MarTech Interview with Gaurav Chand, Chief Marketing Officer at Cognizant

Gaurav Chand, Chief Marketing Officer at Cognizant chats about the need for more connected experiences and what B2B marketers need to do to drive this marketplace demand:

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Welcome to this MarTech Series chat Gaurav, tell us about yourself and what inspired you to foray into marketing? Through the years, what are some of the most crucial marketing lessons you’ve come away with?

I first became interested in marketing while getting my MBA from Southern Methodist University. Since then, I’ve held a variety of senior marketing roles – including CMO at CenturyLink and a global senior vice president at Dell EMC – and have always been focused on creating marketing strategies tied to revenue growth. As CMO at Cognizant, a Fortune 200, 330,000-employee technology services company, I oversee all aspects of the company’s global marketing.

I believe a turning point for the marketing industry – and my own personal career journey – began during the 2008 financial crisis. At that time, marketing budgets underwent tremendous downward pressure and the need to demonstrate tangible ROI was even more paramount. The growth of digital technologies and data tools gave rise to a sophisticated use of data to inform and measure marketing effectiveness. This confluence of events – the 2008 downturn and the growth of meaningful digital technologies – initiated a level of sophistication that otherwise would not have existed at such a rapid pace. Together, as marketing professionals, we’re much more strategic with the use of data, and our ability to make real-time decisions and connect in meaningful ways with customers and other stakeholders.

My seminal moment was when I fully understood the strategic importance of direct customer engagement – the need to truly engage, listen and understand customers. That moment occurred as I began my career as a brand manager for a pharmaceutical company. After three months of training on the company’s products and offerings, I spent six months in the field connecting with and learning about our customers. Can you imagine, with only three months’ experience, talking to doctors with a lifetime of knowledge and expertise? I quickly learned – and embraced – that only by truly understanding what you’re selling, and how customers are consuming it, can you know the value of the product – and yourself as a marketer.

When it comes to marketing best practices that you don’t see teams practicing enough of, how would you address it?

The marketing world often talks about the importance of customer-centricity and data-driven decision making. But, honestly, I don’t see enough of either in practice. There is far too much belief in spending money without the use of data. You need the data to truly understand how to target the right audience at the right time with the right message. The growth of digital and data tools, including predictive analytics, have given us the ability to not only understand our clients, but also predict future outcomes with a high level of confidence.

When it comes to targeting customers, context and time are just as important as content and messaging. Contextual advertising, which leads to more relevant content, and advancements in AI, have resulted in improved context accuracy and predictive analytics. As we move toward a privacy-first world, contextual advertising offers marketers privacy-safe and brand-safe ways to reach customers.

Impactful marketing programs start with truly understanding the customer, including behavior and intent signals, and, thereafter, applying predictive analytics to deliver a connected and measurable experience. For my team at Cognizant, this means having a keen understanding of our audience – knowing who they are, what they represent, and the problems unique to them – and operationalizing that acquired context in our marketing efforts, sales conversations, and solution offerings.

At Cognizant, we use a digital account-based marketing platform that provides us with unique customer insights and intent data. This provides valuable information on the types of content being consumed and where our clients’ interests lie. The data enables us to market more intelligently, with more personalization and customization.

Understanding the customer is the first and most important step for any marketer. As we move towards fully connected, omni-channel experiences, the deep customer understanding gives us the opportunity to personalize experiences through our website, advertising and events. Realizing the promise of customer-centricity and data-driven decisions help create impactful programs that make a difference.

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We’d love to hear more on what it’s like as CMO at Cognizant…what have been some of the core marketing aims and processes that you’ve restructured or optimized since taking on as CMO?

One of the most rewarding aspects of my role as CMO at Cognizant is the sheer variety of large-scale, global initiatives that we’ve undertaken as part of our larger corporate strategy and to support our employees in the wake of the pandemic. These last few years have been anything but typical, but Cognizant teams around the world have been able to come together and support each other during this difficult time.

The effort most symbolic to our collaborative nature was Operations C3, our massive Covid Response initiative that provided support to Cognizant employees and their families in India. Through C3, we were able to provide 600,000 vaccines, $1.5 million to operationalize the response, $2 million in emergency funding to UNICEF, and a separate $250 million commitment to help communities around the world.

We also made big, strategic bets with global sponsorships. Four weeks after the start of the pandemic, we signed on as the title sponsor of the PGA Presidents Cup. Within just a few months, we struck global sponsorship deals with the PGA/LPGA, the Aston Martin Formula 1 team, and the prestigious SailGP league. These global sponsorships have delivered for us by creating broad client appeal across all industries, unique client experiences, and, during a very competitive talent war, increased awareness among the next generation of the workforce.

While it’s exciting to talk about these achievements and partnerships, my job wouldn’t be what it is without the incredible dedication and expertise of the passionate associates that make up our global teams.

When it comes to B2B marketing today, what are some of the top strategies that you feel marketers need to pay more attention to?

Amid the pandemic-induced disruption, a new era is taking shape and successful brands will lead with digital, empower consumers and act with purpose. This new era is fundamentally changing the status quo and brands need to adapt by improving agility, becoming masters of digital and data, and making big, strategic bets.

For me, periods of disruption create the most opportunity. This is why Cognizant recently introduced a refreshed visual identity and new tagline –Intuition Engineered – that best reflects the modern, dynamic, and digital company we have become to help clients capitalize on these new opportunities.

As a marketer, we’d love to hear more about your martech stack and what type of martech has always been a core part of your go-to tech stack?

My personal go-to has always been technology that enables customer insights and predictive analytics. I think it is important to recognize that the martech landscape is vast and rapidly changing, with the number and complexity of marketing technologies growing fast.

With this in mind, at Cognizant, we are taking a measured approach and creating a purpose-built stack that helps us understand our customer, what matters most to them and where they are likely to invest and use these insights to deliver connected, personalized experiences of value to them. We have phenomenal channel-specific platforms in our stack today, and we are looking to combine these tools to deliver the omni-channel, connected experiences our customers expect. Beyond that, we also have a roadmap designed to maximize investments in our backbone platforms and lean into our strategic partnerships with Salesforce and Adobe and their evolving suite of tools. These tools and deep insights will enable us to create a unified, 360-degree view of our customers, and help personalize experiences and provide more value from a marketing standpoint.

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We’d love to hear a few predictions you have in mind for the future of martech and B2B marketing.

There are two interesting trends that will be played out in the years to come. First, I believe brands will continue to question marketing spends on broad brand awareness initiatives as highly targeted approaches become more sophisticated. Second, experiential marketing will become even more critical for B2B brands. There’s a desire to engage with others, especially as COVID restrictions continue to ease, and successful companies will utilize experiential marketing to give target personas new ways to interact with their brands and products.

Some last thoughts, takeaways, before we wrap up.

More than ever, brands need to make big, strategic bets; truly listen to customers, employees, partners and other stakeholders; and expand strategic roles beyond past scopes. This includes being strategic about the use of digital and data and connecting the right person, at the right time, with the right message, and the right offering in the right context.

Cognizant helps businesses modernize technology, reimagine processes and transform experiences so they can stay ahead in a fast-changing world.

Gaurav Chand is Cognizant’s Chief Marketing Officer. In this role, Gaurav oversees all aspects of Cognizant’s global marketing, including brand, creative, digital, events, communications, field and corporate marketing.  Gaurav’s primary mission is to facilitate growth by developing and executing a comprehensive marketing plan that promotes Cognizant’s digital leadership, increases brand recognition and extends its competitive advantage in all market segments.

Before joining Cognizant in 2019, Gaurav served as the Chief Marketing Officer for cloud and network services provider CenturyLink. Prior to that, he was the Global Senior Vice President, Marketing of the Infrastructure Solutions group for Dell EMC, where he led the marketing strategy for a multibillion-dollar enterprise solutions portfolio. Gaurav has held a variety of senior marketing roles since 1996 and has extensive experience creating marketing strategies that result in revenue growth.

Gaurav serves on the board of directors of the Cognizant U.S. Foundation, a 501(c) (3) private foundation supporting STEM education and skills training across the United States. Gaurav holds a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from Fergusson College in Pune, India, and an MBA from Southern Methodist University.

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