There has been a lot of recent talk about growing commoditization in the technology services industry, and understandably so. In an industry significantly fragmented (nearly 100 global firms with more than US$1 billion+ in revenue), there is a growing sense of firms turning into mirror images of each other. For example, large Indian IT firms are today so perceptively indistinguishable that they are more identified by their category presence (e.g. Tier 1, TWITCH) than by unique company branding.
To be fair, quite a few industry firms have attempted to build brand awareness through creative advertising. Accenture’s “High performance. Delivered.” and HCL’s “Mr. HCL” campaigns are cases in point. Yet, these tend to focus on building awareness on capabilities and credentials, and rarely, if ever, communicate differentiation. Every equivalent player in the marketplace has its own version of the “delivering high performance” or “we run everything that has technology in it” theme to deliver to clients when needed.
While a few firms could be starting to differentiate on their strategic intent, and the commodity characterization of some could be debunked with diligence, distinctive brand communications are needed if market perceptions are to be molded. With similar sales and delivery capabilities, similar talent pools, similar hiring and training structures, similar methodologies and tools, and management with similar backgrounds, it is easy for the market to continue viewing all firms in a category as clones.
In addition, the technology services industry is quite unique in the long-term nature of client-provider interactions. Because these interactions happen continuously throughout sizable deal tenures, these experiences influence client perceptions more than all advertising and sales communications.
Therefore, a key to communicating differentiation lies in branding delivery. While obviously easier said than done, two well worn-out strategies from other service industries could help:
- Create tangible “markers” around experience touch points: Airlines brand everything from aircraft look and feel to merchandise sold on board to customer greetings today. Closer akin, professional services firms brand everything from distinctive color schemes to employee apparel to unique jargon. Creating “smashable” markers that communicate distinctive value is difficult, but not infeasible.
- Recruit and train to align with the value proposition: P&G hires entry-level employees for fit with long-term values (‘Hire the person, not the position’). From the lowest rung, employee recruitment needs to be aligned with the brand intent and values. And training needs to move beyond technical, to reinforcing brand specific values.
Today, only two of the top 50 global brands (per the Interbrand 2010 rankings) have a technology/business services focus (IBM at #2 and Accenture at #47). And not one among the Indians features in the top 100.
It would be great to see this change.