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Managing Your Brand: Communications and Marketing for Today’s IT

By Alex Salicrup

Let’s talk about the subject in which every IT department lacks expertise — and that is how to effectively market your capabilities and communicate value. And readers may think I am exaggerating on my next statement: IT departments around the world are ubiquitous in that their consumers usually have a less than favorable opinion of them.

Of course, we know that this perception is not true in all cases. However, in my experience, IT does not do a good job at managing consumer perceptions. And in the IT service provider world, managing these perceptions is critical. Unlike yesteryear, IT service providers now have to compete with public cloud providers that manage their brand very well and educate prospects on how their capabilities map to consumer needs.

During my time at VMware, I’ve had the pleasure of working with industry-leading global entities. Many of their IT organizations claim that their consumers are not taking advantage of using external providers, only to find out that they actually are — and in a big way. Others have accepted the fact that competition exists, and that they must address it.

Many IT organizations have concluded that they must manage consumer perception of their capabilities and offerings. In other words, they are trying to figure out how to sell their brand and services internally. Most have no idea how to achieve that. That’s where I come in.

IT communications and marketing is not just building out an IT education campaign.  It’s making a significant change in how IT strategizes and changes its internal culture to think and act like a hungry service provider. IT begins looking at a service as though it were a puzzle, with consumer needs as pieces of the puzzle.

Let me share a few areas to consider as you begin to develop your communications and marketing strategy. I concentrate on eight areas when assembling a marketing and communications plan:

  1. Understand your audience
  2. Interpret consumer perceptions
  3. Define your brand
  4. Identify the catalyst for change
  5. Create your vision
  6. Who, how, and what to communicate
  7. Managing organizational change
  8. Brand perception metrics

Understanding Your Audience
In every organization there are three main levels of strategic and tactical execution, as shown below:Salicrup-Comms Mktg graphicExecution is different at each of the three levels. Individuals within each level listen to and address solutions based on their domain of responsibility, and they understand solutions only from the point of view of addressing the needs of their level. This in turn needs to be addressed with the appropriate message for each level.

Interpreting Customer Perceptions
Marketing campaigns are designed to create perceptions (we’re better than those other guys). Consumer perceptions are always our reality. Understanding consumer perceptions help us identify how to manage them, and, how to package a solution.

The problem with negative consumer perceptions about your IT organization or the service you provide is that those perceptions are hard to change. So how do you communicate to your consumers that your people and services are the best solution for their unique needs?

Defining Your Brand
Brand is synonymous to reputation but also aspiration. However, a positive brand, as with reputation, takes time to build and is easily tarnished. Service providers have a good awareness of their brand perception with their consumers. This allows the provider to shape a consistent message, improve credibility, and enhance its brand through advertising its goals and achievements.

Identifying the Catalyst for Change
Change is not easy. There are two groups within any business that have to experience change. The group most impacted is the IT group. They are transitioning from traditional IT delivery to a service provider model. Therefore the hardest task — the part takes the longest — will be converting the IT personnel. Identifying why change is necessary and “what’s in it for you” can motivate your staff to follow your vision.

Creating a  Strong Vision
The critical aspect of a successful service communication strategy is the clear articulation of the vision.

Your vision must:

  • Be strategically feasible
  • Be effective
  • Incorporate the current position of the enterprise and catalyst(s) of change
  • Be ambitious
  • Be evidently accomplishable

Managing Organizational Change
No one is really happy about change. Turning your organization from traditional IT or project-based consumption to a service-based consumption model will incur role and cultural changes. The former is easier than the latter, and it needs strong leadership to guide it there. Furthermore, IT is changing the way that the business deals with IT. This is why organizational change management is so important. It is not just a operating change, it’s a massive behavioral change that people need to be guided through. If this is done crudely it will impact the brand severely and cast doubt about IT’s capabilities.

Effective communications are key — it’s very important that IT staff understand the unified message. They should become active ambassadors of the IT brand and the services the team provides. Communication, in this sense, refers to the art of persuasion. Crafting a message that is persuasive is a learned skill and essential if a perception is to be changed successfully.

In order to be persuasive, the IT team really needs to learn how their consumers think, and, predict what consumer reaction will be to events and solutions. People who are good at persuasion develop a keen sense of what solutions work and how messages need to be successfully crafted. This is paramount for any emerging service provider. Communication is about knowing what influences decisions at the three levels illustrated in the figures above. Therefore, different messages need to be crafted to persuade the different levels.

However, one of the highest risks a service provider has is individuals within IT not believing in the solution, the need for it, or how it’s being delivered. These individuals that are skeptical pose a threat of creating doubt within the consumers of the solution and its merits or capabilities.

A critical and difficult aspect of change for the IT staff is the understanding, adaptation, and dissemination of the vision and how they choose to communicate it. It is essential that leaders understand the dynamics of their teams, customers, and stakeholders. Understanding how to communicate and use your team to promote your brand and vision is important to your success. (Stay tuned for a future post, where I will talk more about individual motives and capabilities and how they can be mapped to three distinctive groups…)

Measuring Success — Brand Perceptions Metrics
It is imperative that an IT organization gauges how its consumers feel about the services they’re consuming from the service provider. The IT team needs to put in place metrics that capture performance against the needs of the customer and set realistic targets on what is to be measured.

This does not have to be complex — a simple 5-question survey is a great way to start. If the response is mainly positive, the IT team can include that message to its consumers to reinforce the positive perceptions. If the response highlights challenges, it’s a great way for the IT team to focus energy on fixing them — a catalyst for change.

In conclusion, I have covered steps and actions in this post that are fairly simple — perhaps perceived as common sense. However, IT traditionally does not have these communication and marketing skillsets. And, the IT organization has not needed them before the advent of public cloud — but they are needed now.

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Alex Salicrup is a transformation strategist with VMware Accelerate Advisory Services and is based in California.