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How To Win Acolytes And Influence People

How To Win Acolytes And Influence People

While it may seem like common sense, only a handful of the best IT operations develop and execute a marketing plan

To many users and stakeholders the IT systems, services and practices CIOs preside over seem so arcane that those CIOs might as well be high priests officiating in some mystifying cult. Then again, there are plenty of CIOs who seem to assume their users and stakeholders are psychic, so perhaps obtuseness resides on both sides.

The result of all that mutual misunderstanding is visible in many IT shops today. CIOs who do not know how to market themselves and their services live with the low morale within the IT organization: the "silos of excellence"; the armchair refereeing from the customer community; the fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD); the customer dissatisfaction; the lack of customer ownership and sponsorship of their own products, and the blame game - playable by casts of thousands - that is so familiar today.

Since IT is not a sect, and no one has ever been proved to be psychic, marketing should be a core competency of any IT organization. And those CIOs who know it are reaping the rewards.

According to US CIO's 2004 survey on how to run IT like a business, marketing looks like being the best kept secret in the CIO's bag of business tricks. CIOs who know how to market are building thematic campaigns around IT initiatives, and branding projects to increase awareness and build momentum and buy-in. They are also, it reports, using communication vehicles ranging from IT annual reports through brochures and product catalogues to competitive pricing benchmarks to bring the message home that IT is run like a business, one that brings verifiable value to the enterprise. With just 25 percent more effort invested in marketing than the general CIO population, they have, the magazine finds, attained such prized and elusive benefits as value and cost transparency, improved customer loyalty and increased IT staff productivity. (For more on how to run IT like a business, see CIO July 2004.)

While CIOs who know how to market are today the exception rather than the rule, marketing must become a core competency of the organization and must be addressed to successfully help the customer be always right and therefore satisfied, according to worldwide director of applications and director of the IT Program Management Office for Logitech Judy Armstrong and TiVo CIO Steve Zoppi, who have become experts in what it takes to market IT during their combined 40-years-plus experience working in the industry.

"IT analyst organizations have spent person-years crafting the right 'catchphrases' to accurately describe the issues, results and remedies for IT problems. IT organizations themselves spend almost no time at all in crafting the right message for their respective target audiences," the authors write in an article called "Marketing IT", written for Harris Kern's Enterprise Computing Institute. The article builds on their chapter - called Marketing the Value of Information Technology - of a book for CIOs called CIO Wisdom: Best Practices from Silicon Valley published in 2003 by Pearson Education.

Despite its importance to any organization, IT is one of the most under-publicized, under-marketed and misunderstood components of any corporation. Armstrong and Zoppi say this is partly due to a complete misinterpretation of the maxim, "The customer is always right", and is partly because marketing that connects with a customer is just plain tough, and is seen as an inconsequential luxury by most IT organizations, struggling to stay afloat amidst constant pressure to perform despite declining funding and often contradictory business directives.

And the challenge is only made greater by the ubiquity of technology in business life.

"With this ubiquity comes a breed of Monday-morning quarterbacks who, while conversant in commonplace technology, are woefully lacking in the complexities and challenges of current corporate information technology. This presents a special marketing challenge," the writers say.

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