Author and professor Tony Gerth explains how IT leaders can add marketing to their portfolio of skills.

Recently I have been working with IT teams to improve their marketing skills. Why do IT leaders need marketing skills? Because invisible contributions have no value!

Marketing is not selling. Marketing is about building awareness and exerting influence. IT leaders need to build their business partners’ awareness of their contribution to the organization’s mission and strategy. Many IT leaders think that the organization somehow knows what they do and the value of contributions they make. This could not be further from the truth. The value that the IT team brings is not always self-evident and needs to be communicated effectively to be recognized.

Your IT team has a brand, whether you recognize it or not. My colleague Joe Peppard and I call this an executive’s “frame of reference” (FoR) regarding IT. The FoR is shaped by their experiences in the past and their perceptions of the present. Marketing will also shape your brand image in the organization.

Marketing a technology organization must be done right to get through the deluge of information that everyone is under. The average adult attention span has decreased 25 percent since 2000 and is currently 8.25 seconds. This is less than the goldfish’s attention span, which is 9 seconds! Your message needs to be sharp and focused because you won’t have much time to make an impact. Marketing a technology organization needs to be intentional and systematic. It is also an orientation rather than a task.

How to Market IT

Regardless of what you want to market, you need to be intentional about it and prioritize. No leader has the resources and time to market everything their team does.

1. Decide what to market.

Marketing efforts in technology organizations can focus on several areas:

The IT organization’s contribution: You can focus this type of marketing on building awareness of the depth and breadth of IT products and services and the general value that IT brings, or take a retrospective look at the accomplishments of the IT team over the past quarter or year.

New Products & Services: marketing can be leveraged to introduce a new product or service. For example, marketing a new Customer Relationship Management (CRM) initiative or an innovative application of Cloud Computing.

Existing Products & Services: often the focus is to market an existing product or services such as the Program Management Office (PMO) or Enterprise Architecture (EA) team. In technology companies, the term “eating your own dog food” used to be common and it meant that a company used the same technology internally as they sold to external customers. Often the product side of the house will market their product to internal stakeholders.

If you have never actively marketed IT before you may want to define a small scope as part of your pilot effort before moving on to more complex marketing campaigns.

2. Define your target audience.

To effectively get your audience’s attention, you will need to develop a value statement that pops. No one will listen to your message unless they see something in it for them. Value means different things to different people and groups. Terms such as efficiency and effectiveness may mean one thing to a person in Finance and something very different to a person in Supply Chain. Executives, middle managers, and front-line workers will differ on what they perceive as valuable.

Therefore, it is imperative that you clearly define your target audience. It can be one executive or a group of executives with similar business goals. Your audience might also be a specific department, geography or business unit. It might be engineering executives or design engineers, but it must be clearly defined so that you can develop a value statement that speaks to that specific group.

3. Focus on outcomes and goals.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that marketing efforts are hard to measure. On the contrary, you should not embark on a marketing campaign unless you can measure the results. The first step in this is to identify why you must market to your chosen target audience in the first place. Marketing is about influencing your audience to move away from the status quo towards where you want them to go. Is the reason behind your marketing that people are resisting change? Are adoption numbers for a new solution too low? Are people skeptical of IT?

The second step is to determine what outcome you want to achieve. It will be to address the situation you identify in step one – why you are marketing to your target audience. The desired outcome might be to increase adoption or decrease complaints. It might be to get the go ahead for a pilot or the funding for a larger initiative. Your desired outcome might simply be to increase awareness of IT’s portfolio of services. The outcome should identify what you want to accomplish with the marketing effort.

Lastly, you need to define measurable goals that will demonstrate that you have achieved your desired outcome. Goals can be identified and measured in terms of increased usage/adoption, decreased complaints, funding provided, or improved brand awareness. IT brand awareness perception can be measured using surveys of your target audience before and after marketing.

As an example, let’s assume that a certain business unit is resistant to using the Program Management Office (PMO). Identifying that is step one. Your desired outcome will be to increase that business unit’s collaboration with the PMO. A measurable goal would be that, in the coming year, three projects from the business unit will work with the PMO. At the end of the year, you can determine whether your marketing efforts achieved that goal.


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4. Decide on your delivery mode.

As the CIO, you might want to publish an annual report of IT’s contribution to the business, sharing accomplishments. Perhaps the best delivery mode is live presentations and with follow up one-on-one meetings. It could be emails with focused updates to your target audience. You could host a “show and tell” conference where business and IT present their successful collaborations and share information. There are many ways to deliver your message and often you will need to use more than one method to be successful.

Like any other effort, marketing campaigns must be planned and resourced with the necessary amount of time commitments, funding, and skills. Do not underestimate the resources required for a large campaign (another reason to clearly define the what and the who). Only embark on a marketing effort if you are prepared to support it with sufficient resources.

Marketing Technology is Everyone’s Responsibility

Marketing is not just the CIO’s responsibility. Every interaction between IT and business partners is a marketing opportunity! All IT leaders should be marketing to their business partners. Team members need to be aware of their team’s value statement. Rather than spend precious time in team meetings doing round robin updates that nobody listens to, why not develop value statements for your team’s most common target audiences?

CIOs and other IT leaders need to add marketing to their portfolio of skills. Marketing IT’s contribution to value creation will result in more positive brand perception and collaboration with business partners. Remember that invisible contributions have no value. The larger the company, the more important the marketing of IT becomes because there are so many stakeholders to influence.

Note: More information on this topic is contained in the workshop: Marketing a Technology Organization, by Ouellette & Associates Consulting.

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