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IT Management: IT’s marketing problem

The way people perceive IT is more about myth than reality. Here are several of the more common misconceptions, and ways to set things straight.

Romi Mahajan

IT has a marketing problem. When I say this to folks, I typically get one of two reactions. The first reaction goes something like, “What does IT have to do with marketing? They’re different things.” The second is more along the lines of, “No kidding. IT folks are geeks and geeks aren’t concerned with image.”

Both reactions are understandable and incredibly simplistic. IT’s marketing problem is not quite what meets the eye. IT professionals as a population should not be dismissed as denizens of an alternate universe in which ambition, image and impact make no difference.

Myth-busting

There are certain home truths about IT professionals (and thus, IT organizations as a whole) that should be immediately relegated to the dustbin of mythology. Of these, the most insidious and persistent are:

  • IT professionals are “nerdy” and therefore bad communicators
  • IT professionals are introverts who care more about machines than people
  • IT professionals are a cultural breed apart and speak a different language than the “business” side of the house
  • IT professionals don’t understand customers

Here’s an alternative view of each of these myths that decalcifies each and helps us to move on in an unbiased manner. This alternative view comes not out of some love for the IT profession itself, but because of extensive experience working with IT departments and representing their interests within the largest software company on the planet.

First, let’s take down myth No. 1. There’s a common misconception that IT professionals communicate poorly. My experience has proven that IT professionals are more succinct, clear and direct in their communication than almost anyone else in the organization. Marketing professionals often speak in convoluted language and rarely say what they mean. IT professionals are authentic communicators. Do not mistake directness with inability—quite the opposite.

This leads to the second culprit: the myth of introversion. Let’s dispense for a moment with the notion (which has been gaining currency of late) that introverts are actually good for the enterprise. Regardless of whether you agree with that statement, it’s a distraction in this context. Regarding the modern IT professional, some are introverts and others are extroverts. All of them have one thing in common: the need to know a subject deeply.

In this age of Twitter, multitasking gone wild, and being constantly tethered to a computer or some type of wireless device, the quest for deep knowledge is mistaken with introversion. The fact is that acquiring extensive knowledge requires periods of thought and concentration, which requires solitude and quiet. This is an antidote to bombast. This economy of bombast leads many of us—reared in an alpha culture—to think of IT professionals as introverted and misanthropic. However, the mistake is ours.

This brings us to myth No. 3, that of the divide between IT and the business. Much has been written about this alleged separation, but in today’s technology-mediated world of IT and business, neither are at odds nor even separated. They combine to create a singularity. It’s to the detriment of the enterprise as a whole to cling to that outdated notion of schism.

When we dispense with this mythology, we’ll find IT professionals really do understand their customers (thereby disproving myth No. 4). In fact, it’s likely IT pros talk to more customers on a daily basis than almost anyone else in the corporation. Sure, they might be “internal,” but what difference does that make? Internal folks are just as demanding and just as in need of support and fixes to their problems as external folks.

Cross that bridge

So what can we do to bridge the divide and change peoples’ perceptions? The answer lies in solving IT’s marketing problem. There are three core pillars on which the solution rests:

  • IT professionals need to be proactive and voluble
  • IT professionals need to remind the rest of us that business runs on IT
  • IT managers have to make time for their teams to interact with others in the organization

All these are marketing problems. The first two are internal and are well within your power to solve.

Solution 1: Be proactive and loud. The notion that the best IT is silent IT is a common one. While clever, the argument falls flat in one area: Remaining silent leads to being taken for granted. This in turn leads to lack of nuanced knowledge about what IT truly delivers. IT professionals need to be very open and clear about what they deliver and what they enable. Sales folks trumpet their successes, as do marketing professionals. IT professionals have the same rights and should follow suit. Facts are facts and IT professionals enable the business and its operations as we know it today.

Solution 2: Business runs on IT. Every decent-sized business today fundamentally relies on IT to operate. IT departments need to launch “Did you know?” campaigns that indicate exactly how the smooth flow of business is a result of the work done in IT departments. After all, most of us take system uptime, easy access to corporate systems and the like for granted.

The next is an area that IT professionals can only influence, because the changes have to come from management. Of course, great marketing efforts are all about influence.

Solution 3: Get your manager to help you circulate in the organization. A survey conducted by Microsoft in 2006 revealed that IT professionals want to spend more time being proactive (learning and mingling with others in the organization), but are time-bound by the reactive needs inherent in the profession.

You can’t accept that state as a given. You have to make time every day to get to understand the priorities and requirements of other parts of the organization. IT should be encouraged to sit in on the team meetings of folks in far-flung parts of the company. What you learn and the empathy you build will help you create the relationships that drive great marketing.

These are just three simple solutions to a complex problem. Undoubtedly, you’ll need to make more happen to elevate the perception of the IT organization to its rightful place. These solutions are a good place to start.

Romi Mahajan
Romi Mahajan is president of KKM Group. Prior to joining KKM, Mahajan was chief marketing officer of Ascentium Corp. A well-known speaker on the technology and media circuit, he serves on a variety of advisory boards and speaks at more than a dozen industry events per year.

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