Internally people refer to me as chief marathon officer: TCS Global CMO Abhinav Kumar

TCS’ Global CMO Abhinav Kumar speaks exclusively to Storyboard18 about the company’s key marathon sponsorships around the world and the investments made by the brand to make it one of the most valued.

By  Shibani GharatFeb 23, 2024 7:09 PM
Internally people refer to me as chief marathon officer: TCS Global CMO Abhinav Kumar
"Most of our colleagues would sit 8 or 9 hours a day working on their laptop or their desktop. So what being a partner to marathons has done inside the company has been tremendous," says TCS Global chief marketing officer Abhinav Kumar.

IT major Tata Consultancy Services, which has been investing steadily in key marathons and sporting properties around the world, was recently rated as the second most valuable IT services brand in the world in the 2024 Global 500 IT Services Ranking by Brand Finance. Also steered by steady investments in AI-readiness and a commitment to sustainability, TCS’ brand value has surged to $19.2 billion from $17.2 billion in 2023, a strong growth of 11.5 percent YoY.

The incremental $2 billion growth is the highest absolute growth posted among the Top 25 leading IT firms in the world. In an exclusive chat with Storyboard18, TCS Global CMO Abhinav Kumar, who took charge of TCS’ marketing last year, speaks about what has worked for the brand and how they will continue to push harder and make key valuable investments.

Edited excerpts:

A couple of weeks ago TCS became the world's second most valuable IT company. What are some of the significant things that you've done in the past few months to enable this?

We spoke to the Brand Finance team and found out fundamentally there are two reasons. Building a brand is not a sprint, it's a marathon. You need to constantly build and that's what it takes. So it was reinforcing to hear what they told us is that all the investments you've been making or the long-term rate, but that your sponsorship of marathons across the world, whether it's being present in the right forums, whether it's the content you're taking out, which is informing industries, whether it's your growing presence on social media, on the web and so forth, it's all starting to kick in. We've been doing this for a long time, especially after that IPO in 2004, when we really got into the marketing game. And the second thing they said is your perception scores have increased quite significantly. So whether it's customer satisfaction, innovation and customer preference as a digital transformation partner, those have all increased.

As a CMO what is your strategy to take the number one position now going forward?

I have always admired this campaign from a really different industry, in the car rental industry. So there is this company called Avis, whom we've also worked with over the years, they've had this wonderful campaign because they were number two in their industry. So they said, ‘We are number two, we try harder.’ I think it's great to be number two, right?

When we started we were, I think, eight or nine in 2010, so we moved up the ladder. It's great to be in this position because it leaves room for aspiration. You know, you've got to keep earning the space. It's a fantastic industry, there are great companies operating in this field. So we are mindful that it is a competitive environment and we need to keep doing our best every day to build the brand.

So how are you trying harder?

We have made a lot of investment and we continue to invest. We have ratcheted up our investment in our brand over the years. We have a very big, complex and global business. We operate in 55 countries. So when you talk about the brand of the company, you know, obviously in India there is a good, strong, dominant position and we also benefit very strongly from the fact that we are part of a big family of the Tata brand. But if you look at markets across the world, some of our larger markets, we have made a good foray into and strengthened our brand. But there are many countries we operate in where we still need to make that work.

We have about a thousand people operation in Peru, but if you ask me, if we are a strong enough brand in Peru, I would say we are not. We need to work in multiple ways. I think sports sponsorship is one of them. We get to brand in a very material way in business hubs in cities and engage communities. It's by telling our story, whether using, you know, channels such as media, social media, our own website and other things.

It's handshake by handshake, right? It's meeting people. It's being part of different communities and all of that. And the digital part, our brand needs to go where the attention and audience are.

We are present on many channels. But just to take one example of it you look at LinkedIn. So LinkedIn reached a fantastic milestone, they crossed a billion users earlier this year, but in terms of our specific interest in it, there are about 70 million decision-makers. Out of those 1 billion, 7 million of them are IT decision-makers who either buy from us today or potentially will buy from us tomorrow or are present on that platform, spending three-and-a-half hours of their day on it.

So we strengthen our presence over there in terms of our company channels, in terms of some of the leadership and people and so forth. And then using many, many new tools to engage and inform people, educate them, entertain them, but also, you know, use that in a sense to build the brand.

Last year for the first time you associated with the London Marathon as a title sponsor. How did that pan out? And going forward? Are you looking at any more sporting sponsorships?

I was smiling when you started talking about marathons. The internal joke is when people refer to me as CMO, they often ask me, ‘Is the chief marketing officer or are you the chief marathon officer?’ This is because of our sustained interest and passion in the marathon field. If you look at our marathon strategy, we didn't start with that. There was a time when we were in the IPL. We have been into motorsport, we were a partner to the Ferrari Formula One team. We have been in pro cycling and many other things. But when we got into this sport of running, I think the sheer value which we see in it, not just for our brand but actually for our communities too. If you look at the technology industry, it is a very sedentary industry.

Most of our colleagues would sit 8 or 9 hours a day working on their laptop or their desktop. So what being a partner to marathons has done inside the company has been tremendous. Today, out of our six lakh colleagues roughly a third are runners. So it has sparked a desire in them to improve their health and wellness. And the same for many of our clients. It engages our clients in a very emotional way. In Storyboard, you talk to many marketing organisations and I think at the top of it is their desire to engage their clients with their product or with their service in a very emotional way.

Most of our clients don't get emotional about software or technology services, but if you look at our clients, when they participate in these marathons, it's a really emotional moment for them. They have trained hard all year. For some of them, it is the first time they are doing it. I will give you an example. Last year at the TCS New York City Marathon, I spent some time with one of our clients who's the CEO of a large bank in Europe.

He had come there with his wife. Now he's a regular marathon runner. But for his wife, it was her first marathon. They ran and they finished in an amazing time of just 4 hours. And, that moment meant everything to them. It's going to be one of the highlights of their lives and their marriage. And for us to be there at this moment and to enable it for them is such a great privilege.

So the marathon association certainly gives you great value. Do you keep on pushing that budget a little higher with each passing year?

I do keep pushing, the other conversation you need to have with our CFO! I think fundamentally we've kept raising the investment level on it.

I think any CMO you speak to and ask them, do they have enough of a budget. That answer will be never enough. But to be honest, I think as a company we have made a significant investment. In the B2B sector, particularly in IT services, companies have traditionally not made this kind of investment on the marketing side and we continue to do so. Marathons are an important part of the portfolio, but there is so much more that we do.

I think I am always mindful of the fact that when you look at our product, it is invisible. It is easier to be a CMO for a car company. Your product is there, you can touch it, feel it, and the customer can experience the drive. Or a watch company, a suit company, you touch it, you feel it. For us, what we do, for our customers it's invisible to them. And I think in that sense, it becomes more important for us to make our brand experiential. Marathon is the way in which we can do it. We also use marathons to showcase our tech through the official app.

We have done many other things in data analytics. A very exciting project which we just launched at the New York City Marathon for the first time in history, we've tied up with Des Linden, who's a legendary runner in the US, and we have created a digital twin of our heart rate. So it's a digital version of our heart. So now every time she runs anywhere, the performance of her heart is being monitored. Data has been taken out of it. And not just simple stuff like heartbeat but the performance of muscle tissue and other things. Based on that, the intent is that she will start getting more insights on how to improve her performance as an athlete.

But there's a bigger play behind creating digital twins of hearts. The end goal of this is to make this technology available to average people. So tomorrow I would have a digital twin of my heart, on my smartphone. And what will tell me is that you have had a hard week. You've not been sleeping that much. Your heart is under stress. Make sure you sleep on Saturday. Or your risk of heart attack has gone up by 20 percent. Go see your doctor or take a hard look at your diet and things like that. So, this can literally save lives. And we are working with one of our customers for mass application of this technology.

First Published on Feb 23, 2024 7:03 PM

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