Tom Thomas is a Mission-oriented Marketing Leader with 14+ years of experience in the growing market share of Infotech solutions. Demonstrated track record of developing and executing marketing plans end-to-end. He has a Master’s in business administration (Marketing) from the University of Wales and a Bachelor’s degree in Physics from MG University, Kerala. Tom has been an award-winning, result-oriented professional. In his 14+ year career, he has handled various roles including Head of Marketing, Aujas Networks, Senior manager Marketing HCL Technologies. Currently Heading the Marketing department at CMS IT Services.
Mr. Tom Thomas, Head of Marketing, CMS IT Services talks to Amardeep Kaushal, Editor-in-Chief – CXOHERALD.COM, about brand building during COVID-19, agile marketing teams, and creating new advertising from scratch.
How is CMS IT approaching the COVID crisis from a marketing strategy perspective? What are you doing to respond now, and what are the next steps in your scenario planning?
For us, the brand experience sits at the center of our strategy. So, we put a lot of thought into making the digital experience memorable with carefully curated content that our customers can experience through platforms of their choice.
Content is a lynchpin in our marketing strategy. We earn trust by being relevant, informative, unbiased, and valuable. Be it case studies, articles, blogs, whitepapers, or the technology guide we recently published, our content is geared towards helping people choose the solutions that work best for their business, in their unique situations.
Effective brand building requires a marriage of public relations, marketing, and advertising. For us, PR and social media are delivering spectacular results – with crores of impressions and lively engagement.
The next priority is to increase personalization, with data and analytics driving greater customer relevance to build stronger connections. Account-based marketing and focussing on services most suited to COVID times (such as Cloud, Cybersecurity, Digital Experience, etc.) are also important elements of the mix.
However, it’s important to recognize that planning ahead can’t be done like it used to be, with a historical view of customer preferences. Now, we need to be extremely flexible in adjusting our plans based on real-time customer data and precise insights.
Many marketers were looking to re-invest in brand building this year. Have you had to prioritize the short-term moves? Is brand building a luxury right now, or is it something you can juggle?
Even before Covid, there was an industry-wide inclination to focus on performance marketing, while de-prioritizing brand building. Because a data-driven economy creates a bias towards that which is easily quantified and measured. The accelerated adoption of digital channels widened this divide.
However, I’m convinced that they work better together. Long-term brand building and short-term revenue focus have to go hand in hand. Without a strong brand and robust customer engagement, it’s not possible to drive immediate business results and growth. At the same time, reinforcing brand image and trust is essential to sustain long-standing customer relationships. This is especially true during a crisis.
At CMS IT Services, we maintain a fine balance of brand and performance marketing that delivers the best results. Our short-term, as well as long-term marketing strategies, are geared towards this goal.
Has CMS IT made any changes with regards to where you’re spending your media budget, based on new consumer behaviours?
Since people have been forced into lockdowns and isolation, they’ve developed a voracious appetite for social media content. Nielsen’s market research reveals that social media volume saw a whopping 50X surge in India.
We took cognizance of this and primarily focused on increasing our digital media presence. We also seized every possible opportunity to create appealing content, in the form of collaborative press releases, digital ads, and social media. We leveraged automation and data to deliver more individualized, contextualized experiences over channels of our audience’s choosing.
For many of us, our screens were the only gateway to the real world during the pandemic, so we ruthlessly prioritize our digital media agenda and have designed a spending structure that reflects this.
We’re using the word ‘unprecedented’ over and over again, but this is obviously a situation in which so many of those old models and consumer behavioural insights don’t apply anymore. How are you getting those fresh consumer insights and acting on them quickly?
If ever there was a time to be customer-obsessed, it’s now.
We constantly monitor our customer behavior across platforms – website, email campaigns, social media, post-event surveys, Q/A sessions, etc. We use this tidal wave of data to narrowly define customer segments and personalize offers and messages. Analytics plays a pivotal role not only in understanding changing customer preferences but also in rapidly responding to emerging opportunities.
At the same time, we believe that marketing is a blend of art and science. We use data as the inspiration for thoughtful storytelling that builds strong customer connections.
Many tech brands are thriving during this time as online services and digital tools become more important. How do you plan to capitalise on these opportunities, both in terms of what’s coming through now, and the consumer behaviours you think are going to change the nature of your category moving forward?
We recognize that the digital experience matters more than ever before. Be it online learning, app-based food delivery, essential health services, or family-wide video calls, digital experiences have become woven into the fabric of our daily lives. So, ensuring customers have a digital space that gives them an edge and allows them to thrive is our top priority. There are quite a few plans in the pipeline specifically for this purpose. Stay tuned!
Throw some light on your current marketing and branding campaigns of CMS IT Services. And, how is it different from the pre-covid era campaigns and your customer responses?
As the world moved from in-office to virtual to hybrid working, we also moved our events, meetings, and brand experiences to meet our customers where they are most comfortable.
The biggest advantage of going digital is that we have the touchpoints, technology, and data to understand our customers, their journey, and expectations in a way we’ve never done before. This helped us to design campaigns that best meet their requirements and deliver record engagement. We also appeal to large audiences (via social media and PR) and then engage niche audiences with webinars and customized campaigns.
For brands that want to come through the crisis in a position to grow, what’s your view on the foundational elements they need to have in place? What marketing fundamentals are you prioritising right now at CMS IT Services?
The future of marketing is about prioritizing the customer perspective and meeting them in their journeys instead of forcing them into our sales process. This requires us to maintain high levels of visibility, collaboration, adaptability, and unending improvement. Top this with a healthy dollop of creativity, and you have a winning combination.
What did you learn as a marketer from the previous recession that you can apply this time? What are the major differences from 2008 in the way that you’re going to do things now?
Extreme economic crisis situations call for a focus on short-term goals that would keep businesses running as smoothly as possible. We can take things as they come but you need to have long-term goals intertwined with these current priorities as they will determine your competitive edge, prowess for adaptability, and ability to stay relevant long after the crisis ends.
How today’s CMOs can drive growth and change?
Today’s CMOs have an advantage we’ve never had before. Marketing is placed at the center of business strategy – as the voice of the customer and interpreter of their journeys.
We have the opportunity to establish an ongoing pivotal role and drive the broader growth and innovation agenda. This is best done by blending traditional marketing techniques and modern meta approaches. Let’s harness the best of both to conceptualize, innovate and thrive.