after almost a decade, as TCS, Infosys, Wipro and others strive
to move up the value chain in a bid to command better rates, some
players have realised the importance of branding and re-positioning.
There is an increased thrust on building brand equity to take on
heavyweights like IBM Global Services, EDS, CSC and Accenture in
the global market. While the biggest Indian software firms can afford
to invest heavily in marketing and branding, second-tier firms are
left with no choice but to brand themselves as niche players with
strong domain expertise in various verticals. The big question is
can Indian Software Inc. take on the Big Five in terms of brand
recall and credibility that has long been associated with the latter?
in a brand?
Simon Pollard, managing partner of TPI, one of the leading outsourcing
consultants in the world, says that when he tells his client that
IBM Global Services will do the project, no doubts about delivery
and quality are raised. “One can go on talking about the ramp-up
time, quality and delivery, but what you are selling is trust, which
unlike a packaged product, is intangible. Therefore, branding is
even more relevant for software services,” says Jeroen Tas, president,
MphasiS. Brands like Wipro and Infosys are built over a period
of time by consistently delivering value-added projects on time.
Today, they not only command a cost-effective positioning, but are
also looked upon as vendors who can deliver services at par with
global standards. Phaneesh Murthy, head of marketing at Infosys
describes how Infy leveraged its relationship with NASDAQ when it
got listed on the exchange. “We negotiated with NASDAQ for giving
exposure to Infy in the US,” he explains.
Branding is often felt necessary only when you are selling a product,
but changing times make branding imperative for positioning software
services too. For a country like India that was branded as a ‘Y2K
only’ destination, this has been a long journey. Today, Indian software
companies are not only doing mainframe maintenance projects, but
they are also being entrusted with high-end e-business projects.
“It’s more about moving up the value chain in a particular assignment,”
says Sangita Singh, vice president, Strategic Marketing, Wipro Technologies.
software services usually involves corporate branding. Slogans such
as Wipro’s ‘Applying Thought’ and Infy’s ‘Driven by values. Powered
by intellect’ are some good examples of how branding can be used
to gain mind share among outsourcers. Another interesting example
is Infy’s decision to put Senator Larry Pressler on its board of
directors. This gives the company a leg up on its Indian counterparts
when it comes to wooing clients in the US, especially in the government
segment. Moreover, it adds credibility to the Infosys brand.
certifications like SEI CMM, etc, have now become a pre-requisite
while bidding for any major project. They help in branding a company
as a vendor whose quality processes are intact and commitment towards
understanding business processes is also high.
a company like i-flex, which has built global brand equity for its
banking product Flexcube, branding software services becomes easier.
“The only way to differentiate is to focus on productised solutions.
And once you have a successful product brand, services branding
becomes easier,” says an official at i-flex. The company is now
planning to brand its software services business as ‘Prime Sourcing’
and efforts are underway to launch an advertising campaign in several
trade publications. Singh also talks about e-branding, i.e. using
the company website for reaching out to target customers. “We have
recently started what we term as e-branding. We put out lots of
white papers and articles written by Wipro-ites. The white papers
generate a good response from potential clients.”
Most Indian companies we spoke to admitted that branding is mostly
done through existing customers. “We get more than 80 percent of
our business from existing customers, so keeping them happy as strong
referrals plays an important role in branding,” says Singh. Even
Chinnikrishna Kommi, country manager and senior vice president,
Global Delivery, Aztec Software, believes that branding software
services is essentially done through word of mouth. “Unlike IBM,
which has a well established brand equity, Indian companies have
traditionally been focused on services. Therefore, it is not fair
to compare IBM Global Services with Indian firms.”
US, customers are very particular about referrals provided by vendors.
So, most branding and positioning efforts are focused on maintaining
a satisfied and happy clientele. “The best brand ambassadors are
existing customers who have been and are beneficiaries of the service.
Traditional modes of mass media advertising help build brand image
among stockholders. But it is the continuous strengthening of the
intrinsic worth of the organisation and ensuring customer and employee
delight that are the key aspects of branding software solutions,”
says a Cognizant official.
talks passionately about the concept of ‘customer delight’. “In
today’s market, adding value to what you offer to a customer counts
a lot. Things like offering reusable components in a project and
always meeting deadlines result in a delighted customer,” she says.
in branding software services
Branding services has never been easy and this becomes even more
difficult in the software services segment. The cost-effective tag
is also a bottleneck for companies who want to move up the value
ladder and command premium prices. “The differentiation and credibility
of the organisation and all that it stands for has to be clearly
demonstrable. Of late, branding and differentiation have become
all the more challenging because of commoditisation of the marketplace.
And that’s why prospective customers are keen on talking to existing
customers, visiting vendor locations and interacting with the people
who would actually provide the services, checking out for themselves
the processes, connectivity and hardware that would be used for
providing services,” says a Cognizant official.
like Nasscom will have to play an instrumental role in the overall
branding strategy. “Indian Software Inc. will need a different brand
now and that brand cannot be achieved unless Indian companies individually,
and industry bodies such as Nasscom, TiE and CII build that brand,”
he adds. “The cost-effective proposition has to change now; moving
up the value chain and branding as high-value vendors cannot become
a reality until we do that,” adds Murthy.
opportunities and woes
Whenever big outsourcers like General Motors or Citicorp look for
a vendor, they go by top-of-the-mind brands, such as TCS, Infosys
or Wipro. This is because these vendors have established their brands
in the US and APAC markets as cost-effective and credible options
for cross-border outsourcing. Tas of MphasiS believes that
tier-two firms cannot take on the Infosys and Wipros when it comes
to brand recall. “However, a company like MphasiS will always
remain a vendor with strong domain expertise in the financial services
segment. This is the brand we are planning to build.” For this MphasiS
is also planning to advertise in trade publications like Asian Banker,
etc. This will help the company in acquiring ‘domain expert’ positioning.
Some of these niche firms are also headed by veterans
from the vertical segments the firms focus on. For instance, Jerry
Rao, CEO of MphasiS, used to head Citicorp’s Transaction
Technology Inc. Indian firms have also started hiring foreign executives,
which imparts a local flavour while marketing their services overseas.
Aztec’s hiring of Chris Brown, ex-vice president at IBM Global Services,
is a good indicator of this trend.
dynamics in the outsourcing industry have made it imperative for
Indian companies to invest in building brand equity. The offshore
proposition can no longer be used as a differentiator since the
likes of Accenture and EDS are fast building a considerable offshore
presence in India.
suggests, the Americans once labelled even the Japanese manufacturing
industry as ‘cheap’. The Japanese used that to create a niche for
themselves, and today are considered to be the best when it comes
to quality. So, it might not be a bad idea to continue using the
‘cost-effective’ tag for acquiring new businesses and at the same
time ensure that quality sits on top of delivery. This will help
Indian companies in joining the really Big League where Accenture,
IBM and EDS sit pretty today.