Brand is an Emotional Bridge Between the Business and its Audience
October 22, 2020
As part of the “Taking the Long View – Conversations with The B2B Institute at LinkedIn” series, B2B Institute’s Global Head Jann Martin Schwarz interviewed Sumit Virmani, CMO of Infosys. Sumit has been a marketer at Infosys for sixteen years and its CMO for the last four. As a global leader in IT consulting and digital transformation and advisor to thousands of companies globally, Infosys has a unique “meta” perspective on the evolving world of business and is one of the leading B2B marketing brands.
Jann Martin Schwarz: What attracted you to a career in marketing?
Sumit Virmani: Marketing as a career choice, in my case, is an interesting accident. In fact, I’d been a student of finance until my undergrad degree, then joined a management program intending to build a career in finance. That’s where I was tutored by this wonderful professor of marketing who had such incredible passion for the subject that it was infectious. I think I owe my love for marketing to him. This whole idea of the brand being an emotional bridge between the business and consumer is something I took to heart then. And as they say, the rest just fell in place. I converted into a marketer from a finance professional, and have stayed that way.
Jann Martin Schwarz: Having been a finance major as an undergrad must be very useful now, because Infosys seems like a very quantitatively driven company with real engineering prowess, like many B2B businesses. What metrics do you use to tie brand building and the role of the CMO to growth? How do you explain to the non-marketers how your team adds value in a way that people who are much more numbers-driven can understand?
Sumit Virmani: Marketing in B2C is so much more overtly appreciated than in B2B, and it’s not hard to see why. In the B2C world, the correlation between marketing impact and business value needs little explaining, and is clearly understood by all stakeholders. As a contrast, traditionally, marketing in B2B has focused excessively on being the promotional and communication arm of the business and not necessarily the function driving value from holistic marketing for the business.
To answer your question more specifically, our team at Infosys tackles the challenge by relying on a simple framework — the “brand and business impact” framework. We have a clear set of metrics to measure brand impact — the awareness, consideration, and preference for the brand, which eventually leads to long-term business impact. In addition, we also have metrics to measure near-term impact on business. This tracks the journey of marketing-qualified leads becoming sales-accepted leads, all the way up to the sales pipeline and revenue. If we want to position marketing as a strategic function for the CEO and the CFO, then we must talk the language that they understand. Marketing cannot have the luxury of pursuing metrics that only marketers can appreciate and understand. Our team takes on goals that matter to the business. Like every other function, marketing at Infosys reports metrics on the same corporate scorecard.
Jann Martin Schwarz: If there were only two or three metrics you had to pick, which ones would you list for the CEO or the board?
Sumit Virmani: I would pick metrics that balance long-term and short-term business impact. So, from the long-term business metrics list, I would choose brand consideration and brand preference, and for near-term metrics, it would be pipeline and conversions.
Jann Martin Schwarz: How do you look at share of voice? I know it is hard to measure, but we think it’s a very compelling framework because it’s something that finance people can understand. If I can invest in having a higher share of voice, likely my market share will follow suit, and a percentage increase in market share is something very tangible.
Sumit Virmani: Yes, we do measure it. Share of voice is a lead indicator of the opportunity the market has to engage with the brand, because an increase in share of voice means increase in exposure, and with it comes the opportunity to improve brand consideration and preference.
Jann Martin Schwarz: When I talked to Jim Stengel (former CMO of P&G), he talked about how he made it his mission when he was CMO for the CFO to bring him along to investor meetings and have joint presentations so that they looked very aligned, and that was a signal to the broader organization to collaborate much more closely. Our research confirms the importance of this relationship.
Sumit Virmani: I think the CFO is both a critical partner and a stakeholder for marketing, and not just from the perspective of investment support for marketing programs. In some ways their purposes are very closely aligned, given that the focus of the CFO is to influence the way the investor community perceives the brand. Investors, in turn, are influenced by a whole bunch of factors, and one crucial dimension is how markets perceive the brand.
Having said that, if marketing will only speak the abstract language of branding, then it’s not going to be easy making friends with the CFO. For the CFO to be a true partner in the marketing journey, the team must take on goals that directly impact the top and the bottom line.
Jann Martin Schwarz: What are you doing during COVID, and how has your response been? What is your best guess on where we’re headed?
Sumit Virmani: A couple of observations have validated and reinforced some of my closely held beliefs. The first one — strong brands and companies, across industries, embrace an employee-first approach. They truly believe in the idea that when you take care of your employees, they, in turn, will take care of the customer. We are seeing that manifest all around us. Brands are going to great lengths to ensure that their employees are safe and truly taken care of. The workforce, on their part, continue to deliver for their employers notwithstanding huge constraints and under immense pressure. The second big observation is that cash is indeed king. Cash conservation has become a priority in these times, and in some sense, it goes hand in hand with the employee-first mindset because brands need financial muscle to continue to sustain employees even when business is sluggish.
The third dimension — and this one has a direct impact on marketing — is how all these businesses have doubled down on authentic, empathetic communication in the last few months. With stakeholders distributed across remote locations, unable to connect physically, the power of clear, impactful and frequent communication has never been more appreciated or valued than in these times, and all smart businesses are doing a great job here.
And finally, I would say that this has also been an opportunity for brands to truly live their purpose. Where can we have a unique, positive impact on society? More than ever brands need to have a good answer to that question.
Jann Martin Schwarz: What advice would you give to younger people who want to make their mark in this industry?
Sumit Virmani: I am a big believer in the fundamentals, in the traditional four Ps (Product, Price, Place, Promotion) theory of marketing. One of the reasons why some of us as marketers struggle to be effective is because we do not fully appreciate the relevance of marketing across the Ps. Many of us slip to focusing our agenda on one or two of the Ps, and that is where trouble begins because without appreciation for the four dimensions of business, it’s hard to be effective on the job.
At the same time, the pace of change across functions, including marketing, is rapidly accelerating. Learning, unlearning, and relearning in a continuous cycle is something that every marketer must prepare for. When we look for talent to hire into our teams, we look for attitude and learnability more than we look for experience.
Let me quote Simon Sinek here, someone I admire for his views on this subject. Simon says, working hard on something you do not care about is called stress but working hard on something you care about is called passion. If you are looking for a career in marketing, then be sure you have the passion going for you else the stress will overtake the excitement of the job sooner than you think.
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