the attribute 'certainty' into its brand makes a good case-study in raising the thinking on branding approaches beyond the conventional beliefs. This analysis looks at some blind spots in branding practice and also the needs and fit approach to building brands in the software sector. TCS campaign indeed thrusts the popular branding method onto to the sector, pushing the management in the rest of the companies to seriously think - - on their moves. Set against a challenge with an approach thatís strange, they can all be expected to play by the same rule - - a typical competition mind-set in India that has, in good many cases, leaked a lot of ad-money straight into the drain. The compulsion to follow is intense when leaders initiate anything. They are all already underscoring the need for branding - - advertisements - which is largely perceived and preached as the only branding tool. I guess, advertising agencies (the default brand consultants in India) keen to charge into the sector, could even be thinking out words that can beat 'certainty'.


TCS's equal competitors and more necessarily the lesser ones have now a need to spend some good time thinking, before getting to work on their ads. They should, because TCS campaign comes across as exceptionally good - - enough to urge them to think alike. I am ever skeptical on things that defy thumb rules, particularly when they hit you very convincingly. Only way to duck such influence is to test it being doubly doubtful. The campaign presents twin topics for thinking. The very campaign, in terms of appropriateness of the adoption and the long-term suitability of the approach for software companies.


TCS campaign does sound all fine and fit viewed by the widely believed common branding wisdom but does not really pass-out bug-free upon testing against harder branding logic. In adopting the approach, TCS ignores a critical branding decision that's very obvious, fails to fill a knowledge gap that would have made the campaign worthy of greater impact, and, overrides more valid attributes for the one-word positioning that may prove hard to work with in the long-run. In fact TCS buys a method that's increasingly becoming ineffective where it is rather excessively used.


The print advertisements of the campaign reveal a missed branding decision thatís fundamental in nature. As I saw the full page ad., the first thought that hit in me was that - - "the (brand) is within brackets". It shows-up because TCS is on a brand-charge campaign. I believe, single most branding imperative for Tata Consultancy Services, for quite some time now - has been to call itself TCS. This indecision cuts a lot of potential off the campaign. Basic flaws invariably discount the impact of whatever is built on them - - however sound and good - - by as much the subject is fundamental and the mistake is wrong. TCS has already become the default brand name with all calling it as such. Branding is tricky, often. It is wrong to abbreviate some names, ever. It is wrong to do it prematurely even when feasible. And, it is wrong to postpone doing it when it is obvious. I guess TCS chose to use brackets hoping to sustain the mutual transfer of brand power between the group and the company. I believe, thatís an ignorance trap many big groups in India have faulted into. And Tata group, being the oldest, is a classic example with the brand sticking onto even consumer products low down the line. I am sure, Tata Tea Ltd., can enhance its leadership supremacy in Tea by a big measure if it will let its string of Tea brands (all prefixed by Tata) free of the brand charge. Brand knowledge about lineage yields effectively and without restrictive impact when communicated in a subtle manner. Group signature is in fact the ideal way to make brand power yield either way. Tata group should be able to do that just with the logo Ė if only it can recreate it to bear the potential. TCSís stated objective to create a competitive brand recall as against IBM and Accenture would remain not-easy until TCS becomes just TCS.


In the advertising circles, the kind of promotion is called as branding campaign. They happen to be mistake-prone precisely because of what they are called as. Conscious of the task, ad-men tend to use superfluous attributes hoping to charge the brand with their works, often ignoring the fact that branding happens essentially out of various other aspects - - and not really from advertising. Despite all the research-for-insights they tend to miss the basics. Branding campaigns can be flawed on two counts. One, when there is mismatch between what is communicated and what is true or appropriate, and two, when fundamental decisions are overlooked. A safeguard from the temptation to brand is to call it as Brand communication campaign - - which asks 'what-to-communicate?' Need for brand communication arises owing to gaps in brand knowledge across segments for communication that may accrue over time for quite a few reasons. Clearly, the task is to fill the gap by informing, refreshing or reinforcing brand critical inputs. Brand communications can be in future tense too provided the aspiration or commitment is within the threshold of the brandís image.


For software companies, broadly the segments are; customer groups, industry connections including other influencing segments and the general public. And, they need to address similar segments in markets across the globe, almost independent of each other. In India, while customer groups would become increasingly relevant from now on, 'general public' as a set for communications has ever been crucial on HR and investor considerations. The very sector has been popular for obvious reasons with Infosys and Wipro as its leading faces. TCS did have a huge gap in the 'general public' segment. It hardly shared popularity with Infosys and Wipro in spite of being older, larger and presumably a more comprehensive IT service provider. The low key public reporting from TCS (due to its constitution till it became an independent entity) as compared to the quarterly hyper performance reporting from Infosys and Wipro deprived TCS of the popular image. I believe the gap still exists despite the 'certainty' campaign. That should explain the effectiveness of the inexpensive news and the ineffectiveness of the expensive advertisements for IT. As long as the IT keeps happening for India, publications of all hues will not miss any meet-us invite from IT companies. The task is one of using the opportunity with strategies to make the best from it.


TCS campaign kindles the question - - why ads. at all?  I doubt, an industry that has grown in flashes overtaking every other industry - without advertisements, has hit any kind of saturation in demand or in the scope to manage that with products and operation structures - - to think of advertisements for powering their brands to continue to leap. Understandably they are on cross roads right now. From hitting a billion dollar in revenues to more than tripling that in less than 3 years, these companies now find themselves stepping on the toes of global giants such as IBM and Accenture who were wide away to think of mutual aspects till now. From serving markets that were knocking, they now, almost suddenly, face the situation of having to compete essentially by enhancing the offer (product) attractiveness quotient in quick time to sustain the past pace of growth. In fact the situation is rather tricky. From now on they would either gallop or slow down.


The next set of tools to compete will have to essentially arise from the current buzz called 'knowledge Management'. IT needs are shifting from data management and customization to wanting the best practices along-with - - the demand that's actually pushing IT companies to become management consultants as well. The next rider would be for plug-in-and-run systems with simpler adaptation feasibilities that can offer freedom from tiring implementation. I believe, competition will now mature through working through these needs. Building-in best practices into their systems, working on concurrent research in upgrading that (bypassing consulting) and successively finding fit operational structures and alliances would be the prime tasks to work with.


That puts branding through advertisements way away even if the MNCs with wide leads indulge in. IT is too high-end a business proposition, too focused on a small sets of customer groups, and too complex a buying process - - to be driven on mass media. In a growing business solution market with technology ever on-next, branding essentially happens from product development and delivery efficiencies and of course by leveraging from that in direct communication with the customer groups and its influencing sets. For Indian IT companies, unmistakably branding opportunities are in the process of accomplishing that, more so under the current competition equation. Relying on advertisements instead, can bring down their cost efficiencies and also blind them from the real opportunities. With the rupee on a momentum mainly because of what the US can't do and what India can do down the years, misplaced convictions on branding logic can indeed prove to be an undoing.


Nonetheless, Indian IT companies need to work on brand communications to ensure that there are no gaps even as they brand working on their propositions. With target clientele shifting down the ranks (thereby adding more to the list) and to large public utilities - - staff of whom make a very good portion of 'general public' segment, it becomes an imperative to create an influence on the decision makers by creating an enthusiastic feeling about the brand with this vast set. The questions to work with are: arenít there options otherwise than advertising? How to communicate competitive capabilities even as they work in creating that?


For Indian IT companies, global is the word to think through. Apart from deliberate efforts in making news yield, they should look out for opportunities that can reinforce the class and feel of the brand across global markets singularly. Some time back, there was news of Infosys wanting to replace Sahara in the Indian cricket. Thatís something just right. Even at a big price it is worth many times over advertisements in multiple markets through fragmented media which can only prove to be cost ineffective. Such opportunities are hard to come by. The challenge is to create an own vehicle that can roll across the markets. It can be entertainment, sports or anything that has the potential to relate with the 'general public' in the global town.


Considering the kind of the product and the market, creating such an enthusiasm and positive influence, with the customer and its influencing segments, should not be a challenge. Options could be many. It only calls for systematic work through the task zones such as; implementation constraints, knowledge preaching, HR etc. and evolve deeper connect programs particularly with influencing segments. And, it should be quite possible to do it in highly cost-effective way. These are elusive and happen to be matter of innovation and call for deliberate efforts.


'Certainty' would make an impact for TCS - in the short term. Full-page ads in mainline newspapers by an unexpected user should yield some positive brand awareness but not the brand power that can be leveraged to tell upon its revenues. In complex business products, branding is essentially linked with superior strategies and happens essentially on closer and focused communications. They can hardly fit into the grasp of a word - - for it can be proved either to be common to competition or irrelevant pretty soon. In the long-term the kind of campaign and 'certainty' would yield decreasingly and quite possibly negatively on over use. The campaign is indeed impressing at, in spite of the video talk. Relatively I find Wipro's 'Applying Thought' quite potential. I also believe they could have achieved a lot more with that - - without the 'Flower'. That's about branding and de-branding, in short. Branding as I see it at is quite competitive with the approach and method in tune with the needs.


An article in Economic Times on the 'Certainty' campaign quoted a gossip in which an unnamed IBM Global Services staff was saying: "TCS had better people, better product but luckily (for IBM) they did not know how to market themselves". I thought that was a mistaken pride. I believe, Indian IT companies will get their branding logic right in keeping that comment - - just that.


Adve Srinivasa Bhat

Management Consultant

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