Saurav Mukherjee

The Rebranding of Zensar: To Stimulate Growth, Image Perception and Gain Competitive Advantage

In conversation with: Abhishek Vanamali, CMO, Zensar, who gets candid about – striking the right balance between branding and deep-rooted strategy.

What prompted the rebranding of Zensar?

When the IT industry was fairly new in India, its needs were completely different from what they are today. For Zensar, it was all about keeping the lights on and running the business. More recently, however, the focus for our customers changed from managing their business to changing how the game is played. The cohort now includes transformational work, digital applications, customer experience makeovers, etc.

Marketing campaigns alone were not cutting it, because of the residual image perception of the brand that was in the minds of the customers. It became evident that repositioning the company would merit an inside-out rebranding, with end-to-end modernisation – from our visual design to how we articulate our services.

When I took over as the CMO in 2018, it became abundantly clear that we had to reimagine what the brand stood for. While the brand is not the only consideration behind a company’s performance, it does play a significant role. We can invest in new services, new competencies, refresh our sales teams, but the brand – being visible to the rest of the world – precedes all that.

It did take me a little more than a year, though, to push the agenda through to the board, the CEO, and the Chairman, before they greenlit the project. The needs were simple – our clients were changing, and so were our employees. Generation Z (colloquially known as Gen Z or the Zoomers) was our target as far as hiring was concerned, for their novel skills.

For Gen Z to want to bring their skills to the table, Zensar had to reform itself from a conventional IT company to an electrifying place to work in. Thus, the rebranding project commenced around October 2019, with all stakeholders on board.

What were the key challenges?

The biggest challenge was to get management buy-in for the project. There were people who were immensely proud of the company’s history and culture. It was quite a challenge to kickstart the process. Re-modelling a brand is a herculean task, requiring a tremendous amount of change management across functions. We held a lot of discussions about prioritising our agenda – should we focus on growing the business more than focusing on the branding aspects of it? We decided to connect the two.

How then does one message the change across, and get maximum inputs from every department and function?

We mandated a tier-1 branding agency – Seigel & Gale, a part of the OmniCom Group – who supported us through a well-defined discovery process over three months. We interacted with a cross-section of Zensar associates across BUs from all locations, as well as external parties – from customers to even those employees who had interviewed with Zensar but had decided not to join.

Eminent thought leaders and professors, who had written case studies on Zensar, shared their inputs as well. We roped in a few GMRs in the project, and in those three months we had ample data that helped set the stage for the next few steps.

Speaking of challenges about the buy-ins, was there apprehension from the existing employees body?

It was resoundingly positive. Following the buy-in, they all came to process that this was a long-term commitment by us. After a few solutions, soon the entire organisation began to participate whole-heartedly.

Was this a risky undertaking, considering that Zensar was already doing well?

No, it was not risky at all. I’ll explain this in two parts.

Firstly, yes, we were doing just fine. But if you look at our performance, relative to competition, did we have room to make improvements? I’d say plenty, since we did have a huge gap to bridge. It seemed like the opportune moment to rebrand Zensar had presented itself. We asked ourselves, “Do we have the right brand for the next ten years? Will this platform carry us to the next level?” Therefore, not embarking on this project would have made it a risky undertaking.

Secondly, what makes this story interesting is the pandemic. The new brand was all set to launch in June 2020 but the lockdown had begun. We scaled down and pulled back all projects. This had a significant impact on our customers as well as the revenues coming in, and the project came to a standstill. For the next two quarters, our sole focus was on scraping through the pandemic and emerging unscathed. While Covid-19 could’ve struck a fatal blow to our project, the rebranding has also been our great revival.

What would you call this – a brand refresh or Zensar’s complete makeover?

This can’t be any less than a thorough transformation. While it did start out as a brand refresh, we realised the need for a makeover soon after the pandemic. Our performance was not very good as a company, and our customers were impacted, hence the superficial aspects of changing our brand colours and logo style weren’t enough.

Even as we went about the process in October, we were wondering if we were simply window dressing the brand. When Ajay Bhutoria joined as our new CEO, he shared his inputs –while the brand was great, it did not reflect who we needed to be as a company, for which we needed to redo our strategy and the works. That’s how we launched our Strategic Growth Opportunities (SGO) led plan while putting the brand project on hold.

We launched the five strategic growth offerings, we centered on engineering, and came to the realisation that the brand refresh and the company makeover needed to be thick and aligned, thereby giving birth to our new tagline – Think Velocity – because velocity was what our company’s positioning was going to be. We looked at all the rebranding work that had been done, and then we scooped the strategy project and combined both.

Every other new messaging that you see around the brand today, was built on that premise – a brand and company transformation. Today what you see is a very inside-out change, including the way we offer services, the way we structure, everything. That’s what makes this exercise especially poignant today.

How has the industry taken to Zensar’s new avatar?

The reviews have been a reverberating testimony to everything we expected, back then. Because the strategy and brand have worked off each other, it has created a new momentum for all stakeholders involved. I still see a lot of work that needs to be put into it, and I can emphatically say that it’s not done yet. But with new energy coming in, there’s reinvigorated zeal and zest in everyone involved.

We have planned a lot of internal communications that includes a detailed training programme, in line with the new brand and work ethic. This will help our people absorb the new brand language and to start thinking in a new way. From an external standpoint, the brand, coupled with strategy and its initial moment marketing, has given the market the message that the new-and-improved Zensar has arrived. All we need to do now is to drive business, and ensure that our entire audience resonates with the new messaging.

What are your personal takeaways from this project?

This was my first major brand launch, from end-to-end. The key takeaway has been what I always instinctively knew – you cannot hurry this up. Companies who do that, suffer greatly. This process only validated my instinctual assumptions that this would demand our A-game for the long haul. Also, the fact that a project of this scale cannot be led by one person, or a team, was something I had assumed in theory, and then the practical aspects of its holistic, cross-functional exercises affirmed it.

For my learning in general, the experience superimposed on my skillsets in teamwork, cross-team collaboration, creativity and working hand-in-hand with businesses and customers. Ultimately, we were not running a sprint but a marathon.

Click here to read Zensar’s Business Standard feature on the rebranding.




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