Do you remember when Tiger Woods was Accenture’s brand ambassador? “Go on be a Tiger” screamed billboards and ads in 2003. I had left my role as Global Brand Manager of Infosys that year to head iGATE Global’s marketing and I remember that at a Nasscom event all of us in the IT industry were quite envious that they could have such a juicy campaign. During my stint at Infosys we did a lot of cool stuff – partnered with Wharton for an award, ads in the Economist, World Economic Forum membership, NASDAQ listing, heads of state visits —but would never have had the inclination or funds to shell out money for a sports ambassador.

Is Rafael Nadal the Tiger Woods of 2023?

I ran the 2021 TCS Half Marathon in Amsterdam, and I love how that property has grown – it’s highly visible and engages employees, clients and some of the greatest cities in the world. Nice but it ain’t a brand ambassador.

So when I saw the announcement that Infosys had signed up Rafael Nadal and Iga Swiatek as brand ambassadors, my first feeling was one of excitement. Yay, we finally did it – Infosys has a brand ambassador like Tiger Woods!

But then I realized 20 years has passed since the marketing team had aspired to that goal. Years in which Infosys has become a global brand with $19 billion in revenues. Does it still make sense?

On LinkedIn I started a discussion on this. Most respondents felt that Infosys had made the right choice. But when I put out a poll on what should Wipro do, most felt that a sports ambassador was not the right path. Nearly half did feel that it was time for Wipro to do its own brand campaign though. I agree.

Credibility is the biggest brand investment 

B2B services survive, thrive and die by their credibility or lack thereof. A bunch of decision makers have to trust that you will deliver what you promised, despite the fact that you have never done the exact same thing before. There are 6 pillars of persuasive marketing, but the keystone is Credibility. The Wharton Infosys Business Transformation Award was to help pivot Infosys into being seen as providing business transformation advice and execution. Now Infosys wants to be seen as a credible AI player – are Rafael Nadal and Iga Swiatek helping?

Today “growth marketing” is all the rage and I keep getting requests from CEOs that they want to only do marketing that is measurable. By which they generally mean stuff that can be tied to lead conversion. But credibility is hard to attach metrics to. Did the deal convert because of an analyst report? Or because this influencer recommended you? Or because the local industry body gave you an award? Or was it that certification? Or the AI lab that got written about in the New York Times? Or that industry leader who swore that she would deliver this project on time?

What about influencers?

They add value if they add credibility to your product or service. When a sportsperson appears with a Nike product in an ad, it adds to the credibility of Nike. If Jeffree Star says they use a particular mascara for its lash-lengthening potential, it adds credibility to that brand. Influencers are relevant to B2B and B2C, because they target that all-important credibility pillar. The importance of credibility is directly proportional to the price of failure of the product.

When the brand ambassador goes bust

I started with Tiger Woods and I’d like to end this newsletter with him. In 2009 the Accenture campaign with Woods came to an abrupt halt because he was accused of cheating on his wife. Noone would assume that Accenture had anything to do with it but “Go on, be a Tiger” now had an ominous ring to it. And that’s the thing with celebrities – you put your brand and money in their hands, but you have very little control on how they spend their time outside of your contract. The good news is that as a brand you will mostly escape unscathed. But that’s also the bad news – if you are untouched by their exit, how strongly associated were they in the first place?

Now I’m off to the Indeed FutureWork Conclave Singapore today. And super kicked about it coming to Bangalore on Nov 30th! Stay tuned 🙂
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Jessie Paul is the Founder and CEO of Paul Writer, a firm she founded in early 2010 to raise the bar for marketing in India. Previously, as Chief Marketing Officer of Wipro’s IT business and as Global Brand Manager at Infosys, Jessie has been recognized for her contribution towards putting the Indian IT industry on the global map. With over 18 years in services marketing, including a stint with Ogilvy & Mather Advertising, Jessie is considered an expert in brand globalization and has been named one of the most influential business women in the Indian IT industry.

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