Step By Step: A Template for Marketing IT to the Business

By Laurie M. Orlov (with Alex Cullen, Samuel Bright and Lauren Sessions)

Many IT organizations are just beginning the journey toward more effectively marketing IT to their business constituents. But what is the right step-by-step approach to use to jump-start their efforts? This document examines and synthesizes Forrester's research and examples of IT marketing and communications, and recommends the steps and categories of information that should be incorporated into a template for each step.

Getting Ready to Market IT

Your IT organization is doing the right things, providing cost-effective services and delivering projects on time and on budget. But your customers, the business management and staff still have a poor perception of IT, which hinders the organization's success. So you and your management agree that it's time to start marketing IT to the business. But where should you start? Before beginning any IT marketing, you must determine:

• IT's status and perceived value today. Any IT organization considering launching a marketing effort must first take IT's temperature to learn where IT stands today. This will serve as the primary input to crafting an IT marketing strategy. For example, is the organization about to roll out a new service? Have services been deployed that are underutilized? Do the business groups understand and value IT's contribution? Does their understanding vary by organization? Finally, does IT have a real or perceived issue with any of its key outward-facing responsibilities—help desk responsiveness, system reliability and availability, or network performance?

• The benefits of marketing. Next up for discussion with your management are the expected outcomes of marketing IT, specifically the results you all agree are achievable with more focus and effort. Perhaps you are seeking faster uptake on the upcoming technology deployments or are striving for better scores on surveys. Or maybe you are struggling to manage expectations about cost and delivery with your business unit peers.

• Your specific marketing objectives. An IT organization with a laundry list of issues and opportunities can't solve every problem at once. In the first year, try to focus marketing efforts on a few areas, selecting an upcoming initiative to start with, piloting approaches to targeting communications that will more effectively reach constituents of that initiative, and learning the best ways to measure success.

Marketing IT Step by Step

OK, so now you have management and team support. What are the steps and template for each step?

• Step 1: Make marketing someone's job. Maybe it's yours if you have a small IT shop. If you have more than 100 people in IT, then it can be part of someone else's job—someone who has the skills and interest to do it (for example, a relationship manager, a head of help desk or a head of app dev). If there are 500 or more in IT, this is a full-time assignment for someone brought in from outside of IT, ideally with a product marketing or marketing communications background. You should stay closely involved with the initial marketing effort to make sure it accomplishes the goals you have established with your boss.

• Step 2: Articulate your value proposition. Even though marketing will be someone's job, the CIO must drive the effort to clarify IT's primary mission and responsibility to the organization. Does this responsibility vary across the business units, and specifically, what benefit do you offer to each? For example, an IT organization in a financial services company may need to provide back-office application support and desktop infrastructure to corporate groups (Solid Utility), but also must provide state-of-the-art decision support tools (Partner Player) to investment brokers who work every day with wealthy clients. Everything IT does should have a value proposition; you must make it explicit to provide a foundation for your marketing campaigns.

• Step 3: Identify and prioritize the audiences for IT marketing. Now that you have assigned someone to the job and you agree on IT's mission and value proposition for business units and corporate groups, where should your marketing staffer begin? First, he or she must characterize the constituents for IT's work by technology adoption and usage patterns, current degree of skepticism about IT, or some other characteristic that will focus IT marketing efforts. For example, Intel profiles constituents into job categories, segmenting these categories based on their readiness to adopt new technologies. And Hilton Hotels segments its audiences by hierarchy: board, C-level, business unit, hotel franchisee, hotel employee and guest.

• Step 4: Select a specific pilot campaign to target a problem area. To get started marketing IT, start small. Now that you have identified audiences, pick a campaign to communicate and test a specific message with one of those audiences. Tackle particular perception concerns or identify a specific upcoming rollout—for example, new security software or the launch of a collaboration portal that includes self-profiling. Then select a measurement for how you will know the campaign was effective—for example, percent compliance within a time frame or numbers of targeted employees who create profiles.

• Step 5: Brainstorm all the feasible channels for the campaign. Because you know the audience you're trying to reach, you can now select the best method to reach them. Can you do a presentation at a staff meeting? Will WebEx work for this audience? Is it feasible to do centrally located demos? Perhaps you can contribute to an existing newsletter.

• Step 6: Craft the material for this campaign. This is your chance to test alternative ways to describe the campaign's intent. Examine your material for buzzwords and terminology that is meaningful to IT but has no relevance to business constituents. Make sure the benefits are articulated in business terms. What's in it for the constituent? Will this make a task simpler or faster? Will it provide more information to help them in their jobs? Use the marketing communications expertise from elsewhere in the company to review and improve the basic material.

• Step 7: Identify the campaign champion(s) for the targeted audience. Marketing IT is not a solo task. You need champions in the target audience to help lay the groundwork for upcoming deliverables or messaging. If you don't have them today, you must find and convince them of the benefits of the campaign's intent. Start with department heads who have the attention of their staffers. Once you've convinced a champion, this person should help in advance of and as a follow-up to the campaign.

• Step 8: Run the campaign using all the feasible channels. Now that all the advance planning is completed, you can create the calendar schedule for the campaign's delivery steps and begin to execute. Now it's time to use the reviewed campaign material to update the newsletter, give presentations to executives, set up and provide demos or schedules, and begin a road show. Seek feedback after every executed campaign step, checking in with the champion, attendees at meetings, and participants in demos to ensure that they understand and see the benefits of the change.

• Step 9: Review the campaign and assess what works. This is the most important step of the whole IT marketing process. If the campaign precedes an event, such as a migration to a new security practice, how did it go? Was this one smoother because of the marketing? Were help desk calls down? How did the champion think the effort went?

Expand the Scope only when You Understand What Happened

Given this input and the campaign results, you are ready to launch this IT marketing campaign to a broader set of audiences, as well as begin new campaigns, taking care to assess each one for effectiveness and using that learning to feed the next. But what if the feedback is negative?

• Don't give up; refine. We recently spoke with one IT staffer who said that the department had tried to do a better job of marketing in the past but was accused of self-promotion, so it ceased the effort. Don't let this be you. Instead of giving up on marketing IT, remember that no products or services produced in the marketplace thrive without marketing to prospective constituents. Zero in on your messaging, the participation of your champion, and the channels you've selected, changing, reinforcing or rethinking as necessary.

• Remember your boss; gain support. The reason you've launched a marketing effort in the first place is that you and your boss agreed this would help the enterprise gain more value and satisfaction from its IT investments. Go back and discuss the results and the source of any negative feedback, and gain insight into how to overcome these issues for the next campaign.

• Use your peers; get help from professionals. One CIO of a 200-person IT organization realized he could tap the expertise of the corporate communications staff to help him with the campaign process steps and material prior to staffing full-time marketers within IT. Seek assistance from peer groups like product marketing, corporate communications, sales communications and corporate marketing groups, all of whom have the training and background to help.

Marketing IT Is a Process

Communication and marketing skills are not necessarily born and bred inside IT shops; in fact, many IT staffers will express reluctance to work on marketing efforts. But processes are the bread-and-butter skills within IT. And IT has other talent that can help out.

• Project managers can run campaigns. For those IT organizations too small or too cautious to hire marketing staff, look to the teams that have driven initiatives like Six Sigma, Sarbanes-Oxley compliance or M&A integration to find the project management skills to launch an IT marketing effort.

• Writers and skilled presenters can deliver the messages. Business analysts, relationship managers, IT strategists and project team leaders all spend time writing and presenting to the business. These IT staffers represent the starting lineup to complete the task of delivering messages and crafting material for IT marketing campaigns.

• A new career opportunity opens up within IT. IT needs re-energizing to stay viable as an appealing career option—for recruiting and retention. IT execs must add vitality to the career alternatives inside IT to convince talented staffers to join and stay. These career options must be protected from outsourcing and cost-cutting pressures. Why? Because they are closest to the business and will be the most valuable in future years. Project and program management, business analysis and architecture are career growth areas within IT. Marketing IT will also become one of those areas as IT execs realize how essential it is to boost the value and perception of IT in the enterprise.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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