marketingI find marketing to be a tricky subject for the IT profession – there are some fine lines that can be easily crossed, and it’s not a discipline that IT organizations have typically been founded upon.  Project management, business process reengineering, infrastructure – these are more likely than marketing prowess to be among the core strengths of most IT shops.

But marketing is an important discipline in which IT should develop some competence, for several reasons:

  • The ways that the Internet and digital tools can impact a business’s marketing capabilities, and the integration of these capabilities into the entire customer acquisition process, are multiplying and changing fast. The IT organization needs to partner proactively with marketing and sales functions, and with the customer acquisition process owner.  If the company has not yet moved to a managed process approach to the demand chain, IT leaders must educate business leaders and help take them in this direction.
  • Contemporary business analytics and simulation technologies play a key role in understanding market segments and characteristics, and especially how these are changing.  Whether established as part of the IT organization or elsewhere, business analytics and business simulation Centers of Competence need to be established and encouraged, and IT has a key role to play in enabling these functions.
  • Regardless of the role of IT in business marketing efforts, the IT organization itself, in many companies, would benefit significantly by adopting selected leading practices from marketing and customer experience  – from understanding its own market segments for IT products and services, to creating an environment where those products and services are “discovered and bought” and used to great effect, to creating consistently excellent customer experiences for recipients of IT services.

In the opening paragraph above, I mentioned “fine lines” and I want to highlight one of those with an anecdote.  I recall a CIO client, who, in the interests of raising internal business partner awareness of IT accomplishments and to give them a better sense of what the IT organization was working on produced a 50 page glossy “IT Annual Report” rich with charts and graphs, and nicely illustrated.  When I interviewed business executives as part of an IT capability assessment I was involved in, this IT Annual Report surfaced frequently.  Unfortunately, the impact had been the opposite of what was intended.  “IT is clearly overstaffed and insensitive to their impact on corporate overhead if they are putting together expensive puff pieces like this!” was the common complaint I heard about the report.

I think a couple of things were going on here.  First, the CIO misjudged the mood of his internal market.  This was an environment that had been through some significant IT challenges under prior leadership (including a major outsourcing initiative that had failed miserably and had been recently “undone”).  The general attitude was that “IT costs too much and delivers too little!”  No wonder the IT Annual Report was greeted the way it was.  To the uninitiated, this looked like a very expensive piece of marketing collateral.  (I’m sure it actually was not expensive – it was desktop published, spiral bound, with most of the charts and graphs generated out of a project and portfolio management tool.)  In my experience, these types of IT Annual Report work best in an environment with high business and IT maturity.  Even then, a more marketing-savvy IT group would better understand their audience, and would produce a document that spoke to that audience – in this case, about the business, in business terms, with simple descriptions of how IT played a role, and perhaps suggestions of how to find and pursue more opportunities for value creation enabled by information and IT.

Another common marketing mistake made by IT organizations is thinking of marketing as simply “public relations, advertising and promotion.”  Good marketers begin by understanding the markets they serve (or should be serving).  What are your primary and secondary market segments?  What do they need from IT – in terms of baseline expectations (table stakes), like to haves, and things they do not even know they need, but will “wow” them?  This type of Kano analysis can yield invaluable insight into the IT customer base – as it is today, and, more importantly, as it could be tomorrow.  Very often, the analysis will reveal that the customers we are closest to (we know each other well, have a comfortable relationship with them) are not where IT can have the greatest impact.  What are we doing to reach deep into those customer segments where we don’t have a strong relationship?

I know – the last thing most IT leaders wants to hear is about some new competency or capability they need to develop!  I hear you remind me, “Everyone is working flat out, under increased budgetary pressures, and we’re ony just keeping our heads above water.  We don’t need to be getting into new stuff!”  But, the reality is, marketing disciplines are essential to ensuring your are truly delivering the right services in the right ways to the right people – and that is surely an even more critical need today than it ever was?