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Why Tata Consultancy Services’ long-term sponsorship strategy is a marathon, not a sprint

By Amit Bapna, APAC editor-at-large

April 16, 2024 | 8 min read

We catch up with Abhinav Kumar, global chief marketing officer of Tata Group-owned TCS, to learn about the B2B brand’s ambitious plans with marathon sponsorships, talk AI readiness and more.

TCS London Marathon 2023

TCS London Marathon 2023

Tata Consultancy Services is the hard-working arm of the Indian conglomerate Tata Group that has made a name for itself with its strong footprint in IT-led services and solutions.

The journey of TCS began humbly in the late 60s with FC Kohli, famously known as the Father of Indian IT, bringing together a young bunch of IT professionals. From there, the company has come a very long way, becoming a formidable player.

The recent Brand Finance Report 2024 ranked Tata Consultancy Services as the second most valuable brand in global IT services, with brand value increasing by 11.5% year-over-year.

TCS now also has the world’s largest sponsorship portfolio of marathons and running platforms across the globe. The Drum sat down with recently appointed CMO Abhinav Kumar – an old hand at the company, having been around for over 20 years in multiple geographies, including Europe and Latin America – to learn all about this sponsorship strategy.

The rules of B2B storytelling

The brand value of any company is also a barometer of the efficacy of its marketing playbook. For a B2B brand, the task of telling its story engagingly is even more complex. To an outsider, storytelling for a B2B brand often has a very different journey than that of a B2C brand.

Kumar begs to differ: “In the B2B sector also, we are selling to C-suite executives, who are all human.” The rules of storytelling remain the same. Here, too, the content they consume needs to do at least one of three things, according to Kumar – inspire, educate or entertain them.

Talking specifically about the TCS playbook, he says: “Marketing here has been around campaigns that have ‘humanized’ technology and often told stories in a format that is highly visual, experiential and easy to consume.”

An example, he cites the work done with champion marathoner Des Linden at the TCS New York City Marathon to create a digital twin of her heart by leveraging the brand’s marathon platform. This twin made use of digital twin technology, machine learning and artificial intelligence to transform Linden’s training experience. “At a human and consumer level, it offers a new method for health measurement, thereby opening possibilities for real-time, personalized healthcare.”

To tell this story powerfully, the team created a hologram of her heart at the race expo, which was seen by thousands of visitors.

Building the Indian brand across the globe

TCS has a wide canvas of operations in over 50 countries worldwide, from Argentina to Australia, Sweden to South Africa. The story, therefore, has to be told to a large audience. One thing TCS seems to have done well is building local marketing teams in many regions. As Kumar explains: “To tell your story to the audiences that you are targeting, you need to go to where they are present.”

Keeping that in mind, he adds that the future go-to-market strategy is an amalgam of in-person events and a strong presence on social media/digital.

Today, an average human spends six and a half hours on the Internet daily, three and a half of which are spent on social media. Business executives, meanwhile, are most often found on LinkedIn as their platform of choice. The business networking site surpassed a billion users this year, including 70 million B2B decision makers and 5 million IT and software buyers, who form the core audience for TCS, making LinkedIn a strong partner for the brand, says Kumar.

For a brand that is a technology player, TCS has built up a surprising portfolio of 15 running properties worldwide, including the iconic TCS New York City Marathon, TCS London Marathon, Tata Mumbai Marathon and TCS Amsterdam Marathon, among others. “These have worked very well for the brand uplift and customer engagement. Through all these properties, we already have 90% coverage of our markets across the world.”

Not so long ago, TCS was sponsoring many more things. It dabbled in everything from cricket to pro-cycling and even had a Formula 1 partnership with Ferrari. Eventually, the brand custodians saw the potential of running and marathon platforms and decided to double down on that. In the last two years, the company has signed the marquee Toronto Waterfront Marathon and the London Marathon.

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Brand value and the role of marketing

In the recently released Brand Finance Report 2024, Tata Consultancy Services is the second most valued brand in IT services. In just 14 years, TCS’s brand value has gone up 8.3 times and stands at $19.2bn.

According to the Brand Finance team, TCS’s long-term investments in brand properties like marathon sponsorships, brand presence in premier events, scaling of its social and digital channels and marketing have helped increase brand value.

These associations have helped the brand get a boost at the ground level, says Kumar. “Every year, we have almost 4,000 of our clients and 10,000 of our employees running at these events held in cities that are major business hubs to us.” The events also help the company to showcase technology from TCS’s stables, including mobile apps, augmented reality, advanced analytics and, most recently, the ‘digital twin’ of the human heart.

No conversation with any marketer can be complete without touching upon AI and its impact and Kumar believes that artificial intelligence poses a significant opportunity for the industry, adding that TCS is going all-out to become an AI-ready business.

From a brand and marketing point of view, he says: “We will need to compete and earn our right to operate in this space.” For now, AI is finding a key space in TCS summits as well as the premier client events held across the US, Europe, Japan and APAC.

To walk the talk and also to create a workforce to plug the growing shortage of skills in AI in the industry, TCS has, over the past six months, trained over 300,000 of its employees on the basics of generative AI, he adds.

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