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Why you should never market your IT department

Sell the services that add value to the business to positively influence the way your organisation views IT

As a CIO, failing to sell your IT department appears absurd and seems to contradict the common understanding that communication or the marketing of IT is the key to success.

But the success of any type of marketing depends on understanding how the people that use a service are motivated by a particular “brand” or “product” (the actual service) and how these are sold.

Many IT departments sell their brand and not the services they deliver. To illustrate the difference between selling a brand or its products/services, take the following example. Human resources (HR) departments are organisations, like IT, that need to communicate with the entire business to be successful.

HR departments do this by selling the services that benefit the organisation – such as personal development and induction courses and performance review methodologies – not their capabilities or brand. Consequently, these departments become known by the quality and types of services they provide.

IT departments need to think the same way. Too often, managers talk about the capabilities of IT and the technical aspects of the infrastructure as well as projects that are underway.

While these are important, they invoke a negative response from the rest of the organisation, particularly if IT is on a steep improvement curve. When you hear comments like “IT is big-noting itself” or “isn’t that their job anyway?”, you know you are marketing the brand and have not successfully communicated the products the organisation wants.

IT departments need to communicate how particular services will actually benefit users across the organisation.

For instance, advising that a service desk is available between certain hours is good but communicating the services and the turnaround times the desk provides is more likely to be of interest to users.

Marketing will only be successful if the messages focus on the direct benefit to the consumer. Typically, your IT department will want to communicate a project’s success by advising that a system has gone live and the implementation was completed on time.

While this is appropriate for management reporting purposes, much stronger and positive marketing can be achieved by talking about the actual business benefits that have been delivered.

For example, telemarketers now have instant access to customer records across all business lines, end of month reporting can be finalised two days earlier and management reports are available from the third day of each month.

Over time, this sort of marketing will influence the way the organisation and individuals view IT or your department’s “brand”.

Your brand is a major factor in proper business engagement; if it’s viewed positively, you are more likely to be involved in the management and operation of the business and successfully deliver good outcomes.

To achieve successful IT marketing, never market your IT department – sell the benefits you are helping your organisation achieve.

Peter Nevin is a former CIO and founder of Nevin Consulting, a management consulting firm specialising in strategic and business planning, IT strategy and governance.

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