About a month ago, we came across what is truly a straightforward masterclass in B2B sponsorship. The podcast, Renegade Marketers Unite, is highly recommended – energetically hosted by Drew Neisser. The interviewee is Cognizant CMO Gaurav Chand. Gaurav talks fluently, copiously and pragmatically about Cognizant’s sponsorship of F1 and the PGA. Gaurava comes across as human, empathic, smart and emotionally intelligent.
The podcast is here – and right below the transcript you can find a full transcript (delightfully helpful Drew!) but it’s so good that we wanted to present some highlights and not the full 9 yards.
If you’re a sponsorship professional, you’ll surely enjoy his account – and if you’re new to the profession or discipline, it will do a lot to demystify the subject. Too many people still consider sponsorship largely a B2C exercise, whereas in truth B2B usage has been increasing steadily over the last 25 years. Recommended listening!
So when I got to Cognizant, we did a bunch of research around Cognizant perception. And what it all boiled down to is, we were a 16 plus billion dollar business, with about 12 billion in the United States and the rest outside, – in the US we had some awareness with clients. But most of the awareness was centered around this notion of, hey, if I have an application running in the US and I want to transfer it to a low cost, country, low cost location, Cognizant would be the right folks to do that for me. Step outside the US into Europe, into Southeast Asia, priority countries, people just flat out did not know about Cognizant much.
So number one was how do you go create the right awareness for Cognizant. The second piece was to shift perception around Cognizant being that digital transformation partner that can take clients to their next step in their evolution of becoming a truly modern business. So that was number two. And number three, which is the human element of it, which is how do you galvanize? At that point in time, we had approximately 220,000 people working in this company. How do you galvanize, not just the 220,000 people that were working for you, but also the next potential 220,000 people? What did the next gen workforce look like?
So we’ve identified objectives, what was the story or any adjustment that you needed to make in order to then execute in sports?
So going through that due diligence, what are the different levers you have? You have pure and simple television advertising, you have the shift towards digital, you have the shift towards hyper targeting using predictive analytics technologies, understanding what your clients are doing in the dark funnel, and correlating that to your known funnel, and then bringing the two together so that you have a cohesive strategy around that.
That’s a key part about your Account Based Marketing strategy. You have so many options. And that was the moment where we stepped back and said, Hey, based on the business requirements based on the country prioritization based on aspects of majority of countries. Like the use of digital in the United States is very different compared to the use of digital in, let’s say Germany, right? Privacy laws are very different. The ability to hyper target is very different geofencing geotargeting technologies are very different.
Take something simple, like, over the top television over the top television, for all practical purposes does not exist outside the United States. Therefore, you have to rely on broadcast television outside the United States. But you can do much more hyper targeted television, with Hulu and a lot of the other streaming technologies in the United States. So we had to look at every element of the mix, right? How do events play out? Are events a good place of execution? Where does email marketing fit in the execution? Is email marketing, a good tool right up front in the funnel? And the obvious answer is, heck, no, because response rates of 0.07% of email marketing are considered spectacular. I mean, email marketing is as good as direct mail for all practical purposes.
But where does it fit in that funnel? All of those models? Like, what are the hyper targeting technologies you want to go after? What are the effective analytics technologies, that entire gamut of how you go after executing on those three key objectives? That was what we went through? And we looked, we looked very, very closely at what does broad reach give me. how much ability does it give me to target as opposed to that what can broad reach through sponsorship gave me and we looked at all of those elements, obviously, Drew that was that gap between understanding the business goals, having that conversation with a market leaders, with the CEO with the board, all of those pieces, getting that gamut of elements together that says this is how you can tackle various elements of the challenges you have, and then optimizing around what you believe were the best elements from a go to market standpoint.
You do all this analysis, and I’m just curious in terms of how you sort of picked and started to and where we can go to F1. How did you narrow down to that?
Yeah, once we landed on the fact that sponsorship was a good way to achieve or part of the strategy to achieve objectives, the next step was then going through the same due diligence from a sponsorship perspective. Question one, is it global? Is it truly global? And is it going to add to our awareness? Question two was, does it give you the opportunity to go beyond eyeballs? Because again, remember, Drew, we talked about shifting perception does not come through eyeballs, shifting perception comes through the ability to transmit a cohesive story to the person—to your target. Right. So number two was does this particular sponsorship in this particular sport, give me the opportunity to truly have to truly go through the explanation of what we’re evolving to and all of those pieces? And number three, does it actually match the values of, you know, Cognizant, as a company. That was a critical consideration too right.
I’ll go to the first one Formula One, obviously, incredible global awareness, there’s no question about that. And we made a bet, we made a bet that Netflix drive to succeed, survive, would actually succeed in getting a massive portion of the US population on that sport, because that was the one glaring hole for Formula One. It wasn’t particularly popular in the United States. And that was a gamble. In all honesty, that was an educated gamble. And it paid off in a big way. I just looked at some statistics, and they talked about the fact that F1 viewership just for the beginning of this year in the US is up 36% year over year, we’ve already added a race in Miami, we’re already adding a race in Vegas, and they’re talking about other cities also where they want to add races, right, so that gamble, thankfully paid off. So that was the global and the awareness piece. We knew F1 in all of our top priority countries, whether it be Norway and Finland, whether it be UK, the US, Canada, Germany, Japan, Australia, Singapore, all of our top priority countries— it was going to pay off.
The second thing was, does it give me the opportunity to truly engage with my clients and explain to them where we were, where we are, where we’re going? Absolutely right. F1 comes with the grandstand experience, the Park Club experience in all of those elements, which truly allow you to engage in interact with the right level, C-suite, specifically with your clients to go have those deeper conversations.
And the third one was the values. And it’s interesting, right? F1, most people would step back and say, well, that doesn’t meet the values of any company. But now, with Liberty Media taken over, they’ve done a phenomenal job around the values of F1.
Let me pause you for a second. So you set out with F1 to do it was definitely global. And you know, even with the Netflix thing, it’s really still a modest sport in the US right? Relative to golf and relative to other sports. But so big in Europe, really big in Europe, how did you decide even — to — as we get into F1, and part of it is getting a team you decided to go with Aston Martin on your team, why?
So Drew, it’s interesting, right? It’s just layers and layers of research and due diligence goes into a decision like that, right? We met with five teams, and we met with the governing body. I had experience with F1 in the past, and the one thing that I learned is one of the most critical elements of a successful partnership on the F1 side is: how truly flexible is the entity you’re dealing with? How truly flexible because there are real time decisions that have to be baked constantly on site, from a branding standpoint, and elements of that could make or break your sponsorship — your decision around sponsorships. And one of the things that threw all the team conversations — through the conversations with the governing body, everyone. One of the things we very quickly realized was Aston Martin was new to the game. In many ways they represented what Cognizant was trying to do, which was a true transformation of sorts. And in our conversations with them, they were incredibly flexible around terms of the contracts, the negotiation, what elements of the entire portfolio we got, as a result of it, we really enjoyed that part of the experience with Aston Martin more than absolutely anybody else in the ecosystem, another critical element of F1 is backing and the will to survive and win. We saw that loud and clear with how Lawrence was building his own team, on the Aston Martin Formula One side, and all of those elements that he was doing, and then lastly, it was the one team we taught from a technology standpoint, we can have the greatest impact on. So trackside IoT, AI, modernization so that they can spend less on it and fund more dollars towards the actual car, and the aerodynamics and the carbon fiber and all of those elements of the car — All of those elements put together was something with the due diligence process that we went through with all the teams and landed on Aston Martin.
What have you learned from this experience that you wish you knew about F1? When you started before,
I’m not trying to give you a cop out answer, I’m going to just be as honest on that answer as possible. Nothing massive, I would say because, again, we went through the due diligence, but there are definitely tactical elements around your execution pieces, like tickets to the Paddock Club, driver appearances, hot laps, all of those core elements that actually are critical to deliver the kind of experience you’re trying to deliver for your clients. There’s a lot of those pieces that had I known the nitty gritty details on, we could have made a highly successful endeavor even more successful. So those are the things that I would point to, in all honesty, not the overarching strategic pieces, but much more the tactical elements around execution.
And I think it’s so interesting and timely, because … every little detail in an event marketing program matters right from the second, even the email, the signup, the experience, because these are customers or high level prospects, and you’re trying to create a sort of really perfect experience that represents your brand that is memorable and distinctive.
That’s exactly right Drew. Like take something as banal and simple as a client invite. Imagine the difference between a client invite coming from one of your executives inviting one of their executives, as opposed to now imagine a video from Sebastian Vettel or Lance Stroll, inviting the client to the event, right? Those are the things those are the tactical elements, which we have learned. Those are the small things that just add to that experience, that moment of truth, that just makes it so sticky for a client to remember that for a long, long time to come. And that’s what you’re trying to create. You’re trying to create that unforgettable moment that then leads to positive engagement in the future.
And that way you focus on multiple items, right? You focus on how many ad spots do you get so that you can explain it, even if it’s a 30 second ad spot, you get that much more time to explain who you are, what you do, what are you all about, and all of those, you create those chalet experiences where clients can come and talk to company executives and learn more about the company, if they don’t know a lot about the company, either. You try to create social moments around it, right? Like we do a lot of stuff with the LPGA around golf and you try to create those moments, no honesty, for lack of a better word. They are Instagrammable moments that takes the story and makes it much bigger than just a logo on a golf tournament and pieces like that. Right? So those are the kinds of things that you have to build the elements around that sponsorship, to truly take it to the next level. One example, when Seb Vettel was in Miami, he went to a school. And he talked about a career as a Formula One driver or a race engineer, but in the sport, and it was an incredible STEM learning experience for this middle school that he went to where he talked about, so you have to create those moments to make it bigger, Drew.
Now we do a lot of employee activation around this because that’s a critical strategy around retention, obviously, which is obviously a hot topic right now. So we will do a lot of bringing in associates, like bringing associates to the dinners that we do with clients, bringing in associates to the grandstands in a Formula One race, bringing in associates to partake in the pro-am, playing with clients and the pros, bringing them associates and their families for you know, the days the tournament is being held and have you know, small events like ice cream socials and things like that right out there. So that’s the whole piece around, it’s very easy to boil down a sponsorship to “oh, there’s that there’s a logo, and that logo is going to be highlighted.” But it’s a question of creating that force multiplier around it through ancillary events that takes it to the next level and the next level and the next level. And not just to your clients, but also to your associates, to the workforce — next generation workforce, and all of these elements blended in.
One of the old rules of thumb and ways among sports sponsorship experts, was plan it another three times that — to activate, which can be a lot. And so I’m curious, does that rule still apply? Do you think of it that way?
Depending upon the sponsorship, it might not be as much as 3x. But that rule 100% applies. When you’re ready to have this conversation with your CEO and the rest of the executive committee, so your peers, make sure you’ve done the math around what it takes not just to get the sponsorship. But what it takes to successfully activate around that sponsorship. It’s not just a question of, “hey, a logo on a car.” It’s a question of how many races are you going to activate? How many clients are you going to have at every race? What is the kind of experience that you’re going to provide to the clients: the dinners, the business roundtables, all of those elements have to be factored in. It would be a huge mistake to think about sponsorships only as that element of putting your brand on that. You have to look at it holistically including the activation.
Activation. We talked about that. Lesson learned on the F1 is all those little details are part of the activation and getting those things right and thought through and timed. And you can get better as you go along.
At the end of the day, Drew, we are a strictly B2B company, there is not one element, not one iota of a portfolio that can ever be sold online, per se. So it is all through understanding what a client needs, and what kind of services can we provide to fulfill that need, right? In that world, it’s all about marketing influence pipeline, I can’t track marketing sales pipeline, because that really does not exist in my business. So it’s this notion of — first of all, landing on what you define as marketing influence pipeline, making sure your executive committee, including your CEO, and board members, in some cases are 100%, in agreement to what that definition is, and then starting to track, right, what was the activity in some of these cases, right, it’s difficult to pinpoint.
It’s not like the digital ad, where I know a client clicked on a digital ad, which took them to our website, and then they strolled around our website. And you know, three months later, we created an opportunity around that specific space, even in that world because I can’t sell transactionally it is all marketing influence pipeline. So we have strict rules around what we consider marketing influenced pipeline. And we have strict rules around how do we measure the cost, including the activation, which is a really critical element, but goes beyond that to say, “okay, you know, which client attended, what was their activity six months to nine months prior? What’s the activity six months to nine months post? What’s the anecdotal feedback we’re getting around the pipeline that’s being created, and keep being the sales leaders and our client partners who ultimately are a client facing teams very close through that process, identifying and targeting those accounts and putting the whole science behind the ROI for something like it, you know, Cognizant Founders Cup or the Cognizant Aston Martin F1 Racing Team?” Putting that whole ROI is a really critical element of it.
And going into the process, what I focus keenly on is, how are we going to measure success? Not so much on what success we expect, but more importantly, how we going to measure success? Because if you can identify a path to what kind of activations are you going to do, and how you’re going to measure success, it’s really easy to understand whether this thing is worth taking a gamble on or not. And that was that path that was that due diligence, the conversations that we went through to land those specific sponsorships that we did.
So I have a lot of questions here, about to dive in. So we talked about marketing influence pipeline, what metrics do you within that? And what’s that look like? I mean, how are you determining that?
How are you targeted? Which clients do you target? What category that client belongs to, therefore what kind of spend did or did they not have with you? What conversations did you specifically have with those clients? What was your goal for a client? If a client understands our offshoring business extremely well, but has not invested in any digit technologies from a Cognizant standpoint, then, what are those digital technologies? And were you successful in selling them and creating a pipeline and ultimately converting it into a revenue? So it all comes down to your targeting mentality, who you targeting? And why you’re targeting, for example, a client who is buying digital, what’s the number one thing? Okay, you know, cloud migration is a key aspect. We know elements of their businesses are based on legacy environments. So, you know, I identified the right Cognizant executive, for the right client. And at some point in time, I tell them, you have to have a conversation around the legacy apps and how do you migrate to the cloud. And then you measure that, because you know exactly which client — which persona and which client has attended your event, you understand the goals for it, and you measure “Did you succeed?”, and your rules have to be stringent. So just because you had their Oracle application offshore, if you move from there, if your goal for that client was to get them on a digital technology, whether it be AI, or cloud migration, or IoT, or pieces like that, but you just expanded or renewed your that contract that you had with them, you don’t get credit for it in your marketing influence pipeline, ultimately, your marketing influence revenue. So you have to have all of those elements very stringently baked out. And like we have a briefing with all the executives that are going to attend that specific experiential. And we point out, “hey, X, you’ve got to talk about this topic to this client, why you have to talk about this topic to this client.” And we measure did we have success in what we set out to achieve?
And we have a compliance for all of our accounts by persona, we understand what our share of wallet is, we understand what our competitors share of wallet is. And then we figure out which of the key areas that we could potentially break through, which are the Trojan horses, we need to talk about a client, we might not be getting successful, like automation is something we do extremely well, in automation, today’s environment is incredibly critical. Because as clients are thinking through pushing more money towards digital, there has to be saving somewhere to push that money. Automation gives you that so that could be the Trojan horse, the tip of the spear that finally gets the client overbought. So then we say, hey, for some x from Cognizant, you have to have this automation conversation with person y from one of our clients and sell them on that because that could be the Trojan horse that gets you into that client, say if it’s an acquisition account.
We measure through awareness, consideration, relevancy, knowing and that’s a standard measure, every big brand in the world does it we use the same agency that a lot of the big brands used, we measure awareness, obviously awareness leads to consideration, ultimately consideration leads to relevancy. And relevancy has a very high correlation with the revenue right. So we measure that twice a year, every year. And we’re tracking those very, very close. In the first six months, we had a 7% percentage point increase in our awareness, we had a three percentage point increase in our consideration, our relevancy remained the same, but relevancy, as people know, takes about at least two to three years to move the needle on. But the initial statistics definitely point to the fact that it is working. The marketing influence pipeline has been an amazing statistic that we track very closely. It’s more than pointed to the fact that we are being very successful around our sponsorship strategy.