Mindtree’s Krishnakumar Natarajan believes that a corporate brand is actually an extension of its internal culture and how the brand is felt, perceived and thought about by various stakeholders who interact with it. In his talk at the Brand Owners’ Summit, Natarajan talks from the heart about how brands evolve continuously, just like how people do, and why it is crucial for marketers to keep this in mind as they formulate a branding strategy
S. PREM KUMAR
The one thing that will strike you about the senior management team at Mindtree is the genuine humility in all their interactions. Actually, it is a trait I have often observed in the IT and ITeS industry as a whole. So, it was no surprise when Krishnakumar Natarajan, co-founder, MD and CEO of Mindtree, waited patiently (we were running late by 30 minutes and Natarajan had an international flight to catch after his talk) for his turn to speak at the Brand Owners’ Summit in Bangalore.
We invited Natarajan to speak at the Summit for a very simple reason: Mindtree had gone on to build a wonderful global brand, well-recognised along with the big boys of the IT industry. The company not only delivered tremendous value to its shareholders (its current market cap stands at Rs. 7,354 crore, with net sales of Rs. 3,031 crore in FY2014) since founding the company in August 1999, but also built a sound brand with its customers and employees.
Mindtree was also listed at No. 9 among the Top 10 Most Influential Brands in India by LinkedIn, a ranking based on LinkedIn’s Content Marketing Score (CMS), which measures the effectiveness of content marketing efforts on LinkedIn.
We wanted Natarajan to speak about the fine art of building a B2B brand. To set the context, Natarajan began his talk with a series of disclaimers on why he’s no branding expert. But very soon, he had the complete attention of the audience as he began talking about branding with the finesse and passion of a CEO. He went on to break six branding myths, often discussed when we discuss branding theoretically.
Myth #1: Branding is for external stakeholders
He says, “A brand really is a personification of how any stakeholder feels and looks up to your brand.” Natarajan essentially believes that a brand, almost like a real life person, has a few traits that it should display genuinely to everyone, be it internal or external.
Myth #2: B2B and B2C branding are different
Right there, he broke our own thought process of why building a B2B brand was different from building a B2C brand. Natarajan asks, “The target segments might be different between B2B and B2C, but at some level, isn’t it about how people who engage with you feel about you as a brand?” In essence, Myth #2 is an extension of the earlier point he made about what a brand really means in its entirety.
Myth #3: A brand lives forever
Again likening brand to individuals, Natarajan says, “Look at people. We evolve over time. As a fresher, we have a particular persona. As a mid-career executive, we develop, change and pick up newer traits. Brands are no different.”
Myth #4: Branding works immediately
I am sure marketers are often asked by their bosses the effect of a particular brand building campaign on revenue numbers. Natarajan explains that an investment into a brand takes time to show results. “Its not a steroid,” he says. “One cannot expect it to become muscular and powerful overnight and start winning races.” Natarajan urges entrepreneurs to give time for brands to evolve and grow over time.
Myth #5: A brand is a logo, a set of colours
This myth has been busted often. People have now come to realise that the logo is the face of the brand, but it’s not all. It symbolises the various characteristics of your company and communicates it to your audience in a creative way. It needs to be backed up with product offering and operations.
Myth #6: More brands, the merrier
Natarajan believes that it is often difficult to manage multiple brands, even if they are positioned as sub-brands. He urges decision-makers to think of a single, unified message that a single brand can convey and take advantage. Essentially, a powerful single brand that people will remember.
Myth #7: Branding is for marketing only
As someone leading an IT services company, Natarajan had to include this aspect that is often forgotten. Branding influences all your stakeholders, especially employees and investors as it does with your customers. Essentially, all the seven myths can be rolled into one, if we deeply imbibe the concept that a company’s brand is in reality the true persona of a company.
The journey of brand Mindtree
In the second part of his talk, Natarajan went on to describe the evolution of Brand Mindtree. When the company was founded in 1999, right before the dotcom bust, one of Mindtree’s key differentiations was that it would build a socially aware IT services company. One step it took in that direction was to get the logo designed by Spastics Society of Karnataka. The artist who eventually created the Mindtree logo had Cerebral Palsy; yet, the piece of art that he created (for the logo) was phenomenal, with a storyline behind it. Natarajan says, “It was often a conversation starter and people were often intrigued about the various social endeavors we pursued.”
However, there came a time where Mindtree had scaled up to a reasonable size and it was important for the brand to go through a transition. In 2011, the company decided to take help from experts, in this case, from Siegel + Gale, a global brand strategy consulting firm. Natarajan explains that Mindtree had fundamentally changed and grown on to become a larger company. Its overall strategy was also evolving and now the company wanted to get involved in higher-end IT consulting projects where it’d be seen less as a company which can help clients save costs and more as one which could help solve complex technology problems. “The contours had changed. From the people we wanted to recruit to the level of conversations we wanted to have with clients, the company had evolved to the next stage,” he adds.
Based on conversations with key stakeholders, the company realised that the brand was a little too focused on the past. It also understood that, from a brand communications perspective, it hadn’t told people where it was headed next. Mindtree wanted to tell the world that it had become more “bright, active and confident.” Brand Mindtree wanted to work with clients more pro-actively, more than before, and recommend technological solutions they were not already thinking about. Over the last three years, this has been the positioning of the brand in its brand communication.
On a concluding note, Natarajan mentioned the three brand levers at Mindtree:
The emotional aspect: where people had positive feelings about the organisation and its people
The intellectual aspect: where systems, processes, expertise, skills etc. backed up the promise of the brand
The physical aspect: from a good old business card to office premises, can we ensure that the physical world that the company lived in matched the brand’s persona
Oh, and one more thing. The one aspect that stood out in Natarajan’s talk was how the company took its tag of being a global brand very seriously. For Natarajan, being global meant, being locally relevant in each of the ecosystems it operates it. When it opened a delivery center in the University town of Gainesville in Florida, Mindtree officials closely engaged with the local government, chambers of commerce, the university and the overall fabric of society in the region. Even as it is setting up its next-generation training facility to train its employees in Bhubaneswar, Orissa, the company is planning the architecture of the building with ideas drawn from the Puri Jagannath temple that is extremely popular in Bhubaneswar. “One has to be relevant in the local economy and live its promise,” says Natarajan on Mindtree’s approach of building a locally relevant, global brand.
Key Brand building lessons from the Mindtree Journey
What got us here will not get us to the next milestone
Understand your client
Don’t build a brand for today
Brand and business strategy should go hand-in-hand
Create the brand outside-in and execute inside-out
Let the experts handle the brand and branding
A brand should be part of the CEO charter