Why IT Must Market Itself

By effectively "selling" its capabilities to constituents, IT can improve its reputation, raise user expectations and increase utilization of new technology.
Presentations, road shows, newsletters, emails, technology fairs, posters…it’s the way to channel a marketing campaign, even one within the IT department.

However, while IT marketing is something all businesses need to do to communicate with their business users, few companies have a strategy in place for marketing IT, according to Forrester Research.

Defined as, “the business activity of presenting IT’s products, services, and capabilities to constituents in such a way that makes them eager to fund and utilize,” marketing IT can, reportedly, help improve IT’s reputation, user expectations, and new technology rollout utilization, according to Laurie Orlov, industry analyst at Forrester.

“What we hear from IT executives is that they see the need to market IT but they need to be doing a better job at it,” she says.

At Forrester IT Forum 2006: Gigaworld Executive Exchange Session “The Marketing of IT,” about 40 IT executives discussed the topic. “These executives acknowledged the importance of marketing IT but weren’t sure how to go about it but they agreed that there needs to be a structured approach,” says Orlov.

Why now?

Consensus from the IT field says that IT organizations want to be more effective, contribute to top line growth, and improve their reputation within the company.

The concept of marketing IT isn’t new. In fact, similar efforts to market IT first emerged in the early 1990s to communicate the benefits of Enterprise Resource Planning and re-engineering initiatives.

“After the cost cutting that took place around 2000, many marketing IT initiatives went away,” says Orlov.

But, as the circulatory system of the enterprise, the need to champion technology within a company is constant.

Feedback loop

When it comes to marketing IT, company size doesn’t matter.

At PIAB USA Inc., a Hingham, Mass.-based subsidiary of the Swedish global manufacturer of industrial vacuum products, marketing IT serves two purposes, according to Greg Anderson, IT director. “We market IT for capital budgeting and to promote our technology to users,” he says.

PIAB-USA has 50 employees while worldwide the company, founded in 1981, has 200 employees. Two people make up the Hingham IT department. The company also supports an extranet that is utilized by up to 500 users, consisting of distributors and sales reps, who access the site for product pricing, order status, configuration information, etc.

“We have to market the extranet to these users or else we won’t get the ROI we’re looking for,” says Anderson, adding that the site would simply be a big cost that would suck money out of the company.

PIAB markets its extranet by sending out CDs and training information that promote the value of the tool to users. “They seem to like it,” he says.

Internal PIAB employees are also a part of the IT marketing effort via newsletters, webcasts and training materials. Marketing IT is something Anderson says he’s always done.

“It helps us make sure that we develop tools that fit the company’s needs,” he says.

Marketing IT also ensures that users are aware of software tools and services. With IT tools changing so often, Anderson has to get the word out to users about products that can make the users job easier. In Windows 2003, for example, there’s a Shadow Volume Copy service that allows users to recover their own files. “If we don’t market the tool to end users, they’ll never use it,” says Anderson.

Better yet, when users discover that they have the tools to take care of their own needs, it saves the IT department a phone call or a service call.

Getting the job done

According to Forrester’s Orlov, PIAB-USA is right on target with marketing IT, noting that at small IT shops it becomes the CIO's responsibility. In fact, at PIAB-USA, the IT department is part of the marketing department, and together, the two groups devise marketing strategies.

Among organizations with IT shops of 200 or more, responsibility for marketing IT becomes part of someone’s job while at larger IT departments, there’s a need for a director level person whose sole job is marketing IT, according to Forrester.

In discussions with IT executives, Orlov reports that some businesses are taking steps to communicate IT’s value and are seeing positive results. Some approaches include:

Bringing technology training to the business using multiple channels to reach users. Road shows, newsletters, information cafes where technology training materials are broadcast on plasma screens. Developing advocates inside IT and in the business. All IT staff should understand the value of IT to the business and how to relate that value to users.

One example of how a company is championing IT is by training its help desk staff to market IT when answering user questions. Increasing face time with executives by instituting regularly scheduled meetings to enable IT to understand business goals and convey its ability to meet business needs. Organizing events to raise IT’s visibility beyond the executive team. Casual meetings with employees, via an open house or barbeque, for example, allow IT to personalize its image and make friends with users in a relaxed, casual environment.

One step at a time

When it comes to marketing IT, baby steps are better than no steps at all. “Companies should take the initiative and do something,” says Orlov.

However, before diving in, companies need to step back and review the processes of any marketing campaign and put together a plan. “Understand what you’re trying to achieve, how to segment the market, and the process you’ll use to communicate,” she says. A company’s corporate marketing department is a great place to turn to for guidance.

At PIAB-USA, Anderson has deployed a number of campaigns and matches the message to the communication channel. For example, when IT develops a new tool for its web site, a lead management tools, for example, the company will send out training CDs to its distributors and also travel to partner sites to promote the software, get out in front of users and aid in training.

Down the road the company hopes to expand use of its intranet for marketing IT. “I’d like to have a section on the intranet that covers updates for new tools, a dynamic page, for example,” says Anderson.

Marketing IT is never done. “The benefits of good IT marketing is to justifying to the business the value of what we do and make the business case for IT,” he adds.

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