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“CMO and Marketing team are the company’s ‘headlights'”

AL Jagannath, Director of Marketing – India and SAARC, VMware, talks to us about the changing role of the CMO and the importance of balancing traditional and digital marketing strategies.

He may be the Director of Marketing at VMware but AL Jagannath wears many hats. For starters, he is a passionate advocate of education for the underprivileged and an avid golfer. He is part of a rock band, where he strums the guitar, and he’s been a national-level quizzer.

At work, Jagannath leads all of VMware’s efforts in India and the SAARC region. He is responsible for brand strategy, execution, communication, demand generation, press and analyst relations, and channel and partner marketing. Prior to VMware, he played an important role in creating monetising opportunities for LinkedIn India and held leadership positions at Sun Microsystems, Tech Mahindra and Reliance Infocomm. He is an alumnus of MIT Sloan School of Management, holds a PDGM (MBA) in Marketing from XIM Bhubaneswar and a Bachelor’s degree in Physics with Honours and Distinction.

Edited excerpts from an interview.

What differentiates VMware from its competitors?
For a company that has only been in the country for a little over a decade, we have clocked in some phenomenal growth. Today, every data centre in the world has at least one of our products or services. We have achieved this success thanks to continuous product/business innovation and most importantly a strong partner-channel engagement.

We stay true to the customers’ expectation of what is a desirable solution for their IT challenges and have constantly innovated to be relevant to them. Our strong R&D team ensures products get updated every three to six months, and are pertinent to market.

We also invest in maintaining and advancing engagement with our channel partners. Our partners are our sales force and over the coming months we’re rolling out projects to create a more consistent rhythm and method, in terms of rebates, rewards and initiatives.

What are the big goals for the marketing team?
The Software Defined Data Center, Hybrid Cloud and End User Computing are the three key priorities for VMware to focus on globally, including in India. The critical challenge for marketing is to create mindshare for this next wave of disruptive technologies. We will focus on investing in integrated programs that help us retain our leadership in our core areas of strength at the same time make VMware technologies relevant in the cloud and mobility space.

Customer advocacy will be an important pillar for the success of a lot of initiatives. We will also focus on local priorities that include growing our business in the government and defence segment, end-user computing, business from SMBs outside the metros and deepen our engagements with existing customers. Further, we plan to continue to train our internal sales force in addition to empowering our channel partners through tailored training modules that will help them take a solution to market as a value play.

What should India Inc be doing to get on the global map?
We are one of the fastest growing economies with an enviable pool of enterprises, SMEs and a sunrise community of new age entrepreneurs. Digital India will be a combination of what the government, enterprises, and we, as individual workers, have to offer. If the government initiatives have to be successful, it is imperative that our workforce adopts and adapts to a global work ethic and style that can ensure knowledge sharing and technology transfer.

Digital marketing versus traditional marketing?
Given our populace and geographic terrain, we cannot do away with traditional marketing, not for a few decades. Digital marketing caters to the urban few who like to consume information differently in a mobile era. So a combination of both is an appropriate mix.

Culturally, India is a very ‘face-to-face’ country. We like to interact with each other in person. But with the advent of new age digital/social platforms, we are able to reach and communicate more creatively and effectively. Hence, understanding the nature of these platforms to achieve the highest ROI from each is also high on our priority list.

How do you ensure brand relevance in the digital age?
If you want to retain brand relevance you need to stay connected with your customers through touch points that are relevant to them. A business will cease to exist if it can’t do this. From a VMware perspective, we are in the business of virtualising IT infrastructure to make businesses leaner. We try to directly engage with our customers by organising large forums and events so that they understand our applications better. These forums also help VMware better understand the customer’s pulse and innovate to address their requirements.

We also have a strong social media presence through which we are able to tap remote partners and customers who can access our data repository to stay abreast with the latest trends and innovations in the space.

How do you build a consistent brand message across multiple platforms?
We have a centralised communication protocol that is followed by marketing personnel across geographies. The overall marketing strategy with local business priorities are also made very clear to all teams and this ensures that external interactions are streamlined and consistent.

What do you think of CMOs’ dependency on data and analytics?
In a data-driven world, marketers can use data as a weapon to their advantage. In a highly segmented marketplace, customer knowledge and insights are very important. It therefore becomes very critical to invest in data and analytics, which helps us understand our customers better and devise better communication. 

What is the next wave of disruption in the marketing space?
In this mobile-cloud era, customers are far more informed and consuming information on the fly and the market is micro-segmented to the individual.  A few TV channels or press advertisements will no longer do the trick. The next wave of disruption will take place in delivering content using predictive analytics to specific customers or prospects using Big Data. Depending on the persona, each individual will get a contextually relevant message based on his or her propensity to buy or interact with the brand.

How is the role of the CMO changing?
The CMO function is morphing from managing communications to managing customers and channel partner experiences. This requires mastery over several channels of interaction, which are almost all tech-enabled.

Today where people consider launching a brand in a matter of days, the role of technology is integrated with the responsibilities of a CMO. A CMO (especially for a B2B company) needs to determine the reach for each campaign and aim to expand the partner and customer base.

The CMO and marketing department are the ‘headlights’ of the business. The key expectation is that they help the business wade through the uncertainties by looking ahead. With a much tighter alignment with the sales organisation, the CMO is no longer just a brand custodian, but plays an integral part in expanding the business and the outcomes are highly metric driven.

What is favourite part of your job?
My job is with me every waking hour. I am advocating or listening or assimilating information about our customers or competitors all the time. The most favourite part of my job is meeting people. I am always looking to meet our stakeholders all the time.  

Categories:   People, Interviews

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